2001: A Space Odyssey

Dispensing with narrative niceties, like characters that take us from the beginning of the movie to the end, 2001 shares features with history texts, philosophical treatises, science fiction short stories and games of chess. What is your next move after you have flown with Astronaut Bowman thru the space gate and beyond the infinite? Do you pick up your popcorn box, dump it in the trash, and walk nonchalantly out of the movie house? Do you keep your seat, patiently waiting for the next screening so you can get what you missed the first time? Do you find a nice place to discuss it afterwards with your friends, only to find that you've all quickly hit a monolith in the conversation as shiny as the one that stumped the chimps in the early part of the film and move on to more immediate concerns, like sex and violence, which were only lurking somewhere in the subtext of the film, far enough away to insure its strangely alien "G" rating?

As I write this, the year 2001 itself is almost breathing down my neck and yet all that we've really sent beyond Jupiter is a note from Carl Sagan and a tape of Glenn Gould playing Bach. We're not even remotely in any condition to send any people that far, and certainly not as far as "Beyond the infinite." And yet even if its predictions might strike some as a little hokey, 2001 remains a supremely moving and farsighted cinematic milestone.

When Bowman does aim his space pod at the shiny black monolith and watch light itself bend all around him, we can be eternally thankful that he has taken us along. After a few minutes of all those bright lights and colors slipping by us we are all infantilized into star children ourselves, looking at it all as if we just entered life, and it's only some kind of decorum somewhere in our brain stem that keeps us from crying out like a baby, or else it's the Legetti music that is screaming out so loud and piercing, overpowering the sound system in the theatre to the point that you hear a shower of sparks, clicks, or is that the scream that we were going to make anyway so just let the music do it all. Have we seen this, or haven't we. Is that something familiar in that long string of light, that bend, that landscape driven by a new spectrum of colors. Is that what happens when light passes thru a spectrum or are those the eyes of the beings that are standing over us, checking out the brand new spanking thing that they just birthed.

After Hal the computer is switched off and we get a little bit of narrative via a tape to fill us in on some of the plot points, 2001 sets aside any attempt to be like the typical Hollywood film and takes us on a journey that leaves us filling in all the blanks. Stanley Kubrick fed off the 16mm experiments of the early sixties to give us a bit of big money abstraction, a few minutes of multicolored underground filmmaking on the walls of our local movie house, or on our TV set at home. He takes us on a journey into new realms of story-telling, a way of beginning and ending that dispenses with "Once upon a time," and "They lived happily ever after," but that still seems to touch and move us. We leave the film dazed but perhaps it is a good kind of dazed, not a frustrated freak-out that you get because your bus isn't coming or your life is breaking down, but the freak-out that comes when you begin to realize how small and large your place in the Universe is, and to what wonderful possibilities that thought can take you.

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Copyright © 1996 John Akre

This page last revised 12 November 1997