Small World

The final frontier

If you happen past a certain gas stop/mini-mart on Capitol Hill, notice the station's "marquee." In chunky black letters it offers the now ubiquitous "God Bless America" and, right next to that, an ad urging you to "Fill Yourself Up," promoting the joyous ease with which a credit card allows the purchase of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew. Walking or driving by it in that hazy, bruised limbo that seems to be everybody's mental state these days, the sign reads as one darkly parodic blur: "God Bless America—Fill Yourself Up." Well, yes, exactly.

Despite all the concerns about weakened American appetites in response to our global woes, it's become clear that, as a nation, we still insist on a diet that will stuff us without compunction, comforting us with its satiating familiarity. Hollywood briefly trembled about fragile stomachs; then the country's box offices quickly indicated that many millions are content to devour the same old junk that was being shoveled into their mouths long before Sept. 11 and that will continue to stock the pop buffet long after the smoke has cleared. Keanu Reeves is still allowed the intellectual prowess to solve the worries of an inner-city baseball team, and Michael Douglas can sleep well knowing that, despite a few tense moments, he's able to save his family from ruin.

How refreshing it is, then, how stupendously unsettling, to watch Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on the magnificent screen downtown at the Cinerama—a film over 30 years old that is currently the most daunting piece of art able to sell popcorn. Unlike something on the order of Armageddon or any of the brash, thunderous CGI operas of late, Kubrick's epic approaches the universe with genuine fear and wonder, with a startling admiration for the awesomeness and terrifyingly quiet urgency of the unknown.

If you need to come out of the theater without any pesky questions about what you've just seen, you're better off taking in Corky Romano; it's impossible to leave 2001 with any answers, because Kubrick doesn't want you to have any answers. Everything posing as an elaborate, antiseptic "answer" in the film—military authority, the stunning but impersonal technology, and, of course, the malignant HAL computer itself—is ultimately fraudulent when gauged next to the confused yet noble querying of beings reaching to understand immeasurably vast things. 2001 requires a respect for questions, and asks us to consider leaving the dark and returning to the outside world wakened with an astonished, wide-eyed uncertainty.

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