When people talk about Cult cinema, there are many names bandied about. Not only the films themselves – The Third Man, The Ipcress File, Doctor Zhivago, Breakfast at Tiffany’s – but names of iconic actors and directors – Michael Caine, Omar Sharif, Orson Wells, Audrey Hepburn – get an airing too.
One director, though, whose name is regularly heard in such discussions, is Stanley Kubrick; his film “2001: A Space Odyssey” is more than likely the reason, for although he has other films to his credit, it is this which is truly seminal.
2001: A space Odyssey was based on a story by British science-fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke. “Sentinel”, originally published in the 1940s, is what starts the film off; it gives the film its form – technology and its dangers. We see from the outset, the dawn of mankind where our simian ancestors learn, inspired in some way by a slab-like black stone monolith that suddenly appears in their midst, to use the bones of dead animals as weapons. Nothing is ever the same again.
Then, aeons later, on the moon, a similar monolith is found purposefully buried in the rock. It has been there for four million years, we are told; perhaps marking the dawn of man. But this monolith is sending out a signal in the direction of Jupiter where, subsequently, a voyage is sent. The Discovery craft is maintained by a sentient computer, the HAL 9000, or Hal, whose operational record is perfect. Beware, however the perfection of sentient computers because perfection is never possible where the makers are not themselves perfect – and Hal’s Artificial Intelligence is the product of fallible mankind.
The film, then, is a warning against the dangers of technology – but also a glimpse into the science of hope. For as the black monolithic alien draws mankind forth into the depths of space, so to does it drag one man on a journey through an un-fathomable hell, through the prism of his ages right back to the embryonic. And that embryo is a profound lesson for mankind – a new dawn of man.