The cultural impacts of art and art-forms are well-studied and numerous. Since music became a global format songs have offered political and social opinions that have made cultural waves, from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Ohio”, Neil Young’s reaction to the Kent State shooting to Green Day’s “American Idiot”.
Literature has also often been used as a format to make a statement and has had huge cultural impacts from Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
an anti-slavery piece published in 1852, to The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s comparison between McCarthyism and Salem witch hunts.
One form of art that is unlikely to come to mind when thinking of political statements and cultural impacts is film.
Film touches on the most important aspects of our lives, but because of the nature of the industry(1), the films themselves tend to come out following changes instead of igniting them. Often, movie’s appearing before their time meant bad things for their reviews and revenues, and since films cost so much to produce in the first place producers often won’t work on films they’re not sure the world is ready for.
I like to call this the Brokeback Mountain effect. Brokeback Mountain was objectively a great film, it was moving and philosophical (and don’t even get me started on the score, that Oscar was well deserved), and it won many awards but the general public just thinks of it as ‘that gay cowboy movie’ or that it’s perverse. Since it’s debut though, general feelings toward LGBT+ people and LGBT+ rights have changed a lot and we’re a lot more accepting. If it had come out this year instead of 2005 I’m betting the public reception would have been very different.
So film is not often able to make groundbreaking political statements. This does not, however, mean that films can not have cultural impacts, films can and often do.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey came out to mixed reviews on April, 2 1968. The film was unlike any other ever made, it was a science fiction movie about space and aliens but arguably not about that at all, offering a philosophical look into what our future is really going to be like, the good and the bad. 2001’s score is composed of centuries old classical pieces which somehow perfectly symbolize the white noise of space. The film also had no dialogue for the first 25 minutes and had less than 40 minutes worth in it’s 180 minute total and it’s ‘star gate sequence’ is often called groundbreaking. Many critics dub 2001 as the birth of modern science fiction
Sir Ridley Scott and George Lucas, the directors of Alien and Star Wars respectively, both cite 2001 as one of their biggest influences, both in their interest in the science fiction genre and in film in general.
Sir Ridley even once announced that he believes science fiction as a genre is dead-because nothing will be able to top Kubrick’s masterpiece saying “that 2001 was ‘the best of the best, in use of lighting, special effects and atmosphere,’ adding that every sci-fi film since had imitated or referred to it. ‘There is an over reliance on special effects as well as weak storylines,’ he said of modern sci-fi films.” (X)
Whether or not that’s true is a matter of opinion but Sir Ridley is correct that every major sci-fi (and especially space) movie borrows and takes it’s influence from 2001, this is magnified in Christopher Nolan’s recent film Interstellar, which reads like a 2001 set in a different time period-or possibly a bad fanfiction.
A little over a year after 2001’s debut we Neil Armstrong took his “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, we had reached space. Some people even claimed Nixon had Stanley Kubrick direct the moon landing, using the same sets as seen on the moon scene in 2001, many of the conspiracy theorists behind this also involve JFK in some way-even though he had been dead for years when the moon landing actually took place (x)
2001 is still lauded as one of the best films-both within and outside of it’s genre. It’s always ranked in the top 100 ‘films of all time’ list and has a 96% on rotten tomatoes.
“Time Out magazine asked 150 experts, including Nobel Prize winners, authors, directors, screenwriters and actors to rank their top 10 science fiction movies. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has been voted the best sci-fi film of all time according to a poll of leading experts.” (x)
2001’s greatest impact, however, was not in its effect on film but its effect on our imagination. 2001 gave us an amazing look into the future of space travel (and re-watching in 2015 you’ll also notice the ipads) it allowed us to dream big and inspired an entire generation to be excited about the possibility of galaxy exploration. While 2001 gave a confusing, possibly grim look into what our future in space might look like it also gave us an all-consuming curiosity to find out for ourselves.
(1) Producing a film is much more expensive and takes a many more people than a painting, book, or song does. Because of this directors and production companies are less likely to funnel money into something that might be controversial or any film they think is unlikely to give them a return on their investment