2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

I doubt I have anything original to say but I just have to talk about that goddamn match cut. It's such a jarring cut, intentionally uneven and therefore unmissable. Due to chance or luck, a single species of ape discovered the first ever tool, putting them in a position higher than all others on the chain of survival of the fittest. So began the idea of progress and intelligence.

The foundation of intelligent life is built on advantage and opportunity, and then upon itself endlessly in a continuous path toward technological advancement. The reasons behind these advancements naturally progress over time, from coming about out of necessity into expanding creature comforts and aiding scientific discovery. There is no foreseeable future in which these developments slow down because these developments are the very foundational nature of humanity itself – it is what elevates us above other creatures. By virtue of logic, it stands to reason that there will come a point when technology is smarter than us and begins to improve upon itself. Gone will be the notion of human error and the possibility for mistakes, replaced by infallible programs. Humanity's own self-imposed demise is an inevitability; it is merely the next stage of evolution. But while Kubrick poses the idea that humanity is inevitably and necessarily working toward our own obsoletion, he doesn't frame this as a negative.

Throughout the film, the camera dwells on images of technology, and the main characters faces are saturated in that artificial light. Humans have become so dependent on technology that it has come to define their stage of the evolutionary process, and in deep space humanity is out of its element. Even with all the gadgets and gizmos, in the infinite unknown humans are nothing but children, where astronauts must relearn their basic bodily functions and eat food that resembles baby food. With the humans infantilized, HAL is the most dynamic character. Conversations are frequently shot in close-ups, as the camera deliberately tries not to feature human faces. The astronauts don't really have distinguishing characteristics other than their frail bodies and gangly limbs; they are stoic and speak in banalities. In contrast, HAL is the only one to express anxiety or fear, insinuating that in a sense, the humans are more robotic than their robot counterpart.

But if HAL is the paragon of cold hard reason, the monolith seeks to show Dr. Bowman what lies beyond perceptible cognition. There is no science that supports humanity being the end of evolution – just as amoeba a million years ago could not possibly fathom their gradual transformation into humanity, so too we cannot imagine what we will ultimately evolve into. Of course Dr. Bowman's human mind, like those amoeba, cannot comprehend the complexities of the realm he is being shown so he just experiences a kaleidoscopic array of pretty colors, but just the knowledge that there is something beyond our capacity of comprehension is enough to affirm our place as just a part of the evolutionary process, not the ideal and ultimate result of it.

The film ends on a somewhat optimistic note that signifies our doom – an inherent contradiction in terms except for in the context of that aforementioned match cut. The monolith reveals itself to an elderly Dr. Bowman, and he is reborn as a giant space baby overlooking the Earth, hinting at ideas of renewal and evolution. Evolution is a cycle of inevitable progress that results ultimately back at the beginning only to start again. We are actively working towards our own obsoletion – but that's the cycle of life, not the end of it.

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