Study Guide: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey opened in Portland in 1968, with an exclusive 70mm engagement at the Hollywood Theatre, and had an epic run, playing for 42 weeks. Now we have our own 70mm print, which we are bringing back to our giant screen on December 23.

The opening 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey contain no dialogue; the story is told completely through images and sound. At “The Dawn of Man,” a mysterious monolith appears before a group of prehistoric apes, and produces an evolutionary step towards the development of humans. The final 20 minutes of the film are also dialogue-free. Another monolith takes a man on a mind-expanding journey towards the next evolutionary leap.

Kubrick’s films are often considered “cold” and “uncaring” in their treatment of humanity. But nature and the universe seem to treat us that way as well. Humanity is quick to think that we’re the focus of the universe—that we are of the utmost importance on Earth. 2001 treats us simply as an evolutionary step between the opening and closing acts of the movie. A blip on the radar, solely there to complete a necessary step in advancement of the overall progression of life, propelled by the monoliths.

In its place in cinematic history, Kubrick’s film is akin to one of the monoliths. A mesmerizing, awe-inspiring object that catapulted the entire cinematic art form forward. An evolutionary leap that has inspired countless other filmmakers around the world in the decades since.

In studying film history, it’s obvious that a seismic shift in the art form occurred in 1968. There’s a definite difference in structure and narrative form in films pre-Space Odyssey and post-Space Odyssey. And for someone who seemed completely detached from the late-1960s subculture (Stanley was socially awkward and lived as a recluse), Kubrick created cinematic ideas that were instantly embraced by transgressive and subversive filmmakers. Experimental filmmaking techniques took off after Space Odyssey and were widely more acceptable. Hippies and stoners thronged to the theater to get high, take hallucinogens, and watch Kubrick’s film (as I was told by one man who watched the movie during its original release in 1968, “If you want to do it right, you wait until intermission to drop acid!”) And the film’s influence extended well beyond cinema, impacting a generation of scientists and continuing to shape pop culture and film.

While it’s true that Kubrick’s film may be cold in its treatment of us, it’s also using transformative cinematic techniques and groundbreaking special effects to tap into our collective consciousness; it’s showing us that the power of cinema is limitless in what can be conveyed, and how it can be done.

A case can be made that cinema is the greatest art form, since it is a combination of so many other art forms: writing, photography, music, acting, and editing. And a case can also be made that 2001 is the greatest film ever made. So if those things are true, can’t the conclusion be that 2001 is the greatest work of art ever created? Come watch it on 70mm, the way Kubrick intended, and decide for yourself.

Other titles for consideration, all available to rent at Movie Madness:

- For more Kubrick: BARRY LYNDON, his most overlooked film.

- For more evolving apes: CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The 1972 sequel is actually a subversive tale of rebellion, and the best of the PLANET OF THE APES series.

- For more sci-fi: THE QUIET EARTH, a forgotten New Zealand post-apocalyptic science-fiction film.

- For more cinematic experimentation: Frank and Eleanor Perry's movies, which have their own unique narrative structure. Especially THE SWIMMER and LAST SUMMER.

Sources:

“[2001] brought a massive shift in sci-fi storytelling, as well as the way in which visual effects were not only created, but the way filmmakers used them” - Variety, “2001: A Space Odyssey’ Influenced Generations of Filmmakers Like Nolan, Cameron”

“Hippies may have saved 2001” - The New Yorker, “2001: A Space Odyssey”: What It Means, and How It Was Made”

“Words like "secretive," "reclusive," "strange," "mysterious" and "cold" were repeatedly used to describe him.” - The New York Times Magazine, “What They Say About Stanley Kubrick”

2001 has had a profound influence on science: it’s bursting with technology and ideas well ahead of their time.” - Cosmos Magazine, “Fifty years later, scientists reflect on the influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey”

“2001 had a noticeable impact on the culture, garnering acclaim from counterculture audiences who responded to the film’s visual style and philosophical implications, as well as a new generation of budding film directors who were mesmerized by Kubrick’s vision.” - Vulture, “How 2001: A Space Odyssey Has Influenced Pop Culture, 50 Years Later”

-Written by Dan Halsted for Movie Madness University, where movie lovers go to learn stuff™. For more details on Movie Madness University, as well as our upcoming classes, visit hollywoodtheatre.org/mmu.