Life is a mystery, there is no doubt about it. Of course, we have had scientific theories and postulations, but they have never been definitive. And since time immemorial, human beings have been on a quest for answers; answers to all the mysteries surrounding our existence and our future. Despite 8 million years of civilization, we still don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think we ever will. But, that has never stopped us from asking questions. I for one, often wonder about the existence of complex life in the universe other than ours. And, if there indeed is alien life, would they be more advanced living systems than us? And if so, have they been leading the way for us, without us even knowing; something like a “God”? It may seem far-fetched even by science fiction standards, but think about it a little, and the possibilities are infinite and endlessly fascinating.
Art and cinema, in particular, have often explored these ideas of life and existence with varying degrees of success. Movies like ‘Prometheus’, ‘Contact’ and to a small extent ‘Interstellar’ touch upon the idea of an advanced life form guiding us through our evolution. But the fact remains that while these movies are fascinating, none of them have successfully managed to display the scale and absolute magnificence of the ideas they promulgate. In fact, it is nearly impossible to do that, since that would require complete abdication of the human element from the art, as a means to rise above it, to portray something greater than life; something beyond our comprehension. As I said, it is impossible, and yet that is exactly what ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ does!
When the first screening of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was held back in 1968, audiences walked out expressing disgust and chastised the director’s indulgence and lack of a narrative structure. Critics hated it and many even called it the worst film ever made. Even the ones who loved it didn’t know what to make of it. Looking back, the response isn’t surprising considering the fact that the movie broke every rule there is to break in cinema. Portraying two major turning points of human evolution over millions of years, the movie has no tangible plot, no characters, and no emotional arc. What then made the movie so great? Why does it turn out to be the experience of a lifetime? The answers aren’t so simple.
A mysterious black monolith suddenly appears before a group of man apes, in the midst of a confrontation with a rival tribe. The monolith mysteriously guides them into using a bone as a tool. Millions of years later in 2001, a similar monolith is discovered on the moon. A journey ensues across time and space in attempt to understand the message behind the monolith and what it signifies. This is the plot stripped down to the bare minimum, but it isn’t so straightforward. The pace is excruciatingly slow and the narrative basically non-existent, which actually works here. The portrayal of something that is actually too huge to comprehend should not be easy to decipher, and Kubrick’s writing and direction makes sure that the viewer is left baffled. There are very few dialogues; and even when our characters speak, it is usually short and cryptic.
If there is one aspect of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that could be unequivocally praised, it is its technical prowess. With viscerally stunning visuals, long takes and an accurate depiction of space travel, the sheer beauty in the imagery will blow you away. I watched the movie only couple of years ago, yet I have never been more mesmerized by any movie in my life. For a movie almost half a century old, it goes on to say a lot about its scientific accuracy and attention to detail. The cinematography is ground-breaking; Geoffery Unsworth manages to capture the miracle of the universe with absolute perfection. The screenplay by Kubrick is radical; despite breaking all the rules of conventional screenplay, it manages to create something so great that deciphering its philosophical underlings is not easy. The movie, basically has everything that is usually derided, but the same qualities are what makes it so powerful.