For some time the cinema has taken its rightful place as one of the main forms of art. But is it possible to identify cinematographic masterpieces which have left an indelible mark, as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has for music, or Van Gogh’s Starry Night for pictorial art? Definitely. For some, for those cinephile who are more audacious in their judgments, the answer is obvious – 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film directors in history and someone who, more than any other, turned the cinema into the purest of art forms.
The screenplay was written by Arthur C. Clarke in close collaboration with Kubrick. First shown in 1968, it depicts one of the most complex themes in the history of our planet through the medium of science fiction, namely the enigmatic relationship between man and the universe.
The film starts with the origins of human beings, at a time when our ancestors were ape-like. At this point a mysterious black monolith appears, its presence apparently conferring a higher form of intelligence on hominids.
This intelligence is soon manifested and, in a fight between two primates, one of them picks up an animal bone from the ground and uses it as a weapon against the other.
The frames following this episode display Kubrick’s brilliance: the victorious hominid throws the weapon into the air and in less than a second the pirouettes of the bone in the sky are transformed into the movements of a spaceship, by means of one of the most amazing match-cuts on the history of cinema. A superb synthesis of millions of years of evolution.
We are thus catapulted into the year 2001 and the confines of the earth’s atmosphere, where sounds and noise do not exist and an absolute silence reigns. Knowing this, Kubrick decided to employ one of the most spectacular sequences ever seen in the cinema, in which spaceships and space stations dance in the absence of gravity to the refrain of Strauss’s Blue Danube. Utterly compelling.
From this moment onwards, a journey to the unknown depths of space and the limits of rational understanding commences. Rather than a film, we find ourselves watching an audio-visual work of art unprecedented in its immensity.
A word of warning. Although Kubrick’s masterpiece is regarded as science fiction, its purpose is not that of offering common, cheap entertainment, but rather to make us reflect on the mysteries and confines of human existence. It not only succeeds: it does so with grace, technical competence and visionary. Most definitely, but at the same time fortunately, it is not a film for everyone.