Film Reviews

2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick

Rating - 10/10

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is the ultimate film to end all films and provoke endless inquiry.  Inspired by Arthur C. Clark's short story "The Sentinel," the 148-minute intergalactic exploration traces man's origins, the meaning of existence, extraterrestrial intelligence, and the symbiotic relationship between man and machine.  However, even more overtly, 2001 is a expansive piece of timeless art with a distinct favor of artistic modeling and imagery over the Hollywood tradition of dialogue, narrative, and most importantly, absolute resolve.  Not only is the film intrinsically transcendent, but it also culturally eclipses any sort of applicable notion.  Actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood (as Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, respectively) properly frame the film as a monumental event, the first big-budget science fiction film ever made, which fueled a tremendous interest in technology and inspired a generation of filmmakers.  Given 2001's production values, universal language of images, and general mystique, one can easily see why.

Although divided into four distinct vignettes, Kubrick only proposes three actual chapter markers ("The Dawn of Man," "Jupiter Mission: 18 Months Later," and "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite") with the dichotomous preliminary chapter equally separated by a prehistorical landscape populated by "man-apes," hyenas and boar-type creatures and a much-advanced galactic space civilization that introduces the general muted atmosphere of the remainder of the film.  This approach immediately lures the viewer into a cognitive comparison of the first fifty minutes of the film.  By removing a physical divisor or title, Kubrick allows his viewers to effortlessly segue into his celebratory expression of humanity.  At the conclusion of the initial segment, the image of the "man-ape" hurtling the large bone into the air as a symbol of power is intentionally showcased, in slow-motion nonetheless, as one of mankind's first progressive thoughts.  As the bone returns to the earth propelled by gravity, Kubrick remains locked on it in intense close-up before transitioning to an armed satellite floating in space, which is followed by an dazzling zoom of the moon and a spacecraft.  These juxtaposed images beckon the viewer to actively conceive the thousands and thousands of years of progress with a few seconds of cinema.  From barbaric ritual to the marvel of technological craftsmanship, it is a dutiful homage to humanity's lineage.

The mysterious black monolith, accompanied by the haunting "Requiem" scores of György Ligeti, appears prominently in all segments and simultaneously facilitates the sense of mystery and, somewhat paradoxically, principle within the film.  The lumbering artifact's interaction with humanity skillfully suggests the perpetual presence of otherworldly intelligence as a monitor of human activity.  Therefore, due to this implied omnipresence, Kubrick intentionally evokes a polytheism or the existence of a multiple gods, contrary to the traditions of a monotheistic Christianity; the director rather focuses on God as a race of elevated lifeforms.  Professor Jack Good of Oxford University is quoted by Keir Dullea on one of the DVD's special features "What is Out There?" as theorizing that God is "more or less an immortal consciousness permeating the whole of the universe."  Perhaps most complementary to Good's quote is Kubrick's comprehensive vision of the film, which at its core promotes the concept of God but not in literal terminology -- only with an artifact -- which refutes any actual suggestions of the image of extraterrestrial life.  This in turn elicits the theological imagination of its audience and encourages further investigation.

Caught between notions of an unknown lifeform and temporal humanity is the computer, iconically represented by the HAL 9000 aboard the Discovery spacecraft.  While HAL is supposedly a machine incapable of error, what's even more suggestive is that "he" possesses a type of cerebral system that retains and expresses humane traits, primarily emotional response and memories.  In a way, despite the fatal flaw within the Discovery's particular HAL 9000, Kubrick precociously implies that as our own existence steadily becomes more reliant on machines, it will gradually be usurped by them, in accordance with the extraterrestrials' eonian study of humanity.  However, the man vs. machine conflict is one too easily advocated by the science fiction genre; of course 2001: A Space Odyssey introduces these notions, but it also presents sentiments of a harmonious co-existence, particularly within the opening minutes of "Jupiter Mission: 18 Months Later" chapter.  As the astronauts carry out daily routines while HAL maintains ship functionality, a symbiotic relationship is formed through universal concepts of empathy and amelioration through scientific study.

The most significant actualization within 2001: A Space Odyssey is the meticulous supervision of Stanley Kubrick, who operates in innately intriguing unknowns in nearly every aspect of constructing the film with protracted takes, extended periods of slow-motion, and a perfected series of minimal dialogues that entice audiences' innate curiosity.  During the final conceptually perplexing scenes in the film (the "stargate" sequences), Dave Bowman transcends time and space in a furor of color and sound to eventually arrive in his own habitual consciousness, which has been manipulated by extraterrestrial forces.  At this particular moment or within any of otherworldly intervention, one of the most towering parallels within the film becomes Kubrick himself as an embodiment of the nature of this being as a cinematic auteur.  By applying the elegance of classical music such as Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube," seeking a transcendental visual plane and elevating the mysteries of the universe, Kubrick in effect exercises his own timeless presence and secures 2001 as a film for the ages, forever held within the archives and the memories of mankind.