Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Director: Stanley Kubrick
MPAA Rating: G
The eye, an eerie red dot, of HAL 9000, the smartest and most reliable foolproof computer ever created, looks out across the pod bay of Discovery One. Through the silence, Dave Bowman’s voice bursts through sharply: “Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.” We realize that his voice comes from inside the command pod, waiting out in the vacuum of space outside Discovery One. When no reply comes, he repeats his command, but again hears silence. “Hello HAL, do you read me?” Still no reply. He doesn’t have his helmet, and if he can’t enter the spaceship, he’ll be stranded in space. He’s screwed. Frantically switching to different voice channels, he repeats over and over, “HAL, do you read me? Hello, HAL? HAL? Do you read me?”
I don’t understand this movie. I don’t think anyone does. Director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke don’t. Turning fifty this past month, it still has not been fully understood. In fact, there is no one right or wrong answer to the questions posed in the film. Near the end of the film, it is seen in its most powerful as the visual aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey quietly imply philosophical or religious interpretations behind the near-seizure-inducing images. Like the best science fiction films, such as Blade Runner, 2001 invites theories to form and abound. Broad religious interpretations have made quite a splash with the movie, encouraged mainly by one interview with Kubrick in Playboy: “The God concept is at the heart of 2001, but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God… I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God.” Whatever Kubrick is trying to hint about God in 2001 is not the pure, Biblical interpretation of God, and that is seen through the black monolith (simply a large, black rectangular box) that somehow finds a place in many turning points of human evolution.
Whatever the case behind the philosophical meanings of 2001, one thing you have to realize that it is not a work centralized around a plot, but instead experiments with poeticism visually. Do not look for a plot—that will ruin the entire experience. There are roughly three to four plot points, but they take a secondary seat to the emotions and reactions it initially incites visually and audibly. In many ways, it resembles surrealist and abstract art, with its visual splashes of color that mean to provoke a certain emotion for a brief, precious moment.
Like these paintings, the little moments in 2001 are crafted with such masterful attention to every detail and small stroke that comes and goes in a millisecond, all in all presenting a jaw-dropping visual spectacle. Even today, with the world’s connection through the internet allowing us to access nearly everything that exists in the world and beyond, 2001 still manages to both provide images of landscapes familiar to us in a different light and explosions of colors that provoke awe and mesmerization.
After all I’ve said to describe the movie, you might assume that it’s a piece of psychological bore, and I guess you wouldn’t be exactly wrong with its lack of a main singular plot that resolves with what you’ve grown accustomed to with climaxes and satisfying resolutions—the traditional form of storytelling. However, what little plot and conflict it has, it once again serves for the larger picture: Kubrick’s plea for an emotional reaction.
There’s a scene near the beginning of the film where long minutes are spent watching various spaceships drifting around in the dark vacuum. Other than the lazy coasting of the spaceships, there is no main action. Yet, with the exhilarating theme of Strauss’s “Blue Danube” placed over the masterfully choreographed drifting, the twirling ships create a unique sense of awe and beauty, like a slow dance between couples so in love you can’t take their eyes off them. Despite its blatant naturalistic and atheistic view of God, the images themselves instead seem to praise the handiwork of God much more than it detracts. They praise the achievements of Man and look forward to the future reaches of Man, but inadvertently provide a more inspired feeling of worship for the Creator and his Creation.
Norden, Eric. “Stanley Kubrick: Interviews.” Playboy, Sept. 1968, pp. 47–48.