I love the story of Frankenstein and while applying the loose skeletal structure of that story into Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY well, let’s just say I can feel your eyebrows rise in a curious fashion accompanied with a contorted expression across your face. Stay with me! Stanley’s probably rolling around in his grave.
First off, I’d like to admit, I’ve never seen 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that is until last Saturday afternoon. It was unique because I got to witness the magnum opus, of Kubrick’s hefty career on the big screen in 70mm print! It was so pretty. I guess you can say, I’ve been waiting my whole cinephile life for such an event. It was well worth the wait. It’s mesmerizing how many interpretations have boggled movie goers’ minds for the past five decades since Kubrick’s ambiguous masterpiece. And through my curious findings from my “advanced television teaching machine” ranging from HAL being a gay robot, to of course the ancient old theory of NASA hired Kubrick to make a propaganda film, there’s one quote in particular that really captured the essence of what I feel stands to be the strongest and fairest of them all. Film scholar Carrol L. Fry points out, “The film repeatedly invites us to see the contrast between the sophistication of technology and the banality of human conversation.”
Humans are boring creatures. Yes, we’re capable of many profound things but ultimately we’re flawed. No matter how hard we attempt not to be flawed it just doesn’t work and because we’re so flawed we tend to create things that aren’t so flawed. It’s like that saying, “God created man in his own image.” Well, man sure as hell loves to play God and in doing so creates to his heart’s content. Back to my Frankenstein thought… man creates a form of life, in this case HAL who is far more advanced than any human. How does this compare to Frankenstein’s monster? Both creations can’t keep their emotions in check, which almost always conjures up a consequence. HAL kills people, Frankenstein’s Monster kills people. All of this stems from an emotional standpoint. Man can’t control his creations. Remember JURASSIC PARK? Same thing, it’s like Frankenstein.
Despite the film having sparse dialogue it really highlights the dullness of human conversation and sucks the emotion dry of anything becoming substantial. For example, when Floyd the spaceman in route to the moon, makes a video call to his daughter to wish her a Happy Birthday, he does not once use the word, “love”. I was waiting for it and it never came. When a parent has a child, they LOVE that child especially on their birthday. I get that everyone conveys love differently but come on!
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is a visceral chunk of cinematic history indulged for its meditative circumstance while it bathes you with its seductive, mysterious panache; Glorious orchestrated symphonies of epic proportions, glazed with ambiguous imagery, meticulous detail in every camera angle, majestic set design accompanied with exquisite costumes all stitched together by the profound thematic overtones of existentialism. Simply put it’s a film about space while intelligently lassoing questions of our existence, evolution, and technology. It’s story is divided into four parts and each of those parts presents a series of patterns such as birthdays. Again, Floyd video calls his daughter to wish her a Happy Birthday, Frank receives a video message from his family wishing him a Happy Birthday, then there’s HAL while being disconnected gives us the date he was created and then of course in the finale the birth of “Star Baby” transcends. It’s an endless cycle of our awareness of being rebirthed which is a pretty pivotal theme.
Not that there’s any correlation but, every character in this film, has a certain complacency and the irony is HAL, being an artificial creation is the most human out of everyone. “I’m afraid, Dave.” Think about it from the perspective of HAL. What does he see and what does he provide? HAL plays chess with Dave, provides information for Dave, he’s keeping the rest of the crew in a delicate cryosleep, essentially being a servant to all human commands. Who really has the power here? Is Kubrick alluding to the fact technology at some point may surpass human evolution? To borrow a phrase from Sex and the City, “Absafuckinglutely”. Humans are like fish out of water especially when it comes to space. It’s not their natural habitat and they rely heavily on the support of technology to survive. Humans are just along for the ride, exploring new territory acting like pioneers equipped with their knowledge and tools. Albeit, tools do sometimes fail and with that failure comes a moment when one is faced with their own humanity and perhaps mortality depending how dire the situation is and what one will do to rectify the situation becomes an interesting progression of life.
Such is the case when Dave dismantles HAL. He’s left to explore a galaxy alone. Kubrick winks at us with his extreme close up of Dave’s eye as he’s traveling through some super active hypnotic light speedy voyage with trippy moments of his facial expressions capsulated in a series of still frames. In a way, we’ve entered Dave’s awareness to his own mortality. Time is relative and its as if knowledge becomes static as his body rapidly ages. Yet, somehow at the end of it all, he’s reborn as a “Star Baby”. Of course, there are numerous interpretations of its significance. If I were to conjecture a guess, Kubrick’s Odyssey mimics a sort of Homer’s Odyssey. Simplifying the entire journey to the semblance of returning home after an extended length of time, or perhaps its just the notion of reverting to one’s original form. It’s a journey nonetheless that holds vital significance either from an evolutionary standpoint or to some meditative spiritual awakening of sorts. Obviously the significance is in the eye of the beholder which makes the film even more triumphantly brazen as it still upholds its steadfast reputation in 2018.
The one thing that really drove my mind up the wall was the black monolith. I feel in some ways the monolith can be surmised to something closely resembling a mirror. Maybe mirror isn’t the right word. It’s a pause, a thought, an awareness, an a-ha moment of gentle clarity? Maybe it’s instinct, a miracle, an inspiration, a déjà vu, a coincidence, all cloaked in mystery? Is it all simply reduced to the construct of intelligence? Or is it an apparition, the smoke signal to hope? Whatever it is I can’t seem to make up my mind and that’s been driving me crazy kind of like being in a monotonous black hole. Or like a dog chasing its own tail? I suppose I’ll have to shelve it along side all my other existential ponderings. Thanks, Stanley.
This film is an experience, a deeply induced minefield or better yet a jigsaw puzzle for the mind to introspect unforgivingly and patiently. Having that freedom to expand your own awareness is quite unique especially these days with the fast action packed blockbusters that corrode all the mega Cineplexes. Its simply nice not being spoon fed every plot point and instead being able to absorb its entirety in one sitting while synchronously unravel its enigmatic allure and the artistry of collaboration from eons ago. I loved it.