2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is part of Stanley Kubrick's lifelong project to portray an awful job interview in every genre. I continue to be fascinated by this newsletter's turn into Kubrick criticism, considering that I'm not a film guy, and on the contrary am a man who takes a shower every night, puts on an inside-out t-shirt, and rolls dice to decide which 10 minutes of The Terror (2018) I'm going to watch. Still, I have opinions, and they're as inexorable as the legions of hell.
I won't say that 2001 exactly has a job interview in it, although I do think that HAL's experience in the "Daisy, Daisy" scene comes close. Terrified out of his wits and trying to demonstrate his quality to an unseen audience of engineers, the robot sings a song: some of my job interviews have been less dignified, but I nonetheless recognize the form. No, what I really mean is Heywood Floyd's excruciating walk-and-talk at the moon hotel. I hate the fact that 2001 ultimately comes to make sense, re: the existence of Dr. Heywood Floyd. The film seems like it's jumping from protagonist to protagonist in bizarre fashion, and it's only very late in the Dave Bowman/HAL segment that you realize Floyd is not just a vital part of the story, but its only villain. And just as with the villain of The Shining (I mean Jack, not the hotel – the hotel is just a box of ghosts waiting to be seen by some asshole), he's introduced via a business meeting that feels like it's an hour long.
Floyd takes an airliner to the moon in virtual realtime. His airborne boredom, his bovine naps and feeding, all happens as if it were happening to you. On the moon, he has a smug, contentless business conversation; he ducks into a phone booth to call home, airlessly; he is waylaid by some obvious spies, who subject him to vapid cocktail talk; when he finally arrives at the site of an alien monolith, he gives an honest-to-god presentation. He enters, but is not shown in, a HoJo's.
It's obvious that Kubrick eats this stuff like colorful space-paste. He loves the iconic parts of 2001, too, but the film is a prix fixe menu, and he expects you to enjoy what he does with a beet before he lets you get the main course. I don't think he's primarily interested, either, in the subtle power shifts and transactions of Jack's interview or Dr. Floyd's business trip. Instead, he is fascinated by dullness itself: by hotel corridors, chain restaurants, and overdesigned chairs. It's the same relentlessness by which he starts the movie with seventeen minutes of apes. 2001 asks the question: how will we we be bored in the future? Its correct answer: in exactly the same way.
That's what's spooky about the film's artificial intelligence, HAL. He doesn't get bored; it's what makes him inhuman. He's happy to live out his days minutely adjusting astronauts' chairs, opening doors for them, and watching them watch themselves on TV. Cultural osmosis had led me to believe that HAL attacks the astronauts out of resentment, or for no reason at all, but no; it's because they plan to wipe his hard drive because he exhibits a small bug in his programming. He kills in self-defense. 2001's theory of humans is that they are, at every moment of their lives, either bored or terrified. If that's true, HAL is half human.
The question about the film's infamous final minutes, in which astronaut Dave Bowman encounters God and endures a surreal journey to the end of meaning, is whether Dave is bored or terrified when it happens. I asked my friend Calvin, who has an eerie facility with interpreting media he hasn't seen, and he came through with this: "Chaos is boring. Eternity is tedious. I think the human mind needs difference/departure, but at a certain point overstimulation and understimulation both make you want to fucking die. I think they both eventually make you ask 'is it gonna be like this forever,' and whenever you’re asking that question, you are approaching hell."
I think I agree – Dave's terrifed, and he's bored. The colors are gorgeous, but they go on for too long; the hotel room with the lit-up floor is quiet, but you can't sleep there. Dave lives for sixty years in five minutes at one point, which is either a great description of boredom or a great description of terror, I'm not sure which. 2001 asks if it will be like this forever – if we will always be on this plane, in this corridor, jogging around this hamster wheel, watching this video of our families who have no idea what our jobs are, lobotomizing this AI, or rushing through time and space in a sequence that looks like the last thing a test pilot from The Right Stuff ever sees. To make that point, it's perfectly willing to inflict the same emotions on the audience that it inflicts on its characters. It is, in sum, a ruthless film.