2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain

As far as I can remember, 2001: A Space Odyssey has mesmerized me. I saw it the first time when I was under 10 and I vividly recall being enthralled by it and how Kubrick portrayed his take on science fiction he coined together with Arthur C. Clarke. His view was not on action, but in portraying how things could actually work, all this during a tale of finding proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. What Kubrick was interested of was to take a genre, that was often seen as some silly fun for the kids, and turn it into something that could be taken seriously. And in that, he succeeded.

At the first part of the story, we go back to the dawn of man, where the sorry pre-humans try to survive in the harsh world, where everything is a fight and the predators are far better equipped than they are. Then, one morning, things change when a mysterious monolith appears to them.

Something happens to the proto-humans. Something changes in their minds and soon, one of them makes the first invention by picking up a bone and figuring out the secrets of cause and effect. With this simple tool, a crude club made of bone, they find a way to up the ante, a way to clamber their way out from the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder and start their climb towards being the kings of their own environment by utilizing tools and weapons in an entirely new manner. No more will they lose their meagre meals to other tribes or stronger predators, as now they have the means, they have the tools to survive.

Millenias pass and we see a huge leap in the evolution, for both humans and the tools we use, in a form of a satellite orbiting the Earth in what is probably one the most famous cuts in the history of cinema. we have come a long way since the invention of the club. Humans have left the bosom of their home and are travelling in space, exploring the worlds beyond with the help of technology, with satellites and spaceships and space stations. We have become the lords of our own world, but there are new, exciting worlds at the deep caress of the cold space, that are only waiting for us to go there. Not only is there our lonely companion Moon, but other planets as well near us, waiting, calling us.

Dr Heywood Floyd (Sylvester) has been called to the Moon, as another monolith has been discovered there. This is a secret mission, as no-one is willing to disclose the evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence been found so near us. As in this world, the Soviet Union still is a thing, there is some tension building up from this discovery. After some speeches and sly deflecting discussion with people, Floyd finally arrives at the Moon, where he is taken to the monolith, excavated from deep under the crust.

Almost like the proto-humans before them, the scientists gather around the monolith, perhaps not just as visibly scared, but more in awe, proud and keen to figure out this new enigma and record the historic moment. They snap photos, pose for the occasion and then... then a deafening signal erupts from deep within the monolith, slinging into space, hurtling towards Jupiter.

The next part is probably the most well known of the story, as we join the voyage of spaceship Discovery towards Jupiter, the first manned flight that far. Astronauts Poole (Lockwood) and Bowman (Bowman) are the only ones awake during the mission, the other crew sleeping in hibernation. The only other company they have is HAL 9000 computer (Rain), which controls the ship during the long trip. As such, this part of the movie is commonly the one, which even those people who didn't warm up to the first half of the movie like.

But all is not well, as HAL begins to display worrying symptoms. It makes mistakes. Or does it? Does HAL just simply go insane or does it have other motives? Is HAL malfunctioning or has it evolved as well, becoming self-sufficient? Is it covering its error by trying to stage accidents where the crew dies, thus saving itself?  The mistake HAL does and causes speculation is the supposed failure if the communications relay.

During the spacewalk, the relay is changed, but nothing wrong is found from it. HAL the proceeds to suggest, that they should put the relay back and let it fail on its own so that its competence can be cleared beyond doubt. And from there, it all goes wrong.

The journey becomes survival of the fittest. On the other corner, you have HAL, a super-intelligent artificial intelligence, controlling the fates of the meagre people housed within the ship HAL is guiding. And on the other, you have two astronauts, capable on their own right, but limited by their own humanity but, just like with HAL, their will to survive. It all revolves back to the beginning when the proto-humans were at the bottom of the food chain but stood up after they found tools. This time around, it is their own tool that is against them, so they need to figure out the way to stop what humanity has built.

In the final part, which also is the most speculative, Bowman, the sole survivor of Discovery, finally arrives at Jupiter, where he finds yet another monolith, floating in space, orbiting the planet. As he nears it with his space pod, a gate opens, taking him with it, transporting him through space, and perhaps even time itself, to an unknown location. Something takes his pod to a place, that looks like a copy of a hotel room.  There he sees himself age; he even sees glimpses of himself in the room during different ages.

Bowman finally lies in bed, crippled with old age. Another monolith appears to him, beckoning him to touch it. He reaches towards it, but it is too far away and then he transforms again, this time into an infant, a star child, that is taken again through the monolith, through the portal and he, whatever he has become, finally returns home. A star child, evolved beyond our comprehension, floats in space, taking a glance towards the lonely blue sphere. Yes, he has returned home.

And perhaps, this moment in time is yet another sunrise for the human race.

Kubrick was never keen on explaining 2001. He always stated that he'd prefer people to draw their own conclusions on what really happened in the movie, especially in the first and last halves of the story. The parallels towards evolution are clear enough as are the ideas of creating artificial intelligence cable of free thought and its possibility of surpassing its creators. But then there are other things, more subliminal and symbolic, of which can be interpreted however they fit the views of the viewer. As an example, the star child or the black monolith and its importance or what it actually does represent.

Depending on how you see things, you can either take them as marks of alien intelligence or symbolism representing either nature or even divine intervention. In many ways, 2001 is a meditative and even spiritual movie, despite it still has the usual outside observative style Kubrick was keen on using.

The age of the movie is something that 2001 is hiding very well. There are some points, where fashion choices remind me that the movie was done in the kate 1960's, but as for special effects, the shots in space, the space stations and the spaceships haven't dated at all. Especially the rotating centrifuge of Discovery is  state of art design, looking both genuinely functional as well as surprisingly modern, with small details everywhere, that makes the movie feel more than a bit modern and still stand even on comparison to modern effect heavy movies.

One part of this can be contributed to the fact, that we see actually precious little of how the ordinary people live in this longs since passed future Kubrick envisioned. There are no cityscapes of cities nor shots people in their homes. The movie takes us directly from the past to the future, where it's set in space, making it possible to hide things with uniforms or spacesuits.

2001: A Space Odyssey is an awe-inspiring display of magnificent imagery, sounds, music and ideas. It is, in many ways, very open to interpretation and allows the viewer to construct their own take on what it means if it means anything. It has surface-level ideas as well as deeper, more cryptic ones, which will never be fully opened, as that is the way Kubrick intended them. This is a movie of questions, not definitive answers and if you are willing to ask them and perhaps even give them some thought, then maybe you will like it.

Maybe, you'll respect its fantastic images alone, as even now, at the age when movie makers believe in the chant of CGI, the special effects of 2001 have aged very little.

Or maybe, you'll just think it's rubbish.