Tuesday, 3 February 2009

I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it.

No 16 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
Director - Stanley Kubrick

Oh my, I have a lot of notes on this one. I have only tried to watch 2001 once before but never got past the monkeys. This time I persevered and gosh. It is a bit of a mind-fuck isn't it!

As the film is broken up into 3 parts, and as I feel I can just about understand the first 2 parts, I want to tackle each section one at a time...

So we shall begin with the monkeys and the first (of many) long speechless moments where not much happens. We are solely watching some gloriously 60s apes live out their daily lives of running around with tapirs and being scared of lions. I don't know what prehistoric region this is supposed to be but it is populated by zebras, tapirs and twinkly eyed lions. And people in monkey suits.
It is like Planet of the Apes. Not literally, just in the cool costumes department. I do like those 60's men in ape suits .

So, after a while the magical, mysterious black monolith appears and the apes go crazy screaming and jumping up and down. They are also joined by the creepiest, most unsettling incidental music I've ever experienced in a film. Strange discordant wailing with deep synthy tones that made me feel very uncomfortable. It seems to work on the apes though, and they calm down, become more inquisitive, use bones as clubs.
BAM! - Man's first step on the ladder of intelligence, development and maybe evolution. I'm pretty certain that that is what the monolith represents, it is a landmark of man's big discoveries, landmark triggers that cause the next huge step in our evolution, and all of this is displayed in a wonderful montage of bone crushing and tapir clubbing.

Fast forward.... to the future (or, one would assume, 2001. Which is now the past.) through one iconic edit. The whole of human development passes as a bone flies in the air and cuts to a spaceship gliding through space. Yes, it is clever, inspired even. But after hearing so much about it, I was expecting it to be a much neater edit than it ended up being. But that is just me being a critical schmoe.

So... we move to space and a good 5 or 10 minutes of Blue Danube accompanied with shots of space stations and stars and planets and general niceness. It is almost as if Kubrick is saying "look how amazing space is, you don't need dialogue, you don't need fast edits. Just look at the grandness of it all. Enjoy the spectacle.".
There are slightly less impressive indoor shots (including the door of an zero gravity toilet, which is clearly the WORST IDEA EVER) and some talky scenes in which people talk about a strange discovery on the moon, buried 4 million years ago. Now, I'm not sure if it is just my copy of the film but in these scenes the dialogue seemed very muffled and it meant we had to play the volume control game because the music would be VERY LOUD and the dialogue would be VERY QUIET. However, it may be deliberate. When it comes to Kubrick I think everything was probably deliberate - man is a genius. You see, throughout all the meetings about the strange monolith up to the team's journey to the moon to see the monolith, dialogue is irrelevant. Up to this point, the entire film would have worked equally well as a silent movie and as the team reach the moon, the strange horrible wailing returns. Haunting music that seems both pained and discordant mixed with the wooshes of wind. Those moments made me feel so uncomfortable. I haven't felt that unhappy watching a film since the first time I saw Ringu. It seemed to affect me on primitive internal level. It was most unpleasant.

However, once again the film cuts (a pleasant silence, rests my ears after previous onslaught) and we now join a huge ship en route to Jupiter. It is here that some really very impressive camera shots come into play. As they are in space, Kubrick is free to mess with the gravity and has created some really impressive shots and angles - I presume he did it by creating a huge rotating set, but I will also accept "the man is a genius" as an answer.
I like the fact that as I watch this 40 years after it was made there are some elements of this sci-fi world that we're quite close to... I say some, I mean one. BBC12. We're close to having that many BBC channels. Everything else seems pretty far off. But impressive, the sci-fi elements such as the ships don't seem as dated as a lot of sci fi made in the 60s (although the space suits really do).
And it is in this section we meet the HAL9000, or HAL for short. A computer in charge of running the whole ship and who slowly kills off the crew. Nowadays the idea of a computer or robot going rogue and attacking the people it is supposed to serve is a sci fi staple of both films and gaming but in this film it is not so simple.

It is hinted that HAL makes an error, which is apparently unthinkable as the 9000 series is never wrong. Ever. The human crew decide that if the 9000 series is faulty it would be safer if it was shut down.
HAL hears and defends his right to live. It is a very human reaction. Fight or flight. Is HAL really going insane? Or is he acting in self defence, is he getting vengeance on the people who plotted against him. Is he trying to impart an important lesson, that it is HE who runs the ship, not any pitiful humans? Whatever the motivation, HAL's descent is far more interesting than anything I had initially thought and that is probably down to the fascinating character of HAL himself. Kudos to Douglas Rain who makes HAL a truly terrifying concept. Considering he speaks in such a cold emotionless voice, staying calm and gentle at all times. Considering HAL is just a black dome with a red light. My God, he is scary. His death scene is genuinely upsetting, as HAL pleads for his life (in that cold emotionless voice) and Dave gradually shuts him down. It has a lot of similarities to the apes beating up another ape with bones at the start of the film. For all our technological development, man hasn't really changed.

So, alone and isolated Dave glides to Jupiter and the wailing begins. The horrible horrible soundtrack to the monolith, getting louder and more intense. Dave's face is almost frozen in horror and confusion and I genuinely felt a little bit sick.

Then the film goes bananas.

Seriously fucking bananas.

I think I pretty much understood everything in this film up to the point where Jupiter becomes the graphic visualiser on Window's Media Player. When accompanied by the wailing and the low synthy tones of the score it was actually difficult to watch. I imagine all those people in the cinemas in the 60s would have exploded.
Finally it tones down and Dave 'lands'. For you see, whilst many believe Jupiter to be a whirling gaseous mass, it is actually a regency bedroom (or the Hotel, as buffs of the film call it). Here we see Dave jump through his existence in snippets, getting gradually older till he is infirm and in bed.
And finally till he is a magical floating space foetus. The Star Child.

This is all a superb bit of cinema. However, my brain was so frazzled by the 2 hours leading up to it that I just couldn't understand it. Wikipedia has been some help... but really. By this point all I can think is that the Monolith is the next step in evolution. The Monolith creates the Star Child. Ergo.... Star Child is the next step. It would certainly explain why it looks so smug at the end. Smug little foetus.

I can't say I enjoyed this film. Or even particularly liked it. But I can see why it is ranked so highly. It is an AMAZING film... and I don't think you're even really supposed to like it. At the end of it all I felt confused, drained and a little bit sick.

That is powerful cinema... or dodgy cheese on toast.


Siobhan said...

I have never got past the monkeys. I am tempted by your review to try, but also slightly afraid.

Anonymous said...

I too had to do a bit of reading to find some interpretations of the ending, but now that I vaguely "get it" as much as you're probably supposed to, it's one of my favourite films I'd say. And the mindfuck sequence is my favourite bit, I like to sit right up close to the TV and pretend I'm on drugs or something (it helps if you have the blu-ray).