A Great Beginning

A triumphant portrayal of the progress of mankind, Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, to me, is about questions; Questions about the mystery of the universe, about humanity’s beginnings, and about our collective destiny.

An already significant film, its importance is amplified when one considers that it premiered in America on 2 April 1968; Right in the middle of the 1968 worldwide protests. Two days before Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead at the Lorraine Motel, and a year before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon for the first time in the history of mankind.

The history of man is portrayed subjectively by Mr Kubrick in the film, suggesting that we might owe our intellectual evolution to an unexplained entity alien to our planet, which technically disagrees with Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of natural selection. The only thing that is certain in this film is that nothing is certain. We are coerced into questioning every scene, every action, and every word in the script.

 

“You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film—and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level—but I don't want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he's missed the point.”

- Stanley Kubrick

 

Instead of speculating about the meaning of the film, I think it is a more worthy endeavour to speculate the impact the film had on the world in a time when perhaps hope seemed distant, and the darkness overwhelming.

The Vietnam War is separating the American people from its government, North Korea has taken the American intelligence vessel USS Pueblo hostage, 231 are killed in a Sicilian earthquake, 69 are killed in the Israeli submarine INS Dakar, Viet Cong soldiers attack the US Embassy in Saigon, American-led massacres in Vietnam, U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated, among many other morally devastating worldwide events.

Amidst this global darkness, I imagine 2001: A Space Odyssey must have provided a source of light and hope. My opinion supported by the movie’s strategic and superbly choreographed ending, with the newly born ‘star child’ symbolising a great new beginning; A beginning with eyes wide open, with wisdom and sense. But it ends with this symbol without any explanation.

 

"If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered."

- Stanley Kubrick

 

The lack of explanation leads to infinite possibilities. Ending with a great beginning leads to infinite hope. Ending with a great beginning creates a great beginning.

 

"The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."

- Stanley Kubrick

 


By Steven Chu

Steven Chu is a Burmese-Australian architect and the Founding Director of Alter Atlas.

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Steven Chu