2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Eerie music, saturated dunes, dusty desert plains, and restless primates mark the opening of the ethereal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) a science fiction film from director Stanley Kubrick who wrote the screenplay with sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, based on Clarke’s book.

The late film director Stanley Kubrick made films with intriguing stories. A Clockwork Orange (1971) carried the weight of existential angst, as modifying the behavior of a violent youth caused him to become a victim of violence, the question is what will happen to him next? Would he have learnt his lesson? Or would he become deranged?

Barry Lyndon (1975) was about the futility of wealth, striving for a fortune but losing it, chopping to the knees one’s reason for living.

Kubrick’s immaculate 2001: A Space Odyssey is a striking piece of real and genuine art over and above narrative pull. It goes beyond the linear narratives of A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and other Kubrick films, and is a real cinematic experience.

It is not only one of my favourite films, it’s one of the great films.

It’s a film journey in two-and-so hours, that takes one from a view of the “dawn of man” with primates defending their territory and learning the ropes. I was drawn into picturesque vistas of desolate plains and mountains which were filmed in the African open spaces of Namibia. In this world, primitive life is “depicted” as hominids sleep, eat, and vie for territory and use animal bones for tools, which is drawn out in the theme of a tool becoming a weapon. The dawn of man sequence is fascinating and is topped off by the mysterious presence of the Monolith, which is rectangular in shape, built like rock, and black. It appears impersonal. The hominids come around the Monolith, anticipating what it is, as Gyorgy Ligeti’s Requiem plays over the scene, eerily is perhaps overused to describe this effect, but it’s mesmerizing in any language.

Then, jumps to the year 2001 as spaceships drift through outer space, Strauss’ Blue Danube plays over scenes of space, stars, planet, and space craft (exterior and interior). All rather artistically bent with Johann Strauss music cradling the visual panorama unfolding. Impressively mounted visual effects make one believe a pen is drifting under the nose of a sleeping doctor in his shuttle. And there are other visual marvels.

Occasionally focussed on advanced technology and gadgets such as toilets in space and communications terminals—sensibly executed, intricately designed are the interiors of the space crafts.

Technology has advanced, humans are more sophisticated, and base instinct hidden, and takes us into the world of Dr Heywood Floyd and his secret. The presence of the black monolith is being kept secret from the public, but Russian space agents need to know more, if they can.

Later in the film, Discovery 1’s journey to Jupiter shows how even the ship’s central computer HAL, programmed by humans, will fight to survive with a sense of “base instinct”, but oh so sophisticated, nevertheless.

Inside Discovery 1, two men are awake from hibernation (four others are still asleep) and embark on discovering the identity of the monolith. It all becomes rather tense as HAL is on a battle of wits against the two pilots, after discovering its scheduled to be terminated as a fatal error in the ship’s programming has occurred.

The final sequences of mission commander David Bowman’s flight into the unknown is played over with spectacularly visceral visual effects and music, coming down on an epoch-making moment for Bowman. It perhaps signifies a greater moment for the rest of the world. 2001 is the kind of film that takes one on a journey through cinematic space, time and the spirit. This is a one of a kind.

Slow moving but absorbing and isn’t in a rush to unfold its premise, ending spectacularly, involving themes of life and death, young and old, and “rebirth”, but this reviewer is not on board with the evolutionary framework and the theme of reincarnation.

2001 says that humanity is continually evolving and can reincarnate and eventually reach Nirvana, much the same for the universe. I cannot say that I ever evolved and some would agree.

5 out of 5 stars

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