Saturday, April 24, 2010

Astonishing visual triumph, but what was that?

A journey with the machines. What horror.

After viewing 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had several options: 1) Pretend I loved it and made up my own interpretations of what I thought the film meant. 2) Pretend I liked it and talk about how interesting the entire puzzling experience was. 3) Just say I thought it was boring and confusing and put on a bulletproof vest.

Well, I have a confession to make...

I will go with option three. I don't understand the greatness of Stanley Kubrick's so-called science fiction masterpiece. Yes, I realize that it's one of the most aesthetically gorgeous films ever made, with a classical soundtrack that I completely adore, but it is also one of the slowest, most sparse films I've ever seen, which I guess must be the point, if there is a point at all.

Of course, there is also the option of re-watching it. Not so soon, though. My brain is still trying to recovering from the massive what-the-bleeps I experienced throughout the entire film.

Spoilers ahead: The film begins with a couple of apes. They go seemingly batshit because of their newfound intelligence. There goes the story of the dawn of man. Jump cut into space. Adventure ensues. They find this monolith that the apes saw. It's loud and has unimaginable transformative powers.

Spoilers continue: Eighteen months later, these astronauts are traveling to Jupiter on a mission. The whole spaceship is controlled by robot HAL 9000. Hal is completely fascinating, though, despite the fact that he's a glowing, talking iPod-shaped antagonist. But all good things must end, which is probably why Hal gets DISCONNECTED half an hour before the movie ends. Which means there is half an hour more of this film without Hal. Then this astronaut travels through different colored lights, I guess. He becomes old, then becomes a fetus, and then becomes a gigantic, floating baby. The movie ends.

I think I'm missing something. No, I'm definitely missing something. I looked up different interpretations of the film and, yeah, I knew it was about life and death and all that good stuff. Some say the book is a good source for answers. But the film itself is certainly a long, methodical explanation for what could be summed up in one good paragraph instead of long scenes of pointless visual supremacy.

Roger Ebert's 1997 review does an excellent job at explaining the enduring wonders of 2001, but I continue to feel emotionally disconnected and disengaged about the film. Everyone scene and shot seemed to last forever. I still didn't turn it off, though. I wanted to see what would happen next. My curiosity is rather masochistic.

Though I'm all for art and philosophy. Just wished I understood them better.

Let's talk about this. It's therapy time. Please explain why this iconic science fiction film is deservingly revered. Or someone out there can be a kindred spirit.


  1. The movie was based on a book called The Sentinel i think. I heard that if you read the book, the movie makes a lot more sense. I didn't read the book when i saw the movie and i was lost during a lot of it. But i did think there was some weird pleasure in being completely lost and trying to figure out what exactly is going on and what everything means.

  2. Also, i really appreciated the honest 3 option breakdown. That was refreshing to read. As someone who also reviews movies, i go through that whole process too. "Did i really like this movie?" "Can i convince myself that i liked it?" I'm glad you showed that.

  3. First of all, thanks for the comment.

    I appreciate you being honest and not simply claiming to enjoy a movie based off its reputation. It can be tough to do, and is something I often find myself getting ripped for. A recent example for me would be a movie like "The Big Chill" that is highly revered but I absolutely hated.

    Regarding 2001, I like it but it is far from my favorite Kubrick movie. I think Lolita is probably his most underrated movie, and ranks up there with Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange as his best works. I found the first half-hour or so (however long the ape shit takes) to be rather unwatchable.

  4. @Casey
    The Sentinel is one of the short stories, also written by Clarke, that inspired 2001. Kubrick told Clarke about his 2001 idea, based on Clarke's short stories, and Clarke wrote a novel first (Kubrick's suggestion) before co-writing the screenplay with Kubrick, I believe.

    A lot of people say that, after they read the book, the movie makes more sense. I'm not really a sci-fi fan to begin with, so I don't know if I'll ever get around to reading the book.

    I think the reason I kept watching was because I really want to figure out the deeper meaning of the film. After reading several interpretations, I don't think I was quite off the mark, though I now feel that Kubrick has deliberately made the film thought-provoking, which feels like another kind of blatant manipulation of the audience.

    There is a part of me that often questions whether or not I really love a film. I remember asking myself that when I recently watched Gangs of New York. Yes, it's a fairly entertaining film, but is it really a masterpiece, just because of the critical acclaim and the Scorsese tag? Probably not. It's a violent, yet typical film about revenge. And it's predictable. And cliched. And kinda ridiculous. So I try not to kid myself as much as possible.

    There are so many popular movies that I simply don't love.

    I've never seen The Big Chill, but I have a feeling that it's one of those nostalgic films that means a lot to other people. It's probably like what most eighties movies mean to people, such as The Breakfast Club. I actually kinda loathe TBC because it hits its message OVER MY HEAD SO DAMN HARD. And none of the characters are really endearing.

    I haven't seen many Kubrick films. I've seen 2001, Dr. Strangelove, and Spartacus. I saw Dr. Strangelove a long time ago and I didn't really get the humor, though a re-watch might help. I thought Spartacus was really wonderful, but from what I've heard, it's not the typical Kubrick film because it was made back when Kubrick was hustling for work.

    But 2001 won't stop me from watching more Kubrick. Lolita might be my next Kubrick. We'll see.

  5. Thanks for not completely bullshitting about how awesome it is. I mean, if you really like it, great, continue really liking it, but if you're you, your opinion, that is, don't go around singing it's praises and copy-and-pasting from initial reviews.

    Good write-up/review/whatever.

  6. @Simon
    I'm not going to pretend that I like a film just because it's on some greatest films list. There was a time that I felt like a completely moronic sycophant, but that phase is officially over. I'm going to like whatever hell I want...

    I'm glad you enjoyed the review. While I may bullshit some things in my life, I try my best not to do it on this blog.

    Just keepin' it real, that's all.

  7. I love your review. I have never seen this, and it doesn't make me feel the least bit guilty...Kubrick does not do it for me often.

  8. @Andrew
    I haven't seen enough Kubrick films to judge but he seems like a truly polarizing filmmaker.

    The only reason I watched this was because I'm trying to complete AFI's 100 Movies (10th Anniversary) list. 78% done. Most likely watching On the Waterfront and Sophie's Choice next.

  9. I had a feeling it was the 100 list that made you watch it. Well On the Waterfront is EXCELLENT (I hope you love it)...Sophie's Choice is on the list? Why the hell? Not a bad movie, but...surprising inclusion. Interested to see what you think of it.

  10. @Andrew
    I have several problems with the AFI 100 list (duh), but to me, it's probably the most quintessential and accessible "greatest films" list out there. It's not overly pretentious, but it's not fueled by crazy fanboys either.

    But I can't get over the top 50 inclusion of LOTR Fellowship of the Ring. Not just because I find the entire LOTR trilogy to be overrated...but c'mon:Return of the King is a much better film.

    I'll make sure to tell you how I think of both those films. I've heard some great things about On the Waterfront (I LOVE how Robert De Niro delivered that famous monologue in Raging Bull) and I saw that famous daughter scene from Sophie's Choice in a history class. So...I'm looking forward to both.

  11. Stanley Kubrick is part of my holy trinity of great filmmmakers.

    Those three men (Mr. Kubrick, along with Woody Allen and David Lean) shaped my cinematic destiny. They are largely responsible for my astonishingly grandiose film obsessions.

    My all time favourite Kubrick is LOLITA. Mainly because I was about five steps from being her at 14. So dangerously close that it gives me the shakes even today.

    And I had ample opportunities to act on it. Put it that way.

    I guess what saved me in the end was that I really didn't want to be like that. Not to that degree at any rate. I don't know how I ever got through adolescence.

    But no one could tell me anything. I was a smart girl.


    *rolls emerald green eyes heavenward*

    The other two that make me revere and worship Stanley all over again are A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and 2001.

    Marcy, you have a very fine mind. You don't have to like anything that you don't possess any real affinity for...and you don't have to apologize for that either.

    I personally had a fairly complete level of comprehension the first time I witnessed 2001 and I was able to be irresistibly drawn in by it from that perspective.

    But there are a lot of extraordinarily intelligent people that don't get it and never will. Some individuals need multiple viewings. Other film aficionados just throw in the towel after one experience and move on to greener, more promising pastures.

    Back in the 60s, MGM executives were fairly furious with Mr. Kubrick. They didn't understand exactly what he had done. Apparently a lot of the audience members back in the day felt the same way as the studio people.

    But some of them came back to the theatre after injesting a variety of substances (that was the decade for it, apparently) and enjoyed it one hell of a lot more than their initial visits.

    I could explain 2001 in detail. But Blogger will take issue with my voluminous number of characters and I don't know how interesting it would be for other people to read anyway.

    (Plus I'm positive Roger Ebert did a wonderful job all on his own.)

    Suffice to say that 2001 is about the beginning of everything...and the end of everything. Plus there is a direct correlation between the Dawn Of Man sequence and what happens to Keir Dullea's character at the conclusion.

    If you check this out again, it may make more sense to you over the years, Marcy. Every time I watch it, I learn more and I see different things that I never did previously.

    But it's not for everyone.

    Incidentally, I hate DR. STRANGELOVE as well. Somehow I don't think that will ever have a softening effect on you.

    As far as I'm concerned, if you loathe that film, it never goes away.


  12. @Miranda
    I was eagerly waiting for a 2001 fan that wasn't absolutely condescending (like SOMEONE I happen to personally know)...

    In any case, I'm glad you're here.

    I'm all for re-watches, unless the film is completely unbearable. I think I will watch 2001 some time in the future. It's a fascinating visual spectacle--the cinematography, the art direction.

    I've always been a relatively patient filmgoer. I love so-called "slow" films, such as Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves, mainly because I don't find them slow. But 2001 made me wait for a long time. And there wasn't really a big pay-off.

    Ebert's review noted that a lot of people walked out of 2001 when it first came out. Understandable. Though I would never walk out on a film that I paid good money to see.

    I understand that the film is about the life/death, the beginning and the end, etc. Yet I feel like there must be something deeper and more substantial than that if the film is such an iconic, revered piece of cinema.

    Dr. Strangeloveis...simply not funny. I get the joke, but it just doesn't make me laugh. But I heard a couple of kids on the bus rave about the film, which is a pleasant breath of fresh air since kids RARELY rave about old movies. Well, to each of their own.

  13. My confession would be that I don't really like Stanley Kubrick as a director, and I was certain I hated "2001" the first time I saw it. There were no characters to connect with, which is unthinkable for someone (me) who loves character-driven films. But I made myself watch it twice -- not the same day; Christ, that would have sucked another three hours outta my day -- and the second time I understood the technical mastery and how advanced the visuals were.

    But do I love it? No. Is it in my Top 100? Heck no. There's not one Kubrick film in that list. He's just a very cold director, and one I cannot connect to.

  14. i can't imagine any discussion of kubrick ignoring 'paths of glory', arguably the best (anti)war movie ever made. most of kubrick's movies have been great - with the exception of '2001', or if not great, at least a unique vision.
    woody allen has run the gamut from great to lousy, and almost all of his movies, except 'annie hall' have had only limited box office appeal.

  15. btw, julia roberts made 'mystic pizza'(iconic) in 1988, and the same year appeared in the movie 'satisfaction' with liam neeson, justine bateman and, britta philips. i may be pretty sappy, but i really enjoyed it - girl band goes to the beach - some really good music (opinion), pretty girls(fact), and just plain fun. if it comes your way, it is well worth 90 minutes of your time

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  17. It'a a loath/love film. I fall into the latter category. For me it's a poignant, poetic and understated meditation on the banal realities of human space travel, juxtaposed against the anything but banal unthinkable beauty and wonders of space itself and the possibilites of life beyond our own. However, I doubt it's a film that will grow on you. LIke I say it's love or loath. NICE BLOG!

  18. I've always loved this film. I saw it as a child, and something about the incredible, contrasting visuals, and the accompanying soundtrack, grasped me and wouldn't let go. Each time I see it, I have a sense of awe unmatched by any other science fiction film. I've enjoyed Star Trek and Star Wars movies (some of them, anyway), but none of them made me believe what I was seeing in the way Kubrick did. I felt the coldness and loneliness of space, mixed with a sense of profound wonder at the sense of traveling to another planet.

    That aside, the plot is a bit difficult to grasp fully. It's not as complex or as strange as it seems. It's hints at a profound alien consciousness that was influencing humanity. First the monolith on earth, which helped in our development, and then, the monolith on the moon, which once uncovered, sent a signal to the monolith in orbit around Jupiter, as a signal that humans had made their first steps in space travel. HAL attempts to kill the crew because he decides they're a liability, and that he can do the mission better without them. Dave Bowman survives, and takes HAL offline. After they arrive at the monolith, Dave travels in a pod to it, and it opens a gateway of some sort, which Dave travels through. In the book, it's called a "Star Gate", implying maybe something akin to a worm hole. The whole bit at the end with the strange room is supposed to be an illusion to make Dave not lose his feeble human mind when confronted with alien intelligence/life, or so Arthur C. Clarke said. And the bit at the end with the space fetus is some manner of transformation that would appear to be left intentionally vague, though later books in the series authored by Clarke had Bowman being converted into some manner of energy being by the monolith.

  19. Well, as you can see you're definitely not alone. I'm a big sci-fi fan, I'm a big magical realism/allegorical meaning fan, and a big Kubrick fan, but I also think this is mostly boring and not engaging enough to warrant anyone watching more than once in the name of the story. I imagine the only time playing it on a loop would work great is in a chill out tent at a rave when everyone's on mushrooms. The only other film that wasn't an out and out surrealist arthouse film that made me just as nonplussed is probably The Double Life of Veronique, and in that case I only watched it for the most girly or reasons - I knew it was one of the favourite movies of this guy I had a crush on :p

  20. Hello,
    Its a big thing for astronauts to continue their mission. Eighteen months is too long. Love this movie :)