I think I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Nuart when I was like 14, because my Dad was really into taking us to see revivals of films that "need to be seen on the big screen" (Lawrence of Arabia was another memorable one).
At the time, I remember being shocked, shocked at how long it was. I thought they should have just skipped right to the space stuff, and I kind of shamefully, in my secret heart, still feel that way. I mean, at the very LEAST, the middle part in the space station that's full of weird cold-war exposition could go.
But each time I watch it, I like it more, and have more patience with it. However, I never felt that I had a strong grasp on what it was actually about. I mean, it's about evolution, and a monolith on the moon that makes a painful ringing noise, and a computer that kills people. But especially the part where he goes into the wormhole or whatever, I think it's really cool, but I have thrown up my mental hands and admitted that I have no idea what that's about (and why his aging self lives in a weird Hearst-like castle, and what the deal is with the space-fetus).
I always suspected it was one of those movies that doesn't have an "explanation" per se...it's just kind of metaphorical and mysterious and not everything has a meaning. But I was wrong, because Stanley Kubrick breaks it down like it's the most obvious thing ever in a 1969 interview:
"You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man's first baby steps into the universe -- a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there's a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.
When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he's placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man's evolutionary destiny.
That is what happens on the film's simplest level. Since an encounter with an advanced interstellar intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself."
Oh, THAT's what that is. Actually, I am not even kidding, this clears up a lot of things.
Let's look at some pictures from the movie!