2001: A Space Odyssey

Review No. 427


The Bottom Line: Forty-five years later and it’s still mind-blowing.

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Based on: “The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke
Dr. David Bowman: Keir Dullea
Dr. Frank Poole: Gary Lockwood
Dr. Heywood R. Floyd: William Sylvester
HAL 9000 (voice): Douglas Rain
Also Starring: Alan Gifford, Anne Gillis, Daniel Richter, Edward Bishop, Edwina Carroll, Frank Miller, Heather Downham, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Penny Brahms, Robert Beatty

Distributed by Warner Bros. and MGM on April 4, 1968. Produced in English and Russian by the United States and the United Kingdom. Runs 142 mins. Rated G by the MPAA.

2001: A Space Odyssey was watched on February 23, 2013.

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” –HAL 9000 (Douglas Rain)

Director Stanley Kubrick has a sincere and involving style. It’s not until almost 26 minutes have passed that the first word is realized, but everything prior is like a dream. I can’t imagine what audiences thought of the mind-blowing visuals (yes, they still hold up) back in its 1968 release. 25 minutes of beauty, backed by moving classical music. Wow. You wouldn’t expect that next are characters just like us, particularly us having been drawn to such fantasies. These characters are overrun by human greed–their own–and just as we fail to realize our avarice, it’s subdued to us for quite a while.

At least that’s how I interpreted this brilliant Rorschach test. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an anomaly in every sense of the word. It isn’t about acting or script or even story so much as a few adages or proverbs, but it’s endlessly fascinating. The plot is fairly standard, if you want to look at it for story: a man grows paranoid on an expedition to the moon when he is overthrown by a flawless machine known as HAL 9000.

It’s understandable that this was met with 241 walkouts in its test screening. The critics made it obvious when it was accused of having a “confusing, long-unfolding plot” and of being “hypnotic” and “immensely boring.” Again, it’s no standard fare, particularly as science fiction. Stanley Kubrick responded rather nonchalantly, noting, “If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.” It is a statement in his own defense, but it’s no less true.

Kubrick does for a celestial cinematic realm what a rabbi does for a synagogue, what a priest does for a church. He didn’t create the Universe According to Film (that would be Thomas Edison), and quite frankly, he isn’t innovating it either. He’s putting that entire spectrum into a nutshell, making it accessible only to the most willing of viewers. An action junkie would be bored. A philosopher or a cinephile may try and interpret several scenes.

The monkeys in the beginning, to my eyes, is not silly at all, but rather a representation of how naturally we war amongst one another; the pillar that draws the monkeys to it is, in my eyes, the extensive human greed that corrupts our societies; the monkey that avoids the pillar, for me, represents the one human who has a sense of brilliance, but is still disregarded by all the imbeciles around him. All this is possible, especially considering the segment is called “The Dawn of Man”. But who could say for sure what the man means, or if there is just one specific meaning?

We’re all human, which implies quite a bit. Once we have a few ounces of possession or power, it becomes a drug to us. We use it to the point of abuse, and we just desire more and more. There’s a scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey that ratifies this extremely well. We see a woman walking along a circular doorframe until she is fully upside down. I was in fifth grade when I first saw it, and I, confused, asked my father, “Why did she just do that?” He responded, “Because she can.”


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7 thoughts on “2001: A Space Odyssey

    • I remember my sixth-grade science teacher (who was, incidentally, third-grade teacher) mentioning 2001 at least four times throughout the year. He remembers being mind-blown when it first came out. I can’t imagine it was much more than my experience, but in all likelihood, it was.

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