Pretentious visual showcase or a powerful illustration of the cinematic medium? These are just some of the disparate and contrasting opinions, which have been expressed about Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film- 2001: A Space Odyssey.
However, the most pertinent question, which will be the central focus of this piece is why does 2001: A Space Odyssey still appeal to people in 2016? This line of enquiry has been inspired by a 70mm screening of the picture, which I attended last night. Surprisingly, the film was sold out, which resulted in an unprecedented large queue around the cinema and surrounding area. Moreover, at the end of the film, most of the audience burst into sudden applause, which was encouraging, to say the least.
From the reaction of the audience, one could gauge that the picture still resonates and engages beyond the mere curiosity factor of seeing the film in 70mm. The primary reason for this is because Kubrick has crafted a film that transcends the cinematic medium. In fact, one can liken it to a symphony that is about humanity and its place in the universe at large.
Like a symphony, the film has four distinctive parts and movements, which achieve two things. Firstly, they show humanity at crucial points in their development. Secondly, the movements chart the course of the Monolith, which is a tall black rectangular object that appears throughout the film.
The Monolith and its connection to humanity is one of the picture’s most fascinating facets to consider as it calls into question how this potential extraterrestrial or possible celestial object perceives humanity. It sees us in our infancy and oversees our transformation into a new life form. But what does it gain by aligning itself with our species, this is one of the film’s tantalising ambiguities and horrifying notions to consider.
With this last idea in mind, my recent viewing surprised me because it made me realise that 2001 can be seen as a horror film in many ways. Kubrick presents some quite subtle moments of terror. The most memorable of which is laboured sequence which is powerful in its simplicity. The second act of the film depicts the American spacecraft, Discovery One and its voyage towards Jupiter. On board are two mission pilots and three other scientists who are in hibernation until they reach the planet. Moreover, a sentient computer called Hal 9000 is on board. His primary responsibility is controlling the systems of the previously mentioned spacecraft.
After a series of cover-ups and mistakes, Hal 9000 takes to murdering the hibernated scientists. Kubrick shows their death through a close-up of their vital signs on their life-support systems. The scene is harrowing as the progression of their death is depicted in real-time and is punctuated with eerie silence as the audience is left to wonder about their feelings of the ordeal.
Hal 9000 is 2001’s lingering aspect because he is a compelling character who represents Kubrick’s primary thematic exploration, which is that technology has dwarfed humanity. Kubrick not only conveys this in visual terms by making the audience marvel at spaceships with these balletic shots that see them in rotation and motion. But one gets the impression that Kubrick is being ironic with Hal 9000 by making him more human than any other character on screen.
Perhaps the answer as to why does 2001: A Space Odyssey still appeal to people in 2016 is simple. It conceptualises humanity on a grand and cosmic scale while also being a film that has to be experienced. In this regard, Kubrick has created a film with monumental ambition that is only matched by the cinema.