Film Uneasiness is a strange emotion, that feeling of something simply being wrong or at least outside of your own understanding or ability to comprehend coupled with the sense of know knowing how it is happening mixed with a sense of awe. It's an especially difficult feeling to conjure for film viewers because it requires us to be so completely engrossed in a film, our suspension of disbelief so intact, that we're willing to overlook or even consciously ignore any flaws in the delivery method.
This is why I'm not a huge fan of horror films. All too easily I'm able to see the joins and unable to give myself over to the thrust of the narrative and very rarely scared. More often than not I'll wish that a film like The Conjuring was applying its period detail and characters to some other story, though it's true in that case we've already seen The Ice Storm. The only moment that really stands out from all the horror I've seen recently is the shot in Sinister when Ethan Hawke's ghostly antagonists orbit him in slow motion as he walks gingerly along a corridor in real time.
When writers talk about 2001, it's often to credit the special effects or the predictions its made about the future or the use of music or as an example of cerebral science fiction. But rarely enunciated is just how uneasy it is to watch, the queasy sense of knowing that it's a film but also that the story it's telling, of alien interventions into humanity's development has an element of plausibility about it however ludicrous. This is aided by the choice of music, particularly the Ligerti which sounds like it was composed by the other.
On first seeing Kubrick and Clarke's vision, I think on its first 'scope broadcast as part of a Channel 4 science fiction season, on a 14" portable on table diagonally opposite my bed in a large room so that it was a tiny image in a dark space, it felt like watching a message from another galaxy with a crack in the wall. The cutaway shots of the monolith, its black shiny surface somehow given a sense of purpose through montage, almost an emotional drive, a performance even though it sucks in all the surrounding light.
The tiny speaker on this Matsui tv creaked and wined horribly during the harsh musical accompaniment to the moon visit and stargate scenes and I seem to remember one of my parents visiting the check that everything was ok and to ask me to turn the thing down. In those days I was less bothered by such interruptions more able to re-engage with a film. My mind wanders much more now. Perhaps it's my age. In any case I didn't sleep much that night, images and sounds flashing through my mind as I lay in the dark.
A week or so later a friend visited one Sunday afternoon and we watched it together on video, stopping it now and then to discuss the implications of what we were seeing, what various scenes meant. He'd already read the novel but still remained confused by it, partly because of the switch in planets between media. In the days before the internet it wasn't possible to simply visit YouTube and find a video of Neil Degrasse Tyson explaining the mechanics of what we were seeing. All we had was deductive reasoning.
Even now, having read the book, its sequels, the books about the making of the film, countless documentaries and seen various Q&As, I'm still transported whenever I see that monolith, the potential of just what an alien technology might be capable of leading to goosebumps with only really AI and Contact coming close to generating the same feelings, although in their cases it's simple awe without the jelly-belly. But let's hope that when we do finally bump into alien life, it has a slightly friendlier face...