Viking Night: 2001: A Space Odyssey
By Bruce Hall
June 1, 2016
Would it be absurd to suggest that this film is actually a little underrated? Like all of Stanley Kubrick’s work, 2001 (that’s what I’m going to call it, just so you know) has been put under the microscope by just about everyone. This includes the hundreds of people who walked out on the original screening, all the way to me wondering last night what it’s like to be that afraid of awesomeness. To be fair, Kubrick was a notoriously uncompromising artist. That means he had a habit of asking viewers to fill in a lot of answers for themselves. He took almost pathological delight in making people nuts through the single minded pursuit of cinematic excellence.
Case in point - not only is there no dialogue for almost half an hour, but the first half of THAT is all about the harsh underworld of monkey politics, circa eight million BC. Just to be clear, I am saying that the first 20 minutes are poo flinging monkeys, followed immediately by two spaceships docking to classical music. Seriously, you could project it on the wall at a hipster wedding reception and every pretentious jerk in the room would consider it genius. Your bespectacled, vociferously gluten-free friends are right of course. It IS genius, but it’s got nothing to do with you.
It’s all about the man behind the monkeys.
Kubrick, along with famed writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated what would become 2001 over the last half of the 1960s. Their goal was to create the definitive science fiction experience - something that meant a lot more at the time than it does today. Back then, most science fiction was either frivolous escapism like Fantastic Voyage or high minded allegory, unrelated to science, like Planet of the Apes. While those are both entertaining films, 2001 was conceived from the start to be something different. I can’t stress enough the audacity of trying to release a serious, thoughtful authentic looking movie about space travel - three months before astronauts actually landed on the moon.
But 2001 is more than just an aesthetically satisfying film. So was the original Star Wars - but that would be the movie that redefined the spectacle of film, while never straying too far from its pulpy roots. 2001 quietly proposes many interesting questions about life, the universe and everything. And it does so in ways that no American film had up to that point, and precious few have since. This is a movie about the eddy and flow of human evolution, and the risk/reward ratio involved with human exploration. That’s some pretty deep material, so imagine the way a lot of people feel ten minutes into the Monkeypocalypse.
When you set out to make a film people will talk about for decades, you no doubt have some goals in mind. But what if one of them was to express all these big ideas using a minimum of dialogue? By far the most controversial aspect of 2001 may be its reliance on nonverbal storytelling. In real life, most people don’t sit around explaining to each other everything that’s happening around them so that the theater full of people watching them can stay up to speed. And when you were six-years-old and found Goldie the Goldfish floating upside down in her bowl, Morgan Freeman didn’t appear behind you and tell you what it all meant, did he?