LET THE AWE AND MYSTERY OF A JOURNEY UNLIKE ANY OTHER BEGIN.
I remember watching this film for the first time when I was a teenager, or perhaps 20 years old. When it was over, I was so stunned and confused that I had to rewind the tape and watch the final part again in order to at least try to understand what was going on. I’m not the only one. Apparently, on the premiere of the film back in 1968, Rock Hudson walked out on it, saying, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?”. 40 years later, 2001 is considered to be Stanley Kubrick’s greatest film. Watching it again on DVD now, I was still fascinated.
The movie is divided into four chapters. The first is titled “The Dawn of Man” and goes back to the time in history when apes and mankind had not yet parted ways. A group of apes spend their days looking for plants to eat and try to avoid being killed by predators. One day a shiny, black monolith appears among them and it doesn’t take long for one of apes to realize how to use a bone as a tool – and a weapon. Fast-forward a few million years. In 1999, mankind has colonized the moon and Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is headed to one of the American bases there where something extraordinary has happened. Floyd visits an excavation site where scientists have found a black monolith that was intentionally buried on the moon four million years ago.
The third part of the film begins 18 months after the discovery, when the spaceship Discovery One is headed for Jupiter with a crew consisting of two astronauts, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), as well as three scientists in cryogenic sleep… and a supercomputer named HAL that is having a mental breakdown.
Fusing two brilliant minds
The most ambitious science fiction movie ever made fused two brilliant minds. Kubrick had an honest desire to make something in this genre that would not be make-believe and Arthur C. Clarke had written a short story that managed to connect the history and future of evolution with a vision of what space travel might look like within a few decades. Those watching the film for the first time might feel completely lost, and Kubrick didn’t mind that. He wanted the audience to think for themselves. Some flower power kids preferred not to think at all and just enjoy it as “the ultimate trip”. To me, the film only becomes more fascinating the deeper I delve into Clarke’s vision. If you study his work a little bit, the connection between the dawn of man and that final sequence of the film, with the “Star Child”, makes sense and becomes a symbol of hope and the possibilities of peaceful change on Earth.
At the same time, parts of the film do not necessarily fit together all that well. Kubrick and Clarke have clear theories, but they are also interested in the question of whether or not there might be aliens, and the chance of computers evolving to the degree that they develop human traits. All these thoughts make for a slow but mesmerizing, incredibly beautiful epic where the special effects dominate every sequence and the art direction combines the 1960s with a futuristic concept.
Kubrick’s camera captures every detail in long, majestic takes that are brilliantly scored with classical music that brings a weird beauty and eeriness. In the middle of all this technical prowess, the filmmakers lend their work a touch of humanity; the scene where Dave disconnects HAL is oddly heartbreaking.
Whenever people ask me which film is my favorite, I tend to name this one. It had such a profound effect on me when I first saw it. I didn’t need drugs to experience “the ultimate trip”.
2001: A Space Odyssey 1968-Britain. 139 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke. Short Story: Arthur C. Clarke (“The Sentinel”). Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth. Art Direction: Anthony Masters, Harry Lange, Ernest Archer. Visual Effects: Stanley Kubrick, Douglas Trumbull, and others. Cast: Keir Dullea (Dave Bowman), William Sylvester (Heywood Floyd), Gary Lockwood (Frank Poole), Daniel Richter. Voice of Douglas Rain.
Trivia: Kubrick and Clarke came up with “How the solar system was won”, a jokey working title for the film that is a reference to How the West Was Won (1962). The film originally premiered in New York at 158 minutes, but Kubrick subsequently cut 19 minutes. Pink Floyd were allegedly approached for the music score; Alex North wrote a whole score that was eventually rejected. HAL was originally meant to have a woman’s voice. Followed by 2010 (1984).
Oscar: Best Special Visual Effects. BAFTA: Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Track.
Quote: “I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid. (…) Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.” (Rain as HAL)
Last word: “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film – and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level – but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for ‘2001’ that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point. I think that if ‘2001’ succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man’s destiny, his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life. But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain ideas found in ‘2001’ would, if presented as abstractions, fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories; experienced in a moving visual and emotional context, however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one’s being.” (Kubrick, Playboy)