Wednesday, March 19, 2008

2001: Clarke and Kubrick

Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

Arthur C. Clarke died today, and I was reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke wrote the novel, which was based on an earlier story of his, The Sentinel; both Clarke and Stanley Kubrick are credited for the screenplay of Kubrick's movie. Clarke, perhaps feeling like most of us, has said that he wasn't quite sure what Kubrick was up to in the movie's ending. I have a very clear memory of sitting in a movie theater and watching 2001 when I was 11 or 12 years old. I had thought that I was going to see a "science fiction" movie (you know, space ships, adventure, and stuff). I understand now that the movie I watched then was, indeed, a science fiction movie. At the time, though, it was all I could do simply to sit and be bombarded by the stunning images on the screen which, by the movie's end, left me feeling a bit shell-shocked. I don't mean this in a negative way at all. No. I had no idea what this movie was about and I couldn't give a coherent account of it's plot. I knew, though, that it was good. I'm still not sure I understand the movie, and I'm certainly not going to try to explain it here and now (although if you've got some time to kill, there's no shortage of attempts at explaining 2001; some are interesting, some are a bit silly). I'd recommend reading Clarke's novel to anyone who likes the movie but doesn't quite get what Kubrick is trying to express. Both the novel and the movie are concerned with themes of human evolution (with humanity being one step in a process), the dangers of technology, and the details of traveling in space. Clarke explains what Kubrick shows.


  1. Me too, Kyclops, I saw it, didn't really understand but knew it was good - and the not understanding didn't seems to matter at all because it reached, you know, the places that other films didn't. Though why it resonated so strongly, seeing as I was still a child, is a bit of a mystery. Going to check your links now.

  2. I had pretty much the same experience as you -- a little puzzled by the movie, but not bothered overmuch by that feeling, since the mood it created was so awe-inspiring.

    When, some years later, I read the novel, I had the feeling of satisfaction of finding the missing piece to the puzzle. My uncle had a different reaction, though. He felt that the book was a cheat of sorts. While he liked it in and of itself as a yarn, he said it betrayed the whole point of the movie for him, that were we to encounter an alien civilization, we could not possibly hope to comprehend it. I don't completely agree with him, but I think there's a lot to that thought.

    It's interesting (read: depressing) to imagine what the reaction would be if 2001 premiered these days instead of when it did (with a different title, of course). Given the whining from the drooling masses about Syriana -- "ZOMG!!!! Too hard to understand!!!" -- I am convinced our current cultural demand always to be spoon-fed would result in the movie being a flop, or at best, a cult favorite.

  3. Signs,
    Thanks for dropping by! I suspect a lot of people felt like we did when they first saw 2001 (see Brendan's comment below). It's amazing how well it stands up today.

    Syriana was hard to understand? ;-)
    Your uncle may have a point, but I also think that there are different narrative "needs" in a novel vs. a movie. Can you imagine Clarke trying to "write" Kubrick's ending? All in all, though, I don't think the two versions are in any way at odds with one another.

  4. I haven't watched "2001" for about 15 years - and when I did, it was under the influence of... erm... student tobacco. Unsurprisingly, I remember little apart from Ligeti and the visuals - which, given the era of its original release, may well have been an experience shared by many...

  5. Tafkass,
    Ah yes... "student tobacco." As I recall, my later viewings of 2001 were greatly enhanced. Comprehension was another matter...

  6. Syriana was hard to understand? ;-)

    That was one of the most tiresome memes I've ever had to suffer, and yes, it was omnipresent and repeated incessantly here in the US for a while. I thought the movie was great, myself, and did not find it especially difficult to follow.

    @tafkass: great euphemism: "student tobacco"