2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, for the very first time

  • Contributed by Stacy Brick, guest programmer of our family-friendly SUNDAY SCHOOL series.
  • In an interview about the “unrestoration” of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, director Christopher Nolan talked about seeing the film for the first time at age 7. “I had the extraordinary experience of being transported in a way that I hadn’t realized was possible. The screen just opened up and I went on this incredible journey,” he said. Movies have changed quite a bit since 1977 (when Nolan saw the film), but 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is still a rarity. I was planning to take my 10-year-old son to see the film, but after reading this I figured I would take my 7-year-old daughter along as well.

    I’m the programmer for the AFS Sunday School series, so my kids have seen a wide range of films. I would like to think that the foundation prepared them for this moviegoing experience. They’ve seen films like THE RED TURTLE—with no dialogue, and THE YELLOW SUBMARINE—with trippy visuals and groovy music. When I told them we were going to see a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie my son reminded me that AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR was just as long and they made it through that with no problem.


    Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty of “I can’t sit for 2 more hours,” and “We need to go home,” but all in all they did pretty well. Watching a movie like this with children can often bring you out of the experience, but there were a few moments during the film that were enhanced by their commentary. My son caught a movie reference that would have slipped right by me. When the camera was panning over the Discovery One he said, “It’s just like in SPACEBALLS!” (That one was not a Sunday School selection.) During the psychedelic sequence in the “Beyond”, my daughter kept saying, “Whoa!” in my ear each time the film cut to a new scene. It was pretty great if you ask me.   

    They have not, however, seen a movie as ambiguous and open-ended as 2001 so the final scenes were the focus of our discussion after the film. Both kids wanted to know how it ended. My son asked, “What was baby Jesus doing there at the end?” They talked it out for a while and we came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a correct answer.  They seemed OK with that, along with the possibilities it opened up.


    The first time I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was on VHS at a slumber party—I was 8. What I mainly remember from the experience is laughing at the “Dawn of Man” portion at the beginning. We all thought the apes were silly and found the part when the bone is thrown in the air and you’re suddenly transported into space particularly amusing. I don’t think we stuck around for the whole movie—more than likely we switched to something else.

    Upon entering the theater this weekend I struggled to remember if I had ever seen the film in its entirety—and I still can’t determine that for sure—but something strange happened during the film for me. When the rapid strings and chorus of voices filled the theater during the encounter with the monolith on the moon I immediately recognized the sounds from my childhood nightmares. Quite literally: when I was 8, I had an episode of night terrors featuring hallucinated audio. Turns out it was straight from this film; it was hiding somewhere in my brain and was unearthed while I sat in the theater.


    Neither of my kids had a transformative experience like Nolan’s—at least not one they can put their finger on now. Perhaps it needs to percolate in their subconscious for a few decades.

    • Contributed by Stacy Brick, guest programmer of our family-friendly SUNDAY SCHOOL series.

    Check out the new 4K “Unrestoration” of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for yourself, screening at the AFS Cinema through September 7th.

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