Tuesday, April 03, 2018

"A Space Odyssey" at 50

It's hard to believe, but Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "2001: A Space Odyssey," came out fifty years ago. Here's a brief article talking about why the film is "still fascinating at 50."

There are plenty of "The Meaning of..." videos on YouTube that discuss "2001" and its bizarre, mysterious ending. I've watched a few. You know the story, I'm sure, about how filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke worked in tandem to create their respective opera,* which do vary significantly in the stories they tell. Like many critics and eggheads, I think the film tells the story of humanity's evolution, presenting us with an ineffable-yet-optimistic vision of the future, one in which humanity achieves, through the help of higher beings, a sort of self-transcendence. As I've often said on this blog, science fiction is often a cover for smuggling in religious ideas, and there's no doubt in my mind that both Kubrick and Clarke were thinking in religious terms when they crafted their parallel stories.

But "2001" also gets praise from fans of "hard" sci-fi (i.e., science fiction that cleaves closely to actual laws of physics and doesn't engage in magic or fantasy) for its portrayal of spaceflight. There's no sound in space because there's effectively no medium through which sound waves can propagate, a fact ignored in most sci-fi efforts (with the notable exception of the dearly departed TV series "Firefly," which overdubbed its space-travel scenes with twangy guitar music to make up for the lack of sound in space), but "2001" got that right, and it got a few other things right as well, including what an EVA might look like.

Without even realizing it was the fiftieth anniversary of "2001: A Space Odyssey," I re-watched the movie only a week or so ago. It had been years since I'd last seen it, and it was indeed just as fascinating this time around as it had been the last time. The movie's four-act structure (early man, Heywood Floyd and Clavius Base, the Discovery mission, and the trip through the monolith's stargate) takes us on a grand journey—an odyssey in all sooth. Where it culminates is hard to articulate, and Kubrick, for one, wanted to leave it up to the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. In the end, though, I take the movie to be saying something comforting about where we're headed, as well as something comforting about the subtle benevolence—for the film contains a whiff of the deus absconditus—of a seemingly vast, cold universe.

*Opera is the plural of opus.

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