Show “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the Children

2001 space odyssey

My dad first showed me 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was 12 years old. We got the DVD through Netflix, back when its main service was sending you discs in the mail. Our queue was a plethora of films that my dad considered to be essential viewing; some included Chinatown, All That Jazz, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind

So much has been said about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I don’t think there’s anything new I can add to the conversation. We know it’s iconic and revolutionary. I also know the critiques of Stanley Kubrick as a director, and how he is great and has shaped the modern landscape of film, but maybe shouldn’t be as idolized as he is, since he was a pretty horrendous dude. So, I guess all I can offer is how this movie has fit into my life.

I loved learning about space, surprising to some since I was such a frightened child. Nonetheless, my dad suggested this particular film. I never wanted to go to space (and I still don’t) but I could look at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope for hours.  I was told nothing about the movie, just assuming it would be like the typical ones: someone would get stuck, and would somehow get rescued. I think going into a movie with little to no knowledge is the ideal way to go, especially for 2001 which can’t be summed up in a few sentences. I saw this before I became a film buff or truly knew what made a great movie. I loved going to the movie theatre and the atmosphere of them, but I didn’t know their potential or the power they could harness. 

I’m pretty sure that seeing this movie changed my life. I know this sounds like such a grandiose statement, but I have never shied away from proclaiming that a piece of media has morphed me. My life revolves around music and movies, and they can be very commanding! It completely shocked and rattled my worldview. I didn’t know something I could watch could be like this, and I’m not even entirely sure how to describe what *it* is. 

If you haven’t seen this movie– go and watch it right now. Even if you end up hating it, I still think it’s an important experience. I don’t want to give anything away, but at the very least, it’s a movie told in three acts about contact and life. It’s long and a bit slow, but you will never see another movie like this one.

For my initial viewing, I curled up in my blue fuzzy chair that was happily placed in our living room and I was glued to the screen. I was confused and I didn’t understand it. I’m not sure if I do today, but I was infatuated. I snuck glances at my dad making sure that we were both watching the same thing. 

This was before I knew about philosophy and I didn’t grow up religious but the only doctrine I was somewhat familiar with was that of the cyclical nature of Buddhism. Which I think is a valid read of this movie? In some capacity at least. One thing ends, another begins, and all important moments and discoveries are linked. But this movie doesn’t help you along or answer any of your questions, which I like. It almost relinquishes in making the viewer uneasy and confused, like a schoolyard bully. 

Every single time I watch it, I’m unsettled by HAL’s voice and the slow ominous tension. But that initial viewing hit me like a pallet of concrete blocks. I had no idea that this movie came out in 1968 until my dad and I had a discussion about it afterward. I didn’t know that old movies could have such an outstanding impact. I just assumed that new movies were inherently better. 

I didn’t have a favorite movie before this, I don’t think. Maybe High School Musical? Or Edward Scissorhands, possibly The Wizard of Oz? But it wasn’t definite. But also no movie had ever left me speechless, tense, confused, and consumed like this one. 

It wasn’t until I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox a few years later that I had a similar feeling. And yes the two films are tied for first as my favorite. I stand by it. They’re both important and groundbreaking in my life. 

I recognized the creepy fly-buzzing/humming music from the caveman episode of Spongebob Squarepants and references to the ape’s weapon in The Simpsons and the opening Richard Strauss theme from commercials. This film is referenced everywhere and rightfully so, it set the bar. You couldn’t escape it if you tried. Every modern space movie owes a debt to 2001.

I’ve seen this movie four times. A second time with my dad to truly unpack it. The third at the Music Box Theatre in 2016 for their 70mm film festival and most recently when I showed my friend Steven the film. 

Steven had never seen it before but was intrigued by my high praise. They enjoyed it, especially since they had a particular interest in anthropology. Their loud proclamations throughout made the experience so much fun, especially during the Microsoft screensaver-like portion of the film, with the neon colors, the desert landscapes, and the quick cuts to Dave’s face.

“How *long* does this last?” They said exasperated. And with the reveal of the illuminated bedroom, Steven yelped and exclaimed, looking over at me and I cackled at their amazement. It was the exact response I was waiting for. 

This movie introduced me to cinematography and sound design, how pieces behind the scenes fit together to create a film. I had watched movies but had mostly focused on the actors. But with this movie, since there are so many characters and we never really learn much about them, we lean into the things that are there for the entirety of the movie, like the monolith, the score, the architecture, and space as a whole. Those are the main cast of characters. All of the humans (or AI, in HAL’s sense) are merely there to move them along. They’re just pawns. We know next to nothing about Dave, even though he is the closest we get to a protagonist.

I know I’ll ever write anything to the caliber of this film, but I want to elicit those same feelings. And before my initial watch, I wasn’t aware that was something I wanted. This movie defies a lot of the aspects of a typical movie, and I think that’s why it felt so fun seeing it as a tween. The film industry appears to be so rigid and full of rules. Most movies do tend to fit into an algorithm (shout out seven-act structure) but this one felt like the rebellious cool kid, where I was like, “you can do that?” and it replied, “Yes, yes you can, and you should.” 

So show 2001: A Space Odyssey to your children (if you have them) or impressionable young people in your life, it is rated G after all. You don’t know what it might spark in them. Each scene has something to be extracted and who knows what their perspective might find.

Emma Demski

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