Opinion editorials, reviews and personal essays
By Ryan Strong
If I had to sum up this review in one sentence, it would be this: Stanley Kubrick is a genius. Full stop. Even 50 years after its release, 2001: A Space Odyssey is still as revolutionary as it was in 1968. It has a constant feeling of freshness; moreover, it has a constant feeling of a transcendent experience, perhaps unmatched by any director since.
So, where to begin? The logical point would seem to be the plot and narrative, but that is a bit complicated with 2001 (more on that later). Anyway, the superficial plot is that mankind (well, actually members of the American government) discovers a mysterious, black monolith on the surface on the moon. As a result, a manned mission is sent to Jupiter where another monolith is believed to be. There are five members of the mission, three of which are in hibernation. Did I mention the computer? Ah, yes, the HAL 9000 computer that runs the ship, who is “foolproof and incapable of error.” Naturally, of course, things go disastrously wrong when HAL messes up, the crew members decide to deactivate him, and so he decides to kill them all. After some action (Spoiler: people die), the mission makes it to Jupiter and the mind-blowing final act begins.
Of course, this is only the superficial plot. The actual plot takes place on the level of human evolution. The opening sequence occurs on the savannah of Africa with a tribe of apes that are human ancestors. The movie ends with another evolutionary jump for mankind. Of course, evolution is not the only theme, and those themes are extraordinarily debated. What, for example, is the meaning of the HAL computer? Or, what is the meaning of the black monolith, which is hardly explained at all? However, I actually think that this is part of what is great about the film; it never spells out completely what it means, forcing the viewer to actually wrestle with the film.
Along with a lot of the interesting questions about the themes, some of the best elements are the technical aspects of the film. In particular, the music is just astounding. Kubrick actually selected all classical pieces of music for the film, and they work marvelously. Indeed, the main theme “Thus Spake Zaruthasa” has become so intimately connected with the film, even though it was composed long before the film was made. When the monolith appears, the music makes my hair stand on end out of fear for what is coming next. However, hands down, the best part of the film is when we are first shown the spaceships, we see them waltzing in time to Strauss’s “The Blue Danube Waltz.” It is a moment of sheer genius, one of the many in this film.
Perhaps the only possible criticism I could level at it is the fact that the film is slow. I mean, really slow. Kubrick takes as much time as he wants for small, seemingly unimportant things like space flights. When watching these scenes, then, the most important thing to remember is to enjoy the cinematography which is exceptional.
In the end, 2001 is a thinking person’s film, something that resists interpretation, but at the same time is richly rewarding when delved into. For teenagers in particular, the film wrestles with existential issues that we ourselves are only beginning to wrestle with: questions of transcendence, of the unknown, and hope for the future. If you ever get bored of Marvel movies, this is definitely the film for you.