2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
There's one film that practically changed the way I look at both myself and at the world - 2001: A Space Odyssey.
If we had to explain to something that wasn't human what being a human is all about in three hours, then there would be no better way than to hand them a copy of 2001. Although, they might not last it. The first time I watched Stanley Kubrick's magnum opus, I was twelve years old and I didn't rate it. Films until then had been about entertainment (I literally didn't know there were films in existence which did not have that as a primary goal) and 2001 isn't exactly a white knuckle ride. However, over those teenage years it kept calling me back and by the end of that formative time it's ending was able to reduce me to quiet tears.
Such a reaction to a Kubrick film might seem rather unusual given that he is often seen as a very cold and brutal filmmaker - which is undeniable - but something that is often overlooked is how he is always showing us that among the oppressive indifference of nature there are human beings who, with qualities that are good, bad or somewhere in between, are the diamonds in the rough. And we should embrace that.
Almost every film he's ever made concludes on this note: Full Metal Jacket ends on the voice over "I am so happy I am alive... I'm in a world of shit, yes. But I am alive."; the end of Eyes Wide Shut shines a light on society's oversimplified take on love versus lust and shows that both are utterly human and so essential to a relationship; and even A Clockwork Orange sees Alex's depravity as a facet of humanity that returns with triumph and fanfare.
2001: A Space Odyssey is the big key to all of this. It is about how that split we constantly imagine between us and nature, the world out there, is not actually real, and this makes it ultimately an optimistic tale. It's a love letter to humanity, to warm life in a mostly cold, sterile and indifferent universe, and how that dichotomy is at the centre of everything we do but, in the end, it's an illusion. In small pockets the cold becomes warm and the universe becomes self-aware.
That's a life lesson from cinema you don't forget.
[Mark Towers, Curzon Artificial Eye]