Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey has always been a must-watch recommendation for not only sci-fi fans, but also film fans in general. Upon release in 1968, the film received mixed reviews that ranged from critics brushing it off as dull and confusing critics praising the beauty and grandiose of the film. One thing is for sure; Stanley Kubrick was way ahead of his time.
The film opens up with various shots of pre-man earth showing a desolate, abandoned landscape until you catch an image of life in the form of some apes, tapirs, and a tiger at one point. Throughout the opening sequence, the film focuses on a group of apes scouring the dirt for food until a rival group comes in and attempts to take the territory centered around a small pool of water. The rival group out yells and drives away the original group. The group finds an outcrop to sleep under for the night and upon waking up, they see one of the most iconic sci-fi images ever; the Monolith (seen below). After gathering up the courage, the apes come forward and feel the gigantic structure followed by a scene of one of the apes learning how to use a bone as a tool. Using this new found knowledge, the apes kill a tapir and come armed to the teeth back to their watering hole. Once they get there, they yell and scream at the rival group that eventually leads to conflict and results in an ape being beaten to death with a bone. The remaining rival apes are confused and scared and run away, thus summing up the Dawn of Man.
The film then fast forwards to focus on Dr. Heywood Floyd as he flies into space to meet up with a team of scientists about some strange architecture uncovered in a crater on the moon. Throughout this section of 2001, the audience is not explicitly told about his mission and is left to bask in the simple, unfocused scenes of the futuristic space travel. In these scenes, we see him use a computer to authenticate him via his voice, connect with his daughter back on Earth via a video phone and a group of scientists that switch their spoken languages like the flipping a switch. When Dr. Floyd finally arrives at the site, he sees the structure that is the focus of his visit: the Monolith. At this point, the audience is struck by a high pitch noise.
Flash forward again, although not quite millions of years as before, we are introduced to Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole as they are in route to the planet Jupiter after scientists determine that it was the focus of the high pitch signal a few years ago. At this point, most of the “action” begins to unfold. Assisting Dr. Bowman and Dr. Poole, is the HAL 9000 computer system. HAL is responsible for maintaining systems of the space craft, answering questions, and generally being just another crewmate. HAL detects that an antenna part is going to fail in 72 hours if not fixed, so they swap it out and investigate the problem. They see nothing wrong with it so HAL suggests to put it back into service until it does fail and then determine the reason for its failure. After this mishap, Dr. Poole and Dr. Bowman attempt to isolate themselves to talk about the previously never-malfunctioning HAL computer system and possible de-activation. The doctors forgot one thing about isolating themselves and HAL learns of their possible plan. As Dr. Poole is out replacing the part again, HAL takes this time to cause an accident and send Dr. Poole off into space. Dr. Bowman then uses another space pod to retrieve his body and HAL again uses this to his advantage to kill the life support of cryo-sleeping scientists. It is obvious at this point that HAL has malfunctioned and must be de-activated. Through careful planning, and HAL repeatedly telling Dave that “he’s afraid he cannot do that,” Dr. Bowman re-enters the space craft and de-activates HAL in a scene that is somehow more emotionally touching than seeing a human die by the way Kubrick draws out the de-activation by not having just one “off” switch and having HAL talk to Dr. Bowman during the process.
When the space craft reaches Jupiter, a Monolith floating through space comes into view of Dr. Bowman which leads into one of the most obscure, over-whelming, surreal scenes you will ever see in a film. After the 10-15 minute mind-twisting sequence, we see an aged Dr. Bowman in a room examining his new surroundings. He hears something and turns to see an older gentleman eating. Once the camera focus on him, we see that it is Dr. Bowman aged and the first version of him disappeared. After breaking a glass, this older gentleman looks back up to a bed and see an even older man under the covers. You guessed it, it was Dr. Bowman. This version of Dr. Bowman leans up and points. He is pointing at another Monolith with no explanation. It is at this point, Dr. Bowman transforms into a sort of space baby and concludes the film.
While most of the audience might not get that the Monolith was created by a form of intelligent life that leads human life to further evolution, the audience can get that Kubrick’s ideas of the future is steadily coming to life. To come up with the technology used in the film, he had to think unimaginable things at the time. We see touch screens, portable displays playing video, a video chat system, a voice controlled computer, and in flight TVs to name a few. This is a film made BEFORE THE MOON LANDING A YEAR LATER. No one was sure what would happen in space, how objects would act, or even that sound cannot exist in space.
2001: A Space Odyssey was everything I had heard about it and more. While many films do not live up to the hype or age well, 2001 is definitely not one of them and remains an important classic that still has not been matched in terms of ideas, theories, or imagery. Kubrick is a master of letting a scene go on just long enough for you to take everything in while at the same time not making certain objects super apparent. While Kubrick never explains everything in the film, it gets you thinking to connect the dots or to go on after viewing the film and search for answers. If you are still confused after seeing this film, do research online for explanations or read the novel that was written simultaneously with the script.