‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968): The Match-Cut

Film Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Year: 1968

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Film Form Main Category: Editing

Film Form Sub Category: Spatial and Temporal Discontinuity

Terms Discussed: Match-Cut, Binary Oppositions, Manipulation of Space, Manipulation of Time

Kubrick provides the match-cut to end all match-cuts in 2001: A Space Odyssey’s bone-to-space station sequence in perhaps the most enigmatic sci-fi film of all time. What makes this simple match-cut so effective at manipulating space and time? How does it evoke the evolution of humankind over millions of years in just a split second? Perhaps the sequence’s effectiveness lies within the distinct contrasts of the onscreen binary oppositions that combine with what the match-cut eliminates from the story (i.e. millions of years of human evolution).

Most films cover days or weeks of plot duration, some cover centuries, but rarely does a film cover millions of years of story duration in a few seconds – and so effectively. The message in the temporal effect is more obvious: over millions of years, the bone (and humankind) has evolved to the machine (and space travel). However, spatial distances in binary oppositions are also profound. For example, two spatial constructs (represented onscreen by before and after the match-cut) include the great physical distance and thereby division between the terrestrial and outer space. Likewise, an opposition of light (the white bone/daylight) and dark (outer space), and the natural (the bone/landscape) and the manufactured (technology/space station) occurs. The continuum between each of these binary oppositions provides an almost infinite number of possibilities. For example, the infinite shades between light and dark, the virtually infinite evolutionary events between nature and industrial progress, and so on. The accumulation of the infinite possibilities within the continuum of binary oppositions creates a cumulative effect. The viewer’s imagination subjected to the endless possibilities and occurrences between the time of human-as-ape and human-as-space traveller.

Just after the match-cut, the instant the shot changes to the spaceship – time appears to stop as the vessel floats in space. This sedative pause provides an opportunity for the viewer to reflect on the passing of millions of years that have just occurred. Construction of the Pyramids. The Crusades. Man stepping on the moon. Anything that has ever occurred in human evolution. Few, if any, films ever achieve this level of contemplation – let alone through a simple match-cut.

In conclusion, it is probably worth mentioning my avoidance of research and seeking information when it comes to 2001. Implied meanings, exegetical or otherwise, would be to spoil its enigma. I could never read Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey. The magic of 2001 lies in my own imagination and the things I do not know or understand about it. Much of the enigma stems from imagined events that occurred in the space and time between the pre-human existence and human space travel.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on IMDb

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