This is another excerpt of highlights from the Rising Action Podcast, which I co-host alongside my good friend Josh Johnson. We get into various aspects and cultural parameters regarding Stanley Kubrick’s critically and commercially acclaimed film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are various edits for flow and readability purposes, but there are still conversational elements. Enjoy.
Josh and Grayson on how this movie resulted in a new wave of Sci-Fi films:
Josh: I think in, you know, watching it originally and then like getting back into, you know, watching some scenes and looking at some screen grabs and things like that, I really truly believe that movies like Ad Astra or Blade Runner 2049 would not look or exist remotely the same without 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think their whole color science and [stylized look] in those movies would never have happened without 2001: A Space Odyssey. The use of color contrast specifically, especially with Ad Astra– Like I had seen Ad Astra just a couple of months ago and … it never crossed my mind that it was extremely similar-looking, or at least in style, to 2001: A Space Odyssey. …. Odyssey put [a] huge emphasis on composition and centrism and different things like that [like] shapes and form. But the colors specifically, there was so much red and orange, and pastels, and reds contrast with blues and different things like that, that you can see it. And it’s so profound and it’s so unique and it’s not just in environments, it’s on characters, faces; it’s how you’re lighting your subjects. It’s so unique and I think it shaped a lot of what Sci-Fi looks and feels like now right now in 2020.
Grayson: Yeah, absolutely. [There are] some shots in this movie that like- I think specifically one of the most famous shots is [the main character] sitting there at the console of one of the ships- I believe he’s in the pod- and the red lighting is illuminating his helmet and his face. [Me] never seeing this before that point, I was just like, “Oh yeah, like that’s just what it looks like.” And then I thought about it and I’m like, “Wait, this movie came out in 1968.” I don’t think there was ever a movie before this to use this sort of color usage. It is truly ahead of its time.
Josh: Yeah. [There are] movies that would use contrast like this movie- like similar concepts for contrast- but never contrast with color like this. This is a first and, you know, it’s not a one of a kind, because there’s been a lot of movies in modern sci-fi that have taken those concepts and applied it to their movies. But at the time it was a standalone first… there was no other movie coming out in the sixties, remotely close to the color and the vibrance of this movie. It’s completely unique for its time.
Josh and Grayson on whether the film deserves the praise it gets or if it’s simply a pretentious movie that intellectuals cling to:
Josh: I think it’s a little of both. I’m going to take the cop-out because I think that there’s truth in both of those arguments to be made. I think that there is some pretentiousness because
it’s Kubrick’s flair. I think his whole mythos is, “Let me make something that’s weird- that you’ve got to figure it out; Let me make something that comments on the world in a bizarre way; Let me make something that kinda takes you off guard- that gets under your skin a little bit.” And this movie is definitely like that. He made movies like Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, and they’re not your run of the mill movies for whichever respective genre they’re in. They’re layered in symbols and character study and you know, comments about the world. So is it intellectual? Yes. It’s a movie about evolution, and it’s a movie specifically about human evolution and where he sees humanity going in the future and, you know, how are we going to interact with more advanced technology? And how is where we’re going, going to shape the human experience?
Grayson: Yes, you nailed it.
Josh: And so, yes, there’s a whole bunch of intellectual arguments being made in this movie. Um, if you really, really get into the weeds with it, I mean, it’s so involved in that evolutionary idea that like even the ships and the galaxies look like sperm cells; like everything comes down to reproducing … The whole beginning scene with the apes is- I mean, it’s on the nose a little bit about the dawn of man- how once the apes come in contact with the monolith, it gives them knowledge. And they’re suddenly able to dominate their social theater, and they’re able to conquer other tribes of similar apes. But more than that, it directly draws the comparison between those apes and humanity. It’s saying that humans are those apes until we come in contact with a higher, intellectual source. And in the case of this film, that source is the monolith… It’s Pandora’s box of information, of knowledge, of the propelling evolution forward…. I can totally see how watching this movie, you might be like, “What is the deal here?” Like why make a movie that’s got all this stuff going on. And I think that’s part of what you’re signing up for by watching this movie. [Stanley Kubrick is] going to give you some layered symbolic arguments, and you’re going to have to sift through them and see what you agree with- what you even understand. There’s going to be a lot of questions that you’re going to have… That’s just kind of part of it.
Grayson: I noticed while watching it, that it kind of was the first movie to basically let the audience figure out what it was trying to say. I’ve seen movies again that come out now that I’m like, “Oh, that was so weird.” Like … I referenced, The Lighthouse a lot or that was a movie that’s super weird. And I remember when we finished watching that movie, we were like trying to dissect everything and whatnot. … I’m sure there were movies before Space Odyssey, but Space Odyssey was the movie that kind of brought it into the limelight instead of being just a movie. … I don’t mean this in a pretentious way to be ironic or anything, but it feels more like a piece of art rather than it feels like an actual movie. Like instead of trying to tell like a narrative… it feels more like a poem or something like it.
Josh: It’s like an odyssey instead that of a historical account.
Grayson: Right. Which I mean, it’s literally called A Space Odyssey, so maybe it’s all in the title. But I don’t think that detracts from it in any case whatsoever because- and maybe I’ve been conditioned from modern movies that have done this- but when I finished watching it, I was like, “Well, I’m not like totally confused. … I understand what is going on for the most part. Like I’m piecing these puzzles together because modern movies have allowed us to be able to do that. … We’ve just been able to see more movies that require more cognition. I’m sure when people- when this movie came out back in the day- people were like, “What the heck?!” Probably the most confusing part is the last 20 minutes where he goes into this white room after … he goes into like this hyperspace lightspeed thing. And you’re like, “What the heck is going on?” And then he [goes into] this white room, and he sees the old version of himself, and then he is the old version of himself; Then he sees himself on his death bed; Then he’s on his death bed.
Josh: Then he reaches for the monolith on his deathbed. And there’s the whole symbol [of] Adam touching God.
Grayson: And then, floating baby in space. … I get that metaphor…. He’s reached these aliens or whatever. And he’s kind of like at peace. … [He] as a person is almost showing like the cycle of humanity, but the baby in space represents humanity leaving their cradle, for example, getting off of earth and ascending to like a greater place…. I’m sure had I [seen] this movie and had no prior experience [dealing with] movies that have really wacky, interpretive meanings, I would [have] watched that and been like, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Why is there a baby floating in space? I probably would have laughed, but I knew it was coming. I knew ahead of time watching this, [the nature of it was intrinsically weird]. I was able to put myself in the mindset that, “Okay, this is not going to be your typical movie.” If you know nothing about it and you think, “Oh… this will be fun.” [Nope]. This is not Star Trek. This is not Star Wars. This is not your traditional sci-fi in any stretch of the imagination. This is very much something new and different, all while being excellent at the same time.
If you enjoyed this excerpt and want to listen to the full episode, check out the Rising Action Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Anchor.