February 17, 2011

Classic Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Note, before anyone else points it out, I do realize that 2001: A Space Odyssey is not a queer film per se. Although admittedly it is also possible to discern some themes of interest to feminists and academics studying gender theory, there is not really enought to classify the movie as a queer movie. Irregardless, I felt that it wouldn't hurt if I were to stretch my wings a little and write the occasional formal review of a few classic movies.

Also, I am planning on talking about the ending a bit, so those who have not seen the film and wish to have an unspoiled experience should not read this review.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark. Based upon the book by Arthur C. Clark.
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain

2001: A Space Odyssey is the first film I was able to see in glorious HD blue ray. This of course means that I must make the almost obligatory comment that pretty much every previous critic has made before and say that those were some pretty amazing visuals that Kubrick cooked up for the screen. While not so well received when it was first released, 2001 has since grown in stature to the point where it has the reputation as being one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

The plot of 2001 starts with the dawn of man when a group of apes recently evicted from their water hole by a rival group, discover a strange, black monolith. Like Adam and Eve cast from the garden of Eden, these apes are forced to develop technology to survive and as in the Genesis story where Cain kills Abel, this development soon leads to the first act of aggression and murder.

The plot then leaps forward and now mankind's rapidly advancing technology has given us to the ability to explore space with increased ease. When another monolith is found by colonists on the moon, Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester) is sent to investigate. The moon monolith, which was buried for 4 million years, is clearly not of natural design. When Dr. Floyd touches the monolith, a shriek is emitted, stunning his crew as the monolith beams a message in the direction of Jupiter.

Later, an astronaut team lead by Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) is sent to Jupiter to investigate what could be there to have received the signal. Along the way most of the crew is killed by the amoral computer Hal 9000 (Douglas Rain), forcing Dr. Bowman to deactivate it. When Dr. Bowman finally reaches Jupiter, he discovers a third monolith that when as he's approaching, launches him on a final odyssey. At the end of this journey Bowman finds himself rapidly aging before being reborn as the star child, the next stage in human evolution.

Now, while that description makes that movie sound completely chaste, I have to point out that I left out any mention at all of the rather overt sexual imagery Kubrick included. Seriously, 2001: A Space Orgy would work just as well for a title.

To start out, the stewardess that Dr. Floyd interacts with at the beginning of the film are all wearing headgear that makes them look like walking dildos. One shot features a stewardess maneuvering in such a way so that she can enter a doorway headfirst. Another shot is of Dr. Floyd's ship on a tall platform being lowered into the moon, which appears to have been framed to better resemble a giant phallus penetrating the lunar surface.

In this analogy, when Dr. Floyd touches the monolith, he's not just making contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence, he's hitting it's g-spot. The resulting screech is just the sort of orgasmic scream I would expect from a woman who has gone unstimulated for a few million years. The intermission is even conveniently placed at such a point so people can go outside to have a post-coital smoke.

Then the Jupiter mission's spaceship is shaped almost precisely like a giant sperm cell. By this analogy, when Dr. Bowman makes contact with the Jupiter monolith, he's also metaphorically impregnating it. Fortunately for the monolith, pregnancy does not include morning sickness, hungering for strange food, or painful swelling. Instead, it resembles an acid trip, with the bright color patterns and surreal imagery all leading up to Dr. Bowman achieving a higher state of being.

Also, the early sequence where the apes discover the monolith can be seen in the context of a first date. That is, the apes must kill or run off the other apes, not just to get the water hole back, but to eliminate potential rivals for the monoliths affection. Apparently, the monolith is also the completely monogamous type.

To sum up for those who might be confused:
This 2001 plot point resembles ->
The Dawn of Man -> First Date
Dr. Floyd's moon trip -> The penetrating, humping, and grinding part
Touching the monolith -> The G-spot Baby!
Monolith Screech -> Orgasm!
Intermission -> The Post-Coital Smoke
Jupiter Mission -> Sperm traveling towards the egg
Dr. Bowman entering the Jupiter Monolith -> Impregnation
Dr. Bowman's acid trip -> Pregnancy
Dr. Bowman reborn -> (re)Birth

In this analysis, space and the dark, mysterious monoliths are metaphors for the feminine mystique. For the most part, female characters themselves are almost entirely absent. The few that do show up early in the movie are either presented as giant penises or are otherwise irrelevant to the plot. The feminine elements in the movie are outer space and the monoliths, both of which are presented as these great mysteries that men must solve in order to achieve enlightenment. Or great sex, I will admit to now being a bit confused on that bit myself.

Easy Rider (1969) is often credited by film historians as being the first movie about the counter-culture movement that was popular in the 1960's. I am no expert, but I have to point out how much A Space Odyssey (which was released the year before Easy Rider) is not only mired in, but also a direct result of the 1960's counter-culture ideology. All the aforementioned sexual imagery can be seen as a homage to the rallying cry of "free love" and the final climactic journey appears designed by and for LSD users. A tag-line for one poster even describes the movie as "The Ultimate Trip".

If reviewers at the time 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968 were harsh on the film, they can be forgiven. After all many of them were probably expecting a more conventional space opera. What they got instead was an avant garde porno set in outer space. I don't think any one of them can be blamed for ending up a bit confused.

So to wrap this up, considering the philosophical elements and themes that form the foundation of 2001: A Space Odyssey I would argue that it is unquestionably one of the greatest movies of all time. For those who still complain that 2001 is a complete bore, just remember that that this is a movie about sex, drugs, and men doing kinky things in space with tall, dark monoliths. Not so boring now is it?

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