A Homage to Stanley Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey


I am not much of film critic and I would not want to be one, no matter how much money one was prepared to offer me.  On second thoughts…Seriously though, I don’t think I am cut out to be the person who makes their living watching films and gets paid for writing a critique about the film they have watched.  There are those like Barry Norman and Alexander Walker who by their years of experience watching films and writing about them, bring a certain authority with them.  There are many others like Siskel and Egbert during their time.  In a nutshell, I am no film critic, nor would I want to be.  My one over-riding ambition is to be in front of the camera, as an Actor and maybe in time be a producer, putting a project, an idea for film together and getting it financed.  Like directing, I leave the critique of film to those best qualified to do the job.  However….

While looking through a collection of writings, poetry, short stories etc., I came across possibly the only critique (if you can call it that,) I have ever written on a film.  I can’t recall what prompted me to write something on 2001 but I suspect it was written in preparation for my contribution to the Kubrick short film that I took part in back in December 2007.  The film was eventually screened as part Channel Four (UK)’s 3 Minute Wonder series of short films during the Summer of 2008.  I suspect this to be the case because I recall my disappointment on arriving on the day of filming to be told one can discuss any other Kubrick film but not 2001.  On seeing the finished article, that certainly was not the case. I was one of the few people who didn’t discuss the film. I made some garbled comment about R Lee Ermey’s role in Full Metal Jacket.  I pray you never see it.  To this day, I still felt I had far more to contribute and discuss about 2001, the way in which it herald the Science-Fiction film coming of age and its continuing legacy via Star Wars, Superman the Movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind onwards.  The film, while very much of its time, broke new ground in how we imagined the future would look and how we may very well one day as a species throw off the shackles of the physical world when we make the next leap on the evolutionary scale.  Whether this will be a natural leap via our consciousness becoming pure energy or we move on to the next level of evolution via another process, I have no idea.  Could another way be through the intervention of an unseen power or entity is an interesting hypothesis, one that cuts right across scientific, religious and spiritual boundaries.  As I am not bound by or brainwashed into thinking in purely one of the three boundaries of learning, I don’t see how any barrier or disagreement can arise when putting the ideas above to those of a scientific, religious or spiritual outlook but knowing how entrenched some people can be in beliefs, there probably would disagreements of some kind concerning the train of thought and ideas I have put forward.

That aside, here is my first and hopefully last foray into the world of film critique.  Reading it again, it seems more like an observation of the story within the film and its effect on me.  I hope you find it an interesting read.

STANLEY KUBRICK (1928 – 1999)

“I might try to make something of an imperfect story with my efforts as a writer, but I would never attempt to film a story that I was not in love with.”

On 2001

“If 2001 has stirred your emotions, your subconscious, your mythological yearnings, then it has succeeded.”

When 2001:  A Space Odyssey was first released in 1968, nothing quite like it has ever been seen before.  And I would argue that nothing quite like it has been seen since.

As an Actor and aspiring writer, I have a lot to time for Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining even.  But for me 2001 remains the jewel in Kubrick’s crown as a filmmaker.

No other film I can think of presents something different to each new generation that sees it for the first time.  This may be due to there being very little dialogue throughout the film so the audience is forced to think about what is going on – Whether they want to or not.  Maybe that is why the critics hated it so much on it’s initial release.  Despite the above, 2001 remains a fantastic study in filmmaking.

The projects as a whole (both story and production,) had far reaching effects.  I would argue that without 2001, there would be no Star Wars, no Superman the Movie or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  One only has to look at who worked on those films to see they also worked on 2001.  The Science Fiction film genre, despite classics such as Metropolis, finally came of age in 1968 but it would be another nine years with the release of Star Wars in 1977 for the above to be realised, despite Star Wars not being a science fiction film

THE STORY

The story in a nutshell takes us on a journey from Man’s Primeval beginnings right through to his next step on the evolutionary ladder to higher plane of consciousness and existence.

We see primitive man-apes struggling to survive.  One of them referred to as Moonwatcher (though not in the film,) is the only ape in his group, brave enough to approach the strange black object that has appeared out of nowhere.  On touching it, a piercing scream occurs.  Moonwalker then takes a bone from the carcass of a dead animal and somehow knows this bone can be used as a weapon.  He and his companions use this weapon to drive off a rival group of apes from the water hole.  Dominant in victory, Moonwatcher throws his tool/weapon up in the air and suddenly we are flung headlong into the late 20th Century, where the bone has been replaced by an orbiting space platform (possibly a nuclear weapons platform).  We now see in this future age, that man has mastered and developed his tools/machines to such a level of sophistication that they can run on their own.  Man is now relegated to the role of maintenance man.  Fixing things only when needed.

Kubrick tells us nothing about this ‘Brave New World’, only that people have very little to say to each other.  In fact in the latter half of the film, the only character that seems to have any personality or displays any kind of emotion is the computer HAL.  It seems Man has reached an evolutionary dead end and desperately needs to evolve, moving on to the next level of existence.

We see a big rotating wheel in the sky and a small space plane.  Pan-American Airlines (Pan-Am,) runs a service to the big wheel in the sky.  There is no dialogue just the soothing music of Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube to calm the nerves.  Heywood Floyd is on his way to the American moon base and stops over at the Big Wheel to make a videophone call to his daughter.  While there he has a conversation with some science delegates who enquire about a rumour they heard about the US moon base.  Floyd tells them he is not at liberty to discuss anything.  He then continues his journey onto the Moon, with more music from Mr. Strauss.

The rumour was a cover story as the Americans had discovered a strange artefact during an excavation.  We see this is the same object that appeared on Earth millions of years ago and possibly kick-started Man’s evolution.  But that happened on Earth.  Surely this cannot be the same object?  The film gives us no clues or indication.  Unlike Moonwatcher, no one bothers to touch the Monolith.  Instead man uses his ‘tools’ to investigate.  As the sun touches the Monolith, another piercing scream, the same as experienced by Moonwatcher millions of years ago repeated.  There is no evolutionary jump for Man this time.

The film jumps forward a few years later to the year 2001 and the Jupiter Space Mission.  We are introduced to the spaceship Discovery, the astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole and the onboard computer HAL9000, known simply as HAL.  Again, there is very little display of human emotion or personality on the part of Bowman and Poole.  Only HAL displays inquisitiveness or any kind of personality trait, clearly demonstrated during a BBC News Interview

A technical fault is discovered with HAL and the decision is taken to take HAL offline.  HAL discovers this by reading the lips of the two men as they discuss this out of  ‘earshot’ of HAL.  HAL attacks Frank Poole via a space pod cutting off the link with his suit’s life support system.  Bowman is forced to leave the Discovery in a space pod to retrieve Poole’s body.  While he is away, HAL terminates the life support system of the rest for crew who are in suspended animation.  Bowman on his return is refused entry by HAL.  Forced to abandon Poole’s retrieved body, Bowman forcefully regains entry to Discovery and shuts HAL down.  It is strange to experience and hear HAL holding on to his sanity and what makes him who he is as he struggles to sing, ‘Daisy, Daisy’, very much like someone suffering from Alzheimer’s but nevertheless struggle to hold on to their memories of who they are.  Once HAL is shut down, only then is the truth revealed to Bowman but not to us.

The next scene sees Discovery arrive at Jupiter, where there is a much larger version of the Monolith.  The planets are in alignment with each other and the position of the Monolith in line with the planets forms a kind of Cross.  A space pod exits Discovery (with Bowman we assume).  The Monolith repositions itself before opening what seems like a gateway and thus Dave Bowman begins a journey and we with him in what has to be the most fantastic light show in cinema history.  Like the journey, it seems to go on forever.  The journey takes its toll on Bowman (as it does for some of us).

Journey’s end sees the Pod in a room composed of classic architecture and marble floors.  Bowman clearly aged and haggard in space suite leaves the pod and sees a figure dressed in black having dinner.  The figure aware he has company turns around and leaves his meal.  The Dave Bowman we know is nowhere to see.  Only the older version. He goes back and continues with his meal.  His attention is again diverted.  As he rises, a wine class accidentally falls and breaks.  We now see an even older version of Bowman in bed.  He has lived a great many years in this room.  He is dying.  “Is this all I am?” I thought, thinking for Bowman as I watched the scene.  Suddenly in front of his bed, is the Monolith and suddenly from his deathbed, Bowman does something Man has not done in more than a million years.  He reaches out to his benefactor and touches him, and in doing so achieves the next stage in his evolution.  Man no longer has need for his tools.  He has discarded them.  He is now master of his world.  He able to go where his wants, do what he wants by mere thought alone.  Now he is master of his world, we see ‘The Star Child’ return to the place of his birth, Earth.  “What will I do now?’ thinking for him as he turns and looks at me from the screen.

“Oh you will think of something,” I say as Strauss once more blares out with the credits in hot pursuit.

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