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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey

Recommending 2001: A Space Odyssey is always problematic. It’s a difficult film to watch, and not one which should be a casual weeknight choice. Criticisms (often ignored by critics and academics) commonly made against it are accurate: the movie is long, strange, and can be boring to many viewers. The first twenty-five minutes or so are missing links rummaging around without dialogue, crying out at what appears to be a huge black domino (excuse me, “monolith”) — doesn’t exactly reel in the casual viewer and make them excited to watch the remaining two-and-a-half-hours.

Criminal as it may be to admit these things in public, given that it is also indeed a triumph of filmmaking and has been highly influential on the majority of science fiction films made after, they are true. The pretentiousness emanating from 2001’s vocal advocates can be another deterrent to modern mainstream audiences’ desire to partake in this cinematic achievement. It has a solidified position among the film school cannon, and can inspire scorn thrown in the direction of those who do not worship at the altar of the monolith. You may now be asking yourself why this post is being written suggesting you should watch Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece.

One of the points (I think) of 2001 is to give yourself over to it. That “boring” beginning serves as the trigger lulling you into a hypnotic state, which is required to enjoy and fully experience the film. The lights need to be out, the volume up, and no pauses (take your bathroom breaks beforehand, folks). It is one of those unique pieces requiring complete immersion to be truly appreciated. The movie is beyond beautiful, and never ceases to inspire awe. It is as much an achievement in art direction and sound as in directing, with each song and sound synchronized perfectly and adding to the overall effect. The film is a measured, exquisite, and expertly-crafted ballet.

It is a piece of art bookended by (famously) unusual sequences, but the majority is a fairly standard sci-fi rumination: What if our perfectly-designed machines develop a mind of their own, and what does that mean to the nature of consciousness? Could our scientific and technological advancements greatly enhance our lives, help answer the secrets of the universe, lead to our eventual destruction, or all three? The film has roughly four vignettes tied together by the black monolith. The first covers “The Dawn of Man;” primates discover tools/weapons after seeing the structure. The second section is Dr. Heywood Floyd traveling to the moon to investigate a recent discovery. Eighteen months later, we are dropped into everyday living upon an American spaceship headed to Jupiter, with Dr. Dave Bowman, Dr. Frank Poole, and their artificial intelligence, HAL 9000. The crew believes HAL has begun to malfunction, and attempts to find a way around the computer that controls the ship’s entire operation. The fourth segment is infamously obscure, and you should discover that yourself.

This is not a dumbed down, streamlined Hollywood narrative. The film moves slow to let you absorb, appreciate, and contemplate the events and visuals appearing onscreen. It is not a contemporary sci-fi spectacle with action flashing so quickly before your eyes you scarcely have time to realize what has happened. Sure, by the end you may not really know what transpired, but only because the film is tailored to your experience of it, the meaning is only understood through your own beliefs and background. Everyone on the Internet has their (“correct”) opinion, but 2001 does not lend itself to overarching definitions. The film does not tell you to what to feel or think, it merely presents and provides a striking and oddly engaging space for you to feel and think.

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