Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" was released in 1968. At the Los Angeles premiere of the movie, over 200 people who made up the guests at the VIP showing walked out on the film. At first, MGM, which financed it, was disappointed in the film as an audience draw. Many complained that the film was confusing and dull. But a groundswell of momentum in the United States and other places began to build from younger people who went to the movie, many coming back a second or third time in short intervals to try and absorb the movie's myriad symbols and ideas. I was lucky to see it again recently on a big screen again thanks to a one-day re-release at a theater.
I first saw this film at age eight with my father. I can remember asking him all sorts of questions about the movie after we left the cinema. I don't remember his answers, but that was not the point. I'm sure he took me to this movie because he knew it might spark my imagination as did so many other adults did with their kids, brothers, sisters, friends, etc. And it certainly sparked my imagination.
When the film was released a few years later I went to it as a teenager with a friend and tried to piece together the messages that Kubrick and writer Arthur Clarke, art designer Douglas Trumbull and others who worked on this extraordinary film brought to it. I was just beginning to learn about symbols and sociology back then, but I knew this was a rare and truly unusual event--a big-budget, commercial and profound movie.
It was also unique in that so many individuals had varied interpretations from seeing it. Professional critics and intellectuals in print media were all over the map as well.
I've seen it also on television a couple of times and the story still is both perplexing, disturbing and, in someways both a terrifying allegory of the future and a oddly wonderful experience at the same time.
Rather close to real life, actually.
Unlike almost all other celebrated major motion pictures that are not documentary in nature, this 150 minute film boasts no outstanding performances, nor really any ordinary narrative flow. Indeed, the film almost dares the audience to think it's undramatic. But there is method to this type of storytelling, to get the audience to focus on human developments, from the prehistoric basics of humans controlling their environment all the way to commercial moon flights, zero-gravity toilets, meals packaged like baby food and anti-weightless shoes, rather than the idiosyncrasies of one or two individuals
It is a film that beings literally at the beginning-- for mankind that is, showing how the first proto-humans lived among the other animals of the savanna and were group together in small bunches in a struggle for day-to-day living.
A large and metallic door-like monolithic object appears one day accompanied by a unearthly choir-sound. And then one of the hominids discovers how to use a tool as a weapon. This is a quantum leap in mankind's ability to dominate other tribes and become hunters instead of just gathering and grazing for food. It is to evolutionary equivalent of winning the biggest lottery of all--everything from fire to the atom bomb to a cure for small pox and polio will come from this moment.
And then the film makes one of the most amazing cuts in cinema history---straight into space and a passenger ship bound for the moon, carrying a scientist sent to investigate a strange find on an American lunar base. This investigation tales up the second act of the film, and the content of the scenes, which include the reappearance of that door-like object, focus not so much on character development as probing the ultimate uncertainty of human existence.
Those who have seen this movie before--and may who haven't--know what I'm talking about--at least as far as they recall the third part of the film---the Jupiter Expedition and the battle between the two astronauts who are in charge of getting the rest of the induced-hibernating crew to the giant planet and their relationship with HAL, the super computer on board the ship. This is where the strongest parts of the movie come into play--the fight between human will and a computer with an artificial intelligence, and which of these beings--organic or inorganic--will hold sway over the other in the race to the next quantum jump into a higher understanding of the universe. The struggles between a race of people dependent on machines and divorced from their natural environment and its own synthetic creations.
Anyway, on any screen or television, and one's attention and imagination open--- this is a movie to visit, revisit and maybe find new questions to ask and answers to discover.