Stanley Kubrick, shockingly, only made 12 films in his lifetime. One of the great, directorial achievements to come from his time in Hollywood was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It’s important to note, especially here, that Kubrick’s visionary aesthetic is on full display: with pure analog filmmaking, he captured a world enslaved by technology and artificial intelligence.
Everything was made without the knowledge of what was to come: using miniatures, computer-graphic designs, or practical sets. It opens with the dawn of humanity. The primates begin to advance as a species, but unfortunately this causes destruction. This portion of the film was shot in Africa, and features breathtaking wide-angle shots in deep focus. A smash cut used to show the transition from hands-as-tools to literal tools, which will later be used for killing, prepares the audience for the dreadful experience they are about to endure.
After the artifact crash-lands on Earth, music finally begins to permeate the background; and it’s droning nature is haunting. When one of the primates throws a bone in the air after viscously killing another, Kubrick uses this opportunity to cut and flash-forward in time. It’s seamless editing from Ray Lovejoy smooths the rough edges of Kubrick and Arthur Clarke’s themes. The tension is immense, especially considering that the use of music is limited, in favor of a more naturalistic sound; namely sound bridges of heavy suit breathing.
After HAL 9000 kills the entire crew, the sole survivor, Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) must shut HAL down. In this small section of the film, many emotions can be extrapolated (pain, grief, and immense sadness) and are communicated through hand-held camera work. However, Kubrick’s black comedy style is never at the expense of everything else. HAL, understanding exactly what he has done, makes off-hand comments about how he understands that what he did was wrong to Dave.
These few lines are hysterical, but not in the typical way because it’s very unlikely that any viewer will laugh, at least not out of humor (but rather shock). Unlike many movies, the audience is forced into HAL’s point-of-view, namely when he is lip-reading the other scientists as they discuss how they should handle his perceived malfunction. These shots are visually stunning and are done without any background noise, leaving the viewer to decide what to feel regarding HAL’s perspective.
However, the clinical nature of both the sets, and the theme, leave the viewer with loneliness and isolation in the vast vacuum of space. Perplexing scenes, such as family members sending “Happy Birthday” messages to their loved ones in space, are immersive and enhance the thematic content. The ending, which many will find deeply disturbing is meticulous in creative direction and will touch upon existentialism; questions of religion and faith, but also of human’s place in the universe.