It’s easy to imagine an alternative universe where 2001: A Space Odyssey is a cult oddity, a largely-forgotten curio. Where Kubrick’s iconic sci-fi was met with mystified reactions to its glacial pace and its puzzling, almost religious narrative. That universe is perhaps more plausible than our own, where this thoroughly weird, elliptical film is an unquestioned member of the modern film canon – ranked sixth by critics and second by directors in the latest Sight & Sound poll.
2001 is an impressive achievement, demonstrative of Kubrick’s fastidious, inimitable command over the look and feel of his films. It’s hard to deny the audacity of cutting from the dawn of man to centuries into the future, the sumptuous beauty of the gentle ballet as spaceships weave amongst one another or the enigmatic power of the final sequence, which ascends through and then transcends human existence.
I have boundless respect for 2001 but after two viewings it still holds me at arm’s length, never truly engaging me. Its critical acclaim ensures that I’ll be revisiting it in the future, but part of me wonders if this is a cult film that happens to have a very large cult; one I may never join.