Rated G. I love it. I fight for all of these G ratings because the MPAA tends to default to a PG rating and now I have to fight the G rating? *sigh*. In the back of my brain, I thought that this was an unjust R rating and now I have to reverse this. It's definitely not G by today's standards. I mean, the most gruesome thing is that once monkeys (don't correct me, jerk) learn how to use tools, they beat one of the monkeys to death with it. Then there's the homicidal robot who has a haunting death. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't scream "G rating" in this, but it's also not that bad either.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
While I was watching this, I was thinking of all the people I know that would respond with, "Finally!" People be obsessed with this movie and there's a lot to break down, so it seems like I would be jazzed to write this. And for the most part, I was really jazzed to write this...until yesterday. I had an epiphany yesterday. There's nothing I could add to the great discourse about 2001: A Space Odyssey. If anything, I will only detract. Because where then is room for interpretation, I'm the guy who swings and misses pretty badly. So for the two people who I know will lose it when they see that I wrote about 2001, I'm sorry? I'm going to try my best.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a funky film. It might be the most distilled product of Stanley Kubrick that I can imagine. (Secret time: I haven't actually seen Barry Lyndon yet, so I can't say that with absolute confidence.) It's funny, because I don't think of Stanley Kubrick as a sci-fi director. I'm going to stand by that concept and I think a lot of film directors would probably agree with me. But that's a really odd thing to say because while I don't think of him as a sci-fi guy, he is the father of modern science fiction. Before 2001, science fiction was always kind of cheap. I'm not saying that there weren't movies that surpassed the genres. After all, I enjoy The Day the Earth Stood Still way more than 2001. (Oops. I don't know if I'm allowed to say stuff like that.) But modern serious sci-fi all started with this movie. There's a sense of grandeur and realism. Before 2001, there's something always self-aware about the genre. It had to have a sense of camp behind it. Even the most impressive science fiction was held back by the notion that it was considered a genre film. But Kubrick came in and made this a ballet. I mean, it's a lot to take in with the daring slow cuts. But the film had this sense of majesty to it (that would later be copied in Star Trek: The Motion Picture).
Kubrick did what genre storytellers have a responsibility to do: he told a story that offered thought to what the human condition was about. 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't exactly a tight plot for a two-and-a-half hour film. If anything, it is almost an anthology story comprised of four interlocking tales that talk about man's troubling relationship with technology and evolution. Sure, the iconic monolith is at least referenced in all four vignettes of the film and the movie never expressly treats these acts as separate stories. But if I had to describe the plot of 2001, we'd probably all jump to the HAL story, which is only a quarter of the movie. I think the first time I watched this movie, I was prepped for a man v. machine face-off, not unlike Westworld. But HAL's dispatch of the crew is almost a piece of evidence that Kubrick uses about the dangerous parallel evolution that man has to technology. It spirals out of that notion of the ape holding the bone up to the heavens. While the crew of the Jupiter space expedition has altruistic intentions, exploring this mysterious mission, the fact that they created HAL and placed more faith in this technology than they did on humanity, humanity is the cause of the mass murder aboard the ship.
I think that people talk about the HAL sequence in the middle of the movie because it is the most plot heavy. Out of all of the sections in the movie, the HAL murder spree is the only one that makes absolute sense. I always remember that the movie starts off with the Dawn of Man sequence. But I honestly forget how long that sequence goes on for, which is about twenty minutes. In my head, 1) monkeys do nothing, 2) monkeys find monolith 3) monkeys kill monkey 4) monkey throws bone to heavens to create a match cut in space. But Kubrick really lets us live in that moment. It's the Dawn of Man sequence that actually makes me believe that, in an alternate reality, Stanley Kubrick could have directed Dune and the David Lynch version would never have existed. But I'll move on. The second segment is perhaps the most forgettable. The other three sections have been lampooned in other forms. But the second sequence, with the scientists chit-chatting aboard the space station (which acts as satire on our obsession with capitalism, even in the far-flung future of 2001), no one ever remembers that part. We remember the running around the ring and the ballet music with the long sections of space. But the actual sequence is...rough. And the thing is, it should be as haunting as the HAL section of the film. Kubrick, with the HAL sequence, quickly and dispassionately, murders the entire crew very quickly. There's no blood. There's no sense of suspense. If anything, he's intentionally doing it in an efficient and computer like way. But with the scientists aboard the moon, he sets them up as human beings. He stresses that these people have families and are the best and brightest that humanity has to offer, only to have them attacked by this bit of technology that they don't understand.
And that leads me to the last section, which terrifies me to write about. The last section (again, mimicked / straight up stolen for Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is the hardest to tack down objectively. Dave's interaction with the monolith and the star child has a degree of objectivity, but really could be interpreted in a multitude of ways. I mean, whatever version I come up with right now will be laughably wrong, so I apologize again. But it is odd that Dave is humanized so much in the HAL sequence, but he mind as well be Crewman 2 for the final sequence. We know nothing of the issues that Dave went through in the previous sequence. Kubrick doesn't make a single reference to the death of his friends or the fact that the perfect computer went insane on his watch. Instead, we have Dave as our avatar. Dave represents all of humanity and the way that he is incapable of truly understanding higher intelligence. He parallels the ape who knew nothing of tools and is simply there to rudimentally interact with an environment which is a perversion of the normal. He is the animal in the zoo, sipping tea and growing old under observation.
2001's warnings about the dependence on technology kind of confuse me. Each sequence shows how man's dependence on technology has brought him both forward in evolution, but also has brought about his own downfall. Before murdering the ape, the first monkey (I KNOW, they are different things that I don't care to learn about right now!) uses it to find food for his tribe. The scientists are able to communicate with family and find a sense of normalcy in the Howard Johnson's of space, but are ultimately driven mad with their quest for advancement. HAL handles so many things that he's described as the sixth member of the crew. It's only upon discovering his fallibility that he becomes unhinged. And Dave's interaction with the monolith is so much about mood that it is hard to describe. He is simultaneously evolved and the pinnacle of man's quest for knowledge, but that is coupled with this ennui and utter futility that leaves the ending in this bleak place. What I'm left with is this business-as-usual message. Technology will bring us light years into the future, despite the fact that it is also our eventual and fated ruin. It's foolhardy to stop our pursuit of the unknown, but that pursuit is almost Faustian in nature.
The final thing that I want to say is that 2001 seems impossible to evaluate for quality or entertainment anymore. It is outside these qualifiers because it has done so much for cinema. I wouldn't have any of the things that I adore without this movie and watching it, you see the work of a genius at every moment. But the one thing that 2001 isn't is fun. It's never fun. I know two people (whom I have pointed out) who will watch and rewatch this movie and that baffles me. It is one of those movies that reminds me of opera. I love the notion of the opera and I'm impressed by every element of gesamkunstwerk, but it is rarely fun for me to do that. It's satisfying and beautiful, but not fun. I don't know how one rewatches 2001: A Space Odyssey over and over. It seems like this activity that would almost put me in a coma. Sure, there's stuff to get out of it with every watch, but I don't know if there is a sense of diminishing returns or not. Regardless, it is a thing of beauty.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.