Behind every man alive today stands 13 ghosts. Since the dawn of times, a hundred billion people have walked the earth. That incidentally is also the number of known stars in the Milky Way. Could it be possible that for every man dead, we could have a star for him to live at?
—–Arthur C. Clarke
Made in the year 1968, 2001 A Space Odyssey, is one of those rare movies which cannot be put in a genre. It is one of the first films in which the motion picture form was twisted. It’s not drama, it’s not science fiction and it certainly is not a documentary. Then what is it? I would personally rate it at as a Stanley Kubrick hallucinogen which takes its time to have its effect on your minds but once it does its one hell of an addiction to get over from. Sometimes even multiple views will not get you to understand the plot not because it’s difficult to comprehend but because there is no plot.
Let me try to put forward the proceedings in my own way. The film unfolds in three acts.
Act 1: The Dawn Of Man: In this first act Kubrick takes us back in time when men were hairy black chimps with very little knowledge of civilization. They are shown eating raw flesh and fighting over ponds of muddy water. Then arrives a black Monolith. We are not told about its origin or power. We are in dark just as much as the early men. They, however, are not afraid to get in its proximity. The following day, intelligence dawns on the early men who discover the first weapon of war, a Mace.
Act 2: The Moon Mission: Men have landed on the moon and have been successful to set up stations on it. The Russians and the Americans have been collaborating on it. There have been news and speculation of an outbreak at one of the stations called Clavius on the moon. Dr. Haywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is sent up to take stalk of the situation. There have been no communications from the station for 10 days. When on Clavius, we know of the real reason for the containment. The same Monolith, which inspired intelligence in the early men, is discovered buried under the surface of the moon. As the experts go over examining it, they suffer a complete sonar blackout and before we realize anything more, Kubrick takes us straight into the third act. We are not told what happened to the men or the early men for that matter.
Act 3: The Jupiter Mission: The Jupiter Mission happens 18 months after the events on the moon and the scientists and the crew on board are kept under tight wraps. The sixth member of the crew is, however, a supercomputer named HAL 9000, referred to only as Hal. Hal is inquisitive about the happening and the way in which their mission was put up and starts asking questions. But a sudden fault in one of the system units of the ships leads to one of the crew members to bring on board the faulty part. After intense testing, the crew and the computer are unable to find any faults in the part. The two crew members Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) doubt that there might be something wrong with the computer. They contemplate on disconnecting Hal from the ship’s systems. Hal cannot accept this sudden loss of the men’s trust and in desperation, shuns out the two awake and their other team members in his own way.
What follows is an intense and thought-provoking piece of film making which will leave you spellbound. 2001 A Space Odyssey doesn’t follow a beat down path. It creates lanes for others to travel in the future. It forays into realms that we didn’t know ever existed and our task, as viewers are to make our way through it. I once heard that on in its premiere, 2001 A Space Odyssey suffered 241 walkouts mostly from the top brass of the production company. Kubrick suffered a sleepless night before, the movie found its calling with the moviegoers from the corresponding days on. After watching this movie a few times, I can only imagine why the walkouts happened. One might find it tedious to start with, as there is very little dialog and it might seem that the scenes are prolonged and hardly adds any push to the proceedings. But as soon as the viewer surrenders his senses to the visual flair and the ensuing drama, the movie will captivate your senses.
Each of the three acts has an orgasmic feel to it. The acts start off slowly and then gradually build up with ferocity and aplomb to end with such gusto that the corresponding act comes in like a sudden change of mood and proceeding to the viewer. Take for instance the first act. In its culmination, the early man throws a piece of bone which he was using as a mace to beat down the competition. As the mace flies up in the air and falls back down it changes quickly into a space ship and thus begins the second act, centuries apart from the first and with beautiful and soothing music flowing in from all directions. The second act again makes its way into the third when you least expect it. As the visiting crew at Clavius is going berserk with the sonar interference, the scene changes in a flash into another space ship wherein we see one of the team members working out and again with beautiful music playing in the background.
Kubrick does everything that we least expect him to do and he surprises us in the best possible ways. The cinematography is something which would make wonder for a long time. The total disrespect for the conventional dynamics and orientation of the positions is shocking. However, in space, it suits the atmosphere and adds to its vitality and vigor. Inside the studios, Kubrick successfully creates a world which will give us an out of the world experience. The academy award that he won for the visual effects stands testimony to his achievement.
The performances are lifelike. The first act has men dressed up like apes and yet their movements as in close proximity to what could have been the way the early men moved about. In the second act, William Sylvester essays a thoroughly satisfying cameo, subtly conveying the paranoia of the recent discovery. Keir Dullea takes over from him in the third act and takes us all the way to the culmination of the epic. We see him in a final scene, aged and almost dead lying in his death bed with the monolith in close proximity. His disgust at the actions of Hal is again depicted with toned down emotions which are still strong enough to feel.
The music is astounding and is in close keeping with the theme. The artwork is flawless with such highly detailed visuals which could have been envisioned only by a man of Kubrick stature. 2001 A space Odyssey has reached a realm of unprecedented greatness and fan following for one principal reason. It can be interpreted in different senses by different viewers. As the movie doesn’t offer any plot and or any prologue and epilogue, it can be enjoyed and thought after in different perspectives. 2001 A Space Odyssey stands as tall as the Monolith itself as a symbol of why we still go to cinemas. Its dream realized with such ferocity and power that it will shake you to your very roots. Thank you, Arthur C. Clarke!!! And thank you, Stanley Kubrick!!!