When I say it took me 42 years to like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odssey (1968), I’m not kidding. I saw the film when it first came out and didn’t like it. I was 13 at the time and too young to “get it.” It didn’t help that my then best friend’s older brother, who considered himself an authority on all things science fiction, went along with us and insisted on explaining it all. (Nothing is more galling to a 13-year-old than having a pompous 14-year-old trying to set him right.) But I could never quite get away from the film in my own mind. I was sure that there was more to the film than I was processing. After years or reading up on the film, I tackled it again — and the best I could get out of these dissertations was a sense of “if you say so,” which is to say I wasn’t seeing it myself.
But I kept trying — about every five years I’d watch it again and the results were always the same. Then a few years ago something happened. That something had no direct relation to 2001 and it’s hard to explain clearly (which may be in keeping with Kubrick’s film). It had to do with finally seeing Ken Russell’s banned TV film Dance of the Seven Veils (1970) — a work that also used Richard Strauss’ composition Also Sprach Zarathustra. The way that this film used the music to convey a sense of regeneration and transcendence caused something to click, though I didn’t realize it until I saw 2001 again. Suddenly, all the things I’d read — and more — about the film fell into place on an emotional level. I’d gone from vaguely understanding what I’d read and heard to actually feeling it — and a movie that had seemed cold and distant to me became a deeply moving, even exhilarating experience.
Yes, I’m well aware that the preceding anecdote about my personal experience with 2001 is largely irrelevant as film criticism — at least on the surface. But really there’s nothing new that I can bring to the table in terms of criticism of the film apart from my attempts at “getting it” and having it finally happen. So much ink has been spilled over 2001 that it seems to me that there’s not much left to said about its technical brilliance or its meanings — and possible meanings. What I do think is overlooked, though, is that the film is ultimately less an intellectual exercise than it is an emotional one. It’s less about understanding it than it is about feeling it. That, I think, is partly why Kubrick made it so impenetrable. I also think it’s that Kubrick himself didn’t quite know how to say what he wanted to say and as a result, his film attains a strange kind of tongue-tied eloquence. My advice — apart from suggesting that you see it on the big screen, which is the only way to go with this — is to give yourself over to 2001 and feel the experience rather than think it. It’s the only way to travel.
The Asheville Film Society’s Big Screen Budget Series will show 2001: A Space Odyssey Wed., July 17 at 7:30 p.m. in one of the downstairs theaters at The Carolina Asheville. Admission is $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public.