Stanley Kubrick and Christianity are hardly synonymous. Why would I choose one of his films for my first review? The answer is within the film itself.
For many film lovers, it’s hard to decide what is the “Greatest Film of All Time”. What makes a great film? Dialogue? Character development? Action? Plot? 2001 doesn’t have any of those things, at least not in the way films were made in 1968. I’ve watched this film with several people in the last eight years. The response is either, “that was the worst waste of 3 hours in my whole life!!” or, “Wow, my mind can’t even begin to comprehend just how great that was”. Love it or hate it, we can all take a strong spiritual outlook from arguably one of Hollywood’s most controversial filmmakers.
Co-written and based on a novel of the same name by Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 garners a lot of critical accolades. “Open the Pod Bay Doors HAL” comes in at #78 on AFI’s top 100 quotes of all time, Christopher Nolan has cited it as his favorite film (if you saw Interstellar you know he wasn’t kidding), and currently holds user ranking of #92 on iMdb’s top 250. As many films made by the late Stanley Kubrick, the creative style is unlike any other for the time. There is not a word of dialogue spoken for the first and last half hour of this visual ride, it has no central character or plot devices, and there is no narrative on the timeline given to the viewer. The story itself however, will leave both Christian and secular audiences alike tossing around theories and ideas days after the end credits. Also, the visual effects for a film now almost 50 years old, looks just as good or better than some Hollywood blockbusters today and continues to stand the test of time.
Along with Kubrick’s utilization of Alex North and National Philharmonic Orchestra’s powerful score, we need nothing more than a series of visual effects to be instantly hooked. Think of it as a silent film in some sort or fashion. It is not the characters or the narrative that drives the plot, but the musical and visual style that fluidly advances us from one point to the next.
The film itself is split into three parts: The Dawn of Man, Jupiter Mission, and Beyond the Infinite. The plot itself is an existentialist look at the development and cognizance of mankind. As all Kubrick films, 2001 makes very clear from the beginning you are about to experience something a little different. It begins with a tribe of monkeys discovering a large black monolith. Where did such an object come from? One may think of it as an extraterrestrial object, others believe it to be a symbol of intelligence. Either way, Kubrick finds a way from the very beginning to engage to viewer with a question of purpose. From this point, the film transcends genre from a study on theistic evolution to psychological thriller and science fiction masterpiece.
Before Siri, there was only HAL. After a long and thought provoking look at the intellect of man and our capabilities, the film decides to ramp it up a little bit. Kubrick now provides the viewer with the fallacy of man in a scene that inspired films such Interstellar, Moon, Alien, Ex Machina, etc. Like many of these films, man has used technological advancement to create an A. I. so powerful it can make decisions for us. Through a series of dark and suspenseful themes, we are then left with multiple questions. Is our purpose granted from the power of Monolith from the beginning? Can man out think intelligence? Were we given a path by other earthly beings? Is there an unexplainable intelligence that allows our evolution as a species? From a secular standpoint, these questions are hard to answer. From a spiritual outlook, we can take from this film a very strong message of the impossibility of recreating God’s will for us no matter how advanced we may become. We can never take for granted just how much we as men and women need guidance from our own hubris.
We now come full circle on what makes a great movie. Dominating score, lasting visual effects, a story that transcends genre through visual artistry and thought provoking plot devices all drive what I believe to be one of the few perfect films given to us in the last 50 years. That being said, do yourself a favor and pop in Ocean’s 11 shortly after to give your mind a break from the madness.
2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968. Runtime: 149 minutes. Rated: G