2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

On Wednesday evening, Miami’s O-Cinema held a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of their fantastic Kubrick retrospective series. Although it wasn’t my first time watching Kubrick’s magnum opus, my experience watching it felt as fresh and exciting as the day I first watched it –in a poorly-lit, chilly film studies classroom back in 2003. I’m sure my reaction had partially to do with the fact that I had only revisited the film once since 2003 (in 2008). Either way, the film hasn’t lost an iota of its brilliance and magic. And although I feel like I was able to take away a lot more about the film’s themes of evolution and technology from the film this time around, it continues to be a mystery.

The film was followed by a lively discussion about the themes and ideas the film presents, co-hosted by O-Cinema’s Kareem Tabsch and film critic and friend Hans Morgenstern. The topic of discussion was the seven principals of classic Hollywood as noted by film scholar David Bordwell, and how with 2001, Kubrick broke each rule to create a much more fulfilling cinematic experience. A discussion made all the more fascinating by the fact that almost every person participating in the discussion had a distinct yet equally fascinating theory of what the film was about.

If you’ve seen 2001, I don’t need to remind you that it isn’t exactly the easiest sit. It’s a 2 hour, 20 minute space epic with around 10 minutes of dialogue and largely scored to 19th classical tunes. So it was amazing to me that the audience was almost completely comprised of people who had already seen the film multiple times. I think the only newcomer in the audience was my girlfriend who, by the way, hated the film. Although her reaction towards the film was a bit of disappointment to me, it wasn’t entirely surprising. After all, half the audience at my film class in 2003 also loathed it. One girl even went as far as to say it was the worst film she had seen in her life. Obviously she hadn’t seen Battlefield Earth.

Anyway, I digress. While chatting with Rene Rodriguez, longtime film critic of The Miami Herald, earlier this week, he threw across a point that I found quite interesting: It’s very difficult to fall in love with a Kubrick film on first viewing. And he’s right. The only Kubrick films that I have flat-out loved on first watch have been A Clockwork Orange, Paths of Glory, and strangely enough, 2001. It took me a couple of viewings to appreciate The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut and Spartacus. I still have to give Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon and Lolita a second go. Even Spielberg’s A.I., a dazzling film based on an unfinished concept by Kubrick, received mixed reviews on its release, but now, enjoys a reputation of being one of Spielberg’s most accomplished and thematically fascinating works, much like many of Kubrick’s works.

So why is that? Is it because most of them tend to be misinterpreted as emotionally distant, technically accomplished, style-over-substance affairs on the first going? Perhaps it’s because we expect Kubrick’s films to consort to our idea of conventional cinema, and his refusal to play in that sandbox of conventionality is what throws us off. Who knows…? All I know is that I’m glad that every time I sit down to watch a Kubrick film, I’ll be in for an experience richer than the previous time I watched it.