2001: A Space Odyssey: Or Why Humans Don’t Belong in Space

Through a glass darkly…

It’s 1968 and Stanley Kubrick releases 2001: A Space Odyssey, his masterpiece. It’s all there…it’s so Kubrickian…

… the immaculate framing, the theatrical lighting, the cynical worldview, the intellectual shadowing that darkens the most innocuous actions, the distrust of authority… This is Stanley Kubrick in full throttle at the peak of his powers. It is now regard as a cult classic… or plain classic… Then why was it so poorly received back in 1968?

“The uncompromising slowness of the movie makes it hard to sit through without talking – and people on all sides when I saw it were talking almost throughout the film. Very annoying.” – The New York Times

Just out for a walk

“His [Kubrick’s] film has one special effect which certainly he did not intend. He has clarified for me why I dislike the idea of space exploration. – The New Statesman

“…pretentious, abysmally slow, amateurishly acted and, above all, wrong… An annoyance wrapped inside of an enigma as constructed by a cosmic ego that had been praised so much he believed it.” – The Washington Post

Intellectuals don’t like be out-intellectualized… Such is life. But college students liked it, especially if they were on mind-expanding drugs, and the film became a late-night cult sensation.

Like Bob Dylan, Kubrick didn’t like to analyze his work. He knew that longevity was grounded in endless and timeless interpretations. So, to say it’s about this or that is a self-defeating exercise.

Stanley, get me outta here!

However, there’s one theme that most of us agree on: the far reaches of space belong to machines, not humans. In fact, keeping a person alive in space just demands too many resources compared to plugging in a robot—which can crank out comparable results.

When the HAL 9000 computer begins to get an attitude, at first, it’s charming, and then deadly. Kubrick is intertwining machine and human characteristics. That’s one reason why the acting is somewhat wooden – it’s supposed to be. Machines belong in space, people don’t. The scene with the ‘Zero Gravity Toilet’ is funny in a dark way. We just don’t belong.

What’s A Clockwork Orange really about? Or Eye Wide Shut? Full Metal Jacket maybe? The Shining? Forget it. Kubrick’s best films always leave the back door open: just when you have narrowed thematic streams to a precious few, another one appears, and off you go, chasing Stanley down the rabbit (worm) hole.

And the chase never ends. Not really. In a great film, there’s never a final frame.

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