Everyone who has seen 2001 has a story, nay, THE story about the first time they saw 2001. I cannot think of any other film that evokes such a “before and after” mentality, and, if you indeed can, please feel free to share.
I like to know the psychedelic speed limit of the crowd with whom I am associating at any given time, and while the lysergic catalyst of 2001 as a work of art is generally a dose of rocket fuel to any conversation, asking about the manner in which one lost their 2001 virginity is a purity test both and sacred and sexy.
As I walked through the Museum of the Moving Image’s current exhibition about 2001, Wendell Walker, the Museum’s Deputy Director of Operations, Exhibitions, and Design, personally escorted me through the artifacts and papers and presentations he had carefully crafted into a cohesive experience.
Strolling through the Museum’s hallways and alcoves festooned with all things Kubrick, he told me about his initial introduction to 2001.
He was all of 14 years old, having traveled with his mother and father to New York City. There, they collected Wendell’s sister, fresh off a plane from a study abroad in Europe, and the family then enjoyed some time together in Manhattan.
This was only a few days after 2001 premiered in NYC on April 2, 1968, and the film was still garnering attention in all the dailies. Wendell’s father had read the damning reviews (“These two astronauts are exquisitely uninteresting,” opined Russell Baker of the New York Times. “Humorless, unsexed, inarticulate, beyond boredom…it is small wonder that HAL, the computer, finally takes matters into his own hands and decides to get rid of both of them. They are boring him to death”) and decided on the spot that the family event for the afternoon was to attend a screening of 2001.
And so Wallace was one of the lucky few who entered Manhattan’s Capitol Theatre to see the film projected on the venue’s giant curved scene — 2001 was originally presented in Cinerama 70mm, mind you — and, as such, was simultaneously present for one of the first showings of 2001 and the magnificent theater’s waning hours, as 2001 was, sadly, the picture palace’s final engagement.
Wallace recollected that he recently related this astonishing tale to none other than Keir Dullea, the actor who Kubrick cast, sight unseen, as Dr. David “Dave” Bowman, 2001’s ultimate rocketman burning out his fuse up there alone.
Mr. Dullea, whom Wallace was accompanying on a private tour of the MOMI’s 2001 exhibit, seemed to listen politely to the aforementioned tale of flawlessly fated attendance, and then said, equally as politely, “Wallace, I have heard SO MANY stories of people’s first time seeing 2001 that I was not even listening to what you just told me.” As he related this most delicious morsel to me, Wallace laughed uproariously at Mr. Dullea’s measured punchline, as did I. It was a wonderful moment between two Kubrickians who have both seen 2001 many, many times.
My own origin story with 2001 is in no way as glamorous as Wallace’s. I suspect the vast majority of them are not.
When I was 11 years old, I had a friend who died, very swiftly, of a virulent leukemia. The night she died in a children’s hospital of downtown Chicago I recall being deposited at my grandparent’s home in the northern suburbs for a spate of haunted minutes and slow hours.
I can recollect a series of phone calls as the evening slipped away, each one of them quiet one-sided conversations of monosyllabic words, and then, as night settled in, there was only silence.
Death, especially that of a child, is an atomic explosion of time gone sideways. The fabric of reality, severed by the weaponry of grief, is indefinitely vulnerable to further insults and injuries.
It was on this particular evening I first saw 2001.
When I conjure up these memories, corrugated and corrupted with the bittersweet tang of time gone by, it is my initial journey through the Stargate I most vividly recall. The cosmic significance and visual trickery of the quantum travel was, even at that young of an age, dazzling (the film is rated G, how hella subversive is that).
My virgin viewing was, so to speak, painful.
Even more astonishing, however, was how alone Dave Bowman was.
He was alone in space, and then he was alone in time, and then was alone in spacetime, and then he was alone in an interdimentional hotel, and then he was the Starchild, and then he just sort of…was.
But he was always alone.
And something about that interpretation, that we are all always alone, rightly or wrongly, fused together with the emotional exsanguination of what was forever lost.
Since then, I have seen 2001, as I like to say, 465,857,593,930 times,* and, also rightly or wrongly, have associated the film with the most intensely soul shattering despondency of being alone (*actual times I have seen 2001 is slightly less, but only slightly).
These days I am quite comfortable with that kind of alienating pain that comes only from those isolated recesses of jaunting Beyond the Infinite. I have been wearing all black for a number of lifetimes, you know?
These are hella strange days, my fellow Kubrickians. Maybe all of this means we are hovering in some Siberian vector of uncharted space knocking on the front door of the Stargate. Maybe all of this means we are a bunch of veldt-dwelling proto-bipedal simians freaking the fuck out at the foot of a giant rectangular slab of fathomless obsidian.
I am fine with either. Same difference.
Lately, however, I feel my perception of 2001’s message of isolation has changed, and diametrically so.
Upon recent viewings, it has become clear to me that Dave Bowman does not go through the Stargate alone.
Because I get to go with him.
Or maybe he gets to go with me.
Either way, we get to go through the Stargate together.
And that means that, even in those isolated recesses of jaunting Beyond the Infinite, Dave Bowman is not alone.
Which means I am not alone.
I am not alone.
So much of 2001 was prescient, especially in its adaptation of technology, and particularly that of Artificial Intelligence. I have always taken great pride in the fact that both HAL and I are native Illinoisians. That’s just total sci-fi street cred right there.
The first time anyone sees 2001, it is easy to miss the obsessive detail to scientific accuracy, the fastidious commitment to technological authenticity, the respectful questioning of what we are destined — maybe pre-destined — to become in the future.
But whether you are watching 2001 for the first time or the 465,857,593,930 time, KNOW THIS — you are not alone.
We get to go through the Stargate together.
Thank you for reading the first entry of Cyberian Cinema, an ongoing blog series inspired by my intense love of three concepts as they are captured on film: 1) murder; 2) space; and 3) murder in space.
Stephanie Sack, AKA voluptuousrobot, identifies as a Cosmic Hostess, gothy AF, Chicago native, hot yoga junkie, UFO valet, film snob, and total weirdo.