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A film for all time: Kubrick’s genius in 2001

Wow. Certainly, that word sums up Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the most concise manner possible, and perhaps the best. The American Film Institute voted it number 22 on its 100 Years, 100 Movies list. And though it’s definitely an oldie (released in 1968) and many find it boring for its long sequences of silence, sometimes strange sounds and mostly the non-verbal portrayal of the vastness of outer space, the film is a true masterpiece that has influenced all forms of media; from movies like “Star Wars” and TV programs like The Simpsons to impacting the way we as people, we as the human race, we as living creatures, we as people of the public sphere, foreign to the realm of space, feel about what it would be like to be there, out there in space. The film also influences the ideas about where technology might take us in the future and even our personal beliefs about the origins of life. Truly, this film has been a breakthrough for it all.

Arguably, the most important aspect of the film is the silence, and/or lack of dialogue throughout most of the production (only 40 minutes total in a film that is almost three hours long in total). Kubrick used this to convey the importance of the viewer’s interpretation of what was taking place scene by scene. In this way, the film truly was designed to be a “thinker.” An example of this could be the first two and a half minutes of the film, filled (yes, completely) with total blackness and the sound of strange echoing moans, screams, wails or otherwise unknown noises. Literally, the screen goes completely black and a sort of suspenseful music plays for almost three whole minutes. The viewer could interpret this in many ways. One could be that this is the blackness before the boom or the idea of nothingness before life in relation to the big bang theory. Another interpretation (after finishing the film) could tie into the intelligent life aspect and that the blackness was the intelligent life about to birth new life. Countless other opinions are also possible, and perhaps that is what Kubrick was trying to convey; that in relation to the sheer unintelligible size of the universe – considering man’s small part in it all – infinite possibilities are, well, possible.

Essentially, the film covered life, all of it, from a hazy start (the blackness) to a very uncertain and strange end (the swirling vortex of colors and sound). It told the story of intelligent life breeding our way of life; however, the film focused mainly on the aspect that human life is nothing without its originator, which seemed to be some ultra-intelligent alien creature that came in the form of a giant monolith. And although the film followed the story of life according to the Big Bang theory (for the most part), tracing the birth of human existence from nothingness to ape-hood to astronaut status, the whole time the feeling of how small and meaningless the existence of human life was in comparison to the bigger picture; the universe and the ultra-intelligent, god-like alien creatures.

The film is incredibly profound to say the least; not only in its depiction and story of the origin of life, but from a production standpoint, taking into consideration the time period in which it was filmed.

Anyone who watches even a second or two of the trailer for “2001” can see the painstaking time it took to achieve the detail imagined. This is specifically where the film influenced so much else in terms of media for the future following its release. The detail of space, the transition of the stars in correlation with the speed of the spacecrafts…it’s all there in almost perfect scientific accuracy. (Keep in mind that we hadn’t even visited the Moon yet when this film was in production.)

A movie suggests popular culture, while cinema suggests art and culture. Film – certainly in the case of Kubrick’s 2001 – encompasses all. Almost undeniably, Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” will continue to influence other forms of media for many years to come. It’s the simple fact that the film goes well beyond its time in portraying The Final Frontier, possible explanations for the origin of life and the meaning of life, where the human race will go in the future and why, how technology, one of the biggest aspects of human existence in the civilized worlds today, influences our lives and where it will take us, and simply further provoking of the primeval question of humanity, “Why?” Simply, an excellent film well deserving of its place on the AFI’s top 100 list.

1 comment so far

Bravo! Couldn’t agree more. Although I’m really not a sci fi devotee, I grew up in an era when the concept that there might actually be some “dreaming and scheming” going on out there in the vast unknown of the universe was just beginning to become recognized. I’ve always loved Ray Bradbury’s irony (Martian Chronicles), so 2001 was, for me, way ahead of its time. People are still trying to figure out that monolith! And that, I think, is the basis of any “classic” film.

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