Pauline Kael‘s review of 2001: A Space Odyssey is so far removed from what almost everyone is convinced of….so far from the exalted rep that this 1968 film has enjoyed for decades — the general consensus that it’s not only masterful but cosmically spellbinding and even, on a certain level, a black no-laugh comedy — Kael was so far afield from this view it’s fascinating to read from an anthropological perspective. How could she have missed the import of this film so completely?

2001 is a movie that might have been made by the hero of Blow-Up, and it’s fun to think about Kubrick really doing every dumb thing he wanted to do, building enormous science fiction sets and equipment, never even bothering to figure out what he was going to do with them. Fellini, too, had gotten carried away with the Erector Set approach to movie-making, but his big science-fiction construction, exposed to view at the end of 8 and 1/2, was abandoned. Kubrick never really made his movie either but he doesn’t seem to know it.

“Some people like the American International Pictures stuff because it’s rather idiotic and maybe some people love 2001 just because Kubrick did all that stupid stuff, acted out a kind of super sci-fi nut’s fantasy. In some ways it’s the biggest amateur movie of them all, complete even to the amateur-movie obligatory scene—the director’s little daughter (in curls) telling daddy what kind of present she wants.

“The secondary title of Dr. Strangelove, which we took to be satiric, How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, was not, it now appears, altogether satiric for Kubrick. 2001 celebrates the invention of tools of death, as an evolutionary route to a higher order of non-human life. Kubrick literally learned to stop worrying and love the bomb; he’s become his own butt — the Herman Kahn of extraterrestrial games theory.

“The ponderous blurry appeal of the picture may be that it takes its stoned audience out of this world to a consoling vision of a graceful world of space, controlled by superior godlike minds, where the hero is reborn as an angelic baby. It has the dreamy somewhere-over-the-rainbow appeal of a new vision of heaven. 2001 is a celebration of cop-out. It says man is just a tiny nothing on the stairway to paradise, something better is coming, and it’s all out of your hands anyway. There’s an intelligence out there in space controlling your destiny from ape to angel, so just follow the slab. Drop up.

“It’s a bad, bad sign when a movie director begins to think of himself as a myth-maker, and this limp myth of a grand plan that justifies slaughter and ends with resurrection has been around before. Kubrick’s story line — accounting for evolution by an extraterrestrial intelligence — is probably the most gloriously redundant plot of all time. And although his intentions may have been different, 2001 celebrates the end of man; those beautiful mushroom clouds at the end of Strangelove were no accident.

“In 2001: A Space Odyssey, death and life are all the same: no point is made in the movie of Gary Lockwood’s death — the moment isn’t even defined — and the hero doesn’t discover that the hibernating scientists have become corpses. That’s unimportant in a movie about the beauties of resurrection. Trip off to join the cosmic intelligence and come back a better mind. And as the trip in the movie is the usual psychedelic light shows the audience doesn’t even have to worry about getting to Jupiter. They can go to heaven in Cinerama.”