I have never been sure how I should approach Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, because even though it has never been my favourite of his films (that would be the underappreciated Barry Lyndon), it has come so close for me because every time I come out from watching it, I already see it as being inside of a league of its very own. It’s the sort of film that can never be imitated under any circumstances and it also presents a meditative experience in itself, just as the very best films would create. It was a film that took me a fairly long while in order to piece together, for my first viewing at the age of ten years old left myself befuddled although entranced. It was not until an eventual revisit on the big screen at thirteen would have already made me realize that this was something I had truly loved. To this day, many viewings at home ever since, I have never been able to piece together how the experience had transformed me, but all I had known afterwards was that it truly is indeed one of the finest films ever to have been made.
This is not a film that tells a story the same way you know anything else would present itself, but the very scope of such is something that can never be replicated. Going as far back as the dawn of mankind to our inevitable future as a species, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film about human nature. From the usage of tools and their advanced development as many eras have passed since, the very cyclical nature of power taking over our minds because of how advanced they have become from the dawn of man to our inevitable future. To simply say that 2001: A Space Odyssey is a unique film for the era in which it had come out would not be enough in order to cover everything about it that makes it so effective as is. It is a film that tells a story beyond humanity, a tale transcending time and space.
From the first sequence in which we have the dawn of man in the form of apes discovering how to use “tools,” it makes a sudden cut as the bone is thrown up in the air, to a satellite. Being one of the most discussed elements of the film, it is such a sudden shift in pace for we have followed the bone as it was flying in the air but out of nowhere, we have a jump through thousands of years into the future. The bone is no longer there, but in its place is a satellite floating within space. In this very moment, you already are witnessing another power that 2001encompasses. It is that very feeling of advancement, coming so suddenly to the point that we don’t even see it anymore. A machine that only continues to learn more as we continue moving forward, maybe we haven’t been able to keep up within due time.
Another recurring motif that is presented in 2001 is the monolith. It presents itself as a black box, taller than any other being within the area. But when that monolith comes around, you hear the score making a very distinctive change in tune, it starts to sound far more eerie. You ask yourself about that very strange looking monolith, what is it representative of? In the first scene where it appears, it is in that same dawn of man sequence – and all the apes start calling each other close by. After an ape has an encounter with the monolith, suddenly they learn how to use tools – via an animal’s skeleton in order to go for hunting. In these moments of 2001, it feels like a cycle has already been interrupted from the way in which it is moving forward. A break in the cycle, with something moving ahead at the expense of others, because of how we learn the expected routine with time that passes by.
Most of 2001: A Space Odyssey moves in a distinctly slow pace, but oftentimes with classic music. In the very opening, we hear Strauss’s famous “Also sprach Zarathustra” as we are moving from behind the moon, to unveil Earth with the sun right behind it. Kubrick’s use of music mixes perfectly well with the imagery in order to give the film a sense of movement from one phase to another. In the opening, it comes by to signify that something has been born, and as we transition from the bone to the space station, what we hear is “The Blue Danube” for an extended period of time as the space station moves around the planet, and a spaceship is entering. But like a ballet, what makes such a scene so entrancing for its pace is because its process moves so familiarly along with the routine. It works because the music moves in the same sense that the image does, because 2001 is a film about movement, with the music leaving an operatic impression on the audience.
This is a film about movement, pertaining to how we evolve as a species – thanks to tools and their efficiency from one moment in time to another. As these monoliths have come around for the apes to discover, there is another one on the moon, and that very specific tune comes back to haunt us. In that very moment, there is yet another change in the routine regarding the mission that is signified on the very spot, because this is a time that was far more advanced than that of our dawn. Perhaps there is only a point in which that advancement only becomes too much to the point it has taken away humanity from within the soul, and it begs the question: is there a point to which we can truly go back?
Everyone speaks in a very distinct matter, but the one voice that finds itself standing atop everything else is none other than that of HAL 9000. HAL 9000 is an artificial intelligence, with no emotion to convey whatsoever, but the knowledge in which it contains is of another level, far beyond its own human characters – learning in the very same manner that we do. The most terrifying thing about this moment is when you know that HAL 9000 is not a human being, yet he has developed himself in the same way that an ordinary human being would, learning. Learning, because of how he has functioned as a part of the space station. Learning, because of how the crew members have been interacting with this program. But what is it that makes HAL 9000 such a terrifying presence, to be exact? It is not a human. It is not a real intelligence. It contains more than enough of everything in order to take over what we are as a species, and does not respond with any sort of emotion.
In the very last image of the film, that monolith returns. That monolith returns in the most unexpected of all places, but not with the same purpose. To bring back an earlier question, we ask ourselves upon a discovery of something so out of the ordinary if there really is a possible way of going back. And in every moment it has showed, it has interrupted a clear cycle. What cycle is there to be broken in this final moment? It comes by again to show that everything was presenting itself to us as just one cycle. And with the manner in which 2001 has ended, it has only come by to show that another cycle of evolution is ready to begin, for it ends the same way in which it started, from a familiar musical cue alone.
For a film that was made in the late 1960’s, it looks like something that could have been shot today. As a matter of fact, it still feels like a film that could be made beyond today, and that is where the beauty of 2001: A Space Odyssey lies. It is a film that is so advanced, that notion of moving alone is enough to set a terrifying atmosphere for what is set to come. It begs the very question about what is set to happen to humanity as a result of this movement, and what happens if there is no control to this cycle. But the one question to be asked at the very end of 2001 is whether or not we can really go back, and start all over. It is a film of infinite possibility, just as cycles move after they end. A cycle of life. There are too many ways to describe 2001: A Space Odyssey that have been said before, but as is, it is truly one of the finest cinematic achievements ever created.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
Release Year: 1968
Running Time: 148 minutes