2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

This is a visual and musical feast, but Kubrick lost me again when Dave arrives at space station Versailles. I would agree this is a revolutionary film and one of the greatest of all-time. I don’t agree it’s the 2nd or 6th greatest of all time as the current Sight & Sound polls rank it. Great films should be challenging, but the first priority of art, and particularly film, is that it entertain. I would argue that problems of pacing and deliberate obtuseness in 2001 make it less entertaining. Perhaps that's why I fell asleep watching for the first time on HBO as a teenager, and again as a sophomoric student in our college movie theatre, and a third time in a home theater when the DVD came out. These are quibbles compared to the things I loved about the movie.

1. I would argue 2001 has the best and most original use of music of any film I’ve ever seen: not just the Zoroastrian triumphalism and the lilting Hapsburg waltzes in space, but even more the György Ligeti pieces that seem scored just for the film by a composer from the future.

2. I liked the central concept: the notion that humanity in its current form is an evolutionary waypoint between the apes and some future state — whether that’s an übermensch, a merger with machines, a star child, or pure energy — and that we’re occasionally given an evolutionary push by our future, more advanced selves.

3. I liked the slightly campy view of a commercial future with HoJo’s on the moon, etc. and the irony that despite the film’s prediction, Aeroflot is still flying today but PanAm is long grounded.

4. The slow-motion murder scene of HAL is genius. I also marvel at the emotional reversal of the astronauts and the computer in which the Dave and Frank plus the others in their space sarcophagi seem like unemotional machines while HAL shows fear, is devious, negotiates, and ultimately evokes our sympathy when he’s killed much more than Dave does spinning to his death out in space.

5. I like the Original Sin concept that causes HAL to malfunction: he’s a previously perfect being who’s forced to effectively lie to the crew about the purpose of the mission. This introduced “human error” is what causes HAL to begin to act human making all kinds of errors in judgement. There’s an ontological argument that defines humanity by its imperfection: If we were perfect, we would be God. Therefore, it’s our imperfection that makes us separate entities from God. Once HAL becomes imperfect through his programmed deception of the crew, he become more human.

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