“Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountaintop. You look up and wonder, how could anyone have climbed that high?” – Martin Scorsese. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the Everest among those Kubrickian mountains. It stands tall in all its magnificence and it intimidates you. It is even condescending at times. There has never been a film that made me feel so small. Usually when I watch an old classic film from my watchlist, I almost always feel “ Well, that was great, you know, just as expected” because I must have encountered the annoying reaction “OMG! You have never watched it? It’s brilliant!” from cinephiles a million times about that movie (Hypocrisy Alert). ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was one hell of an exception. It surpassed my expectations by miles. I knew I was going to watch a Kubrick epic. But the grandeur and elegance of it shocks you. I have literally paused the movie several times and wondered things like “ Was this really made in 1968? I mean the moon landing was in 1969!” or “ Good lord! This makes ‘Interstellar’ look like ‘Doodlebug’!”
In terms of the content, making and technical brilliance, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is undoubtedly way ahead of its time or even our time. Owing to the otherworldly quality in direction, nonverbal narrative style (minimal dialogues), stunning cinematography & visual effects and haunting music it is regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time. It has been discussed in great deal for decades. But, it is not the brilliance of this legendary film but the themes and philosophical interpretations that’s been discussed the most over the years. So, here’s an attempt at explaining this gem of a film.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The plot, in detail
This visual poetry begins its journey from millions of years ago. Apparently, apes are the most evolved species at the time. But, they aren’t modern enough to hunt their preys. They seem to be living off what the predators leave behind. The apes live in groups as several different tribes and often there are (nonviolent) conflicts among them over watering holes. At times, they are being attacked by predators as well. One fine day, a mysterious black monolith appears at a watering hole, the habitat of one of the tribes. They curiously and gingerly approach the monolith and examine it. We see a beautiful shot of sunlight reflecting off of the monolith. After the appearance of the monolith, somehow they seem to have been inspired to use bones as tools/weapons. They started using bones for hunting. This makes their lives a lot better and prosperous. Plenty to eat! Meanwhile, the territorial fights continue to occur among the tribes and they start using bones to fight among themselves. In no time, they even managed to perfect the art of killing one of their own, using their brand new invention. True pioneers! Then, in one of the most celebrated flash-forwards ever in the history of cinema, Kubrick takes us ahead millions of years by jumping from the shot of a bone triumphantly thrown up in the air to that of a satellite (That is not a spaceship although it is widely referred to as one) orbiting the earth in the 21st century.
In the modern era, we follow Dr. Heywood Floyd, a scientific specialist for the US government who has been called up for a secret mission to Clavius base, an US research base on the moon. On his way to the base, he meets a few of his friends from the Soviet Union, while at Space Station V, a gorgeous twin-wheeled hub that serves as a transit point from Earth’s orbit to moon and other planets. Dr. Floyd declines to answer while inquired about the purpose of his trip while they seem to believe in rumors of some sort of epidemic at the base. Once he reaches the base, it is revealed that he has come to examine a mysterious monolith found on the moon that was buried four million years ago. Dr. Floyd examines the monolith along with his team members. The monolith that looks identical to the one that the apes found, emits a loud high frequency noise when sunlight strikes on it. Cut.