2001: Space Odyssey Turns 50

Dan Richter was high on a combination of heroin and cocaine when he donned a monkey suit and mimed beating an adversary to death with a bone.

“Cut,” yelled Stanley Kubrik.

It was the set of the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and to play the role of an ape for the opening archetypal “Dawn of Man” sequence of his science-fiction space classic the director cast Richter, a professional mime, who had spent hours at the London Zoo preparing for his part.  At the time, Richter was under professional medical care for a debilitating drug addiction that required he shoot up narcotics seven times a day, but audiences who saw the movie’s premiere in 1968 were unaware, mesmerized by a deeper meaning behind his character’s antics that foreshadowed a broad understanding of Man’s relationship with the universe.

Or didn’t.

It’s been 50 years and audiences are still pondering exactly what message director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke were aiming for.  Clarke tried to explain in a follow-up novel “2010,” to little acclaim, and Kubrick refused to say. History records the script didn’t have an ending. It was improvised. Following up on an idea of Clarke’s, the pair sent lead character astronaut David Bowman through a portal to a bedroom where he ages, dies and is reborn as a fetus floating above earth.  Who knows what that means?

What has lingered with contemporary audiences are memories of HAL 9000, a self-taught computer programmed with Artificial Intelligence that controls the Discovery spaceship and the destiny of its occupants, ultimately killing most of the crew when its prime mission of honest evaluation conflicts with the dishonest reality at hand. HAL can’t lie, but it can kill.  And if you think life imitates art, you can pull up your Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa, or Apple’s Siri, and ask for more details. In a friendly, soft, calm human voice, the computer will tell you all about HAL.

Your artificial intelligence directed software can also find examples of the film’s acclaim as one of the greatest movies ever made.

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