Director: Stanley Kubrick ; Script: Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. Placed among top ten movies ever made in Sight and Sound's list in 2002.
"Only a few films are transcendent...."...Roger Ebert
Once upon a time there was an ape in Africa and he glimpsed himself in a black rectanguar monolith left for him as a gift and a milestone by an unknown benefactor. He discovers the scale of his power and the bone-weapon he hurls into the sky turns into a lunar mission module, a cinematic flash forward of a few million years. The monolith appears again on the moon and next we find our space heroes headed towards Jupiter. There the computer HAL 9000 turns hostile, resulting in the death of all but one of the astronauts, named Dave. Dave again encounters the mysterious black tablet and is propelled through unexplained tunnels of colour, over weird unearthly hills and dales finally ending up in a well furnished room with human amenities where he lives out his life. As he dies, he encounters the tablet again and is transformed into a foetus enclosed in a transparent bubble moving in space...
More than science fiction it is a poetical history of the evolution of life on this planet, with an extending vision of man as an inhabitant of the solar system and pushing beyond.
It is in no way a fantasy or a scientific fairy tale: it always has the feet planted in historical realities. It remains true to the spirit as well as the poetry of science, though it does not set out as a treatise or textbook of science.
More even than the piling up of knowledge and the ever expanding sphere of intelligence it is about that powerful force of self transcendence which is the core of the human nature and indeed the totality of life. We sense it in the jubilant victory cry of the ancestral ape as in the dying Dave. As Tagore says the life pulsating in blades of grass is the same as life that runs in the veins of human beings. The film, which is half way a documentary, is pervaded by religious awe, an awareness of the infinities of space and time which we inhabit. The monolith is a mirror in which man observes himself as a piece of the benign propulsive force of the cosmos. For are we not all star children, each and every one of us?
It is also perhaps a parable about the nature of life and death and the eternity of life. The life which is behind the re-appearing monolith is the same as the that of the ones who time and again observe it. Inspired artist that he was, Kubrick may have sensed this in the depths of his own life.
For is not the journey through the many coloured tunnels reminiscent of what the researches on near death experiences has learnt us about? ( where Alph, the sacred river, ran/through caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea) Is not the monolith the primordial Rosebud, representing the receding past and undying hope for the future? Surely the tranformation of the dying Dave into the womb enclosed embryo is not an arbitrary artistic interpolation or unnecessary literary embellishment? Ebert's use of the word transcendant in reference to the film is no less prescient.
Of course one may justifiably be accused of reading too much between the lines what isn't there.
It has been called a slow film, but it is so only in the sense that a piece of slow music is slow. So far as the descriptions of space flight, both where their rhythms and authenticity and faithfulness to detail is concerned, one experiences things as an astronaut would.