Great Debate #1: Why does 2001: A Space Odyssey have no story?

odyssey1Many critics have said that 2001: A Space Odyssey has no story and it is a movie where literally nothing happens.  I’m not too sure about this reasoning, as the movie has many themes, most of which are carried throughout the entire length of the film, such as man versus technology, the idea of aliens influencing evolution, and the destiny of man.  None of these are given in a literal way however, and I think that is where much of the trouble lies with people who say that nothing happens.

Nobody comes out and explains just what the heck is going on and there is no exposition or dialogue explaining what is happening in this movie, not in a literal sense anyway.  People have a problem with that.  Dr. Heywood Floyd begins the investigation of the mysterious Monolith, but we’re not told just what his beliefs are or how they relate to the mystery.  People have a problem with that too.  In fact, no one’s beliefs about the Monolith really come through and any beliefs are secondary to the struggle against a technology like HAL.  No character in the movie knows what is really going on and this seems to mirror the audience’s confusion with the plot.  People really hate not being given any exposition whatsoever and this movie doesn’t cater to them.  That’s probably the biggest problem of all.


Can you picture this typical review:  “What’s going on?!? Why won’t this movie tell me what’s going on?!? What’s that stupid thing mean?  I don’t know cause the movie won’t tell me! ARRGGH! This movie sucks!”

While acceptable in the school of whining, this “criticism” isn’t actually a review.  Still, the movie is incomprehensible if your definition of incomprehensible is a lack of exposition or plot details.  Anyway, it does take over 50 minutes to even get some semblance of character dialogue, so there is that.  However, the reason for a lack of traditional moviemaking details is not because this movie is bad.  No, it is on purpose, which does not make this movie good, just different.  Let’s get this straight:  this movie has no plot.  It has no character development.  It has pretty pictures, great music, and an impressive character in HAL.  Even though that sounds like I’m saying this movie is shit, it’s not.  I like this film.  It just isn’t about anything.

I have read elsewhere that the reason that this movie is so disjointed and incomprehensible is that Stanley Kubrick wanted to “change the form” as it relates to making a movie and presenting themes in a motion picture.  It is certainly different from any other movie, but many critics claim that it is so simplistic that anyone could have produced it. This could be true, but it was well-accepted in its time as a technical achievement never before seen.  The effects were renown, but receive less credit today.  I remember when the sequel came out and was not exactly as well-praised as 2001.  Why? 2010 has everything 2001 does not have.  2010 has exposition.  It has character development.  It has endless amounts of dialogue and character conflict.  I think it lacks style though.  It lacks Stanley Kubrick.  Literally every shot in 2001: A Space Odyssey is gorgeous and probably intricately planned out.  2010 does not have this.  2010 is a generic science fiction thriller and not an attempt to push the boundaries of anything.  It is not a bad movie, but I have never, EVER read anyone say that 2010 ranks better than 2001 and I’ve never, EVER read anyone say 2010 is amongst the most thought-provoking movies ever.

odyssey2Critics argue that Stanley Kubrick meant to “change the form” by making the audience think about themes, in the same way we look at a painting using our own individual insight.   Steven Spielberg confirmed this in his talks with Kubrick and said so in an interview I saw once.  With this in mind, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a thematic piece for individual interpretation with no plot or dramatic pew-pew on purpose.   Still more critics say that this sort of presentation is stupid.  If a person wanted to look at a picture to inspire thought, they’d go to a museum.  This response implies that movies are supposed to have some sort of inherent structure, such as one with a beginning, middle, and end.  Are all movies supposed to have the same form?  The fact that 2001 does not adhere to any rigid definition is pretty brave and I like that.  Does a movie require a story to really be called a movie? On one hand, it is very well shot and mesmerizing to watch, but on the other hand, this movie is very pedantic and merely raises questions for the sake of raising questions.

odyssey3Also, 2001: A Space Odyssey “changes the form” so much that there isn’t much of the form left.  All those who call this movie a huge influence and a masterpiece of film are fooling themselves.  Other directors have copied shots and taken Kubrick’s serious presentation of science fiction as an influence for their movies, but nobody has EVER copied story elements, the tone, or the structure of 2001.   And that’s the problem.

 There is no one in the world that knows what this movie is about but Stanley Kubrick.  Not even the writer of the novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” can truthfully give any insight into this movie.  However, that doesn’t mean 2001 is stupid.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think it is a great film, but all those claiming that they know what this movie is about are deluded.  All the websites “explaining” this film are fooling themselves.  No one knows what this movie is REALLY about except Stanley Kubrick.  Is that bad?  I’m not sure.  I know one thing though: if anyone or anything could raise questions as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey, there would be 1,000 movies just like it.  And there aren’t.

odyssey5I’ve heard a lot of people attack this movie more for its slow pacing than the absence of a story, but I figure there are movies of all types.  I think the movie achieves what it set out to do: to get people to watch it and think about it.  I cannot even begin to count how many internet posts about 2001 there are questioning this movie, analyzing it, and/or calling it crap.  lol.  There are whole websites criticizing this movie, as I said before.  Nobody I know critiques Casablanca or a Hitchcock movie this way, so I dunno, it must have succeeded in some way.  To me, the movie succeeds because of its style, its music, and its technical achievement.  Because of this, the story elements become almost secondary, which is really quite a feat for a movie, but I love the Hal parts of this movie.  I can accept the minor amounts of confusing story that we DO get given its visual presentation style.  I’m not sure that is enough for other people, which is why 2001: A Space Odyssey will remain the most talked about and critically acclaimed science fiction movie ever.

Have a different opinion? Leave a comment!