Merry Christmas to Luke - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This is a new idea I have. Rather than (or sometimes, in addition to) giving something store-bought and material as a gift for the holidays, it's much better to give somebody a personalized blog about their film of choice. I could think of nobody better to inaugurate this little tradition than Monsieur Luke
, my filmic partner-in-crime.
When I was a budding cinephile, I devoured Kubrick, cutting my teeth on a Clockwork Orange and becoming entranced by the Shining. When I picked up 2001 from Blockbuster, my mom gave me a stern warning- it was the worst movie she'd ever seen. Maybe that influenced me, but I couldn't help but agree. I liked the stuff with the monkeys, but everything after that put me to sleep and I never finished it. I rented the DVD again a couple years later, thinking maybe I wasn't ready for it. I made it to the end this time, and actually enjoyed it, but still thought that half of the movie could have been cut to make it much better (something I hate admitting that I actually thought about any movie). I even bought the DVD when it was on sale to try to complete my Kubrick collection, but that was that. At least, until
Luke appeared. For months, and years, he begged me to see it again, seeing as how it was his favorite film of all-time and I never remembered enough to discuss it with him.
I'm surprised that my feelings on the film overall haven't changed much, although like anything, I can realize a lot more and get a lot more out of it now that I'm older. I love the first act, and the Jupiter Mission onward is almost all incredible. Unfortunately, between the primates and HAL does little other than to bore me out of my mind. It's not all bad, since it sets up this elaborate and detailed vision of the future and contains all the exposition in the entire 140+ minute film. But, the whole thing just seems dull and lifeless. I don't really care about anything anybody says, and the whole thing just seems so detatched and uninteresting.
But, all is not lost, because the surrounding reels are simply great. Of course it starts with the Dawn of Man, although still just a primate. We see what life must have been like for these early humanoids in stunning detail, which is what Kubrick does best. The magic of this part of the film is due to the ambition and creativity of Kubrick's vision and how he orchestrates it. We never see any close-ups, which hides any shortcomings the excellent costumes and makeup might have exhibited. Also, this gives us an excellent view of the landscape, and it's just so aesthetically pleasing. Even in 1968, I wonder how they managed to find such purity on Earth. So, this giant black monolith appears before the monkeys, and this is where the film gets really
magical. Each appearance of the black slab is accompanied by this eerie vocalization, usually reserved for..well, I can't imagine what else it could ever be used for. But, it sends chills up and down my spine and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
After the monolith appears, one of the apes picks up a bone and goes wild with it, eventually killing off one of his brethren. Now, this brings us to the first major impasse in the film. The monolith is linked to human progress, so our first major progress in the film is learning to use tools and, subsequently, killing one another. Now, is this supposed to mean that we can only make progress through murder? But, as we've seen, the apes fought and killed one another before the monolith and before tools. So, instead, is this just something built into us, a flaw that's uniquely human?
Later, we find ourselves aboard the Discovery on mission to Jupiter, but nobody really knows why. Conveniently, the ship comes equipped with the most advanced computer yet, the HAL 9000, capable of mimicking human emotions and incapable of error. HAL goes a little crazy and the two cognizant passengers decide to disconnect him. In one of the most famous sequences in cinema, HAL learns of this by reading lips, which they should have totally seen coming. HAL kills them all, but can't keep a good Dave down, as he finally shuts down HAL and learns the 'why' of his mission- to investigate a signal sent from the monolith they unearthed on the Moon (see: exposition). Then, uh, some stuff happens.
The one thing that mostly everybody can agree with, in regards to 2001, is the technical mastery that Kubrick exhibits. Each shot and scene is done to perfection. His infamous attention to detail is also on display in every single aspect of the film. The models used in the outer-space photography are really incredible; there's not a flaw to be seen. Nearly 40 years later, they still look far better than anything modern technology can come up with, and I'm sure they will 40 years from now. Not only is it a technical masterpiece, but an artistic one, and a distinction must surely be drawn between the two. Kubrick lets nothing get between him and expressing his grand vision here. And thank Stan for that.
In keeping with Kubrick's attention to the little details, some of the biggest delights with 2001 lie in the little things. Stan could definitely create an atmosphere like no other, in more ways than one. In the scene where HAL locks Dave out of the ship, the sense of panic is very palpable, it's easy for one's muscles to tighten while watching it. I love the editing when the primate first picks up the bone in the beginning, the way it cuts between the triumph and the violence. But, Kubrick's moments are also like no others because nobody else does things anything like him. Take, for instance, the appearances of the monolith or the 'tunnel' towards the end. I've found that I feel so much at times like that; Terror, serenity, trepidation, hope, elation, triumph. I think that, because a lot of the film (and a lot of Kubrick's other films) feels so distant that this eruption of so many conflicting emotions can easily be confused with lack thereof.
As for the analyzation and meaning of the film, I still have no clue. There are a million different ideas I could branch out on, as evidenced by the hundreds of analyses and a cursory glance at a message board like 2001's on IMDb. As Roger Ebert
said, 2001 isn't an easy film, it doesn't tell you what to think or how to feel, which, to me, represents something that is sorely needed in cinema. Sometimes, even most of the times, it's better to escape into a movie, to feel the ups and downs, like a rollercoaster, and come out unchanged. But, sometimes it's an utter necessity to have a film like 2001 to inspire thought and inspire those emotions and ideas that can't be put into words.
In the end, I still don't know that 2001 means. I'm sure that it does mean something, because it's far too important not to. Watching it, those wordless secrets of the cinema creep into your skin that let you know that this is something special, something worthy of your attention and thoughts. To give an easy answer would be a cop-out, it'd be against anything and everything that the film itself stands for. I've kept myself and my ideas on the film 'fresh' in order to write this, but I really can't wait to dive into ideas, analyses and discussions about it. I feel like the message is inside of a locked room that I don't quite have the key to. But, what's inside that room is important, it's essential.