2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Keir Dullea, HAL 9000

Stanley Kubrick’s piece de resistance 2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie that has the ability to mesmerize any person who views cinema as a painting in motion. In this sense, it is quite similar to Kubrick’s later venture Barry Lyndon. But what sets 2001 apart is the fact that it was perhaps the first-of-its-kind sci-fi movie with state-of-the-art special effects and accurate detailing.

The film begins with what arguably is the best opening scene in movie history ever backed by the musical piece Also Spach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. The potent combination of fascinating visuals, which evoke both a sense of awe and a feeling of isolation, and classical music sets the stage for the epic-ness that is to follow in the next two hours. The narrative is divided into four chapters, first of which is Dawn of Man. This chapter deals with trials and tribulations of primitive man and how desperate need necessitates an important discovery – the first stone tool. One significant point to observe is the fact that the discovery of the tool immediately follows the sighting of a strange, black monolith. The story now moves forward to the outer space in the 21st century, where again, astronauts encounter an identical monolith buried beneath the surface of the moon, which seems to indicate that some unknown force is driving the process of human evolution. Now comes the most enthralling episode of the movie involving some crew members on a mission to Jupiter in a fully automated spacecraft. The supercomputer in control of the spacecraft is HAL9000, a machine which is different from man only because it is incapable of feeling any emotion, or is it? Following a technical snag, HAL begins to ‘feel’ that the crew members do not trust its abilities and could try to deactivate it. And it reacts in the only manner it could – by eliminating the crew members one by one. However, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) somehow manages to deactivate HAL, thereby ensuring his safety. But with a return trip to Earth being impossible, he decides to go further ahead(to infinity and beyond?). It is here that the movie takes a surrealistic turn and Bowman finally reaches the pinnacle of human evolution – immortality.

Very few filmmakers have attempted to delve into so many diverse themes in a single feature, let alone be successful at it. This speaks volumes about the level of film making by Kubrick. In fact, Kubrick has possibly used the medium of cinema to put forth some of his opinions on religion and philosophy. The monolith, which seems to be the guiding force behind evolution, could be Kubrick’s interpretation of God or a mysterious divine power. The movie also questions the power and control of man over the machines he has developed himself, also hinting at the fact that a time could come when machines dominate the humans. The ending sequence, which shows Bowman attaining immortality, could actually be more symbolic than realistic.

Technically, the movie is top-notch. The jump-cut scene at the end of Dawn of Man, by means of which the narrative moves forward by over a million years, has rightfully achieved iconic status. The special effects created more than forty years ago so effectively convey the isolation and barrenness of outer space. The background score, essentially a collection of classical music, contributes significantly in carrying the plot forward since there is not much of dialogue.  Also, it adds to the overall grandeur of the movie.

2001 is the kind of movie you can watch many a time, and each time it would provide you with enough food for thought and discussion on topics as wide-ranging as religion, existence of God, evolution, the relationship between man and machine and immortality. For this reason alone, I hold this work of art in very high regard. Must watch for all lovers of meaningful cinema!