2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★

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I have no shame in admitting that the first time I saw this film, (1) I wasn’t ready for it, (2) I didn’t care for it at all, and (3) I was completely wrong. I’m all about giving movies second (or even third) chances; my taste in movies has changed significantly over the past few years—considering I hadn’t seen 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY since late high school/early college (don’t remember exactly), I figured it was due for Round 2.

And it’s exactly like I remembered it—lethargic, narratively vague, free of exposition, naturally inquisitive, aurally unapologetic, and visually astounding. The difference is that now, I liked it. The same shots of space ships wafting through the vastness of space that nearly bored me to tears eight years ago were somehow keeping me wide-eyed and glued to the screen with no trouble.

I don’t remember much of 2001 from my first viewing, except: monkeys, spaceships, heavy breathing, a long sequence of quasi-LSD-trip images, and a giant, celestial baby. All of those things were still there, but they struck me a different way this time around. Instead of putting me to sleep, I was more than content with trying to ponder what it all might mean. What is Kubrick trying to make us feel?

One of the most impressive things about 2001 is its scope—from before man existed, following them to the moon, then to Jupiter, and finishing with his figurative rebirth. The fact that Kubrick has created a science fiction film and opens it with a 12-minute sequence of apes discovering how to use tools is extremely bold but effective, and ultimately essential to the progression of the movie.

I’ve grown partial to open-ended films; ones with subtle subtexts and narrative ambiguity. This was one of the reasons I didn’t like 2001 before; ironic how it’s one of my favorite things about the movie now. People (including myself, sometimes) spend too much time trying to decipher symbolism in every single thing—what’s a monolith, why is it there, who put it there, what does it do, how does it do that, etc., that they begin to lose focus on the ‘bigger picture.’

I haven’t read the books, and I know there are several hundreds of theories about the movie already, but I can only think that people are just searching so hard for a ‘meaning’ behind 2001, that they’re not allowing themselves the superficial enjoyment up front. They’re forgetting that the word “odyssey” is literally in the title—odyssey: noun, plural; 1. a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune. 2. a long series of quests or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is simply an odyssey for humankind—everything before and everything after. Why does it have to be anything more than that? Why does the monolith have to have a deeper meaning? People are not content with the explanation that ‘they are objects’ and ‘they were put there by intelligent future beings.’ Why is this not enough? It is a science fiction film, after all.

Intelligent, extraterrestrial beings have planted monoliths as tools to aid in the journey of humankind. The early ape-creatures learn to use bones as weapons and tools. Homosapiens learn how to reach the moon. They eventually learn how to make it as far as Jupiter, as well as create a supercomputer that is able to think for itself. From there, man is eventually transcended into a celestial body (now known as the “Star Child”) that oversees the galaxy; likely omnipotent and all-knowing.

Some people have trouble with this concept (and at one time, I did, too). Star child? What the hell is that? But imagine the apes. Imagine showing the ape a picture of today’s man and saying, “that will be you one day.” Imagine the confusion of the ape, trying to comprehend such a large evolutionary leap. The star child is to humans what humans are to the apes; a distant node down the long line of evolution.

The stargate sequence—which promptly put me to sleep in the past—was one of my favorite sequences in the film. It’s an attempt to show us something we cannot comprehend. Man, leaping forward through time and space, absorbing knowledge about anything and everything. We are not supposed to understand it. It is not supposed to make sense. Do you think it makes sense to Dave?

The final ‘bedroom scene’ is in a similar vein; it’s a man who is in a room that’s been carefully constructed by aliens to make him feel safe; to give him something he’s familiar with. In this room, he’s experiencing a universe where time is but another dimension—just like distance—that can be traversed backwards and forwards at will. He is simultaneously arriving in a spaceship, eating supper, and dying alone in his bed.

There are still some things about 2001 that aren’t quite “perfection” to me. Much of it is due to the wet-blanket acting from almost everyone—especially our main man, Dave. I do understand that Kubrick’s intention was to make a film without emotion; but in a way, 2001 is almost dangled so far in front of us that feeling pity, fear, or apathy for our astronauts becomes a minor challenge at times when it might benefit our overall investment towards the film.

Though in its entirety, it’s brilliant, there are a few instances during the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence where you can tell the apes are humans in costume—and not because of the costume, mind you. But several times, some of the actors get lazy with their “ape walk” and move much more human-like than they probably should have. Also, for a film that’s so tactfully void of exposition, I’m surprised HAL tells Dave outright, “I was reading your lips,”—I thought this was obvious from the close-ups of Dave and Frank’s lips.

This was probably one of the biggest switcheroo’s I can recall, going from such poor memories of a film to actually thinking it’s quite great. I could easily see 2001 creeping up with future revisits. It’s actually a much simpler film than it seems on the surface; it’s difficult, it’s long, and it creeps along at its own, unhurried pace. But there’s so much to admire; Kubrick does a whole lot with just a little bit.

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