I have fond memories of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time: sitting on the floor in my family’s living room with my parents, brother and sister, we all started watching the movie as it aired on cable TV, which meant commercials. By the end of hour 1, my dad and I were the only ones left watching the movie. I saw the movie again in a theater years later, but I like recalling how much patience I must have used to sit through the entire movie that first time. 2001 is already a deliberate, languid film; I can’t imagine surviving it with commercials today.
A big part of what makes the movie so powerful, in fact, is its comfort with stillness. 2001 takes its time showing off the vastness of space and the small pieces of equipment that the humans have sent into it; there are endless slow tracking shots and no quick cuts. Even when the movie gains a sense of urgency with HAL’s homicidal streak, or when our human protagonists are on screen, scenes stretch out and take their time, at the speed of an astronaut’s suit floating unpropelled through a vacuum.
There are two scenes in which HAL kills humans. One, where HAL disconnects Frank Poole’s oxygen hose, could be considered (relatively) exciting and tense. The second is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, a collage of still images in which HAL kills off the crewmembers still locked in suspended animation. The horror comes from how jarring the stillness is when we expect struggle or violence; the pods with the crewmembers look identical in the camera shots before and after the people inside have died. This is a murder scene as photo montage.
There’s no music to signal that we should be shocked or horrified; just the hum of the ship and the blaring of the emergency alarm, and the shots of the life support slowly, slowly fading, punctuated by lingering shots of HAL’s red eye.
Even if you hate the movie or think it’s boring, this is a scene worth watching.