The Enigma of 2001: A Space Odyssey
"2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick’s philosophically ambitious, technically innovative and visually stunning cinematic milestone". BFI November 2014.
You will often find this sort of language associated with Kubrick's work, especially 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is considered by many to be his finest production and one of the greatest science fiction feature films ever made. In fact 2001: A Space Odyssey has become one of those cinematic sacred cows that regularly features in most film buffs top ten movies of all time. It's a curious thing because a little research will show that critical opinion was split right down the middle on its release in spring 1968. It is only over the course of the last five decades that the movie has grown in artistic stature and garnered the acclaim it now enjoys.
When movies achieve such status, it becomes very difficult to objectively critique them. Many viewers feel obliged to add their voice to the consensus. "If everyone thinks this film is great then so must I" seems to be the prevailing mentality. There is also an erroneous assumption that if a film is truly great, it will automatically be accessible to all potential audiences. That is often not the case. For every person who watches 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time and comes away feeling profoundly inspired, there will be another who leaves confused, mislead or just plain bored. 2001: A Space Odyssey is ultimately an acquired taste and although I enjoy and admire the film for many reasons; I would not say that it is for everyone. In fact I would actually discourage some viewers from seeing it.
The first thing I would say to anyone intending to watch his movie for the first time is to be patient. It has a deliberately slow and measured pace. The lack of dialogue in the first act, which focuses on the "dawn of man", requires you to pay extra attention to the subtleties of the story and performances. As ever with Kubrick’s work there's a focus upon imagery and emphasis placed upon visual composition. In the second act the characters are somewhat cold and clinically defined. The production design and the technology is by far the larger player at this stage. The denouement with is allegorical content will be especially hard to digest by those viewers that like their narrative linear and presented in an easily digestible format. If you are not a fan of classical music then the movie’s soundtrack may also be a major stumbling block.
There is however, much to be praised about the movie. The visual effects still hold up well today and there is little technologically to date the proceedings. The computer graphic and GUIs that are depicted are still quite pertinent. Despite its somewhat somber tone the story is a very positive one. Perhaps mankind's future isn't as bleak as some would think. It may be that the movies greatest achievement is its ability to make you think and reflect. Due to the somewhat nebulous ending, viewers are encouraged to interpret matters for themselves. I have known 2001: A Space Odyssey to inspire debates about religion, determinism and many other philosophical concepts.
2001: A Space Odyssey is more than just a conventional piece of cinematic story telling. It is a conduit for ideas and concepts. It is far from just a passive experience and requires viewers to participate in the experience with an open and enquiring mind. Kubrick has fashioned a puzzle that you can either admired for what it is, or you can go a stage further and attempt to solve it. As long as you realise that there is no single correct solution. Ultimately viewing this movie is a very unique and personal experience; 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn't necessarily offer the same thing to everyone. Perhaps that is why some viewers do not enjoy watching it. However that doesn't prove that either they or Kubrick is somehow wrong. It simply demonstrates the subjective nature of art.
There is still an enigma associated with 2001: A Space Odyssey. It will never truly disappear because the themes that Kubrick explores are ultimately timeless. So if you are tempted to see this movie at any other point, take time to consider whether it really is for you. There has been so much written about it that you shouldn't have any difficulty making such a choice. If the answer is no then that is fine. Film cannot be everything to everyone and that is especially true of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is not always essential to join the consensus about a movie and it is perfectly acceptable to say that something is not to your liking due to differing taste. One should never feel obliged to like something because of the prevailing culture. That is something Kubrick himself would have eschewed.