Classic Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stars:  **** out of 4

Summary:  Breathtaking.  Visionary.  Unequaled.  Terrifying.  Different.  Dfdndononcmnieowidnosjnd.  What?

Dude... don't touch the monoliths, man, they turn you into, like, a space baby.

Dude... don't touch the monoliths, man, they turn you into, like, a space baby.

Review:  Hey, look, I’m reviewing another “Best Movie Of All Time”.  I guess it’s unavoidable.  I went into the late night experience of watching ‘2001’ with a healthy amount of skepticism.  I’m not much for judging a movie solely on its reputation, I mean, that just takes the art out of the whole thing.  I’ve known the plot and the details for a long time, and that fueled my early criticism, as it didn’t grab me on paper.  I hoped, truly, that the film would far exceed my expectations, and I was pleased to see that it did.  I also hate it.

klndklnfknkdnfonsiondo!  What’s that, you ask?  Oh, that’s art.  Don’t ask me to explain it. Create your own interpretation.

I love this movie, but woe to the monkey-ness at the beginning.  Seriously, it opens with twenty minutes of people in monkey suits, with the excuse that it is “The Dawn Of Man”.  Very well, then, I’ll buy that for a dollar, and I’ll buy the set up with the black monolith and influenced evolution, but did it really have to drag on for so long, Mr. Kubrick?  Naturally, I have to remind myself that I’m looking at this late ’60s motion picture with 21st century eyes, but I grew up on ‘Ben-Hur’.  I think I have a sense of patience when it comes to movies, and the monkeys were really pushing it.  But, all bad things must come to an end, and when the monkeys are gone, then the good stuff starts.  I really, really don’t want to get in-depth in ‘2001’, I’m sorry, reader, but I can’t do that.  You have to watch the film and experience it.  You may find yourself strangely captivated.  The special effects, for instance, look real.  Forget the hubub about James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’.  That’s a cartoon (but kudos to the artists behind it, because they’re swell!).  This stuff is real.  A good chunk of it I have no idea how in the world they accomplished, much less in the ’60s, and there’s no kidding about it holding up today.  It doesn’t just hold up, it surpasses, because of its elegance and simple photo-reality.  Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t take time to laud the amazing use of music.  Since space is silent, and too much dialog would detract from the mysterious atmosphere, classical music plays over a large portion of the film, to great effect.  In fact, it seems to me that the space travel scenes are constructed in a similar way to the music accompanying them, giving a sense that humanity is in some kind of gorgeous, patient dance through space.  You bet I dig it.  The slow, almost real-time pacing on some portions of the film works to its great advantage, I’m glad to say, and Mr. Kubrick’s reputation is officially lived-up-to, in my book.  The sequences with HAL 9000 are warming, chilling and unforgettable, thanks to some great voice work by Douglas Rain and an emotionless red “eye”.  Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea play two astronauts, whose encounter with the apparently insane computer changes them both forever, for better or worse.  Earlier on, William Sylvester gives us necessary humanity and warmth in the form of Dr. Heywood Floyd, who’s dispatched to help deal with the discovery of an alien artifact on the moon.  He’s a big part of why you stay watching the movie, especially after the debacle with the monkeys.  Unfortunately, after the HAL 9000 scenes draw to their end, the film goes all psychedelic for like, another twenty dragging minutes, and an astronaut ages in a kind of unreal room, dies, and gets reborn as a Star-Child, or space baby, if you will.  It’s all wonderfully unexplained (through dialog, that is), even though it is pretty obvious that it has something to do with an ever-watchful alien race assisting with the evolution of humanity, which the Star-Child appears to represent as the first new member of a higher human race.  It’s not too terribly cryptic, actually, which makes the ridiculously long psychedelia segment, which is basically content-less except for cool special effects, kind of pointless.  Kubrick could have realistically shortened it, considerably, as he could have with the opening ‘Dawn Of Man’.

But let’s have a go at ‘2001’ from a philosophical/theological angle, shall we?  The central theme appears to be that humanity is part of a grander scheme in the universe, being guided ever higher, progressively, by powers they can not possibly understand.  Yet humanity must also, in synergy, respond, and reach out.  The monoliths, the faceless symbols of the alien powers, react to human touch, and every time they are interacted with, something greatly powerful happens.  One could argue, from a religious perspective, that the film’s underlying assumptions are godless, but I would argue the exact opposite.  They perhaps unwittingly express a very real desire to connect with the Divine, and to enter into the unfathomable mystery that exists “out there”.  It used to be in popular imagination that heaven, that is, the sky, was the place of the Divine, but it seems to me that this has lost its power over the imagination of a post-moon landing world (I don’t suggest, however, that in Christianity that it be changed).  Now, as in the final segment of ‘2001’, we are constantly reaching and searching ‘Beyond The Infinite’, to where we sense we can evolve — by which, we mean we can become more human.  So humanity, as long as it is practical and taught in schools, will look to space in its search for God.  It’s the final frontier, according to ‘Star Trek’, but ‘2001’ disagrees.  There’s always something beyond.  In all this, I see orthodox Christianity reflected beautifully.  Humanity, even before the much-contested idea of macroevolution entered the philosophical scene, has always understood that it must grow up.  Christianity in particular sees humanity as the image of the Infinite, and as such we will always be developing and changing and growing and reaching out.  As with the monoliths, this requires synergy, a combined effort of the Divine power and our own curiosity and willingness to, well, evolve.  Yet unlike the black, impersonal monoliths, in Christianity, God has become man, so that man may become god, that is, fully human, whatever that will look like (hopefully not as terrifying as ‘2001’s Star-Child!).  In Christ, we touch God Himself, and we are taken beyond the created order into the energies of God, where our dark, corrupted nature dies and we are reborn as the new humanity.  So ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ has got my interpretation, now, and I hope you like it, Mr. Kubrick, wherever you are.

All things considered, though, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is quite a trip.  What it lacks in overall coherency and clarity in makes up in beauty, simplicity, tension, drama, and just plain real art.

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