“Thank You For a Very Enjoyable Game…” 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film – and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level – but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point” - Stanley Kubrick, 1968.
Oh man. I don’t know why I thought writing about 2001: A Space Odyssey would be a good idea. I decided to stay up till about four in the morning and give it some full, attentive viewing time and maybe that’s what has given me the stupid idea in the first place. I already know that I cannot do this film justice. Never. So instead I’ll just type some shit and see what happens. If it all goes tits up, I can file it under “fool’s errand brought on by sleep deprivation.”
2001 is beautiful to look at. A stunning piece of cinema, with amazing camera work that reinforces Stanley Kubrick’s ability to produce visual masterpieces. The set design is a technical achievement that should, and does bring gasps of wonder the first time you see some of the scenes on board Discovery One. It’s a film I can go back to time and time again…and the epic end trip through the Stargate goes great with a little Pink Floyd on the side. Something everyone should experience at least once in the right frame of mind.*
This is all just surface nonsense though. Shouldn’t I be appreciating it on a deeper level?
Ultimately, the question I should be answering is, do I know what it means?
And to set a finer point on that, can I put down in words what I think it means?
Can I fuck.
This is where the negative thinking sets in. The “I’m uneducated and don’t know anything. The alien intelligence has left me floudering without it’s help! I’m still at the ape stage. The monolith hath not touched me with it’s gift of higher understanding! What is the monolith anyway? Where the hell is that room? How did he turn into that? Why did he turn into that? Christ! What am I going to do with my life if I can‘t even understand a fucking film!” kind of thing.
Then you find something like this, written by a fifteen year old, and an image of blowing your own brains out flickers in front of your eyelids. Hence the reason I shy away from conversations that may happen to involve A Space Odyssey: Yeah, Leonard Rossiter’s in it. Rising Damp, eh? Yeah, evolution of man. Anyone want a drink? Coming out for a fag? (Shit. Can’t use that one anymore.)
All I usually find myself doing is reading everything I can about it, bringing a further level of confusion with each new find. Drowning any opinions and thoughts I may have formed in a mind-shattering marshland until I’m going round in circles in my head and end up feeling that actually, maybe 2001 suffers from over analysis. Do a quick search, and you’ll be there for hours until it slowly starts to drive you mad.
Obviously, with a film that’s as open to interpretation as 2001, analysis is to be expected, and enjoyed. Kubrick wanted people to form their own opinions, and the scope of these opinions ranges far and wide, with each dissection managing to throw up even more questions than it manages to answer. It’s fascinating stuff. The Monoliths as God, HAL as the ultimate Frankenstein’s monster, the part Arthur C. Clarke’s novelisation plays with regards to an explanation.
Everything is up for examination, even the music. By using Richard Strauss’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Kubrick gives a nod to the Nietzsche book of the same name. Is the Superman what Dave Bowman evolves into? Or is the Starchild nothing to do with that at all, and is man’s final destiny to be free of the human body and return to the stars? All the Nietzsche love then heads to lots of articles on his theory that man is born of two Gods – the Dionysian, primitive and instinctive side of human nature vs. the Apollonian rational and self-controlled side. Man needs both sides to survive. We cannot survive as primitive apes, but at the same time we cannot survive purely in a state of scientific control. There has to a balance somewhere. Dave is a rational man, but needs to resort to the primitive (destroying HAL, leaving Frank to die) in order to survive. Then, and only then, can the Monolith say “Hey, fella! Come with me on a journey through space and time!” and rocket him through infinity to his higher self. I’ve got the Birth of Tragedy in the spare room, so I can dig that. Fair enough, I did give up before the end, but life is short and I wanted to read Promethea instead, so you can blame Alan Moore for my lack of education. On second thoughts, don’t. I think I got way more from Promethea. I’m rambling now, and 2001 is dangling me over the edge. Then it all starts getting into the category of breaking apart each and every line into a myriad of possible meanings; and when it extends into a full run down of the implications of each character’s name, I start to lose my grip and begin to think “Jesus Christ, I can’t take this anymore.” My mind is going, and I’m in the corner slurring Daisy, Daisy.
That point is when I finally stop, and again come to the realisation that I don’t need to know what it means. Too many other people are out there finding that out for me. I’d rather just sit back and enjoy what a bloody gorgeous film experience it really is.
Should I really be bothering myself with the higher meaning when I‘d never be able to write coherently about it anyway? If I gave up on Nietzsche, then surely I’m doomed to a dim-witted wasteland for ever more, right? I’m the type of person who still can’t watch the Dawn of Man sequence, aka the discovery of how to club another ape to death, without instinctively overdubbing cries of “Ya bawbag!“ and the like, due to it mirroring some of the livelier nights out I’ve been on in the West Coast of Scotland. A pivotal moment, ruined forever by the interference of real life.
If I’d done philosophy and film studies, maybe I’d be able to wax lyrical about 2001 for hours…but I did Biology, Psychology and went on the piss a lot. So the shite above is what you get instead.
*NOTE: I’m not advocating drug use here. Maybe getting stoned once or twice is fine, but the path that takes the form of ten joints a night until you fall asleep is a treacherous one, and it takes fucking months to get your head back on track. Believe me, it’ll kill your brain. Watch the Mysterious World of Arthur C. Clarke instead. That’s good shit. Thousands of apples falling from the sky? Communication from beyond the grave via the medium of frogs? Dogs as harbringers of the apocalypse? It’s worth it for the 80′s haircuts and fashion sense alone.
Click here for Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 Diary. Makes for fun reading.