Jonathan Barron’s review published on Letterboxd:
Thoughts on 2001: A Space Odyssey. One day after my first viewing.
I wasn't going to start posting reviews until I hit my 1000th film. I suppose I can make an exception for a film as exceptional as this.
Much that can be said about this film has been said already, so I won't linger on my own theories concerning its meaning, other than to say that I generally agree with the prevailing ideas in regards to human evolution and the transcendence of consciousness. (We're going to merge with robots in our lifetimes, I swear).
In actuality, this won't be much of a review, more of a musing on art and its function in light of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This is an ambiguous film. I don't think anyone claims to have an absolute answer to the cryptic cipher of shots and symbols that lie within. I doubt even Kubrick or Clarke had a definite conclusion in mind. And even if they did, it wouldn't matter. That would defeat the beauty of its ambiguity. One of the reasons this film has entered the capital-C "Classic" file of cinema is that everyone can step away with their own interpretation. If the film spelled out its meaning, it would lose the very thing which sets it apart.
And yet, when considering the worth of this film, I asked myself what value these questions had, what purpose or statement for human life they posed for me and... well, I came up short. Perhaps my overly scientific, analytical nature had trouble reconciling all the moving parts of the film. Or perhaps it bugged me that I couldn't set down every piece of Kubrick's puzzle in its definitive place.
The movie is a jigsaw puzzle. Only, when I finished the puzzle, I was left not fully satisfied by the whole picture. A jigsaw puzzle, perhaps, is only as good as its solution, and there is none for this film. It's deliberately ambiguous. And art that purposefully obfuscates for the sake of obfuscation can only be so much for me. It can only take me so far. The heart of my rambling here is this: I didn't feel satisfied by the questions that arose from the themes of the film. Anyone can pose a question. But questions can only take you so far. I love it when a creator can use those questions and take them further, deeper into the consciousness of the viewer with their own perspective on life and humanity, which is something I think this film fails to do.
I understood the futility of searching for a definitive version of the events. Even if I were to delineate my theory here, anyone could come along and state their own theory, and we'd walk away perhaps more enlightened but moving ever closer to a non-existent target. Maybe the target's not the answer though, maybe the beauty of this film is not in the film itself but in the human viewing the film as they try to define its meaning for their lives.
So, we do away with the need for an answer. Once in that mindset, I thought... the purpose of the viewing then is to take away whatever resonates with me, whatever comes from within the film and within my own life to give meaning. I didn't need answers. But by the end of the 70mm screening, I had to wonder... are we supposed to enjoy the Stargate sequence and existential drums of Zarathustra like one might enjoy an evening walk in the park? Like one might enjoy a good steak? If that's the case, then it's no more exciting and valuable than a piece of modern art. Which is fine. Because art doesn't have to spell out its meaning, doesn't have to tell me what I need to believe in.
After all the discussion about black rectangular blocks and Jupiter, we're left with the common notion that art is very personal, that its meaning depends on the viewer as much as it does its own existence.
Beyond that? Well... we're left with a spectacle. An extraordinarily pretty (this was made in 1968? you're shitting me) depiction of human evolution. The statement is THERE. In your face with lights and Strauss (bless him) and a lovely sequence at the end. And Hal! What an emotive force! The spectacle is all there. But is the best the medium of film can give really just an unanswerable stew of semi-profound themes about the evolution of human consciousness? I'm afraid that it may stumble over itself, not necessarily in pretension, but in its inexactness about what it's trying to say. In the end, it's a film of ideas coated in a highly sensory experience -- an indulgence of sight and sound that begets feelings of tremendous awe and wonder. There's a good reason it's so highly praised, but I'm left thinking that the praise should best come from someone else besides me.
It may seem blasphemous to some people to give this film a rating of 4 stars (dear god!), but I think people give too much weight to the stars. There's more to a film than a number.... and this number, well, it represents in short how well this film worked for me. A rating of 1 star can be just as valid as one of 5 stars. People forget that the frame-by-frame experience is the same for everyone. The sensory input is constant for all, only the cognitive aspects of one's unique experiences lead to our opinions of the art. And I suppose that's what we call personal taste.