2001: A Space Odyssey is my cinematic yoga. It also happens to be my favorite film.
Yes, el numero uno.
Nothing for me so perfectly visualizes an experience crafted through special effects that, 40 years on, still hold up. Every scene is a meditation of its tremendous themes—on cosmic birth (note the ova-like cataract of the moon, Earth and sun in very the first shot), evolution and transcendence, self-awareness. Mankind is the unborn seed in the big empty, cloistered in our protective, technological womb. And our creations—the technology that keeps us alive in the void—is paradoxically destroying our humanness. We become dependent on technology for even our most quotidian actions, like feeding ourselves, exercise, even expressing emotion.
The film postulates many questions but provides few answers. Yet every time I watch it certain pieces of the puzzle are revealed and I always relish in its compositional beauty. I see more of the symmetry between scenes—early man scratching out a primal, savage existence while consuming raw flesh; scientists having a picnic lunch of ham and roast beef sandwiches aboard a lunar shuttle.
Kubrick composed most shots around a circular or global object, often with a human at the center, reminding us of the film’s anthropocentric theme and man-versus-technology conflict. The carousel space station wheeling in its orbit. The bulbous head of the sperm-like Discovery on lonely track through the void. The iconic fisheye of HAL, the artificial intelligence that becomes self-aware.
So much visual poetry. And many surprises. Watch how the console lights play upon Bowman’s face in the pod as he comes to grips with HAL’s betrayal, reflecting his inner, repressed rage with almost demon-like ferocity.
Some have criticized 2001 for being cold and lacking emotion. I disagree. The mystery behind the monolith creates unease, and the sonic blast emitted by the monolith uncovered on the moon is made more dreadful when it abruptly ceases.
Of course, there’s Kubrick’s choice of music, such as the unforgettable “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube”. But the track that’s most effective is “Gayane Ballet Suite”, heard at the opening scene of the Discovery on its way to Jupiter.* That is followed by one of the most poignant moments in the film—Frank Poole’s birthday “celebration” aboard the Discovery; only his parents are on hand, transmitted across millions of miles in a pre-recorded message.
Where I feel the film lags and fails to achieve the same levels of greatness is in the overlong time warp sequence. But soon enough we’re brought to the eeriness of Bowman’s “cage”, the ornate and oddly-lit bedroom where he lives out the rest of his human years in mundane solitude.
I probably pop in the DVD (mercifully re-released last year with decent special features) once every two months or so. I can’t watch this film enough.
* James Cameron recycled "Gayane" for his opening to Aliens when we see Ripley's derelict shuttle floating adrift in space.