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Film

Stanley Kubrick explained why '2001: A Space Odyssey' is a religious experience

Very cinematic masterpieces have managed to exert the influence that 2001: A Space Odyssey has enjoyed over the last few decades since its release in 1968. The undeniable magnum opus of one of the greatest auteurs of the 20th century, Stanley Kubrick imparted his unique artistic vision to the sci-fi genre which ended up inspiring future directors such as Christopher Nolan to continue pushing the boundaries of sci-fi filmmaking.

The endlessly enigmatic gem has been widely discussed and dissected by a diverse category of audience members, ranging from kids hanging out at the playground to twitchy graduate students on dangerous levels of caffeine. While some have insisted that 2001 presents a hopeful vision of human evolution, others cannot shake off the feeling of horror and impotence that Kubrick’s cynicism evokes in them.

Starting out from a prehistoric period, Kubrick journeys into the unknown through poetic meditations on the future of humanity and space exploration. The reason why 2001 is still revered by so many people is because it is a completely unique audiovisual experience where Kubrick transforms into an apocalyptic prophet through the perfect use of impenetrable images and symbolic sounds.

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In an interview, Kubrick explained that he conceptualised 2001: A Space Odyssey as a “nonverbal experience” which resists most attempts of intellectual articulation of what the film is trying to convey. Instead of relying on such didactic methods, Kubrick insisted that the reading of 2001 is extremely subjective and depends entirely on what the viewer is taking away from this experience.

That is exactly why 2001 has stayed strikingly relevant through the years, building on the ambiguity that Kubrick deliberately created. The director wanted the film to be more like a painting or a musical work, attacking the subconscious of the audience. This ensures that the viewers absorb the images and feel the film before they try and process it through the intellectual filters in their minds.

Kubrick also believed that the success of 2001 is solely predicated on the response of the audience and whether their “mythological and religious yearnings and impulses” are awakened by his artistic opus. The filmmaker maintained that the idea of God forms the fabric of 2001, insisting that the concept of God was an inevitable implication when we consider the kind of intelligent life forms that are theoretically populating the entirety of the universe.

However, Kubrick warned against the kind of theological orthodoxy that most humans associate with the debate about God. “What we’re really dealing with,” Kubrick clarified, “Is a scientific definition of God”. 2001 is a glimpse of such a God – an advanced species belonging to a higher evolutionary scale whose actions can never even be comprehended by human beings.

2001, Kubrick claimed, is intended to portray how it would feel like to confront such a scientific definition of God. He mused: “If these beings of pure intelligence ever did intervene in the affairs of man, so far removed would their powers be from our own understanding. How would a sentient ant view the foot that crushes his anthill — as the action of another being on a higher evolutionary scale than itself? Or as the divinely terrible intercession of God?”.

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