A Movie So At Ease With Itself.
The weirdness and slow pacing never bothered me — this film is confident without trying to win you over.
American Film Institute’s Ranking: #22/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for four winning for special effects.
This movie opens with a 30 minute sequence without a single speck of dialogue. It ends with a cosmic fever dream of technicolor leaving us only with questions. It’s completely weird, but it isn’t trying to impress us or convince us of anything; it just does what it wants to without a sales pitch.
It’s the difference between trying to convince you that it’s artsy (hey! look at how avant-garde I am!) and just being artsy (I don’t really give a fuck what you think). Somehow the latter dismissive approach was the better way to win me over. The pace is sometimes equal to the velocity of a snail, but the plodding builds to exquisite moments.
The movie happens in three phases: pre-history, the future, and the slightly further future.
In the African veldt we see our ancestors as apes. An odd obelisk appears that grants them consciousness to start using weapons. This fast forwards to the human race in space where this gift of higher intelligence has allowed them to build impressive spacecraft. The obelisk is rediscovered which then sends the human race further into space to get answers.
This movie is a strange one but outside of the ending sequence which involved an embryonic star baby, nothing was too over the top. The brilliant moments are sometimes muddled by what I think is just a complete miss of an ending.
AI vs. Human
The classic feature of this film is when two astronauts (Bowman and Poole) are flying to Jupiter with the best class of AI (a HAL 9000 computer). HAL begins to tests the astronauts intelligence via gathering information through conversation and playing chess. He reports that a satellite communication device is down, but when they go to repair it, they find no errors.
A HAL 9000 has never been wrong before.
With the computer acting strange, Bowman and Poole lock themselves in the cockpit of a pod and discuss disconnecting HAL. Unbeknowst to them, HAL reads their lips and begins a murderous run: he kills the people on board who are in hibernation, severs Poole’s oxygen cord when he’s outside the spacecraft, and locks Bowman out from reentering the ship.
Using some good ol’ fashion human values of ingenuity and bravery, Bowman is able to get back on board and start disconnecting HAL’s memory. It’s an eery fucking scene:
We see HAL die just like a human before our eyes, he pleads for his life in his monotone voice as he begins to revert back to his childhood as his memory goes. Anyone who has lost someone to dementia has relived this same torment as their loved ones begins to reference things no longer here.
HAL is a murderer and in the spirit of preservation, Bowman was smart to disconnect him to save his own life. But, was HAL really guilty for his sins? Can a computer really have culpability when it’s only been programmed by us to do what it’s meant to do? What does that mean for us as humans if we don’t have free will and we are just like Hal, computations of biology instead of numbers?
What’s even weirder is a scene involving Poole; he receives a transmission from his family back home and listens to it with complete nonchalant apathy. He’s acting like a robot, cut off from the important things in the world. Juxtaposed with HAL, who acts out in an emotional frenzy, it makes you wonder he was being more “human” when on that ship.
Slow and Steady.
The movie builds tension through an extremely slow canter of steps. The quotidian life of astronauts is given a ton of screen time. I still vividly remember the sequence of the pod leaving the hatch to get to the satellite to retrieve the broken part.
There were several times I felt the urge to pick up my phone (nothing of importance happens during these long sequences) and there is no way such a film would be made today; all these “unnecessary” parts would have been chopped away. However, I do feel like it captured something very realistic about space life. Waiting in silence as you see the magnitude of space in the back and the danger of the mission in the foreground, it makes everything seem perilous.
Winning an academy for sounds and effects, there are many beautiful shots that even today make you take a second look:
Slow but good.
Other People’s Takes:
- Deacon’s Den: It was the first time I came across a film that didn’t explain itself to me right away. Honestly it never explains itself at all, but has the viewer piece together what they feel it is about.”
- Eternality Tan: “Kubrick’s most influential film still remains way ahead of its time and is arguably the greatest sci-fi film ever made.”
- Wonders in the Dark: “This tremendous work stands as a seismic influence on modern cinematic storytelling and visual craft. More crucially, it serves as an inspirational testament to the utterly moving power of filmed imagination.