The Uncomfortable Silence of Space

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely heralded as one of the most seminal pieces of science fiction ever seen on the big screen. I feel like I’m the last person on Earth to have watched this film. I feel like I missed the world’s greatest party. All of my friends talk about it. Friends of friends talk about it. This year I put an end to this by allocating a few hours of the night to watch it.

Embarking on a journey of immense proportion, it seemed apropos to see a space movie in the blackness of night. Lights switched to the off position, I put away my iPhone and inserted the Blu-Ray disc. I waited. The eerie music commenced and my eyes were veiled in darkness. A couple of minutes elapsed and I then I began to worry that the Blu-Ray player in my PlayStation had packed it in. I removed the disc from the player and began to check for scratches or grooves that would otherwise cause a playback issue—there were none. I suspected that perhaps this awkward silence may have been intentional after all. Sure enough, after doing some searching on Amazon, I read some comments from others that confirmed my belief.

This isn’t intended as a review of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but more like passing commentary and observations. At a run time of 160 minutes, by modern day standards, it’s not an exceedingly long picture. Perhaps by 1968 standards, it was. The pacing seems slow at first, but having seen it in its entirety, it builds just the right amount of unsettling silence and tension in all the areas that count.

2001 is bereft of dialogue, but it makes up for it in ambiance. Often minutes at a time, all the viewer may hear is mechanical noise or heavy breathing. This was not easy for me to see. Why do I need to watch a mundane docking sequence that lasts for minutes at a time? Modern day cinema has spoiled me with its over abundance of explosions and lack of depth, thoughtfulness, ambiance, and contemplative elements.

I get it now. It’s all deliberate. Through uncomfortable silence, you become unnerved. Kubrick puts you right in the boots of those astronauts as best as he can, by eliminating unnecessary sound effects and superfluous music. Kubrick didn’t need to compensate for lack of atmosphere, nor build artificial tension with music; you felt it because every scene that appears mundane is equally important as the crucial plot points.

I don’t think I’ve quite parsed all of the nuances of this film on the first watch and suspect it will take many more before it does.