To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, EW asked numerous filmmakers how the movie impacted them and inspired them, and whether it has stood the test of time. In response, Alfonso Cuaron penned a short essay, posted here in full, about the first time he saw the film and how it has stayed with him.
I saw 2001: A Spacey Odyssey for the first time when I was a teenager. I had read the Arthur C. Clark novel and was looking forward to seeing the film. I saw it in a cine-club (we still had those then) in a so-so 35 mm projection. From the first frame I felt I was witnessing something transcendental (next time I had that experience was a couple of years later discovering Tarkovsky). I recognized that it was a film that was challenging you, with its pace and its obliqueness.
I also recognized that I was witnessing an unattainable benchmark, a film composed in thematic, non-textual motives that attacked in a purely cinematic way with some of the fundamental metaphysical questions in many of its categories. At the end, like these questions, the answer is mystery.
Walking out of the film, on the way to a party (there was always a party at the end of a Saturday cine-club night), I argued with my friends who had found the film boring. The party was dull, and 2001: A Space Odyssey had, for me at least, spoiled most science-fiction films thereafter.
I have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey many times throughout my life, and when the notion of Gravity took shape, I watched every non-fantasy space film I could find. I revisited many, some brilliant, but I consciously decided not to revisit 2001: A Space Odyssey as I knew that it would paralyze me. I used to joke that it would be like taking a shower next to Dirk Diggler. A year after Gravity I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again and I was so glad I didn’t do it before.
Even if I was trying not to think about Dirk, err 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s clear that its ghost was haunting me. Even if I was trying to only reference real footage from space, it’s clear that the ghost of 2001: A Space Odyssey was haunting me. With his obsessive attention to detail and meticulous research, Kubrick was replicating reality but by doing this he was creating a new reality. It’s impossible not to see a floating object and not to think of the biro pen in the Pan Am shuttle, not to think of Sandra Bullock floating away into the void without referencing Frank Poole’s spiral into the abyss. I was aware of the image of Ryan Stone in fetal position because rebirth was a main theme of the film, but isn’t rebirth also the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey with its beautiful ending of the star child?
The sparse dialogue and use of silence in Gravity, it’s not only a legacy of 2001, it is a legacy of all Kubrick’s work that, like many other film masters, believe in the power of cinema as an experience that can convey themes through its own language (dialogue being one of its tools, as shown by some other Masters [Hawks, Rohmer, Bergman, etc.]).
In 1968, when the film was released, 2001: A Space Odyssey was ahead of its time. Today, 50 years on, it’s still ahead of our time with its thematic complexity, its technical purity, its faith in cinema, its prophetic wisdom, and its beauty all wrapped up in the elusive cloak of mystery.