2001: A Space Odyssey

This is not a review of the film. More, this is a story about my daughter and I watching 2001: A Space Odyssey together and what we both gained from it.

Petra is eleven years old. She’ll be twelve at the end of the summer. I think she’s a bright spark, but she’s my child, so I’m biased. We do enjoy reading similar types of stories, however, and we do like to watch films together. We often have great conversations about character and plot. We are both intrigued by tragic figures and ‘evil with a kernel of good inside’ types.

Given that we normally watch something light or adventure themed, I was surprised when she asked me if I had heard of a movie called 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, I was delighted to inform her that not only was it one of my favourite films, but that we had a copy on the shelf. Shamefully shrink-wrapped. I’d bought it when released on Blu-Ray and had not got around to watching it.

I remember the first time I saw it. It was with my dad, and I didn’t really understand it. I recall being bored and then somewhat alarmed by the sequence of events best described as Beyond the Infinite. I have since watched the movie about ten times. Maybe twenty. A lot. I can quote dialogue and every time I hear The Blue Danube waltz, I imagine a dance of space ships and planets rather than elegantly attired men and women traversing a ballroom. I have come to love the film, but I’m not sure I could have adequately explained why without watching it again.

What a story. The collaboration of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, 2001 is more than just that, though, it’s a cinematic experience. From beginning to end, it showcases what I like to call the art of filmmaking. The sedentary pace, long pauses and musical sequences make the film a work of art, in my opinion. And beneath it all, or over and above it, whichever way you want to look at it, there is still the amazing story.

My daughter admitted the slow pace frustrated her but she was interested enough in the overall story to stick with it. Oh, and she wanted to meet HAL. He was, apparently, the real reason she wanted to see the film. She loved the idea of an evil computer. HAL both did and did not meet her expectations. He was evil all right, damned creepy, and she shuddered as she passed comment on his behavior. When Dave unplugged HAL’s memory, however, and HAL related the fact his mind was going, he could feel it, and then returned to a childlike state where he wanted to share a song he learned, she was in tears.

“I know he killed people,” she said, “but he was just trying to protect himself. He didn’t know how else to explain his mistake.”

Needless to say, I was very moved by her reaction and, throughout the film, she continued to surprise me. She caught foreshadowing I might have missed and seemed to understand the science hinted at by the visionary Arthur C. Clarke.

Eleven year olds today have a different grasp of science and future possibilities than they did back when I first watched 2001. I had the imagination to appreciate what the author and filmmaker were trying to say (eventually), but what they proposed felt more speculative than scientific, even presented as a possible future. When given with the challenge of defining Beyond the Infinite, the best I could come up with was: it’s a black hole. Not a bad theory, really. More science fiction than scientific, perhaps.

Petra agreed Dave might have entered a black hole, but she thought his journey was more deliberate. He was traveling between dimensions. Visiting alternate worlds, different time streams. By the time she witnessed Dave as a middle aged and elderly man, his death and apparent rebirth, she had an entirely new theory regarding the obelisks. They were reincarnation machines.

I have to say, I kinda like her theory. It’s different and sort of fits with the overall theme of evolution. In fact, it’s a great fit if you suppose reincarnation is a necessary step in evolution.

One of the great things about having children, or spending time with a child, is remembering how the world looked when you were young. What it was like to taste chocolate for the first time or see the ocean or grasp a concept that had eluded the year before. Watching Petra enjoy a movie I loved was a pretty awesome experience. I almost felt as if I watched it for the first time again—except for the echo in my head, the dialogue, the soundtrack, etc. I re-experienced the film.

She also asked about Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and The Matrix. We watched the former and giggled our way through it. I’d forgotten how funny it was. We’ll watch The Matrix this weekend, I think. But only the first one. Then I’ll get another of my favourites for her: Love is a Many Splendored Thing, and we can sob on the couch together!

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