Blog Directory CineVerse: 2001: A film interpretation odyssey

2001: A film interpretation odyssey

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How does one begin to unravel the dense onion layers surrounding Stanley Kubrick's masterwork "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Why is the film so long and leisurely paced? If aliens planted those big black rectangles, where are the aliens? And how can we possibly make sense of that bewilderingly abstract fourth and final act? CineVerse attempted to answer all these queries last night and came away with these plentiful observations:

Its visuals and special effects are breathtaking – no science fiction film before it looked this realistic nor depicted actual space travel so accurately; the level of detail and the verisimilitude are stunning, even 48 years later.
Unlike previous sci-fi movies, the aliens suggested here are never shown, which is probably the right choice, considering no degree of special effects wizardry would have been able to improve upon your own imagination or sense of wonder over the mysterious sights we see through Dave the astronaut’s eyes.
It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative construction, and there is very little dialogue; instead, it relies on visual poetry and pure cinema – images married to sound without a reliance on words, narration or exposition – to tell its story. In many ways, this film plays like a silent movie.
The timing of its release was important: in 1968, America was enthralled with the NASA space program and Kennedy’s dream of landing on the moon, which would happen a year later; 1968 was also an extremely volatile and violent year, and some of the themes expressed in and emotions evoked by this film would have resonated with audiences; additionally, the stargate sequence near the end was trippy and psychedelic, which would have appealed to the youth culture of the late 1960s.
There is no proper soundtrack: instead of an original score, the filmmakers rely primarily on 2 classical pieces of music that are perfectly matched to the visuals – Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and The Blue Danube Waltz. The latter is an ideal choice because it, like the space station docking sequence it orchestrates, is purposely slow, majestic, and rhythmic. The former is an ideal choice because it conveys a sense of cold, austere wonder, shock, awe, discovery, and spiritual grandeur.
The film’s pacing, in general, is deliberately glacial, which many critics and film scholars credit making the picture more impactful. “When very little is happening overtly, even the slightest motions or actions assume much greater significance. The slowness of 2001 trains the viewer to watch hypervigilantly, in effect (creating) a new attention span for the viewer for the duration of the film,” wrote online writer B. Krusch.
There is not much of a plot, character development or, for that matter, main characters (Dave is introduced halfway into the film).
This also remains, especially in its fourth and final act, one of the most abstract, ambiguous and thought-provoking if not downright puzzling films ever made – forcing us to ask deep existential questions and ponder many mysteries. The film can be endlessly debated about what it means and how it should be deciphered.
Despite the fact that the events and technologies depicted did not occur by the year 2001, the movie remains powerfully relevant and timely in the deep questions it asks about man and his place in the universe and the technology he creates. A few of the gadgets and technologies, while trivial, look dated now, but the way space travel and life for astronauts is depicted hasn’t changed much.
Interestingly, this is a film that doesn’t try to emotionally manipulate you or telegraph suggested emotions; it’s possible to feel pessimistic or optimistic, happy or sad, excited or disgusted during and following the movie. Many express feeling an overwhelming sense of awe and astonishment after viewing the picture and often can’t explain why they feel what they feel. This plays into Kubrick’s ambition, which was to sidestep “intellectual verbalization” and tap into “the viewer’s subconscious.” “Movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the traditional reliance on words. I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through two areas of emotional comprehension," Kubrick said.
“2001” is also amazingly edited; it can boast of the most audacious jump cut ever used in cinema – the edit point between the bone thrown into the air followed by the unexpected shot of a ship moving through space.

The evolution of man: we see primitive apes that evolve into men, and futuristic human beings who have created technology to take them to the stars, and finally the birth of a starchild cosmic being following the death of the astronaut.
Man’s reliance on tools and the dangers this creates: consider that primitive man’s discovery of the bone as a tool leads to him using it to kill; later, we see the astronaut “killing” his own creation, HAL, with a simple screwdriver. At, an interesting theory is proposed: Civilized man has lost control of his tools in space. He must learn to walk again, eat baby food, and be toilet trained. On earth, he’s a master, but he’s just a child in space. By the film’s third of four acts, it’s suggested that man has outlived his tools, and now his tools are seeking to overtake him (HAL). By destroying HAL, man ends his evolutionary alliance with the tool, but is now alone in space and helpless, reliance on the same supernatural/alien force that inspired and guided him (as embodied in the monolith) in his primitive ape form.
Divine intervention: the original story upon which this film is loosely based, written by Arthur C. Clarke, is called “The Sentinel.” The monoliths that appear have been deliberately placed there by an alien intelligence who presumably are trying to inspire life on earth to take the next step in evolution. Another monolith is placed on the moon and sends out a signal to a third monolith near Jupiter that is meant to point to a path man needs to take to evolve even further. There’s a suggestion here that man needs an extra push to progress to the next level of evolution.
Man’s place in the universe: who are we, where did we come from, and where are we going are all questions that the filmmakers attempt to ask.
The flawed nature of man: we keep making mistakes and/or using our intelligence for destructive purposes; consider that the bone is used to beat other ape-men to death, the supercomputer HAL we created has a programming flaw and an ability to overtake us; the astronauts on the moon touch the monolith in the same way that the ape-men touched the monolith, suggesting that we really haven’t evolved or learned much; man may have mastered his ability to live on planet Earth, but in space he has to learn how to walk, eat and go to the bathroom all over again like an infant.
Evolution versus de-evolution: Yes, we see man evolve from primitive animals to sophisticated, intelligent Homo Sapiens, but it’s ironic that HAL is shown as being the most human and emotive of all the characters in the film, in contrast to the two astronauts who appear bland and emotionless. The insinuation here is that man has become dehumanized by the technology he has created, and is in danger of being replaced by that artificial intelligence. Consequently, for man to further evolve, he has to have better command over his tools or, even better, progress beyond his tools by expanding his consciousness and intelligence.
The final evolution is transcendence over mortality: arguably, the film ends on a positive and optimistic note by showing that man, despite continuing to make mistakes (breaking the wine glass) and succumbing to decay and death, can be reborn into a greater, more advanced form. The pessimism here, however, is that man needs outside influence and extraterrestrial or divine help to get there; we are too imperfect, hostile, and over-reliant on our technologies and creations to get there ourselves.

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THX 1138
Star Wars
Enter the Void

The Killing
Paths of Glory
Dr. Strangelove
A Clockwork Orange
The Shining
Full Metal Jacket
Eyes Wide Shot

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