The Monoliths push humanity to reach for the stars; after their discovery in Africa generations ago, the mysterious objects lead mankind on an awesome journey to Jupiter, with the help of H.A.L. 9000: the world’s greatest supercomputer.
Alright. I’m going to be honest with you: it had been a hot minute since I last watched this film. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, although undeniably a classic, has not been a film in my life that I gravitate towards. It’s not one that I go for on a casual movie night with friends. However, there is no denying its importance in the history of film. Stanley Kubrick walked so George Lucas could run.
Of all of Kubrick’s films, this is one of the more stylistic. Filled with bold choices both visually and in subject matter, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a technical masterpiece.
Let’s start at the beginning.
It was very bold, I think, of Kubrick to depict the “Dawn of Man” on film. Just let that sink in. This man really portrayed arguably the most important thing to ever happen in the history of humankind. To show such huge moments in evolution was a very bold move by Kubrick. But, he did it and he did it well. With no speaking at all during the first 25 minutes, the film relies heavily on its visuals to tell the story and keep the audience interested. Music helps a lot here. In an interesting move, Kubrick decided to only use previous recordings of classical music to enhance his film. I always find it interesting that certain classical pieces are now synonymous with 2001, like Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”. Pop culture and the social consciousness is weird like that. Anyway, Kubrick uses music to fill in the gaps until we get the first bit of dialogue at the 25 minute mark, which was a smart move.
The visual parallels shown between the past and the future are clever. They’re so good that it’s no surprise that the segment has been redone and paid homage to time and time again. These visual parallels are used to emphasize the themes of human evolution and Artificial Intelligence.
The film poses one of my favorite questions: are we really in control? 2001 shows that someone or something placed that monolith on Earth to push us into evolution. The monolith being found on the moon pushes us to expand our space travel. And Dave finding the large monolith at Jupiter, pushes him to a greater understanding of life. Now, that’s the kind of existential stuff I love.
The theme of Artificial Intelligence and it’s use for the advancement of human beings is central to the film, as the film’s main villain is an AI called HAL-9000. How they managed to make a simple glowing red light so menacing is beyond me. But, honestly, HAL is the reason I say “thank you” to my Alexa when she turns on and off the lights. God forbid I ever hear her sing the song “Daisy”.
The constant use of noise or lack thereof enhances things further. The lack of noise when we see the jump from the pod to the satellite, where all there is is white noise is absolutely anxiety-inducing. On the other side of that, it’s just as anxiety-inducing when all we hear are alarms while HAL is wreaking havoc on the humans who are awake. Speaking of humans who are awake: easily one of the most unnerving things to read in this film is the warning “Life Functions Terminated” when HAL kills the rest of the crew in the sleep pods. There’s just something so eerie in that moment. It always makes my heart rate increase.
Now, what to make of that ending? I don’t think I’ll ever have the right answer. I don’t think anybody will. Again, one of the aspects of Kubrick’s filmmaking that I love is how often he leaves things up to the viewer to figure out. Is Dave Bowman shown his future by the large monolith he’s found? Is he actually dying? Is all of this really happening? What does any of it mean? That is all up to the viewer to figure out. Personally, I don’t know what happens to Dave. What I do know is that we are left with the message that everything is connected. The Universe, the Earth, human beings. All of it.
So much thought was put into every single aspect of this film. The set design, the special effects, all of it perfectly works together to create this unsettling masterpiece. It’s just mind-blowing to think about all the different sets that were built, life-size and miniature. It’s mind blowing to think about all the work that went into the different matte panels towards the end of the film. It’s mind blowing to think about all the work that went into the different, innovative camera tricks and the tricks with perspective. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a labor of love. This film was not made to make money. This film was made by people who loved the art form itself and it shows.