Monday, 18 June 2018


"I just don't want to put anymore stress on the family."

I think there’s a level of disparity in terms of what modern audience perceive horror to be. Like any genre it’s impossible to make a generalisation about whether or not it’s descended in quality as a whole, but I can wonder why it’s become more difficult to define horror in any traditional sense. Personally I find horror to be at its strongest when it reaches the viewer on a psychological level as well as a visceral one. But then again don’t dramas do that with their depiction of grief and emotional suffering? This brings me onto ‘Hereditary’.

When her domineering and controlling mother passes away, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) works to maintain her family’s structure as her husband and two kids each cope with the loss. But Annie begins to unravel cryptic and disturbing secrets about her family’s ancestry, and amid the shadows of the past also lie a turbulent conflict within the family that threaten to consume the entire household.

Another key aspect about horror is trying to find a universal sense of fear to tap into. For all the visceral shock you can inject into a movie that will terrify one audience member, you are just as likely to find another that will be undeterred by that same aspect. This is the foremost reason why I believe that horror needs to reach deeper than just an initial shock to feel truly resonant. It has to embody an empathetic sense of fear that can hold a presence within the mind of the viewer. ‘Hereditary’ achieves this more capably and confidently than almost any other horror film I have seen in recent years.

For a majority of Ari Aster’s directorial debut you will not experience jump scares or sudden impacts. But rather a seeping and all-consuming sense of dread that permeates every aspect of the final product. There are so many framing and compositional choices that simply feel unnerving by design, so many moments of deathly silence that evoke an air of suspense and an unwavering tone of dread which repeatedly assures the audience that every place they once thought was safe is not.

There is an upsetting quality to the fear of ‘Hereditary’ that distinguishes it as a deeply powerful work of filmmaking. Much in the same way that William Freidkin took a story of demonic possession and framed it as a story of a mother watching the unbearable suffering of her only child in ‘The Exorcist’, Aster takes the supernatural trappings of a horror film and stages it as an unspeakably troubling family dynamic. He bestows his characters with depth and emotional resonance, only to then rip their lives apart piece by piece. The result is pure emotional devastation that is made all the more affecting by the primeval terror the supernatural elements of his story evoke.

Much of that emotional output is conveyed by the performances, which are phenomenal in of themselves. Though creepy children are a trope of many horror films, Milly Shapiro’s performance is chilling enough to make one forgive the cliché. Her vacant stares and incessant characteristics give the character an almost otherworldly presence. There’s a desperation to Alex Wolff’s performance that is just as unsettling as the events that occur to his character. Then there is Toni Collette who displays a masterful balance, much like the film as a whole, in conveying of the momentary horror being experienced by the character with the deeper existential angst that makes said horror feel long lasting. Through her depiction of Annie you get a clear outline of her progression across the movie as her grasp on reality slowly deteriorates and the defences around her fragile emotional state gradually crumble away.

The sound design of 'Hereditary' is fantastically evocative, creating a pulsating rhythm that hangs over the certain scenes like an ominous shadow. Speaking of which the lighting within the film also does brilliant work to communicate to the audience that something is truly deeply wrong within the story without overtly stating it, which in turn only increases the irrational paranoia that plagues every character within the film. The cinematography is also stunning, framing picturesque shots that make the violence within them so much more unsettling. It conveys its story through a pure visual medium so confidently whilst also leaving a suitable amount of ambiguity. As upsetting as 'Hereditary' is part of me is also looking forward t revisiting it and uncovering the hidden nuances within its script and direction. 

Throughout the film Aster’s camera takes on an omnipotent presence within the lives of Annie and her family. It glides smoothly through their house as if watching from afar, but also never hesitates to observe their pain in excruciating detail. With each new trauma comes a wave of emotional expression which is often the most excruciating aspect of the film. The film is structured so as to fit these surreal horror elements into the gaps left by relatable family drama which just allows it to tap directly into a viewer’s inner fears. Having dragged you into its dreamscape, Aster refuses to release you until this nightmare has reached its crescendo. 

When ‘Hereditary’ does reach its climax, it embodies a such an intense level of insanity that the tonal shift alone is unsettling. If the movie seems slow during its first half it is because Aster revels in using suspense to imply something unimaginably horrible is about to happen, playing with our far of the unknown. But then during its third act ‘Hereditary’ presents us with a series of events that are indeed more terrifying than anything we could have envisioned. Not just for the supernatural torment they impose, but for the sheer psychological damage they inflict upon the characters and ourselves.

‘Hereditary’ is a uniquely terrifying horror movie, one that is truly upsetting in a manner so powerful that it can be classed as a horror by merit of its emotional trauma alone.

Result: 10/10

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

"These creatures were here before us. If we're not careful, they're going to be here after."

By this point you have to wonder if ‘Jurassic Park’ is just inherently ill-suited to be a franchise. Not even Spielberg could replicate the brilliance of the first in ‘The Lost World’ and each successive director has also tried but ultimately failed to further the franchise is any meaningful way. While Colin Treverrow’s ‘Jurassic World’ was an improvement over its predecessor in retrospect I think it’s fair to say it also fell short (I say in retrospect because I’m aware I initially was more positive on it but having revisited it…less positive). Now the challenge falls to J.A Bayona to find some way to bring forth some much needed initiative from the series.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island of Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from a volcano that's about to erupt. They soon encounter terrifying new breeds of gigantic dinosaurs, while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet.

I think what made me change my verdict on ‘Jurassic World’ was how I gradually came to realise how little the movie actually had to say. Back in 1993 Spielberg achieved the amazing feat of making a film which discussed themes and developed characters in a way that was completely in tune with the action. There is no clunky exposition or forced character moments, just as there are no wasted action sequences or derivative plot elements, just each developing concept unfolding in perfect harmony. When ‘Jurassic World’ tries to include substance it comes across as contrived, then when it wants to convey action it comes off as empty.

I bring all of this up because there are moments in which ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ seems to have more in regards to a sense of story than its predecessor. It’s more sure of itself and initially seems confident in where the narrative is heading as well as what it wants to discuss. The problem however is that though Bayona seems more confident in bringing up story beats and conceptual threads, his film doesn’t develop them in any meaningful way. The story may be cohesive, but it doesn’t allow for any added depth or expanded themes.

It’s not just the themes that feel completely separate from the plot, so do the characters. Most of the story in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ feels indifferent to the actual characters. They lack any kind of meaningful presence within the plot, which might be fine if they were developed to an extent, but they aren’t. Though Owen Grady and Claire Dearing do have some thin arc over the course of the film, it’s an arc that is completely derivative from their development in ‘Jurassic World’. Pratt and Howard fill their roles reasonably well, but it’s hard to judge their performances on any great level when their roles feel more like props than fleshed out characters.

The plot also fails to be engaging for the full extent of its 128 minute running time. Though there are an abundance of action sequences throughout the movie, I honestly found myself bored for a stretch during the film’s second act. Structurally the movie feels unbalanced and just drags on numerous occasions, from the amount of time it takes for the story to actually begin at all to the amount of time the plot stalls in the middle. Events continue to happen but the broader narrative hardly moves at all. For the amount of action that transpires for how much the plot moves, the result is that the action in question starts to feel inconsequential which just gave me even less of a reason to feel invested.

To the film’s credit it’s clear that J.A Bayona has a much more capable grasp of visuals than any other director to tackle this franchise (save for Spielberg, obviously). His direction does elevate certain scenes in how they render an otherwise predictable set piece in a more innovative way. His framing and compositional choices often make for more engaging palettes that are visually interesting at least. He bestows a sense of weight to the dinosaurs which has been missing for too long and has a better sense of motion when it comes to cohesively editing each action sequence together. His shots seem genuinely motivated as opposed to just leaving empty space for the CGI to be rendered later.

Bayona’s method of shooting also gives a slight dramatic touch to some action scenes and comes close to instilling some much needed gravitas to the character moments of the film. But this is thrown out of balance by the movie’s tonal inconsistency. It’s not that a blockbuster of this scale can’t have comedic touches or moments of levity, but those moments in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ are so simplistic and repetitive that they ultimately undercut the film’s attempts at high drama.

But worst of all, the film commits the unforgivable sin of wasting Jeff Goldblum, which is simply not acceptable.

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ features some glimmers of craftsmanship, but ultimately falls short as derivative and meaningless.

Result: 4/10

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Dear Grace Randolph...

I wanted to mull over this for a few days so as to not come across as reactionary or having a knee jerk response. I wanted to see how this would play out, and whether real consequences might come of it that would make my weighing in be either pointless or regrettable. In fact the last time I addressed Randolph on this blog it was in a post that also defended Andy Signore (not a defence of the latter’s prolific instances of sexual harassing his employees which camr to light in 2017, my post was related to opinions expressed in 2016) but of course any defence of that person regardless of context certainly hasn’t aged well…..

But I found myself unable to get over this piece of news. Firstly to drop any pretext or illusion if impartiality, I neither like nor respect Randolph as a presence in the YouTube film community. I dislike her method of critiquing movies, I dislike her condescending tone to those who disagree with her, I dislike the complete lack of effort she puts into her videos and I dislike her overall style of critiquing movies. From what I can tell she places the value of a movie entirely on how much money it garners at the box office or how much awards attention it receives, and anything less is a failure on the filmmaker’s part and a vindication of her own opinions being objectively right. Currently you can find her arguing that she was right to pan ‘Herediatry’ on account of its low CinemaScore ranking.

I bring this up because contrarian opinions are one thing, and Randolph is no stranger to expressing that kind of opinion. Last year she named PT Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’ as the single worst movie of 2017. I admit I do find it baffling given that her criticism of the movie amounts to disliking the third act, and only really discussing that as grounds for her panning the film and subsequently naming it the worst film she saw over the course of 12 months. No mention other factors like the direction, the performances, the editing, the cinematography, the production design, the costume design or even how the narrative functioned up until the point at which she took issue. Seems pretty short sighted for a critic to not address this many aspects of filmmaking and not very persuasive in supporting the argument that you found this eloquent art film to be worse than the likes of ‘Transformers 5’, ‘The Emoji Movie’, Netflix’s ‘Death Note,’ ‘The Snowman’ any other widely derived movie from 2017.

As well as that, for someone who has amassed a following on the guise that she is a trusted opinion on the inner workings of the film industry, Randolph seems highly uneducated on the modern movie landscape. She places an unusual amount of stress on star power in a film industry that values established brands and franchises more than anything else. She criticised Jessica Chastain being added to the cast of the upcoming ‘IT: Chapter 2’ on the grounds that she had little box office draw. But to that I ask, why is star potential a relevant factor for the sequel to ‘IT’? The first movie had no significant star power at all and still found massive box office success. Does she really believe audiences who turned out in droves to support the first film and were once excited for the sequel will now be dissuaded on account of Jessica Chastain, to such a degree that they’ll refuse to see it in masses?  

However, as I said before this is merely opinion. Despite how much I take credence with Randolph and her method of reviewing cinema, I can’t criticise someone purely for holding opinions I happen to disagree with. Most of the time Randolph is a benign presence on the internet that I try to avoid. That being said I can’t be the only one who’s angry Randolph has a bigger following than Lindsay Ellis right?

But a bigger issue is what has transpired recently in regards to Randolph voicing her opinions to her mass following. I felt the need to extensively elaborate on how I view Randolph for the sake of context, so you know where I stand before I precede to go into a far more troubling and damaging side of her content beyond just poorly conveyed and ill-informed opinions. (She also didn’t like ‘La La Land’ put praised ‘Fant4stic’, I’m just throwing that out there, and you read into it how you see fit).

One subject dominating the news of film culture over the past few days has been the horrific treatment of Kelly Marie Tran via social media, in which she was bullied and harassed by…well some call them ‘Star Wars’ fans but I like to think a fan doesn’t use a film franchise as veil from which to exude sexist and misogynistic vitriol, to a point where Tran deleted her account on Instagram. It should be obvious to anyone that these trolls are despicable and hateful in a way that casts a shadow over the entire culture of fandom and should be opposed at all costs. Obvious to anyone it seems, except for a notable few, such as Grace Randolph.  

Many people within the online film community voiced their support for Tran and disdain for those that harassed her. On Twitter voices of support ranged from the likes of ‘Star Wars’ alumni such as Mark Hamill and Rian Johnson, to various YouTube film commentators like Dan Olson and Joe Starr. However as usual Randolph was the contrarian except this time she was unlucky enough to not be talking about something as trivial as an opinion regarding a movie.

Randolph addressed the news on a Twitch stream in which she argued that Kelly Marie Tran has brought this abuse upon herself. Her exact quote was:  

“The thing is with Kelly Marie Tran, it’s her fault and I think it’s also a little bit the people who made the movie, at fault. You bring someone like her into Star Wars who is so against what everyone wants in Star Wars, and you give her a silly hairstyle and you have her act in a very Tumblr sort of way that does not fit with Star wars whatsoever, of course there’s going to be a bad situation.”

So if you’re anything like me and you don’t where to even start with the outrage over this monstrosity of a statement featuring so many generalisations, misinformed opinions and outright disgusting attempt to justify harassment and bullying, let’s do our best. Firstly Randolph completely misses the point of the abuse itself, since it is mainly racially motivated. If this was just a case of fans disliking a character and being civil enough to accept their own personal grievances, bringing them up in a manner that was polite, then there would be no issue. But that’s clearly not what this is. If you dislike a character then that’s fine, but if you obsessively hate her very presence in the franchise to a point where you feel the need to harass the actor who portrayed her with racially motivated hate speech, then I can’t help but think you might be somewhat racist. And by “think” I mean “am sure of” and by “somewhat” I mean “extremely”.

Then there’s the curious fact that Randolph seems to be unaware that an actor doesn’t contribute to the way a character is written or styled. Kelly Marie Tran is reading lines that someone else wrote, in clothes that someone else told her to wear, with a “silly hairstyle” that someone else styled for her. There is no reason why she should be held accountable for any perceived flaws within the character. Tran had nothing to do with the way the character was conceived or how she functions within the plot of ‘The Last Jedi’.

But actually I have to take a slight issue with what I just said. Stating that the actor herself is not responsible for the character and therefore should not be the target of abuse creates a subtext that there is a target at all, or that the abuse of justified to be aimed at a target. There is no excuse for this level of vitriol over a movie. You aren’t owed anything as an audience member, you don’t have ownership over a piece of media made to entertain and you can’t dictate how the world should function. The idea that Randolph thinks there is any justifiable reason to lay fault on the filmmakers or Tran herself for the hatred that has been directed at them is simply disgusting. I don’t care how bad you perceived ‘The Last Jedi’ to be, no one with any semblance of human decency should be compelled to harass the filmmakers over their own personal grievances with something as trivial as a film.  

Yet despite this, Randolph just paves the way for that kind hatred. She looks for a way to justify and excuse it, either due to sheer idiocy or maybe she’s vile enough to realise that this kind of despicable behaviour puts her in the spotlight. Frankly I’m not sure which is less egregious. She’s made no effort to distance herself from the droves of racially motivated abuse hurled at Tran, and if anything has merely done the utmost to condone it. It saddens me that Randolph, as a woman, wants to condone the abuse another woman within the film industry has faced merely for having the audacity to exist within a franchise.

This is something I can’t help but notice consistently in Randolph’s content on YouTube. Obviously I can’t claim to have an understanding of her long term history of commenting on these issues because, well watching her videos is a form of torture to me, but I couldn’t help but note how regularly Randolph seeks to diminish and criticise women within the industry. In her movie reviews it’s so regularly the female actors who are singled out as having poor performances. It’s so often the female characters that are criticised for any number of reasons. In her review of Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ Randolph felt the film was inadequate for not giving an “explanation” as to why all of the main characters were women. In her recent review of ‘Ocean’s 8’ among an ensemble cast of almost exclusively women, the only performance she had anything positive to speak of was James Corden’s.

I mentioned Jessica Chastain and Randolph’s criticism of her earlier, which actually takes on an almost worrying obsession that she has with the actor. Randolph seemingly takes every solitary opportunity to criticise Chastain for any singular action the actor undertakes. She did the same thing to Felicity Jones throughout 2016, and a bizarre fixation on Gal Gadot’s physical appearance. Randolph singled out these women to repeatedly criticise them in ways that went beyond any simple lack of preference. Randolph’s demeanour genuinely makes her critique of these actors sound like an obsession, one that she never gives motivation or reason for. Does she dislike Chastain’s performances, her opinions, or her choice of roles? We don’t know.

But the deeper I went into looking up Randolph’s various derogatory statements the more sinister and genuinely disgusting it became. You can still put the above instances of criticising women to mere coincidence, and even then it is just subjective opinions regarding a movie after all. But occasionally Randolph strays into discussing more serious topics and that is when the tone deafness of her personality comes into play. Or at least I hope it is tone deafness because I don’t like to consider the notion that someone can be this vile deliberately.

So here are some of the highlights. Randolph once addressed the domestic violence accusations made by Amber Heard and chose to dismiss said accusations while strongly implying that they were an act of fabricated sabotage against her former husband’s movie, completely dismissing her as a potential victim of abuse. She’s also criticised women representing the #MeToo movement for wearing outfits that were “too revealing”. She chose to dismiss the accusations against James Franco and insisted that the actor being snubbed for a Best Actor nomination at the 90th Academy Awards was “unfair”. I guess she forgot why Casey Affleck had decided to withdraw from presenting that year because as it turns out being a man accused of sexual misconduct who still gets to receive a shiny reward sense a somewhat hostile message to their potential victims.

This is legitimately damaging. It goes beyond any difference of opinion or subjective thought. It displays a repeated pattern of victim blaming and choosing to dismiss any potential abuse as being the fault of the victim. The more you read into Randolph’s various comments about women and victims as a whole, the more you realise her shaming of Kelly Marie Tran is far from unexpected. It’s not even the first tone deaf insult she’s thrown towards a leading lady of ‘Star Wars’. When Carrie Fisher tragically died most of the internet offered condolences and stressed the importance of celebrating the life of this remarkable individual. Randolph decided to Tweet that Fisher’s death should “serve as a warning regarding drugs and alcohol addiction”.

To put this into context, Carrie Fisher is a woman who battled depression and anxiety for most of her life. Now upon her tragic passing, when the most people had the simple decency to acknowledge her amazing achievements and strength, Randolph used the actor’s death as a means to point out her weaknesses and failings. Maybe ask yourself why Fisher so often descended into substance abuse before you make a remark that, however unintentionally or not, to belittle her and frame her death as a cause of her own failings as a person.

But I’m not finished yet because neither was Randolph. She took to Twitter as a means to respond to the many voices who were rightly criticising her enabling of racially charged abuse. As well as condoning various users who responded that Tran’s situation and criticism of Randolph was just “SJW/political correctness gone mad”, Randolph took the time to make some racial generalisations of her own. When accused of enabling racism within the ‘Star Wars’ fanbase, Randolph’s baffling response was that “Black audiences don’t watch Star Wars because of the tokenism of Finn”.

Yeah, that’s it Grace. Try to claim that racism isn’t a problem whilst making gross generalisations on behalf of a race you have no right to represent. Despite being a talented actor with a proven track record on the big screen, John Boyega is nothing but “token” casting, because apparently if they’re not white and male, they’re tokens. Randolph is once more embodying the exact kind of casual racism she keeps insisting doesn’t exist.

Now I’ve rambled on for way too long, and in all honesty I don’t know what the purpose of this lengthy tirade was. Maybe I personally felt like I had to vent some pent up thoughts, or maybe I have some minutia of hope that this might spread awareness of how abuse and victim blaming can be enabled. I felt overwhelmed by the negativity and toxicity of fandom recently and wanted to use whatever platform I had to voice my opinion on it. Regardless, thank you for reading, this hasn’t been very fun. 

Bonus Round! Updates

So I’m well aware that I should probably just leave things there and resign to the fact that Randolph will likely go on spouting her nonsensical opinions on her platform. The sad thing is that now she seems to be deliberately tapping into a culture of bigotry and abuse to feed her audience she is likely to only become a bigger figure within that toxic subsection of the film community. In essence I can’t work out which is better, being prejudiced on a genuine level or wanting people to think you are prejudiced. 

So while this could be a never ending endeavour I feel like I need to rant about her latest offences for my own psychological catharsis. I was considering adding these to the original article so it flowed more seamlessly but I was then hit with the depressing notion that this might not be the first time I have to update this.

So Randolph has added to her resume of justifying abuse and harassment online as she offered “commentary” on the controversy surrounding Ruby Rose’s casting as Batgirl. Following a slew of hateful comments the actor deleted her Twitter account as a means to shut out the vindictive attacks. A move that is both unfortunate and completely understandable on Rose’s part given that anyone can sympathise with someone simply not wanting to subject themselves to vitriol for merely having the audacity to accept a role as an actor.

Anyone, it seems, except Randolph. She took to her Twitch stream to give this wonderful piece of advice:

“If you want to feel sorry for Ruby Rose then just go watch her performance in The Meg. Then you’ll be like, but how do you explain this Ruby? …. I also feel that for the most part it only seems to be women who quit social media and it’s like, suck it up.”

So if you think that seems eerily similar to Randolph’s approach to addressing the incident involving Kelly Marie Tran, then you would be right. What you are watching is a woman justifying online bullying and harassment on the grounds that if you don’t like the actor then you’re apparently completely vindicated in sending hateful comments at them to the point where they leave whatever platform it was they joined in the hopes of reaching out to their fans. She also takes the time to specify that it’s “mostly women” who quit and then lays the blame at them. Of course one could point to the fact that such an observation might be indicative of the toxic misogyny plaguing online fandom…or just frame it as a means to imply that it’s the women affected by this harassment who are to blame.

On top of that, Randolph recently launched into a tirade about the ethnicity of the voice cast behind Disney’s remake of ‘Lady and the Tramp’ in what she called “Race-bending gone mad”.  Now I get the sense that such a statement is so moronic I shouldn’t have to explain it. But for the sake of clarity, she’s complaining about the race of actors who are voicing anthropomorphic dogs. Repeat that to yourself in case you think you misread it. She is upset that fictional talking dogs are being voiced by a more diverse cast. Obviously I would not presume to accuse Randolph is either pandering to or harbouring somewhat, shall we say, racist views here. But then again that could be too quick to judge. After all she’s only saying that she would prefer this cast if they just happened to involve less racial diversity and were instead made up more of white people…..of wait….. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

2001: A Space Odyseesy - The Symmetry of Plot and Theme

I always like to think of movies having two separate stories. There’s the narration, and then there’s the narrative. Narration covers what is being told, and then the narrative covers how it is being told. Few movies have their narration and narrative in such synchronicity as Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. On the face of it this is a movie that shows some apes learning how to use a bone as a tool, then some astronauts finding a monolith, then a computer that goes wrong, and then a trippy light show. That’s the narration of this movie, and over those strange series of events Kubrick instils such meaning and mythic weight that the narrative covers the very essence of humankind, as well as far beyond that.

I understand that’s fairly hyperbolic but the fact is that entire essays have been written about the individual shots and edits of Kubrick’s film, so to try and cover every piece of potentially meaningful symbolism over this 141 minute work of art is neither original nor entirely possible. There’s so much to derive from ‘2001’ due to the sheer broadness of its themes and the magnitude of its ambition.

That being said though, at the same time there’s no wasted shot within the movie. No aspect of it exists for obligatory reasons. Every single frame of the movie has something to comment either upon the basic plot as it unfolds or the grander themes of what Kubrick is trying to say, but most of the time these shots speak to both of those aspects. Part of understanding the movie is understanding precisely what Kubrick wanted to achieve, but I think more than any basic allegory or symbol, ‘2001’ exists to be awe inspiring on the most fundamental level. You don’t need to grasp the metaphors behind each shot, but simple be capable of processing and absorbing them for their emotional weight.

Those shots in question are truly astonishing. Meticulously framed, artfully composed and painstakingly symmetrical. Each image communicates so much about the underlying themes of the film with barely a word spoken. The tranquil way in which the film depicts space travel is in stark contrast to the barren chaos of the Dawn of Man sequence. The mundanity of this technologically advanced life and what it implies about the way these human characters now interact with one another. It’s almost as if the slow pacing of the film and those long, lingering shots of empty space encourage the viewer to ponder over what they are witnessing.

Contrary to almost any other science fiction film, ‘2001’ doesn’t accompany its images of technology and space travel with music that echoes the beats of the visuals. Instead of enhancing the action of the scene, the classical music almost puts up yet another barrier to the viewer’s engagement in the moment. The music exists outside of the action and renders the visuals as part of some grander contemplation. When watching the film it’s hard to find yourself appreciating it both on a technical level and a thematic one. There’s a truly transcendent nature to those mesmerising special effects and the sublime music that accompanies them.

Just as so much of the film is dominated by incredible music, large portions of it are weighed with a heavy silence. There’s something about the emptiness of the film’s sound at certain points that evokes such a sense of fear or intrigue when Kubrick wishes it so. As a filmmaker Kubrick is often hailed for his ambiguity in storytelling but I think he is just as effective at manipulating his audiences through the ways that are unique to cinema. Without knowing anything about the monoliths anyone watching the film for the first time can still be struck by a sense of immense anticipation through the movie’s ominous accompanying music. Then there are those static close ups of HAL which have no sound save for some faint electrical hum and whose only image is that non-blinking artificial red eye, and yet that gives off a palpable mood of dread.

What exactly any audience is supposed to ponder is unspecific to say the least. But it’s that very ambiguity to ‘2001’ that makes the movie so remarkable, both in terms of its plot and themes. There are no easy answers to the many questions its story raises, from the origin and purpose of the monoliths, the reason behind HAL’s malfunction or what precisely Bowman experienced on his voyage beyond Jupiter. All of that is without even attempting to address the nature of the film’s iconic final shot. But just as the narration leaves much to be desired, so does the narrative. It’s almost impossible to assume exactly what Kubrick wanted to say with this film. Its themes of technology, evolution and humankind’s search for meaning in the cosmos are all heavy subjects that the film offers plenty of commentary on, with no solid answers.

There’s any number of ways ‘2001’ communicates said commentary. From the shot composition to the story structure, but perhaps most of all through the editing, it seeks to make its intent and message clear to the audience. The movie contains the most famous edit in the history of cinema, through a match cut between a primitive human’s tool and a highly advanced object in space. It’s the purest form of intellectual montage, deriving meaning from the collision of two unrelated objects. From the bone to the spaceship we go from the earliest tool to its most advanced, spanning millions of years in the process. Kubrick never explains precisely what the object floating through space is. It could be a tool, a weapon, or both. Just as the bone was a tool that became a weapon, so too could the object in space. Is there even a difference between the two terms?

You could look later into the film at HAL as further proof of this. Just as the super computer was once an object for the benefit of the astronauts, it suddenly becomes their greatest threat. Even in 1968 the notion of humankind’s destruction being one of our own making was nothing new, so HAL’s place within the story and what he represents isn’t a simple cautionary tale as much as it is an allegory from which the viewer can derive whatever they want to. After all Kubrick was never one to talk down to his audience or lecture them.

When ‘2001’ first premiered it divided critical opinion. One of the common ways in which its detractors would mock to the movie was to point out how the computer was the most humane character in the movie. Obviously there are absolutely correct in this observation, but miss that it is one of the central points which the movie is trying to make. Throughout the movie the interactions between the human characters seem stilted and artificial, more of a formality than anything else. Not only does this blur the line between man and machine but it also speaks volumes as to how in this future human interaction has been altered by the presence of technology. Good thing that hasn’t happened in reality, right…..

As I said earlier, Kubrick was never one to deliver some simplistic “technology is bad” message. Just as he observes the differences technology has made to human interaction he’s also keen to observe the ways in which the humans of the story are still in tune with their ancestors. As the astronauts approach the monolith on the moon the framing of the scene purposefully feels reminiscent of the primitive apes who approached the one on Earth.

The film also seems eager to note that it was only because of these technological advances that the humans were even able to reach the monolith on the moon in the first place. Perhaps that is another reason why it indulges on this technology for so many lengthy shots throughout the story. It’s through the achievement of space travel that humans make it to the moon and decipher that it is directing them further into space towards Jupiter, framing technology as a natural part of human’s evolution. But then to reach Jupiter the humans have to literally overcome the technology they themselves created, personified by HAL, in order to evolve further.  

The confrontation between HAL and Bowman that supposedly serves as this allegory for the relationship between humans and technology stands as a key example of what I was referring to when I said the content of ‘2001’ exists on two levels. None of the events that depict Bowman trying to overcome HAL is displayed in a traditionally action oriented manner. Kubrick’s camera is less static but that is essentially the biggest difference as the stakes continue to rise. On the one hand there is definitely an air of tension to Bowman’s struggle for survival, but more than that is the way in which the film seems more concerned with the broader thematic consequences of what is transpiring.

The most meaningful part of Bowman vanquishing HAL is the computer’s ominous voice that continues to try and converse with the human as he goes about shutting down his adversary. The computer begs for its life and confesses its fear of death, while the human methodically terminates it. Considering HAL’s mutiny against the human crew was preceded by Bowman and Poole contemplating shutting the computer down, one could argue that it was acting out of fear and self-preservation when it tried to eliminate them. There’s no triumphant or cathartic feeling to Bowman surviving, just more questions for the audience to ponder over.

So I could very easily give a specific interpretation of what everything in ‘2001’ means. There’s the notion of the monoliths acting as guides for humankind’s next stage of evolution that can push them to higher levels of intelligence, from apes to humans and then floating space babies. Perhaps they were planted by some alien entity that was testing humanity or observing them in some shape or form, and Kubrick could very easily have added that as an explanation if he wanted to. But to place any definitive meaning on the film would rob it of so much mystery and intrigue. Kubrick wanted to make a film that could stand as a work of art, one that spoke of humankind’s evolution and journey through the cosmos in a way that was unique to cinema. That theme is one that will never have a definitive answer, so why should anything attempting to address that theme be any different?