Sunday 8 September 2019

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Rumrejsen år 2001
Near the end of 1968 Apollo 8 flew around the moon taking humans to that place for the first time ever. As dramatic this may have seemed (the picture Earthrise from that mission is celebrated as one of the most remarkable ever) cinemagoers had already been there and near Jupiter too earlier that that year in Stanley Kubrick’s remarkable “2001: A Space Odyssey”. When I say “been there” I actually mean it. Never before in cinema has a movie conveyed the experience of space travel this detailed and realistic, so amazingly done in fact that some conspiracy theorist still claim that the actual moon landing was filmed by Kubrick in a studio.

I have seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” before, of course I have, I love good science fiction, but I do not think I ever before was as prepared to watch it. I knew what I was going into and I knew what I was not going to get and that is important in this case. If you are looking for Star Wars space opera, you will be terribly disappointed. What you get instead is… an expressionistic, sensory experience of humanity in contact with space, machines and the divine. No less.

Knowing this, I was not disappointed. On the contrary, it was a very fulfilling experience.

The movie consists of four chapters that almost operate as four separate movies with their own themes. They do connect, but on a higher, thematic level. The first is the dawn of man where we watch primates do what primates do: Eat, sleep, fight. Then a mysterious black monolith appears with that mysterious choir sound and the primates make a quantum leap and start using tools. Also Sprach Zarathustra at full volume.

Jump to the near future (well, the past for us, we were supposed to be well established in space in the year 2001…) where Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is on the way to the moon in a space liner. Yeah, just like first class on an airline, but in space with weightlessness and disorienting directions. The spaceship docks with a huge wheel of a space station and everyone who has played “Elite” on a C64 or Amiga back in the eighties know what that means: An der schönen blauen Donau while spaceship and space station dance in lockstep. Floyd continues to the moon where a monolith has been found hidden there some 4 million years ago. Again, spectacular design as the team flies across the lunar surface and into the pit to watch the monolith.

Jump to the Discovery spaceship where astronauts Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and David Bowman (Keir Dullea) spends their time on the way to Jupiter with the supercomputer Hal 9000. There is not a lot for them to do until HAL decides that humans are a threat to the mission goals, and so tarts killing off the humans. More iconic scenes when Bowman tries to get back into the spaceship and to get HAL to open the door only to be answered with “I am sorry Dave; I’m afraid I can’t do that”. The one line you do not want your compute to say. Eventually David do get in and disconnects the computer.

Jump to Jupiter orbit and the part most people have a problem with, the psychedelic scenes where David Bowman approaches the monolith in Jupiter orbit in his pod and travel through… something with a lot of colors and shapes. Bowman ends up in a white room where he gets old and then, with the help of the monolith becomes a fetus traveling to Earth and some more very loud Also Sprach Zarathustra.

It is obvious that this movie should be watched for its themes rather than narration as mentioned above. There are many, very clever interpretations of what this all means, though my own tends toward the more simplistic but not less grand. It sets humanity into a grander scale as something bigger. That there is something, an alien force, guiding us and that humanity in on the road to something, while machines is a blind alley, a detour that is a threat to us. I am not a religious person, but I bet the religiously minded would get a lot out of that. Is the transcendence divine or alien? Benign or hostile? Inevitable or through achievement?

I am not the right to tell. What I do know is that I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting back and watch the slow-moving scenery in space. No rush, just a state of mind.

And yeah, I did try to stand in that primate scene in the desert, throwing a bone at the Stanley Kubrick exhibition in Berlin in 2005. Awesome.


  1. Yes, visually remarkable and I love the realism and details. Even better on the big screen.
    I was in London and saw the Kubrick exhibition. Fun to get up close and look at props. There wasn't a bone to throw at the Design Museum, in fact I wrote a post on how to improve the exibition:

    1. I wonder if it was the same exhibition. I know it travelled around a lot, but it was way back in 2005. In one of the rooms they had set up the scene with the primates with some green wall and when you looked into a camera you got the background from the movie as well. There were no costumes available, but you could do all the monkey stuff and film it. Totally awesome. Back then I did not know as many of Kubrick's older movies as I do now so I was not able to appreciate it as much as I know I would today. The Shining exhibit was terrifying.