It seems that when it comes to a film masterpiece, there are two categories. The first being the slow, deliberate, painstakingly detailed epic. The second is fast paced, quote a minute, and filled with action. Clearly, at least for those who consider it a masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey falls under the prior category.
The film is directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and William Sylvester. It starts with a prehistoric sequence in which, possibly due to the appearance of a large black monolith, a group of apes suddenly and rapidly evolve. This leads the apes to become carnivores and violently use the bones of their prey to fight and kill.
In the second segment, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Sylvester), joins astronauts on a trip to the moon where an identical monolith has been discovered. They know little about, other than its vast energy output. The discovery is kept top secret.
The third, and probably most famous segment, follows Dr. David Bowman (Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Lockwood). They are aboard Discovery One on a mission to Jupiter. The ship is primarily controlled by an intelligent supercomputer named HAL 9000. Slowly things on the mission begin to fall apart as HAL’s behavior becomes erratic. This develops into the the films much analyzed climactic ending.
The most straightforward theme of the film is its analysis (and arguably criticism) of artificial intelligence. Clearly HAL’s belief that humans would impede the Discovery One mission is a warning that AI technology can be dangerous. Further, it seems to be a statement that the potential for danger is more likely than less.
Now, of course, the ending. Decades of analysis has been put into the ending of this film. The biggest debate in my own contemplation is whether the monolith causes evolution or merely allows those who touch it to see into the future. The prehistoric scene would seem to suggest it causes evolution. The finale feels more like Dr. Bowman taking a look into his own future. Others may say that the monolith is simply a device that extraterrestrial life is using to monitor earth/human activity.
What makes the film so great is that it induces thought and deliberation. I wouldn’t put forth any of my own theories as a be all end all. One of my favorite comedians, Bill Hicks, refers to psilocybin (found in mushrooms or “magic” mushrooms) as an accelerator pad for evolution. I personally drew connections between the idea of accelerating evolution between 2001 and Hicks. The idea that evolution didn’t end, isn’t stagnant, and is mental as much as physical is something I firmly believe. I would add that as a criticism of AI and supercomputers I am also highly skeptical of such innovation.
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Overall I greatly enjoyed the film. At times the extended shots and slow pacing did seem to detract from the film. Despite that, if given a fair chance the film builds well on its slow pacing and lack of dialogue. The music and cinematography are impeccable, which is of course due to Kubrick’s precise style.
I would recommend a first time viewer consider watching the film in segments. 20 to 40 minutes at a time allows one to view the film without losing concentration. After doing so, a consensus can be drawn and subsequent viewings could be in one sitting if you find it enjoyable.