2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A prismatic journey through the events that shaped galactic history posing striking questions about the nature of mankind vs. machine and foundations of civilization, Kubrick’s 2001: ASO is pure science-fiction & The Greatest Film Of All-Time. 10/10.

Plot Synopsis: Based on a short story by famed science-fiction author & film co-writer Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) follows Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and other astronauts as they are sent on a mysterious mission. When their ship’s computer system, HAL, begins exhibiting increasingly strange behavior, it leads to an intense showdown between man and machine resulting in a trek through space and time.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

The 200-IQ Filmmaker

A Cinematic Genius Rumored At The Same Quotient As Einstein & Da Vinci Takes To Space & The Biggest Questions Of Mankind

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A 200-IQ. That’s what mythic N.Y.C.-born director Stanley Kubrick was rumored to have, bringing it to every frame of his cinematic journeys. To put the absurdity of this figure and cerebral aptitude into perspective, it would be 2x the Intelligence Quotient of the average person, one of the highest scores ever recorded, and the level of some of mankind’s greatest minds like Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. That unfathomable a level of genius, capability, and thirst for knowledge is best exemplified (and, in our diagnosis, validated) by 2001: A Space Odyssey cinematically – a film that conquered and transcended its artform and the cosmos; the gold standard of cinematic intellectualism/curiosity; what all films dream and fantasize about being at peak performance. Getting his interest sparked in life beyond-the-stars by Tokusatsu films from Japan like 1956’s VFX-laden ‘Warning From Space,’ Kubrick set out to make the proverbial ‘good’ science-fiction film; Boy, did he succeed. Even outdoing other celebrated masterworks from his own filmography: from the criminal psychology of A Clockwork Orange (1971) to ice-cold supernatural terror of The Shining (1980) to black-comedic Cold War-satirizations of Dr. Strangelove (1964) to war/masculinity-critique of Full Metal Jacket (1987) as perhaps the most genre-diverse & definitive portfolio ever, 2001 shines brighter than the Star Child – of an ending you have to see to believe. A prismatic journey through the events that shaped galactic history posing striking questions about the nature of mankind vs. machine and foundations of civilization, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is pure science-fiction of the highest cerebral pedigree and The Greatest Film of All-Time.

The Blank Intro

A Complete Subversion of Every Convention Of Filmmaking Metaphoric Of A Pre-Big Bang Nothingness? A Portal To The Stars? The First Presence Of The Monolith?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

We’re going to do this review a little differently than other reviews here at CLC: analyze each of the film’s acts separately before circling back to a full critique at the end (since there is so much subtext and nuance packed into every frame and sequence of 2001 – demanding critical analysis/reflection beyond that of any other film I’ve ever witnessed.) What’s instantly puzzling about 2001: A Space Odyssey is that begins with a completely blank canvas for the entire first 2:56 of the movie. While it could be seen as simply an overture establishing orchestral themes as several big epics from the era like Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, & Ben-hur featured in homage to operas of generations-past, nothing with Kubrick’s films is ever that simple – and 2001’s only features one theme. The pitch-black screen we’re presented is conclusively devoid of any movement or life, but we start to hear the first tremors of 2001’s eerie, unforgettable score by way of Gyorgy Ligeti’s dissonant/disharmonic ‘Atmospheres’ begin to coalesce in the background. The sound beguiles and unsettles us: the opposite effect of most cinematic scores, given even further transfixion by its singular feature without visuals or accompaniment to distract or save us from the nightmarish-hypnotism of its sound. The soundscape starts to cascade and evolve over time, however; Its disorientative synth powerchord aura sublimates into a beautiful, triumphant orchestral symphonic – eventually transitioning into Richard Strauss’ ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ (the main theme of the film and now one of cinema’s most famous) as we’re finally blessed with visuals of a triple-graphic matched Moon-to-Earth-to-Sun rising over the film’s title. The opening canvas feels almost like a symbolic dropping of inhibitions; a portal or gateway into the weird and wonderful world of science-fiction it epitomizes with such a perplexing, indescribable, provocative score. It flips the script on the viewer to imagine their own background visuals – and can be interpreted as a metaphor for the creation of the universe. A pre-Big Bang nothingness that explodes with life and planetary majesty in triumph, the score itself could be representational of an agnostic’s God – whose nimble, working fingers are symbolized by keys and tones that subvert mortal understanding and we do not earn the privilege of seeing. Also plausible: it could it also be an intense zoom-in of The Monolith that will play a critical role in the rest of the film (well-supported by the fact the only orchestral theme present is the one that signals The Monolith’s presence later-on). One thing’s for sure, it sets the stage and mysterious feel of the journey we’re about to be taken on perfectly – paving way for one of cinematic history’s greatest sequences: The Dawn Of Man.

I. The Dawn Of Man

A Chain Of Primal Events Set Off By Purposeful (Or Accidental?) Design

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Breaking from the black emptiness of space is a flashback to the primordial veldt of Africa. We’re greeted with warm, golden sunrises and sunsets of a breathtaking natural landscape we’ve only heard of in the history books or paleontologically – visualized beautifully through extreme-long shots, crisply-edited cinematography, & game-changing VFX work as will be discussed later. The prehistoric majesty of this ancient world, free of movement or sound beyond diegetic background noise of insects buzzing or birds chirping, relaxes us into a soothing normalcy and rhythm. This is before the canvas shifts into a terrain we finally see life in: our evolutionary hominid ancestors foraging amongst the black and pale-yellow sands. The peacefulness of the skyscraper/traffic-free, sibylline landscape is interrupted when a cheetah with piercing & glowing eyes (perhaps to invoke the supernatural/demonic terror of predators symbolically) pounces and kills one of the hominids, followed by a cacophonous showdown between rivaling clans over a water hole. The scene provides an unforgettable glimpse into our ancestors’ biological struggles for survival amidst the baking-hot sun of the prehistoric plains: competition, lack of resources, and fear/danger of predators all coalescing into a difficult (and often: short) life. This changes one day they wake up to a black, featureless monolith standing like a monument outside their cave, later seemingly influencing one to pick up a bone laying on the ground. A montage splicing together whirlwind violence of Cain & Abel proportions, the hominid swings and bludgeons the skeleton of an animal (graphic-matched into the real-thing) with that bone, as the orchestration & hominid crescendo with emotion to the triumphant theme of ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. It is one of the most striking and powerful sequences of cinema ever filmed – painting the most important and revolutionary event in mankind’s & Earth’s history right before our very eyes: our ancestors’ discovery and first use of tools.

I. The Dawn Of Man

A Chain Of Primal Events Set Off By Purposeful (Or Accidental?) Design

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A Biology B.Sc graduate at the Ivy League university-level, I’ve studied Evolutionary Biology for years & am positively speechless at the scientificaccuracy of the sequence. The breakthrough that changed life and the world as we know it, it was mankind’s discovery of tools and their endless possibilities that allowed us to subvert/conquer our environment’s challenges. Their bestowal of the ability to hunt, cook, territorialize, defeat enemies, secure resources for survival, build shelters, etc. is what set forth the trajectory of natural selection leading to our current position at the top of the food chain – the dominant species on Earth. While the scientific driver of Darwinism/natural selection is mutation and changes in allele frequency over time (one hominid was born with the slightest genetic alteration in brain chemistry that randomly allowed it to piece together the connection between tool and environment, passing its genes on to its thus-better-surviving clan while others die so the trait becomes prevalent population-wide as generations pass, etc.), 2001 fantasizes/dramaticizes it beautifully in pure cinematic intrigue – a gift from a mysterious being. We’re flooded with questions we simply must have answered: what is that black slate? what is it doing here? did it help us by telling that hominid to pick up the bone? why? To end, we’re taken back to that same water hole and rival clan as before, but this time the tool-bearing group is able to beat the the tool-less one into submission and secure the hole – proof-of-concepting their efficacy and, metaphorically, our securement of Earth’s resources for millennia to come. The hominid-discoverer throws up his club in celebration as the bone is graphically-matched into the ultimate jump-cut: space travel.

II. The Ultimate Jump-Cut

A Millennium’s Fast-Forward To A Future Vision Of Space Travel & Exploration Made Possible By That Fateful Day In The Veldt

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

That bone club tossed to the sky becomes the subject of the ultimate jump-cut (and match-cut) in cinematic history: a millenniums’ fast-forward to a future vision of space travel made possible by that fateful day’s events & shake-up of Earth’s evolutionary history. We are serenaded by the veritable antithesis of the barbaric, inchoate, primitive, rough, compositionally-jagged, cacophonous landscape we just spent the first act in – a breathtakingly-elegant, fluid, refined, precise, swan or ballet-like canvas floating beyond the stars on the classical majesty of Johann Strauss II’s royal, elated 3/4 waltz ‘The Blue Danube’. The juxtaposition of these two impossibly-different mise-en-scene’s highlights with beautiful aestheticism (perhaps the most aethestically-exquisite canvas in filmmaking history here) how far we’ve come from that primordial day in the veldt, as well as how far we can go. A prophetic vision of a future space travel – wherein luxurious commercial flights into deep space can be cabin-serviced by waitresses walking 360-degrees in anti-gravity shoes between warm, plush, swanky jet cabins cleverly mimicking the colors of the veldt – paints a rich exposition of the difference between being at the struggle/mercy of our environment like the veldt-sequence and comfortable conquer of it here. Even the tiniest detail is not spared from Kubrick’s propheticism and attention-to-detail: the screen of the in-flight movie being watched (an inconsequential detail I had to pause and zoom-in on a subsequent watch to even see) features a sleek, futuristic hypercar looking precisely like Lamborghini’s or Ferrari’s of the 21st century, 50+ years later. This is the difference between Kubrick and other directors – a craftsmanship and care put into every frame of his films, in places where 95% of directors couldn’t care less.

II. The Ultimate Jump-Cut

A Millennium’s Fast-Forward To A Future Vision Of Space Travel & Exploration Made Possible By That Fateful Day In The Veldt

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Act II also brings the welcome sight of some cinematic familiarity and classical film tenets to the canvas, anchoring all the previous esoterica and weighty biological/ anthropological themes in something human and tangible: performances, characterization, and storytelling. A suave, charming, clean-cut, Bond/Superman-like U.S. Astronaut named Dr. Heywood Floyd arrives at his destination at the Clavius Base-outpost on the Moon – carrying out snazzy, eloquent conversations with his colleagues on a mysterious, classified topic happening behind-closed-doors. This is later found to be the first discovery of extraterrestrial life buried near the crater Tycho over 4,000,000 years ago – the idea that has fascinated mankind most since the dawn of time & evokes pure existential lust to know, yet is again kept secret by this relentlessly mysterious film. As the Moonbus nears the artifact site, the familiar theme of Ligeti’s dissonant, incongruous, disharmonic chants signals the mysterious object’s identity: The Monolith that met our ancestors in the veldt that day, this time meeting us millions of years later – when we’ve conquered our own planet and are now expanding to the stars. This infinitesimally deepens the rabbit’s hole and Pandora’s box: what is it doing here? why was it buried? who buried it? etc. – only made more inexplicable when the slate emits a blaring energy-wave the second astronauts get close, as the film shifts gears again without resolution or explanation.

III. The Jupiter Mission

A Narrative Masterstroke Paving Way For Mankind v. Machine Analysis & One Of Film’s Greatest Villains Ever: HAL-9000

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Creator vs. Creation – the film irises back into a new voyage 18 months later titled The Jupiter Mission. Why the time-jump? What happened to the previous crew? Is this Monolith friend-or-foe? Not one of these previous questions is on the docket for answering as the film shifts gears completely from mankind’s beginnings/evolution to its complex relationship with machine: our creation (and the ultimate tool). Even more-advanced scientific futurism is laid out before us on this sparkling new ship: rotating cylindrical walls you can run sideways on, induced hibernation or suspended animation of astronauts into deep space, and the introduction of perhaps the biggest prognostication (and one of the greatest villains) ever in movie history: HAL 9000. The film’s greatest triumph beyond its Dawn Of Man sequence is its impossible premonition of what, now in the late 2010’s, has taken over the world: Artificial Intelligence. A hypercomputer with human personality that mimics the activities of the brain w. exponentially greater speed/accuracy and a passive, happy-go-lucky demeanor juxtaposing his malevolent-hued circular red eye, HAL 9000 seems at first-glance a godsend achievement that fulfills the central goal of science and technology: make life easier for humans. However, the way he answers some of the endlessly-demeaning questions thrown at him – like how he feels ‘being dependent on (slower) humans to carry out [his] actions’ – and strange/personal ones he asks of the crew himself start to give us a proverbial ‘gut feeling’ that “something’s off about him.”

III. The Jupiter Mission

A Narrative Masterstroke Paving Way For Mankind v. Machine Analysis & One Of Film’s Greatest Villains Ever: HAL-9000

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

This is, of course, not provable or ostensibly-obvious until HAL makes a (bizzarely-abrupt) miscalculation on a spacecraft device’s imminent failure – and boisterously blames ‘human error’ before eavesdropping on witnesses advocating report of the HAL-series’ first error & consequential shut-down. This sets off a chain of events straight out a slasher movie, with HAL deciding to wipe the slate clean by taking out the crew members one-by-one in ghastly-ways – like being suffocated trapped in metaphoric-sarcophagi or cut loose into deep-space. Nightmarish. Dr. Bowman manages to survive and shut him down – and when he does, HAL’s last words are ‘I’m Afraid.’ Act III is loaded with subtext and philosophy analyzing mankind’s complex relationship with mechanical life we brought into the world, but with the thrills and pomp/entertainment-value of a horror movie or blockbuster – one of the most complete pieces of cinematic storytelling I’ve ever witnessed. Even more impressive is that it does all this while still fitting within the film’s overarching mystery theme/plot: What caused HAL’s malfunction? Does machine feel pain, disgrace, desperation, and emotion like a human heart does? What is our duty as creator when our creation disobeys us & does evil/wrong? Is that applicable to God or our creators when we betray them? HAL is one of the most fascinating characters in sci-fi and, ironically, perhaps the most human character in the film – prideful, arrogant, emotional, and always looking for excuses or justification for at-times ugly actions or urges lurking in the id beneath his seemingly-innocent persona. The canvas of miraculous operatic drama and man vs. machine discourse with a Greek tragic/myth-feel is thus complete – working in prescient commentary on the slippery slope of technology that hits perfectly in today’s technological-Gold Rush and Social Media Age. What happens when mankind becomes too complacent and reliant on the technology all-around us and it finally realizes, piecing together in hominid-in-the-veldt fashion, that it doesn’t need us? Is there a limit of aptitude creator places – or should place – in its creation to prevent betrayal? What is the sweet spot in dynamic of the age-old dichotomy? A hidden message HAL kept locked plays automatically post-shutdown, finally giving us one piece of info on the mission: to investigate a signal sent by The Monolith back on Act II’s Moon to Jupiter – for what reason Dr. Bowman sets to find out.

IV. The Finale

One Of The Most Complex, Metaphoric, Esoteric, Breathtaking, & Multi-Interpretive Final Acts In The History Of Cinema

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The Finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey stands as one of the greatest (& most esoteric/complex) final acts in the history of cinema. As the one-manned EVA pod nears its final destination, an eclipse of light triggered by our old friend The Monolith’s nearby celestial alignment (light being a critical factor throughout the film) pulls it into a vortex through space, time, & bizarre cosmological phenomena. This universal acid-trip can hardly be related via words; it’s a euphoric, out-of-body experience that has to be seen to be believed – one of the most visually-arresting, jaw-dropping, sensory-overloading VFX displays ever put to screen, from a 1960’s wherein visual effects and technological resources were comparatively-archaic. Our minds are melted by the display of this proverbial third-eye opening to the mysteries of the universe just as Bowman’s is – with shots spliced throughout of him in a stroke-like awe at the sight we’re sharing via POV-transposition, until the trip cuts to find us in a neoclassical bedroom of greco-roman decor. A time-lapse montage sees Bowman witness the entire progression of his life in this room, until he’s a dying old-man in bed reaching out to something – revealed to be The Monolith, who transforms him into a foetus enclosed in light that floats back towards the Earth as ‘Thus Spoke Zaramuthstra’ plays one final time. The ending provides us anything but the closure/explanation we so desperately craved and were promised by every tenet of classical storytelling in the finale, in what’s easily the most intensely-subjective, multi-interpretive, confusing final act in cinematic history. What was that cosmological trip? Where are we? How did we end up in this room? Why does it feel distinctly.. human-like? How did Bowman age all the way until-death in this one room? Why? What does the final stage represent: reincarnation? angelicism? stars? apocalyptica? And finally, the biggest question of all and central crux the entire film (and its entire meaning) revolve around: what is The Monolith?

The Most Striking Cinematographical & VFX Presentation Ever Put To Film

(& Most Prophetic Film Ever Made: Even In The 1960’s, Prognosticating The Science Of Space At The Level Of Real NASA Engineers)

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Before we get to what it all means, we must appreciate the masterpiece-intangibles of 2001’s cinematography, prognostications, and score – as well as what they implicate and allude in the film’s overall reading/interpretation. 2001 is the most striking cinematographical & VFX presentation ever put to film. The film is a visual masterstroke, with every frame bursting dramatic composition, academia-meriting shot construction, geometrical maven-hyperobsession, visual metaphor, subliminal messages, a show-not-tell multi-interpretability, and game-changing techniques. Kubrick and co. pioneered the use of frontal projection and retroreflective matting to create the film’s iconic and idiosyncratic visual backdrops across this galactic odyssey. The film boasts breathtaking landscapes and mega-zoomed-out long shots beautifully-capturing and breathing visual majesty into the film’s big moments that parallels its construct thematically. For example: in the Dawn Of Man sequence, the primordial African veldt is laced with jagged, pointy objects in awkward, chaotic placements throughout to highlight the barbaric, primal, harum-scarum time before the ‘beginning’ of mankind upon the discovery of tools. This visual brusqueness is sharply juxtaposed through the film’s infamous jump/match-cut to elegant, perfectly-geometrical, precision-dazzling spacecraft floating through the stars like the river of its ‘Blue Danube’ soundtrack – perfectly matching across all sensory impressions how far we’ve come/evolved through synergetic audiovisual majesty. This is only furthered in every sequence where our star mystery-character The Monolith appears, his presence made authoritative and unmistakable by perplexing, beguiling, and unsettling disharmonics, compositional lines always facing towards it in the center of the frame by all peripheral beings in-scene, a low-down shot-style to highlight its towering appearance/grandeur, and perhaps even a zoom-in on its surface to start the journey itself as its central figure in the film’s first frame. 2001: A Space Odyssey’s meld of shot composition, angle-consideration, & geometrical iconoclasm nonverbalizing the most complex science-fiction journey/story separates it as the most stunning cinematographical presentation of film – made possible by groundbreaking VFX and prognostications centuries ahead of its time.

The Most Striking Cinematographical & VFX Presentation Ever Put To Film

(& Most Prophetic Film Ever Made: Even In The 1960’s, Prognosticating The Science Of Space At The Level Of Real NASA Engineers)

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The VFX and presage in bringing such a prophetic vision of science-fiction to life deserves accolade for how revolutionarily avant-garde its behind-the-scenes work and scripting was. 2001 poses a stunning portrayal of future galactic travel: commercial flights into deep-space, voice-print identification, animated suspension/induced-hibernation of astronauts, waitresses serving ice-cold beverages walking 360-degrees in luxurious anti-gravity cabins, and biggest of all: Artificial Intelligence. To accurately predict the rise of the technological storm sweeping the nation here in the 2010’s and beyond, back in the 1960’s.. is near-impossible; pure cinematic brilliance and Nosferatu-level divination we haven’t even caught up half a century later. These forecasts were made possible though intense, surgical-depth/discipline by Kubrick & co. doing their proverbial homework – analyzing all scientific trends, knowledge, laws of physics, projections, and universal truths available at the time with a boost of imagination catalyzed by famed science-fiction novelist and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke. The two visionaries wanted to avoid the kooky ‘monsters-and-sex’ extra-fantastical renderings of space from cheesy sci-fi entries of the time – to create space realism beyond anything pre-dating it cinematically. They reached out to real astronauts and aeronautical/NASA experts for even the lightest details of The Monolith’s design, crowdfunding their experience’s input into the most realistic canvas possible. The level of authenticism, detail-attention, & scientific-accuracy in 2001 makes it one of the most immersive and awe-inspiring sci-fi canvases to-date – unsurprisingly named the most realistic and accurate depiction of space-travel in cinematic history by NASA, all at a time (impossibly) before we even went to the moon in real life. The film reinvented what was possible in film, giving the medium its own hominid’s bone by teaching it to look to the stars and intellectualize journeys of limitless imagination. Rivaled only by the Star Wars: Original Trilogy (Ep. IV-VI) it would pave way for a ~decade later, 2001 is the most influential and groundbreaking science-fiction film – as well as overall films – of All-Time.

The Ligeti Score

A Symphony In Motion & One Of The Screen’s Richest, Most Allegorical, Complex, & Synergetic Soundtracks Of The 1900’s

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The score of 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably the greatest cinematic orchestral score ever. A literal symphony-in-motion, the Ligeti-helmed score takes us through the history and future of mankind with astounding sonic heterogeneity. The first movement in the film – in bold contrast to most films – happens in the soundtrack: a meld of hypnotic, jarring, unsettling, primordial, disharmonic, gregorian-chantlike sci-fi/horror tones in Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ that establish the film’s ancient, universal, omniscient, eerie aesthetic before any visuals even present. This thematic perplexion, perhaps metaphoric of an agnostic’s God setting universal life into motion behind-the-scenes, is pure science-fiction of the highest possible order and parallels the perfect acoustic thematization that accompanies every one of the film’s four major acts. In the prehistoric veldt of Africa, the soundscape is cacophonous, unrefined, and wild (authentic down to even the diegetic sound of natural life) to mimic its character’s pre-evolutionary first-stagedness/rough-draft powerlessness to the forces of nature and our environment. The pinnacle achievement of mankind to traverse the stars through precise engineering and spacecraft rotations, on the other hand, is emphasized by the smooth, elegant, and swan/ballet-like tonal stylizations of Johann Strauss II’s royalty-evocative ‘The Blue Danube’ – sharply antithesizing the previous soundscape to mirror evolutionary progression. The Monolith’s mysterious feel and workings are captured breathtakingly through the cryptic, indescribable, haunting enigma of Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ and ‘Lux Aeterna’ used to signal its presence (thus helping establish a cinematic norm used to denote characters). Finally, the biggest moments in human and universal history are celebrated by the triumphant, epic, booming, cinematic orchestration of Richard Strauss’ ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. The film is, quite simply, the richest, most striking, and synergetic soundtrack I’ve ever heard – bar none – in how perfectly and once-in-a-lifetime it was able to use sound and aesthetic tonalism to highlight its screenplay’s themes & visuals, especially in the mystery of the hour: The Monolith.

The Monolith

A Mystery Character With Its Own Arc Throughout The Events Of The Galactic Epic; What Is The Monolith?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The star of the show and crux around which the entire film rotates, structurally linking all four of its acts: The Monolith. A mysterious, otherworldly entity/character with its own climactic arc throughout the events of the film, the being has perplexed critics, academics, scientists, theorists, and science-fiction fans for decades. The range of possible interpretations of what it represents is limitless: God? The Universe? Extraterrestrial Life? Evolution? Mutation? Ourselves in a Distant-Future Time-Loop? The implications of its actions and stratagems, though, are infinitely more so; the rabbit hole gets deeper and hazier the further you dive weighing and analyzing their allegorical and philosophical complexity. Though Arthur C. Clarke’s novel does provide some more-explicit explanations, the film’s dramatic departure from the novel – nonverbalizing and symbolizing/obscuring ~all of its events – preclude the possibility of taking the novel at face value (as is consistent across Kubrick’s adapted works). Cinema Lovers Club’s Theory: The Monolith represents an extraterrestrial race of godlike beings so intelligent, they have subverted the universe’s laws of physics to become without form – orbiting the universe & planets like some sort of supergalactic guardians. They take a special interest and fascination with mankind upon visiting Earth, deciding to set into motion a chain of events that would bring forth our evolution to see what would happen. They monitor our progress from afar as we gain domain over the Earth, the moon, and then the stars before guiding us to Jupiter – where they reside and can study us in a sort of intergalactic ‘cage’ to make a final decision on whether to take any next steps — what mankind was, is, and will be.

The Monolith

A Mystery Character With Its Own Arc Throughout The Events Of The Galactic Epic; What Is The Monolith?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

There are two possible readings of The Monolith’s actions throughout the film: a cheerful spectator of humanity nudging us into the next stages of evolution, or dark cynic of mankind who gave us the ultimate gift in the veldt but becomes disgusted with our misuse and misappropriation of it over time. There is supporting evidence for both opposite spectrum-analyses, proving the true genius of Kubrick’s masterwork better than any other aspect: cinematic intellectualism, complexity, and subjectivity in their purest form. For the positive reading, The Monolithian race chooses us over all other lifeforms on Earth to bestow godlike knowledge and set into motion our evolution to become the most dominant species on Earth – it is not seen bestowing such a gift on any other lifeform throughout the film. It’s also present at the biggest points in mankind’s achievements: from tool-discovery to extraplanetary colonization to reaching the edge of the known universe it sent a beacon signaling us towards in the first place. Its propinquity and actions are all-but-once (Moon) followed by triumphant orchestration in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ again making an appearance in the Star Child-finale. If The Monolith was really that disgusted with our actions or use of its gift over millennia, why wouldn’t it just terminate us at any point in Earth’s history-or leave us stranded in evolutionary purgatory? Finally, the finale’s choice of greco-roman decor can be interpreted reverberating and referencing The Renaissance (‘Rebirth’): the pinnacle of man’s achievement and intellectual fortitude further echoed in the literal rebirth of Bowman back into a foetus sent back to Earth as a proto-angelic form – perhaps purposely-designed after the religious figures we worship as a higher/next-stage. It certainly explains the finale more epigrammatically, & is overall a ~sound interpretation of the film’s events – should your proverbial view of mankind be glass-half-full. However, upon multiple viewings and thorough analysis of every frame and subtext, CLC leans towards a dark interpretation of The Monolith’s actions & relationship with mankind.

A Dark Apocalypse

Cinema Lovers Club’s Interpretation: A Benevolent, Godlike Being’s Anger/Punishment For The Ghastly Misuse Of His Gift To Mankind

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The Monolith’s presence in the desert is undoubtedly a positive, benevolent, godlike act of love – bestowing upon us the ultimate gift of evolutionary dominance over the rest of life on Earth: the discovery of tools. However, even from the second we’re given this gift, something’s wrong; Instead of our first instinct/act being a benevolent use of these tools, mankind’s first natural inclination is violence and killing – of other animals and even our own kind. The celebration in the bone club sequence can be thus seen as an evil, perverse act of sin whose score-choice by Kubrick satirizes the horror & barbarism we and The Monolith witness that day: what has it done? A ghastly disbelief and prognostication of the consequences of this gift-gone-wrong: millennia of violence, death, genocide, selfishness, and planetary-to-galactic destruction all stemming from the tool it gave us might have been too much to handle for The Monolith – explaining its bizarre millennia-of-absence from mankind after that day and even self-burial on the moon 4,000,000 years ago (perhaps even the very same day after this happened being perfectly-within the hominid era archeologically, and non-coincidentally such a specific choice of timeline). The act of burial or obscuring oneself has been historically a shameful or death-related one across world cultures, and the moon being the dark celestial body of Earth’s lore and predominantly seen as murky, melancholic, and ominous support this theory of a symbolic act of obloquy. Perhaps The Monolith self-exiled once it knew the consequences of what it had done, wanting to spare itself the punishment and shame of facing the rest of its race; Perhaps it was exiled by the rest of The Monoliths, forced to watch our horrific actions close-by as discipline for its giving humans a gift we were wholly-undue; Perhaps it was a symbolic-protest physically blocking us from view to send us a message in hopes we could decipher it and change. Either way, when it is found and uncovered once again by mankind on the moon, the tone is strikingly different than the veldt. It sets off a baring alarm-like signal, whose imagery – since visual cues are critical in the film – showcases it physically hurting the nearby humans, an optic clue that it’s not as happy to see us this second time. The use of light in the second encounter – since light is pivotal throughout the film and Monolith’s actions too – is also much darker and more ominous-feeling here, a reverse-ecliptic motif on The Moon echoing mankind’s historical xenophobia and fears of the dark and celestial events like eclipses or Full Moons (seen in many world cultures and media as apocalyptic or horror-thematized, even in kids’ cartoons) 10x over. HAL’s inexplicable, random haywire-miscalculation in the third act – the first error in the *history* of the perfect 9000 series & one a sister-computer was able to identity instantly as error – is also portrayed as almost an incoming transmission signal-like revelation he has to pause and stop what he’s doing to receive. The moment sets off a complete tonal and personality-shift in HAL, going slasher against his programming and the people he was supposed to protect – one whose esotericism and bizarre-triggering can be explained by this reading too: maybe The Monolith sent the signal and tried to influence HAL like it influenced our hominid ancestors in-veldt to take out the humans on-board. Perhaps the beacon to Jupiter was mistakenly-signaled as a defense mechanism, a mistake set off by a light/eclipse-trigger, or way for The Monolith in-error to buy itself time to kill us there by cleverly turning our invention back against us like The Monolith’s was against it.

A Dark Apocalypse

Cinema Lovers Club’s Interpretation: A Benevolent, Godlike Being’s Anger/Punishment For The Ghastly Misuse Of His Gift To Mankind

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The overwhelming display of mind-melting visuals Bowman witnesses when he survives HAL’s games in the finale is given a violent overdose-like portrayal – with spliced-in shots of almost stroke-like facial expressions perhaps because the euphoria’s goal was to overwhelm and trigger cardiac/mental breakdown, a final defense mechanism. When Bowman manages to still resiliently survive, he finds himself in a bedroom that feels almost like a purgatoric ‘waiting room’ – possibly-satirically decorated with Greco-Roman decor to reference the heights of man and one time we actually lived up to The Monolith’s vision before we devolved back into our cyclically-destructive track record. He is kept in this metaphoric purgatory or ‘cage’/human zoo for so long, he rots and decays until he is but a dying shell of a man at the final minutes of life. Why would The Monoliths – beings so intelligent, they changed the entire trajectory of life and evolutionary history on Earth with one second’s signal to a primitive hominid in the desert – have then such an uneventful time when they have one here in their grasp, with all the time in the universe to study us and every facet of what it means to be human? This is the ultimate evidence point for this cynical/dark interpretation: the anticlimax of this final meeting beyond the stars, wherein they could’ve just bestowed immortality and triggered higher-state evolution immediately like they did in the veldt if they wanted to, but perhaps re-evaluated and debated the entirety of the mankind before deciding to forgo this ultimate blessing. Only right-before Bowman’s death does a Monolith appear once again to him, transforming him into a foetus and sending him off back to Earth. This too is loaded with symbolism and multi-interpretability: the foetus is a helpless primordial stage of human development we only spend a minuscule fraction of our life-cycle in, before we’re even able to do anything. Why would a small, physically-unimposing, defenseless, developmentally-nescient form be a ‘higher-stage’ or ‘next-level’ in human evolution as the coin’s other-side would assert? Could it be an insult or jest: a comment that we like to think we’re evolved and mighty, but are mere infants in the hierarchy of universal life and as immature, simple, and vexing as children in need of a lesson? Could it, and the luminous enclosure of it, be perhaps a sarcastic comment that we’ve fallen far from the religiosity we (hypocritically) preach to worship like cherubs/angels? A special, corrected version of the mankind The Monolith envisioned, sent back to rewrite the history books – a metaphorical new-Jesus? A normal infant wiped-clean of memory of this odyssey’s events, returning to Earth to live out the rest of its lifetime in ignorance until we inevitably destroy the planet ourselves? An energy or nuclear-weapon meant to cause harm or even annihilate the Earth, creating a metaphorical new-‘Heaven’ or blank canvas to start again? The greatest triumph of 2001 is how mercilessly-esoteric, allegorical, secretive, and ambiguous it is with what it all means – the central premise of storytelling since the days of cavemen’s fires. The film’s plot device is a once-of-a-kind masterpiece, wherein you cannot even begin to understand the film as a whole until its ending AND serious contemplation/analysis afterwards. It twists every convention of classical storytelling, reinvents the artform of film, flips the script on your every preconception and guess, & coerces the viewer to do the job of the critic: analyzing, theorizing, contemplating, interpreting (partially-intrinsic on how you view mankind itself: glass proverbially half-empty or half-full), and putting together the Da Vinci Code of this canvas of wildly-complex, oracular master-cinema in its own league – one which can (and will) be debated until the end of time.

Conclusion

The Movie That Changed Everything

A Masterpiece Of Cinematic Futurism, Science-Fiction, & Human Existential Discourse Centuries Ahead Of Its Time. CLC’s Official Greatest Film Of All-Time

Photograph Courtesy Of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The movie that changed movies forever and taught us to look to the stars, nothing has or ever will be made like 2001: A Space Odyssey again. It’s a masterwork of cinema: a four-act symphony for the senses that transcends entertainment-value and boasts the most complex and intellectually-rich/multi-interpretive script ever written, brought to life in nonverbalized, prophetic show-not-tell aestheticism. It exemplifies everything movies should do at peak value: it provokes our curiosities and the depths of mankind’s subconscious; it commands audiovisual awe with thunderous Old Testament-Godlike authoritarianism; it makes us laugh, cry, and feel down to the pith of our souls; it teaches us something about ourselves and makes us reconceptualize & analyze the entire galaxy around us. It tosses around questions that have rocked mankind to its core since the dawn of time, with the lightness of a hominid’s bone in the veldt: Who are we? Where did we come from? What’s our purpose? Are we alone in the universe? What lurks out there beyond the stars? It prognosticated many now-societal norms impossibly 50+ years or even centuries ahead of its time: Artificial Intelligence, NASA-level Space Exploration-accuracy before mankind even went to the Moon, Voice-Print Identification, Suspended Animation/Induced Hibernation, and jaw-dropping Futurism in Spacecraft Design. It showcases perfect synergy across cinematography, score, and screenplay for a one-of-a-kind audiovisual experience there isn’t even one correct/definitive interpretation of – a film that will be debated and re-analyzed until the end of time. A prismatic journey through the events that shaped galactic history posing striking questions about the nature of mankind vs. machine and foundations of civilization, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is pure science-fiction, a once-in-a-century masterpiece, and The Greatest Film Of All-Time.

Official CLC Score: 10/10