Monday, December 20, 2010

2001: A Space Odyssey

I'm still working out what I want my format to be for these blogs, so please bear with me for the first few days as I straggle about trying to make sense of what I am doing. I know this much - I'll watch the film myself, and then I'll read Ebert's essay on it, to deepen my thoughts about what I saw, not influence them. I will probably write about these films with spoilers, since it's hard to talk about them without bringing some up. So, with that in mind, the first film I watched was Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

I've seen this movie before, but a while ago. I have been, for the last four years, confronted by images of it, stills of every scene in the film in all of my film textbooks. I love it, and after watching it again, I still love it. Kubrick shows such beautiful restraint, and even after over 40 years, HAL is still just as creepy and sinister. I love how effortlessly he shows his power over everyone, killing the entire crew with no melodrama or spectacle. All things I have loved about this film since the first time I saw it.

This is interesting to me now, though, in a new way. I thought a lot about the concept of "collective consciousness" while I watched this. This is the concept that there is a certain amount of knowledge that a society all shares.  For example, how most people could tell you about Dracula, although they have never read the book. I think this idea applies to 2001. I know a lot of people who know of this movie but have never actually seen it, who understand "HAL" without having watched him in action. I'm not sure if this is a product of my generation - kids who were born after many great films were produced, growing up with quotes and inside jokes about them in pop culture - or if it has something to do with my circle of friends. Some of us, myself included, grew up watching Simpsons parodies of these works before ever seeing the real thing. We were told, "Oh, that's from such and such a movie" and that was the end of it for a lot of us. We were in on the joke, and then we moved on. I remember knowing about soylent green and Planet of the Apes via the Simpsons, and I watched them joke about Lord of the Flies and The Odysessy before ever reading them.

On that thought, I know a lot of people who have seen the many parodies of 2001, but never the real thing. My boyfriend had never seen 2001 until today, and the first time I tried to show it to him he fell asleep right after the apes encounter the monolith. Maybe the silence of the film is a bit dull for many modern audiences, but I find some sense of relief in it. A series of beautiful images to contemplate, no dialogue but the viewer still has a good understanding of what is going on. The classical soundtrack, not giving us clues on how to think or react, but setting the pace for the film, asking us to react on our own. A director trusting the audience to be intelligent - something I do not find often in films anymore. I don't want to say that these are the reasons why people don't watch this and other films, however. I think it has more to do with what I was saying above. An idea of, "I know the plot of it already, why should I sit around and watch it?" 2001 is not alone in this - we know Vader is Luke's father, we know Rosebud was his we need to spend a few hours watching the films?

I don't have an answer to this.  I know why I keep coming back to films like this, because for me I like not only the story but also the visuals, the color, the pacing, the score. But that's just me.

All of that pondering aside, I really loved some of Ebert's insights about this film. He mentions that it is "in many respects, a silent film. There are few conversations that could not be handled with title cards...Ironically, the dialogue containing the most feeling comes from HAL, as it pleads for its "life" and sings "Daisy". (The Great Movies, 5). I never really thought about the film in that light at all - my instinct being, as it is for many, to "understand" the film and the meaning behind it. It is such a true statement, however. Most of the characters are hard to relate to and don't talk with much inflection - where HAL does. I love this idea, though, of 2001 as a silent film with title cards. I like imagining what it would be like - the same score, the same stunning visuals - just no speaking.

Ebert also writes about what makes 2001 so different from other films, saying, "Only a few films are transcendent and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most movies are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. 2001: A Space Odyssey is not about a goal, but about a quest, a need" (The Great Movies, 6). I wish I could have put that into words myself, but I am grateful that he was able to name what I was feeling. The film isn't about moving from plot point A to B, or moving through traditional rising and falling action. It exists to make us think and ponder.

I don't know if this contributes to why I know a lot of people who haven't seen this, or to the huge number of parodies of the film. Maybe the fact that there aren't a lot of answers to what 2001 is "about" leads to so many parodies, so everyone can feel less stressed about the film (I include myself in this, of course). Maybe people my age are off-put by the beginning of the film with the apes, going into it thinking of HAL and outer space. I was always taught that if you don't hook viewers in the first ten minutes, you lost them. Is this the case? I wish I had an answer for this. I'm glad I was able to watch this film again, and as someone who likes to stare off into space and think, I'm happy to have some new things to contemplate.

Ebert's Great Movies Essay
Monolith Action Figure
List of Parodies And Homages
17 Minutes of Lost Footage Found
I was going to put clips of the Simpsons parodies here, but I guess...I can't find them? Since when is it hard to find Simpsons anything online? It seems like the only ones surviving on YouTube are hosted by Hulu. Hrrrrmmm. If anyone finds them, give me a yell. :)


  1. Nice essay on 2001. I remember my Dad taking me to see it when it came out. At nine years old, I did not understand it.

    I have since seen 2001 a few times and love it today. This gives me new insight into the film, and adds to my enjoyment of the movie. I think of HAL as a person - I always have too. Bowman, at times, was more of a computer and less emotional than HAL.

    I liked the sequel 2010, where they go back, wake HAL up, and then have to leave him behind. He was the star again.

  2. I enjoyed the movie but was quite dissapointed they did not follow in the books footsteps. The theories that Clarke had for space travel were employed when they launched the Voyager space probe.
    Mandy, I think that the format you have here is quite acceptable especially with the insight into past experiences. This is very well written and constructed.

  3. I agree that it's rare for a director to trust the audience and assume viewers are intelligent. It's a quality I look for.

    2001 is a tough film to start your journey with. It took me several viewings to appreciate fully, but now I love it.

    The ape throwing the bone and Kubrick cutting to the spaceship in orbit is possibly my favorite cut in any film.

  4. I just started following you so I'll go through and comment on the ones I've seen. :P I love Mr. Ebert and love the Best Movies books.

    I have watched 2001 one time. I must admit that it did not grab me. I was okay with it (and certainly at least impressed with the technical aspects) until the whole "psychedelic" 20 minutes or whatever at the end. I almost fell asleep at that point. I also have this weird thing where I am really stressed out by movies set in space. Not like Star Wars but more realistic scifi, I guess. I'm sure that didn't help. I do intend to sit down and rewatch this at some point, see if I can appreciate it a little more. :)

  5. What do you think of this guy's review?

    Thought you might like it since his sentiments on The Incredibles seem similar to your opinions about children's films.