The importance of context

Since I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time when I was 15 years old, I’ve been wanting to watch it on the big screen. Last Sunday I realized that dream.

A little story about why that movie was so important to me. There’s a before and an after 2001 in my life. I think it was the first movie that really challenged my brain. The first movie that when the credits rolled up I asked myself “What the fuck just happened?”.

It was recommended to me by a teacher, so I went and asked him… without the “fuck” I suppose. He told me that if I wanted to understand it, I’d have to read the book. I read the book and I understood more, but I had even more questions. So I read the next book, and the next, and the next. And by the time I had finished I was hooked into reading science fiction for the rest of my life.

Back to the topic, context. It’s not an entertaining movie. It’s slow, it’s abstract, it’s art. But hey, even if you watch Alien it doesn’t look like entertainment, it’s slow and looks artistic. Honestly, go and watch it, you’ll see. 2001 was released before Armstrong put a foot on the moon, in 1968.

Let me put that in context for you. Star Wars wouldn’t come out for another 9 years. Star Trek was on it’s second season and not many people were paying attention, yet. I bet for most people, 2001 was the first time in their lives when they saw outer space in the big screen.

But 2001 isn’t just another silly space opera (of which the space age was probably full of). In 2001, space is silent, like it really is. How important is that? I watched Firefly just because space was silent. That important.

2001 doesn’t have some magic solution for artificial gravity, like almost all other movies and TV shows. We have huge revolving space stations as well as spaceships with revolving sections. We see amazing shots of people walking on this curved floors. Or using sticky shoes. We not only see space… we see ourselves, for real, in space. I don’t think I’d seen anything that treated outer space as realistically as 2001, ever. And it happened in 1968.

Put that movie in context, ignore the long psychedelic scenes (hey! it was the 60s!), and it’ll blow your mind. Context is important.

I also recently read Snow Crash. When the book started describing a kind of physical virtual reality, with people walking on virtual streets, companies putting buildings on those streets, etc. I was honestly disgusted. I couldn’t stop feeling that the author somehow missed the last 10 years of history when we realised that VRML (remember VRML? Virtual Reality Markup Language) was not the way to go. And then I saw the book was released on 1992 and all made sense to me. Reading it in context was awesome and I enjoyed it a lot.

Thanks to Daniel Magliola and Romina Roca for reading drafts of this.

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