The Issue of Identity: A How-To Guide by Fatih Akin

In the early 1960’s there was an influx in immigration to Germany as guest workers. People from Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, and other countries began pouring into the country to take advantage of the abundant work opportunities. Eventually, these immigrants had children who grew up culturally and socially as German while still retaining their parents’ traditions. The immigration that took place led to the creation of fluctuating border zones as well as notions of identity as these children were tied to both Germany and, in the case of Fatih Akin, Turkey. Akin is the son of Turkish immigrants and was born in Hamburg. This duality of identity is frequently explored throughout his films that are often autobiographical in nature as he deals with this “tricky balancing act that shapes the existence of people like himself who juggle more than one language, tradition, and set of codes”. Akin often uses broad, recurring themes such as travel, identity, and multiculturalism, all which are enhanced by the use of music, to reconsider and reconcile what it means to belong. These themes and devices are exemplified by his films In July (2000) and Head-On (2004), through which Akin is able to explore a fluid cultural identity within the transnational spaces of the twenty-first century while redefining German identity in the film industry.

Places in Akin’s films are most often connected by the plotline, as opposed to geography or politics. This is achieved through the theme of travel. For In July, the protagonist Daniel embarks on a road trip with Juli, a free-spirited woman who plays a part in setting him on the journey, to Istanbul in search of who he believes to be his true love. The romantic comedy follows Daniel and Juli’s developing love relationship, which is central to the film’s story. Along the way Daniel meets a variety of characters and has many cross-cultural experiences. The theme of travel helps to create a sense of fluid borders where boundaries have been dismantled so that these cross-cultural encounters and alliances can occur. The use of the road trip in the plot of In July highlights the relatively short distance between Germany, the heart of Europe, and Turkey, which remains on the periphery. In this way, Akin’s film becomes slightly politicized, especially when considered in the debate over Turkey’s integration into the European Union. However, the story of In July focuses more on the deconstruction of fixed national identities. As Daniel and Juli make their way across Europe, crossing borders freely, they are also overriding the idea of rigidly defined boundaries and identities of nations based solely on language, culture, or ethnicity. For example, about halfway through the film, Daniel meets Luna, a mysterious woman driving a military jeep along a dirt road, there is a close-up shot of the back of the vehicle as they drive away. This shot reveals Luna’s national origins as Yugoslavia, but even more significant is the red “Ex” spray-painted over the sticker. Akin uses this to situate the film within an international framework by confronting Europe with its former East. Europe’s own identity is in flux, calling into question what exactly constitutes Europe. This ties in to the autobiographical nature of Akin’s body of work, dealing with the idea of a more hybrid or fluid identity influenced by many places and cultures instead of a fixed identity with set boundaries.

A narrative element that also lends itself to Akin’s exploration of identity is the focus on multiple, sometimes conflicting traditions. This is most evident in the film Head-On, a dark melodrama about two Turkish-Germans who are brought together by fate. This film is the first installment in Akin’s “Love, Death, and the Devil” trilogy. But more importantly is the way Head-On exposes the psychological strain of mixing cultures and what happens when Turkish-Germans do not adhere to cultural expectations. Sibel and Cahit, the two main protagonists, struggle with this very problem of living up to the expectations associated with being a German born Turk. On one hand, Cahit denies both German and Turkish culture, commenting to Sibel that he has all but abandoned his Turkish side. His apartment is decorated with posters of bands representing his subcultural tastes. On the other hand, Sibel is forced to adhere to the rituals and traditions of her Turkish family but seeks sexual freedom. As a result, they engage in a fake marriage as a form of mutual escape. The wedding scene exemplifies the expectations of Sibel and Cahit and how they comply to yet disregard them. For the protagonists, the wedding is only a show. They engage in the replay of rituals as a ruse for Sibel’s family. This is underscored by the shot of Sibel and Cahit taking lines of coke as the wedding continues on in the background. Also, their delirious, drug-induced dance anticipates their later interaction when they dance to a punk-rock tune in Cahit’s apartment shouting, “Punk is not dead!”. Inevitably, the couple ends up becoming emotionally reliant on each other, failing in their fake marriage and their attempt to escape adherence to both German and Turkish conventions. In the end, when Cahit and Sibel reconnect in a final sexual encounter, their physical transformations become a façade for their rebellion, indicating their failure to defy conventions as they are forced to re-assimilate into society’s social norms.

Creating a sense of character is a central focus in Akin’s films. The stories become personal and serve as insights into the lives of these fictional characters but also more generally the lives of immigrants dealing with a dual or mixed identity. The use of music in Head-On provides additional insight into the emotional and mental states of the main characters. For instance, at each critical transition point in the film, A Turkish chorus introduces and obliquely comments on the story. They are arranged in a line with their backs to the Bosporus River and performing for the camera. The chorus enhances the visual storytelling of the film by calling attention to important themes or elements of Sibel and Cahit’s struggle. Also, the soundtrack throughout the film is also in conversation with the characters, emphasizing certain aspects of images and content. In the beginning of the film, as Cahit attempts suicide by driving head on into a brick wall, the dark and moody sounds of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You” echoes his unstable mental and emotional state. Music is employed again in a later scene when Sibel has finally realized her love for Cahit. The melancholic, bittersweet sounds of Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” accompanies Sibel as she is shown laughing and smiling, enjoying the thrills of amusement park rides. Music as a theme also occurs in relation to Sibel and identity in the digital age. In the scene directly following Cahit defending Sibel’s honor and accidentally killing a man, Akin contrasts close-ups of Sibel with a CD. The song that plays is Turkish, which speaks to Sibel’s family background and belonging to that culture. However, the CD also represents a new notion of identity in the digital era as one that transcends national borders. Sibel’s identity is a clash between her Turkish and German backgrounds; it is one that exists without borders because she does not identify as neither Turkish nor German but both. As Mine Eren argues in her essay on cosmopolitan filmmaking, the use of the CD “demonstrates the easy access to global culture and the transformation of national subjects into ‘hyperlinked’ individuals”. The use of international music, coming from Turkish, German, and American backgrounds for instance, in the soundtrack relates the characters of Sibel and Cahit to a bigger picture on transnational identity in a time when crossing borders has become an inherent part of immigrant experiences. As the shot of Sibel and the CD suggests, identity has expanded beyond national borders.

The reception of Akin’s films within Germany often ranges from an emphasis on his Turkish-German background to praise for the European dimension of his work. However, his films work within a broader context of German cinema that contributes to redefining how Germany is seen in the global arena. As a result of the guest worker program initiated in the 1960s, Germany has inevitably become a country of immigration. In correspondence with this, films often celebrate differences of those living in Germany, with a strong emphasis on successful integration into German mainstream culture by assimilation. Akin’s films fit into this context of German culture by moving beyond stereotyped or clichéd representations of immigrants to address broader human questions about love, pain, or self-discovery. For instance, In July deals with issues of border crossing within Europe, finding love, and for Daniel the road trip serves as a moment of self-discovery. Similarly, Head-On can be described as a “Turkish drama in Germany” but also deals with topics that could take place in any location because it deals with universally human issues actuated by the Otherness of the protagonists. Akin’s films, exemplified by In July and Head-On in this case, contribute to the changing notion of German cinema by creating a cinema of migration that is defined by the hybridity of the characters.

Akin often emphasizes the autobiographical nature of his films while also drawing attention to their status as a work of fiction as well. He draws on the familiar in order to create stories about outsiders, love and loss, as well as self-discovery in a world characterized by immigration, border crossing, and fluid identities. His characters seem to be perpetually on the move, either crossing borders or vacillating between identities. Drawing on the familiar from his own life, Akin places his characters in the same world, which is most evident in a shot from In July of a road sign pointing in opposite directions to Hamburg and Istanbul. He resists any notion of a fixed identity through this road sign by showing both aspects of his identity competing and intersecting in a single representative space.

How to be a Successful Don Corleone (or Die Trying)

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Francis Ford Coppola juxtaposes the stories of Michael and Vito Corleone explicitly in The Godfather: Part II by alternating flashback scenes of a young Vito with the present, showing Michael coming into power as the new Don. Through the contrasting use of lighting and costume, in regards to each of the Dons, Michael becomes a cold-blooded businessman while Vito remains true to his Sicilian roots.

The rise and fall of both Michael and Vito is told through the epic story of the Corleone family. Lighting plays a significant role in capturing the different characters of each of the Dons, which creates a clear juxtaposition between their stories. An example illustrating this is a comparison of Michael and Vito in their office as Don. Vito Corleone is introduced in the opening scene of The Godfather meeting with a minor, rather unimportant character, Amerigo Bonasera. The film opens with a close up on Bonasera, and as the camera slowly pulls away, Vito’s office comes into view. It is a dark and sinister room, draped in shadows from the low-key lighting, with figures looming in the background, barely visible as only a hand is seen or a voice is heard. There is a sense given of the business-like atmosphere of the office as well as the threatening nature of the business itself which Vito is head of. When Vito finally appears on the screen, he is also in shadow, consistent with the lighting in the rest of the room. His eyes are hidden by the shadows and the soft warm lighting highlights his facial features. In contrast to this, the scene immediately following this meeting takes place outside at Connie’s wedding. Vito is shown with his family surrounding him, gathered together to take a family photo. The daylight provides natural high-key lighting to illuminate the celebratory event. The contrast between the different lighting used in correspondence to Vito suggests the separation between his business and his family life. As it is revealed throughout the rest of the movie, family is very important to Vito, and this separation becomes a very important aspect of his character.

On the other hand, at the end of the film, Michael takes over as Don of the Corleone family in an act of extreme violence. While Michael’s order to kill off the other Dons of the rival families in New York is enacted, he attends the baptism of Connie’s son, renouncing sin to become the boy’s godfather. The crosscutting between these two events highlights Michael’s rise to power and the simultaneous fall of his morality. Close-ups of Michael reiterate this point even more. With his face completely in shadow, Michael has renounced any attempt to break free from the illegitimate business of the Corleone family. Since this is revealed at a significant family event, the separation between business and family no longer exists for Michael who has completely immersed himself in the underworld of criminal activity. This is again underscored in The Godfather: Part II as Michael struggles with making the family business a legitimate one. The flashback scenes of young Vito building the business and his family as an immigrant in New York call for a contrast to the story of Michael expanding the business and destroying his family. His continuous commitment to the business conflicts with family, which brings down the barrier between each part of Michael’s life. For instance, in the sequence of Anthony Corleone’s First Communion celebration, Michael is shown holding meetings in his office, calling to mind a direct comparison to the opening of The Godfather. While Connie’s wedding crowd consisted of family and friends, Anthony’s celebration appears to include politicians and business partners. And to emphasize the difference between the two Dons, the lighting is not differentiated between the two locations of outdoor party and interior of the office. Also, side lighting is often used in shots of Michael. Although it is softer in the beginning of The Godfather: Part II, as in the scene in which he meets with a politician at his house in Tahoe with soft natural lighting coming in through the office window, it gradually becomes a more stark contrast towards the end of the film. The shadows nearly envelope his entire face to mark his moral descent as he becomes a more powerful Don.

Another interesting point of departure between the characters of Michael and Vito is the role costume plays in portraying their values. For Vito, his immigrant background remains prominent throughout his life, especially at the end. The reference to his origins can be seen clearly in a scene from The Godfather when a meeting is held with Sollozzo over the Corleone family’s involvement in drug trafficking. Here, all of the men in the meeting are dressed in dark suits that are in vogue for businessmen during this time period. Vito, however, is wearing a brown suit, green shirt, and red tie. As author Anthony Julian Tamburri notes in his essay “Michael Corleone’s Tie: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather,” Vito is “dressed like any Italian immigrant grandfather.” In this meeting, Vito essentially refuses to become involved in the drug trade because his intentions as Don are ultimately about helping his family and community instead of making a profit. His intentions do not correspond with the business-like approach that the other men in the meeting represent. When Vito Corleone meets his end, he is also dressed like an Italian immigrant. His outfit consists of natural colors that indicate his closeness to the garden in which he is situated. The location speaks just as much to his Sicilian origins as does his costume.

In contrast to this, Michael Corleone’s wardrobe in both The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II reflects his affinity for the business side of his role as Don. Within the first two chapters of The Godfather saga, Michael’s changing wardrobe also reflects his moral evolution into the lone figure seated in his shadowy throne at the end of Part II. Michael is first introduced on screen in his United States military uniform at Connie’s wedding. Afterwards in following scenes, Michael wears outfits consisting of many shades of brown, reflecting close ties to nature like his father. When Michael sets out to kill those responsible for the attempted assassination on his father, he opts for a gray suit. However, he also wears a brown coat, which reflects his conflicted mindset. This outfit signifies the beginning of Michael’s descent into the criminal world of the family business. The dark gray suit he wears in the scene of the baptism marks his full transition to Don.

Although their approaches are different, Michael and Vito both succeed as Don of the Corleone family. Their success can be defined in different ways, as Vito retains his family while Michael ends up alone in the end. Even though Michael sacrificed his family, his path to success was intended to be a dark and lonely one from the beginning, signified by the use of lighting and costume choice for his character. The events that take place in The Godfather: Part III, especially Michael’s lonely death, are foreshadowed by the closing shot in Part II, which shows Michael as the lone ruler enveloped in the darkness that pervades his success as Don Corleone.

Artist as Messiah: Tarkovsky’s Icon Painter

images-w1400In the fourteenth century, the Tatars invaded Rus’, sacking and pillaging the various principalities. It was during this time that the well-known icon painter Andrei Rublev was active. This also serves as the setting for Andrei Tarkovsky’s film adaptation of Rublev’s life as a conduit to depict Russia’s historical identity during a turbulent period of time. However, a recurring theme in Tarkovsky’s film of the artist as messiah, who is related to and shaped by his environment, also characterizes Andrei Rublev (Ratschewa 29).The character of Rublev encompasses ideals of monastic life both within himself as well as in his art. This portrayal of icons is on par with how they were perceived in the medieval eastern Orthodox world, as sacred, sometimes miracle-performing, objects to be venerated.

In the film, Rublev is portrayed as a humble man with a natural ability to paint. Other celebrated artists during this time, such as Theophan the Greek, are aware of his remarkable talent. Rublev also shows a great love for humanity, which he expresses in an argument with Theophan after agreeing to become his disciple. He is seen defending humanity, expressing his belief that people can be good. Theophan contradicts this with a negative view of humanity, claiming that ignorance produces sin. As the scholar Maria Ratschewa points out, both of their views are reflected in their art. Rublev’s figures appear more realistic and beautiful, while Theophan’s figures are depicted in a more severe and ascetic manner (Ratschewa 28). Through his art, Rublev is able is link spirituality with aesthetics. Rublev constantly strives to find beauty and inner peace throughout the film, even more so after the Tatars invade the town of Vladimir and burn down the church that he and fellow painter Daniil Chernyi had just completed. Rublev’s faith has been shaken by this harsh environment in which he lives. Sin, temptation, and doubt undermine his passion and spirituality.

The ending chapter of the film focuses on a young boy named Boriska who has taken on the task of casting a new bell for the monastery of Vladimir, despite his lack of skill and experience. Rublev, now aged, curiously watches over Boriska’s progress. Boriska is presented as an artistic genius, driven by the desire to create the best. His courageous and unselfconscious desire to produce inspires a renewed passion in Rublev. His quest for inspiration to create religious art in a time of turbulence and destruction is resolved as he sees that art does serve a purpose that is more than mere indulgence. In this sequence the bell becomes a glorified object. When the bell is finished and presented, the entire town has gathered around to witness the miraculous event. Through the story of Boriska’s creation of the bell, Tarkovsky is able to portray art objects as a medium through which spirituality can be achieved. Boriska’s success is able to revive the spirits of the townspeople, who erupt in applause after hearing the bell ring. The sound of the bell is heard throughout the film at moments when Rublev is confronted with artistic dilemmas. This can perhaps be seen as symbolizing intonation of the spiritual in art (http://www.d.umn.edu/~jrubin1/JHR%20Articles.htm).

In the eastern Orthodox world, icon painting was representative of their beliefs and spirituality. The tradition for icon painting developed in the early Byzantine world and was later adopted by Russian Christianity. The commonly held belief is that icons served as a direct connection to the divine, or figure that they represent. Consequently icons were worshipped, and the purpose for their creation was specifically for veneration (Espinola 17). However, icons were not considered works of art and could not be made simply by those with the ability to make them. The artist must be a morally upright person, blessed by a priest (Espinola 17). Icon painters were seen as highly dedicated, religious people who exhibited an enthusiasm for monastic life (Hughes). Andrei Rublev, a Christian monk, for example, would be an ideal candidate with these qualifications.

It was believed that icons were based on a prototype. Although copies of icons were made, the icon copied was not the original, which is considered to be the person that is represented (Gasper-Hulvat 177). For instance, an icon depicting the Virgin Mary is derived from the original, which would be Mary in the flesh. It was believed that the icon embodies the original source, so that the actions of the associated figure also become the actions of the icon, and vice versa (Gasper-Hulvat 177). Therefore, any miracles connected to the Virgin Mary are also the miracles of the icon. This creates a complex history of an icon, especially when copies of other icons are taken into account.

f9db894329dfb0bd2ed58cefd00c8dfd Fig. 1 The Vladimir Mother of God, early twelfth century. Tempera on canvas and wood. Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

A popular example of a Russian Orthodox icon is the Vladimir Mother of God icon, which is now located in Moscow (See Fig.1). It was made in the early twelfth century in Constantinople, and given as a diplomatic gift to the Grand Prince of Kiev (Gasper-Hulvat 176). It depicts the Virgin Mary holding Christ as a child, who is gazing up at her with his left hand reaching out to embrace her. This image emphasizes the tender relations between mother and child. Many miracles performed by the icon were recorded, and the earliest miracle dates to the later half of the twelfth century when the icon was seen levitating at the center of a church. The most renowned miracle that the icon performed is when it intervened during a Mongol attack on the city of Moscow during the year 1395 (Gasper-Hulvat 176). Eventually, the icon became a sign for the Russian Orthodox Church. Its status as a miracle-performing object would elevate the icon to the status of a relic, an extension of the divine figure it represents.

5af63582b1623c0e436515f025d4916eFig. 2 The School of Dionysius, The Vladimir Mother of God with Feasts and Saints, early sixteenth century. Tempera on canvas and wood. Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin, Moscow

After the miraculous event in 1395, copies of the Byzantine icon were made for churches in Moscow and Vladimir Dormition Cathedrals, which previously shared the primary icon. One of these icons depicts a similar image of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, but is framed by images of saints and feasts (See Fig.2). The frame recalls images that occupied the iconostasis in the church where it was displayed. The primary icon continued to travel between these two cathedrals, and in its absence the copies were displayed (Gasper-Hulvat 177). The replicas allow the same access to the Virgin Mary, performing the same function as the primary icon from which they were copied. However, these copies also amplify the sacred quality of the original. Because the same action is repeated through each copy, and all are associated with the same divine figure, the Virgin Mary, the singular icon becomes associated with a collective history (Gasper-Hulvat 179). The primary icon becomes more significant as copies are continuously made.

Although icons like the Vladimir Mother of God are never explicitly seen in film, attitudes towards icons and icon painters are clearly portrayed throughout. Andrei Rublev is depicted as being highly dedicated to religious life, for even when his faith is shaken he remains at the monastery, doing penance after witnessing the tragic destruction of the church in Vladimir. Rublev exemplifies the spirituality thought to be inherent in an icon painter. Tarkovsky follows in the tradition of his other films as portraying Rublev as an artistic genius, struggling to find his inspiration. The film serves to provide a circumstantial and historical background to Rublev’s famous Trinity icon, which he sets out to paint at the end, and best exemplifies the spirituality that gives an icon its significance.

Stanley Kubrick & Sci-Fi

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Experiencing a film firsthand is an invaluable experience. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born until a few decades after Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as its successors, was released. Given all of that, I have approached my research for this project, writing of the paper, and formal analysis of 2001 with the critical mindset of an historian looking back in time. By examining the formal qualities and socio-historical context of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I want to determine whether or not it truly revolutionized the Science Fiction genre in cinema.

What makes 2001 so unique? To answer this question it might be helpful to take a look at Science Fiction films that came before it. According to Carl Freedman in his essay “The Possibility of a Science-Fiction Cinema,” there are “two distinct periods of greatest prominence: the 1950s and the years from the late 1970s until the mid-to-late 1980s—the two most socially and politically conservative periods in postwar American history” (Freedman 301). Films from the 1950s include The Thing (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and Forbidden Planet (1956). These films aren’t especially known for being innovative aesthetically or even engaging in some kind of intellectual ideology. During this time period, Science Fiction had yet to be considered a genre of film in its own right; it was not taken seriously critically and only garnered “ordinary success at the box office” (Freedman 301). What these films were known for, specifically Forbidden Planet, is the inclusion of addressing themes morality, isolation, and love. These subjects were not included in earlier Science Fiction films, with the selling point being the unique adventure it has to offer audiences. Forbidden Planet also departs from earlier Science Fiction films in including science within the story, rather than presenting a futuristic world where technology exists without explanation, which makes the world in the film somewhat more technologically plausible (Taste of Cinema). Skipping ahead to the late 1970s and 1980s, we see the chronological successors to 2001. These films include Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Star Wars (1977), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). In considering this brief list of films, they represent a new trend in Science Fiction cinema, which is focused, in a sense, on aesthetics and special effects. All of the directors of the films listed claim 2001 as an influence on their careers. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Ridley Scott saw 2001 as an example of what “…a motivated director with a brilliant story can do” (Taste of Cinema). Following in the footsteps of Forbidden Planet as the marker of revolutionary Science Fiction, Kubrick certainly set a new standard with 2001 with the realism of technological possibilities.

Science Fiction as a genre in cinema goes hand in hand with visual effects. 2001 is no exception. And certain effects are only possible through the medium of film because of special effects. In Kubrick’s words, “…I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content…” (Banerjee 41). The long stretches of visuals, the lack of dialogue, and the slow pace of them all lend themselves towards a focus on the visual in the film. Kubrick seems aware of film history and theory, such as Andre Bazin’s ideas of using the camera to capture reality and the intervention of the photographer or filmmaker in capturing this (Bazin 93). Of course, Bazin puts more significance on the objectivity of the camera in capturing reality, unfiltered and unbiased, but the photographer has the ability to manipulate the image to create their own reality. Film creates a sense of a graspable reality that has been preserved by the camera, but this idea also suggests the “illusionistic power of film in all its fictionality, all its construuctedness…” (Freedman 305). Film is highly constructed to present a reality, and in considering Kubrick as auteur, 2001 is very much a reality constructed by him (Parrett 117). The reason I suggest that Kubrick is aware of all of this is the way he uses special effects in 2001. He uses special effects in three distinct ways: to emphasize continuity, to celebrate technology, and to emphasize the “real” in this futuristic vision. Firstly, continuity is exemplified by the transition from bone to spaceship in the beginning of the film. The effect of this transition is only capable through the manipulation of the filmic medium, but more importantly, emphasizes the crucial thematic point of evolution and invention that occurs in the film. Secondly, social effects are used to capitalize on the dependency of the visual in film to “self-consciously deconceal their own artfulness by overtly glorifying in the various technologies of filmmaking” (Freedman 307). So, the very use of special effects and emphasis on special effects in 2001 suggests a celebration of the technology of film itself, as well as the futuristic technology presented within the film. And thirdly, similar to the use of special effects used for continuity, Kubrick utilizes special effects to emphasize the ordinariness of the reality he has created. A specific instance of this is in the scene in which we see the shuttle transporting civilians to a space station. It is displayed as a commonplace occurrence in the lives of these characters. But the moment in the journey where the travellers experience zero gravity, is only possible through the use of special effects, and also calls attention to the very un-ordinariness of this technological capability for the audience watching the film.

Special effects certainly set up 2001 to be a great achievement. Not only did it win the Academy Award for best Visual Effects, it was also nominated for Best Director, Original Screenplay, and Best Art Direction. These nominations and awards suggest that the film’s impact on audiences and critics alike were the director as auteur and the special effects or technology of the film. There is not much mention of the narrative of the film beyond the mention that this was an attempt to capture the evolution of human kind through divine intervention (Parrett 117). The narrative or story is secondary to the visual impact on the audience. The story seems to deviate from the “typical” Science Fiction film, but it also follows generic conventions at the same time. It seems to simply readjust the genre to Kubrick’s style and intentions. There is the basic adventure of mankind seeking answers, but it does not really go beyond this much. But consider the importance of narrative in the overall plot of the film and its importance in determining the purpose of the film. The story is based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, who also worked with Kubrick to adapt it to a screenplay and novel. Control over source material gives Kubrick the freedom to dictate exactly what is incorporated in the narrative as well as the pace of how the narrative unfolds. Attention is given not to narrative quality but to visuals. In comparing the film to the novel that Clarke wrote at the same time the film was being developed, the film is able to use power of abstract suggestion, unique to the medium of film. The narrative can be seen in the visuals in a sense; we see or understand subconsciously the irony, symbolism, and metaphor of the story through visual suggestions (Banerjee 41). In comparing Clarke’s novel and its precise reasoning and analysis to Kubrick’s work the “…movie is suggestive in operation, deliberately intuitive in its function, and mystically vague in the end” (Banerjee 41).

I want to take a look at three of the most quoted “successors” to 2001 to see how Kubrick has influenced, or not, the genre of Science Fiction film. I will look specifically at Star Wars IV, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner. In writing for the Science Fiction Studies journal in 1998, Carl Freedman examines these three films, among others, to support his claim that Kubrick did in fact revolutionize the Science Fiction genre. However, I hope to take a more objective approach in considering how Freedman sees these films as successors to 2001 to prove it as a masterpiece. As for Star Wars IV, Freedman considers the visual representation of space travel equivalent to the preciseness of 2001. This certainly seems like a plausible comparison to make in determining its influence. However, the manner of space travel in Star Wars is due to the fact that Lucas wanted a technological world that looked real and realistic. In fact, Lucas made it a point, perhaps limited by budget, to use physical special effects rather than computer generated. Compare, for instance to the clean and sleek spaceships in 2001. The white, gleaming interiors with their “newness” and futuristic qualities are literally shining. The idea of space travel as an ordinary aspect of life in both movies is the only comparison I can see in Freedman’s claim. Close Encounters is offered as another successor following in Kubrick’s footsteps. Freedman considers the end of the film to be “neo-Kubrickian.” For Freedman this means it is “atonally operatic,” the use of lights and visual effects creates a direct contrast to the mundane feel of the film up until the spaceship arrives. I would have to agree with Freedman on this comparison. The slow pace of 2001 achieves the mundane in its slow pace and approach to space travel and its ordinariness only to be completely turned around at the end with flashing lights and bizarre imagery. And finally, Blade Runner presents the best response to “Kubrick’s challenge” according to Freedman. He claims that, “In both cases, the human members of the two crews are essentially dupes of their employers, who entrust the most vital mission information to intelligent machines.” However, Scott goes further to engage a commentary on capitalist motives and corporate power that never comes up in 2001. Without considering that last difference between the two films, I would agree with Freedman’s argument for Blade Runner, and Ridley Scott, as successor to 2001. Although, I would go a step further to claim that Blade Runner achieves much more than 2001, with its commentary on capitalism, a more literary story to ground it, and a visual aesthetic that has more in common with Star Wars and Planet of the Apes than it does with 2001.

A quick Google search these days brings up 2001 in the midst of top 10 lists of Sci-Fi films or as the predecessor to a list of great Science Fiction films that would follow it. The connections and similarities to these films do seem to lend themselves to accurately claiming 2001 to be the determining influence on what is considered a golden age of Science Fiction films. But what about the first golden age that occurred in the 1950s? Perhaps 2001 set up foundations for certain aspects of Science Fiction film, specifically in special effects, that would later be riffed on by Lucas, Spielberg, and especially Ridley Scott. Reviews of 2001 tend to focus on the practicality or possibility of its technology or the ambiguity of the story. Critics of the film either like it or don’t. If it’s not in praise of 2001, reviews of the film usually note it’s boring, slow pace and ambiguity as hindering its success.

So, is 2001: A Space Odyssey a revolutionary Science Fiction film? Throughout this essay I have tried to focus on different aspects of the film that others have picked up on as well, such as special effects, ambiguous narrative, and the genre of Science Fiction. I believe the most obvious aspect of the film to be considered is its director. Kubrick is an auteur. In each of his films he sets out to reinvent a genre (Freedman 300). In comparison to the 1950s golden age preceding 2001, Kubrick sets out to make a Science Fiction film that is less about adventure and finding answers, and more about realism and celebrating technology. I don’t think this means he has revolutionized the genre, but rather, he has added to its evolving and continually changing framework to match the science, technology, and ideas of the time period. Kubrick’s entire filmography proves he is an auteur, and this close look at 2001 serves to define how he approaches thinking about filmmaking.