2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

2001: A Space Odyssey is as much the ultimate meditation experience as well as the “ultimate head trip” as advertised in its year of release. Today, meditative cinema has all but vanquished from our screens in favor of rapid-fire editing and pop tunes on the soundtrack. With each passing decade, I’ve casually noticed a disregard for Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. Mostly, I believe, is because we can’t sit still without checking our phones. I’ve noticed that adults that tune in to catch this late in life have lost their ability for the abstract thought that is required, and are the ones turned off by the idea of meditative cinema over plot. I saw this first at 8-years old when my mind was still shaping, and it filled me with wonder and abstract thought.

"The Dawn of Man” is the prologue, set millions of years ago when our ancestors were apes discovering their first tools (Yes, we came from somewhere, is the argument). It’s an awful long section to make that point and introduce the Monolith – a device so godly it had to come from somewhere else, beyond Earth. But with painterly images this jaw-droppingly beautiful, why would you want to cut to what’s next? The presence of the Monolith returns to the moon in the year 2001, an object alien to space travelers and great minds. Something in the universe is bigger than them.

By the time “2001” introduces Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood as astronauts on their way to Jupiter for a secret mission after the halfway point, we catch on there doesn’t seem to be a deliberate interest with particular characters. Kubrick isn’t concentrating on a single character or two, but of humankind in the scheme of the universe. More human-like than anyone else is the Hal 9000 computer (voiced by Douglas Rain, who spent a career doing narration). Hal 9000 is so advanced in human empathy and pity, that he also assumes the faults, the jealousies, and self-preservation that are foibles of humans. Is Hal 9000 really on anybody’s side but his own? Nobody is going to turn him off. As a defense mechanism, he tells astronaut Dave Bowman, “I honestly feel you ought to sit down, take a stress pill, and think things over.”

“Jupiter: And Beyond the Infinite” is the final title card, bringing us to the Star Gate sequence. Its purpose is also a total mystery, but astronaut Dave is thrust into its deep vortex for a long, long “acid” trip sequence. I love 98% of the imagery that Kubrick created for it, via slit-scan photography (implementing some macro photography of colored paints and chemicals), although there is one shot of a star bursting and nebula that looks too much like a painting. Still, what a painting.

Jarringly, Dave ends up in a perfectly calibrated room designed for comfort – this baffles many, but the theory has always been aliens have created this cozy environment so they could watch and observe him peacefully. Then, the ecstasy of rebirth, as Dave becomes the Star Baby. We’ve only been here a few million years in the human body we know now – the possibilities of how we’re able to transform over the course of a million generations is limitless, when you think about it.

I saw “2001” first when I was 8-years old, while my mind was still shaping, and it expanded my imagination and filled me with abstract thought. It’s not the kind of film that satisfies you with replete and definite answers as to its meaning or what really happens at the end. It’s bigger than all of us, and you have to be patient to think for years for what it all means.

For me, “2001” meditates on spectacle, the beauty of space, the pros and cons of technology and particularly the struggle between man and the machine that out-thinks him, the mystique of deep space, and the possibilities of evolution that is beyond our current rudimentary concepts. Behold the beauty though, it’s cinema’s most euphoric trance-out.

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