2001: Space Odyssey


1) Who is the director?
The director of 2001: A Space Odyssey is Stanley Kubrick.


2) What is the plot of the film?
2001: A Space Odyssey is a story of evolution. Sometime in the distant past, someone or something nudged evolution by placing a monolith (a large upright black stone) on Earth. Evolution then enabled humankind to reach the moon’s surface, where yet another monolith is found, one that signals the monolith placers that humankind has evolved that far. Now a race begins between computers and humans to reach the monolith placers. The winner will achieve the next step in evolution, whatever that may be.

On a simple level you begin with an artefact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behaviour of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artefact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe — a kind of cosmic burglar alarm when they discover the 2nd monolith. And finally there’s a third artefact placed in orbit around Jupiter waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.

When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artefact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo much like what we would imagine a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to death. He is then reborn, an enhanced being, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny.


3) What did you understand from the film?
This movie is not a linear movie; there is no plotted story line. It’s a movie that you simply have to let happen while you are watching it. It is not just a science fiction movie. Rather it is a parable about the nature of man. This is only really revealed in the underlying message at the end of the movie when Hal 9000, made by man in his own image and likeness, who shares man’s ego and pride, has to be destroyed for the survival of humankind. That leaves one man, alone, at the outer edge of the Solar System to face the third monolith, where instead of having grown old and dying he is reborn as a child of the universe.  A solemn wide eyed infant, who is looking over the stars and the Earth, before finally turning his eyes to the audience. The last 20 seconds as the child of man looks down at his ancestral parents are a vital part of the message this film delivers to the audience. Kubrick wants us to see that we are men, and looking at us, is the liberated natural being that he believes we will one day be able to become.


4) What was in your opinion the director trying to make the audience feel?
Historically this movie has certainly received numerous different responses.  Whatever the response, it is clear that it offers the movie goer a unique visual experience. Not everyone found the movie engaging and judging from the response of the class watching the movie this holds true with many of us not following the movie in its entirety. It is one of those movies I had to go back, do some research on first and then watch quietly on my own and then allow what I saw to percolate before I could consider answering these questions. I did not feel any effort was made by Kubrick (and deliberately so) to provide the audience with a framework within which they might be able to process what the film actually had to offer, so for me the immediate result was great disappointment and frustration. And I think this was done very specifically, because everyone’s audience response would be very personal and very different. I feel irrespective of the title limitation 2001 still has relevance today. I am young enough to look forward to what beauty and terror await us in the future and by experiencing the world of tomorrow through this film it gives a purpose to today’s happenings. It felt like I was receiving a short foretaste of mans evolution and future development. It is so much more than just a science fiction movie, but rather a personal statement concerning the philosophy of life. I think Kubrick wanted us as an audience to feel and see what potential we have as a race, which for me is not only overwhelming, and a little frightening, but also exciting and invigorating.


5) What aspects or techniques used in this film engages the audience either to make them think or feel certain ways?
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a rather surreal film with surreal and unusual camera movement and techniques. During the scene were the primates encounter the monolith for the first time Kubrick uses a series of camera shots to draw us into the scene and give insight to the characters (the primates in this case) feelings. As the primates scatter the camera jumps to an extreme wide shot, then as the primates gain interest and courage to get closer to the monolith so does the camera. The camera changes to a long shot of the main primate,’Moon watcher’, circling the monolith. Finally, as Moon watcher’s curiosity compels him to touch the monolith, the camera changes to a mid-shot. This transition of shots helps us understand the primate’s initial fear, curiosity and eventual connection to the monolith. Kubrick has cleverly used used this collection of shots so the audience could connect with the primates which helps the audience’s emotional invest in the film and care about future events. Kubrick is a masterful director as he is aware for a film to succeed the audience must be emotionally invested in the characters and events.

The editing of 2001: A Space Odyssey is also critical for audience response. The encounter between the primates and the monolith ends suddenly with a jump cut to a shadow being cast on a barren desert. This sudden cut demeans (discredits) the previous scene making it seem as though it was nothing, however the scene seems very important as it sets the rest of the film in motion. Kubrick did this to show that the first step of mankind was simply the first brick in the wall. The first step holds value however the jump cut shows that without future steps the first one is pointless. This contributes to the films idea of human progression and how we never stop evolving. One step is meaningless to us so we must strive for more, however as we see further into the film, we can progress so far that it becomes dangerous. The jump cut teaches the audience that they should delight in and appreciate every little progression they have before it jumps away. This is a typical Kubrick method of using subliminal messages to influence the audience. It is how Kubrick built and edited this film that has contributed to him becoming one of the most influential and diverse directors.


6) Find articles, interviews from the date of release and analyse according to what you read in the topic the cultural, artistic … Impact on the audience. Note: the film was released in 1968.
Odyssey is a scientifically well researched film and tries very hard to offer a truly convincing representation of space travel. One of the few films to accurately portray the empty atmosphere of space as being utterly silent. As well as the first to feature a spinning artificial gravity station. It is also visually, artistically and technically stunning, even by today’s computer assisted standards. For film students it is a film we can learn from as it will have an impact on the audience from both a visual and cognitive level. The underlying message to mankind delivered through the subject matter allows Kubrick to transcend cultural barriers. Its cryptic symbolism has been analysed and discussed endlessly, even long after its release. Stanley Kubrick openly stated that 2001’s true meaning had been visually encoded to bypass the conscious rationalisations of the audience and sink straight into the unconscious. This very description of the film in 1969 by Kubrick himself speaks to the transcendence of cultural and artistic barriers, much like that of philosophy and the ancient philosophers.

Kubrick states he doesn’t like to talk about 2001 too much because it’s essentially a non-verbal experience. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to the feelings than it does to the intellect. Kubrick says in an interview with Joseph Gelmis in 1969, “I think clearly there’s a problem with people who are not paying attention with their eyes. They’re listening. And they don’t get much from listening to this film. Those who won’t believe their eyes won’t be able to appreciate this film.” Kubrick was happy to discuss Odyssey at the time on the lowest level, a straightforward explanation of the plot. This is because his belief is that since an encounter with an advanced interstellar intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself.


When asked in an interview shortly after its release about the areas of meaning he prefers not to discuss these because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. And it is my belief it is because of this message throughout Odyssey that the film bridges many cultural barriers as it speaks to mans insights and intellect across all ages and cultures. Kubrick’s argument is if the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however rudimentary, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.

So we can determine from the interviews with Kubrick himself that 2001, is basically a visual, nonverbal experience. It avoids intellectual verbalisation and reaches the viewer’s subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophical. The film thus becomes a subjective experience which hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.







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