After the discovery of a mysterious monolith on the Moon, five astronauts and a highly advanced computer are sent to Jupiter on a classified mission.
In all of the years of cinema’s existence, one can honestly say that there has never been a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Directed by the maverick visionary Stanley Kubrick, and co-written with science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke, this film was spurned upon its original release, but has since been noted as one of the most important, evocative, and influential films ever made. Everything about this film is unique and legendary: its structure can be compared to that of a symphony, set to distinct movements; its visual effects were groundbreaking, depicting space in an original way and changing how future filmmakers would approach the subject; and its use of dialogue is sparse (the first line of dialogue isn’t until 25 minutes into the film), relying more on classical music, ambient sounds, and visuals to tell the story.
The film starts out with a minute György Ligeti’s Atmosphères over darkness, perhaps representing the beginning of the universe. After, the first major movement of the film, “The Dawn of Man”, begins, depicting prehistoric Earth and humanity’s apelike ancestors. These apes are having issues with another “tribe” and there is hostility between the two groups. But when the first tribe sees a large, black, humming monolith, everything changes. This group discovers that animal bones can be used as tools and weapons, forever separating them from the
The next section flash-forwards millions of years into the future, with the help of the famous match cut that shows a bone being thrown into the air, then changing to a satellite in space. Mankind has made tremendous advancements in technology and space exploration, with complex space planes and communication devices. Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) has been called on a mission to investigate a strange object that was intentionally buried on the Moon. This investigation leads to the next “movement”, entitled “Jupiter Mission: Eighteen Months Later”. This section is the heart of the film, with astronauts (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood) on a mysterious mission and accompanied by HAL 9000 (creepily voiced my Douglas Rains), the most advanced computer on Earth with human-like intelligence. The more time the astronauts spend on the ship, the more concerned they grow about HAL and their safety. This only opens a can of worms that ends in one of the most stunning, poetic, ambiguous, and confusing sequences in film history.
2001 is a complex, profound, and frustrating film to watch. Exploring themes dealing with the issues of human evolution, intellect, and technology, 2001 shows that it’s one of those films more concerned with asking questions rather than answering them, and many people find this daunting and “boring”. But for those open minded enough to this experience, they will be greatly rewarded. Even after repeated viewings, new questions and theories will arise to the viewer, resulting in a much more fulfilling and personal experience. This film encourages self-exploration more than anything else because, like a Rorschach test, the viewer’s interpretation says more about the viewer than it does about the imagery. But amidst all of these varying questions, one remains constant. And this question, a question that has haunted humanity since the beginning of civilization, has one possible, and terrifying, answer that looms over the viewer. It is the asking if this question, and realizing its futility, that makes this film such a remarkable intellectual experience. Coupled with visual effects that showed Hollywood a new way of exploring space, and surreal imagery that is as beautiful as it is thrilling, it’s no wonder that this film changed science fiction films forever and showed audiences that the only thing that can stunt human potential is imagination.