The definitive Sci-fi film from 1968 was rereleased in cinemas at the end of last month. It played not only at the BFI, but cinemas across the country. I saw it, for the very first time, in Greenwich Picturehouse, sat in the front row as The Blue Danube Waltz boomed around the cinema and my mind was blown.
Growing up (mostly) in the 21st century, much of my experience of classic films from the past is born out of me already aware of their status before I see the film itself. When watching 2001 everything it influenced became apparent, like all the things I had already seen had been slightly out of focus, and as I watched the father of all modern sci-fi for the first time everything became a bit clearer. It wasn’t only the films influence that became clear, but also all the spoofs and cultural references I’d unknowingly been exposed to over the years, from The Simpsons to Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The thing that struck me most about 2001: A Space Odyssey, was how it didn’t really feel like a film at all. The immersive nature, the lack of dialogue and the ambiguity of it all, made it feel more like an art installation, an experience, rather than a film in the ‘movie’ sense. Indeed, when it was first released a lot of the films popularity was down to the psychedelic feel of the film, and teenagers getting high as they watched the film. The strange quiet of the film, and the use of unsettling camera angles all make for something that feels like an assault on the senses. This is obviously the point. By bringing you into the world of the spaceship, by tilting the camera when the ship moves, by making what you’re seeing feel like the real world Kubrick is creating a feeling of claustrophobia, stuck in space, with only HAL.
Kubrick’s use of music as well, highlights the human endeavour that is being examined here, rather than condemning it. Technological and scientific advances can sometimes seem cold or heartless, but when examined in the context of the classical music choices that Kubrick has made they instead seem beautiful works of art.
This film is particularly interesting in light of the world we live in now, 13 years after what Kubrick imagined the future to be. You can have conversations with Siri and Stephen Hawking commented recently on his fears for what the rise of artificial intelligence means for the human race. Technology advances but humanity slows down. Our knowledge of space is constantly growing but our fascination doesn’t stop – Christopher Nolan’s interstellar is the hot movie of the moment, another film about space and our relationship with it. Gravity last year not only scooped numerous awards but also used space as a metaphor for something about humanity. Despite these films being 46 years after Kubrick’s foray into space, we as humans are clearly still fascinated with the unknown, with what is lurking in the darkness above us. Space is one of the definitive film topics. Star Wars, Star Trek, even Doctor Who, all explore what we don’t know, imagine what might be, and are all massively popular because of the questions they raise. What is it about space that makes us feel this way?
Is it that through our examination of the unknown we can answer questions about the human condition? the edit between the throwing of the bone in the air to the spaceship flying through space is one of the most well known in film history, and it struck me that those ships really do look like bones, their colour, their shape. They’re all part of something bigger, just like we are, which we perhaps we can only see when we examine space.