"I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience ans is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension...
"I think one of the areas where 2001 succeeds is in stimulating thoughts about man's destiny and role in the universe in the minds of people who in the normal course of their lives would never have considered such matters. Here again, you've got the resemblance to music; an Alabama truck driver, whose views in every other respect would be extremely narrow, is able to listen to a Beatles record on the same level of appreciation and perception as a young Cambridge intellectual, because their emotions and subconscious are far more similar than their intellects. The common bond is their subconscious emotional reaction; and I think that a film which can communicate on this level can have a more profound spectrum of impact than any form of traditional verbal communication."
-Stanley Kubrick (The Film Director as Superstar, 1970, reprinted in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews)
I picked that book up today at the library on a whim, months after listening to a thoroughly fascinating interview with Kubrick from the early 1960s (I can't locate the link at the moment, but will post it when I can). Needless to say, only a few interviews in, it's a fascinating read.
Kubrick is one of the few guys who can get away with saying a) that 2001 is exactly as important and profound as he claims, and b) that an Alabama truck driver and a young Cambridge intellectual would have the same level of appreciation about anything. He's not wrong, that's not what I'm saying; rather that, because he never went to college, and learned everything entirely on his own or through direct interactions with other people, he has a foundation for believing a truck driver and a Cambridge intellectual could think the same way about anything. Not that one's reaction is more valid than the other's, but because of life experiences, the odds that they would approach any sort of art the same way are extremely thin.
BUT...Kubrick's also smart enough to know that when film is at its absolute best, it has the capacity to reach anybody, regardless of background. That film, when it's working purely within its own terms (that is, visually and non-verbal auditory), requires no intellectual background, only an open mind. Anybody can understand 2001: A Space Odyssey, because even though it's bolstered by a background in philosophy, theology, and computer science, it is absolutely capable of delivering on a visceral level, and stir the same areas of thought in anyone of any given background. Assuming you come to it with an open mind, you can't help but walk away from 2001 thinking about the universe and man's place in it and a billion other things, even if you can't fully form those thoughts.
I'm working on some best-of-the-decade stuff, and looking through it now, it made me realize just how unique Kubrick was. Because nobody will ever make a movie like 2001 again, never mind making it a movie many people would bother to see. The Fountain drew a lot of comparisons, but much as I love that movie, it's not nearly as BIG as 2001 is, and comparatively addresses a rather narrow area of thought. Really, how many films speak to such fundamental concerns the way 2001 does? This isn't to say "things were better back then," because they were as shitty just as often as they are now, but more to illustrate how wonderfully singular Kubrick was.
Needless to say, if you haven't seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, for God's sake, do it. Inspired by all this, I'll be watching it again shortly, probably this weekend, as my girlfriend has yet to see it. And she must.
(Although, all things considered, Barry Lyndon is still my favorite of his films)