Blog #3: 2001 A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey was released on April 3rd, 1968, and was directed/produced by Stanley Kubrick, and is written by Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke in conjunction with the film, as well as the novel . The soundtrack for this film is well known for its use of classical music, for example,"Also sprach Zarathustra", "The Blue Danube", and many popular classical pieces. Although the film is well over half a century old, it is considered to this day to be one of the greatest science fiction films.
This film is one that I adore, I have seen it several times, but I've only come to appreciate it more recently, and I still notice something new within each viewing. This film has also aged extremely well, most of the visuals still hold up even to this day. This film was one of the first films I started to really analyze, I wrote a paper for my World Religions class during the fall of my senior year of highschool about this film. Writing that paper not only taught me to appreciate this film, but also taught me to appreciate deeper meanings in films.
This film is separated into three sections, 1) The Dawn of Man 2) Jupiter Mission 3) Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. Each of these sections are caused by a direct and or indirect contact with the Monolith. I believe the greatest part about this film is the mystery, in the film, Kubrick discovered the greatest physical form of nothingness, the monolith. It is just that, a solid black slab, no writing, no curves, an unnatural occurrence. Upon my initial thesis of this film I concluded "In Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, God and other extraterrestrial life are disappointed in the technological takeover within humans in which intelligence is no longer within humans, but within the machines of humans."
I still support this thesis, however, I believe this film has more to teach us. In 2019, over 50 years after the film's release, it is becoming more and more relevant in our day to day lives. During the first section of this film 1) The Dawn of Man, the viewers are sent to the past, the prehistoric past, while the current humans were still monkeys. The monolith helps humans discover bones, the weapon. From that there is a cut to the "current day", where the bone has transformed into a space ship in space. The scene later continues on with many cuts to other space ships, all with different flags, assuming to be other countries. In a way Kubrick sort of shows that eventhough we have had thousands and thousands of years of urban development that we have yet to stop fighting each other in exchange for working together to accomplish something far greater than ourselves. Something we can relate to in the current world today with Russia and United States, but even more at home with our own political system being the most divided political system in history.
Throughout the entire film, there are four appearances of the greatest mystery of the film, the Monolith. To this very day, decades after this film was made, there are still many unanswered questions and interpretations of the Monolith and what it represents. In this film, the monoliths are the forerunners of humanity, they are the guides and to the steps in human evolution. During the first appearance of the monolith, the hominids circle around and touch the monolith. For some reason, the creators of the monolith have foreseen potential in the apes, and has offered them gifts: the gift of tools, and protein, a new food source. They have been given the tools needed to begin development into intellectual beings, to become the rulers of their own world. They have provided the tools to obtain meat, a part of the diet to up to then was non-existent from the apes. Meat is important because it contains high levels of protein to feed our brains, allowing us to grow, to become smarter, and to develop into the next stage of humankind. The Monolith represents the best definition of the unknown, creating probably the greatest case of the journey into the unknown, no hints of origin, no hints of anything, just a solid black rectangular prism. Even without the dissonant, and dark piece of music of Francis Travis- Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra, the scariest piece of music I have ever heard, helps set the tone, the monolith is still terrifying, it is something we have never seen, the first contact of extraterrestrial intelligent life. The monolith is terrifying because it is the greatest mystery which we can have, the idea of the unknown.
The monolith appearing on the moon is testing the intellectual ability of humankind, hoping for different results than seen thousands of thousands of years ago. However, what God and the monolith controllers were hoping for a greater intellectual ability at this point in humankind’s technological advancement. They are disappointed because of human’s lacks of intellectual ability, even after gifting tools. Margaret Stackhouse reached a similar ideology, “Men on Moon touch monolith in the same way that the apes did -- this indicates no basic change in man's nature. Then, after touching it, they have the audacity to try to take photo -- still conceited, still lacking in understanding of the gift” (Margaret Stackhouse). The monolith’s creators are disappointed due to humanity's lack of intelligence, as a result, sounding off the high pitched ringing sound. The monolith is reported to be “deliberately buried” by the monolith controllers, knowing it would take humanity countless amount of years in order to reach this point in technological advancement. From a third person point of view, humanity's first contact with an extraterrestrial object is uncovered, a solid black slab, and the first thing they want to do is take a picture with all of them in it.
The next part of the film Jupiter Mission, is the one of greatest cinematic interaction between man and machine The emotionless, and robotic-like crew on Discovery One, we are introduced to the emotionless, robotic-like crew of Dave Bowman, and Frank Poole. While their job has no emotional investment, there are still signs of lifelessness within the crew. Frank’s parents send him a message on his birthday, and half the time he is speaking to HAL, his face during this scene is lifeless, as if he is barely paying attention to his parents, or cares for them. I believe HAL 9000 is a metaphor for the image of an older man, a person who is programmed to be self-preserved. HAL is not the computer, but computers do not think, nor do they have the ability to lie. HAL 9000 is the only character who has questions about the mission, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?’ … ‘forgive me for being so inquisitive, but I have been wondering if you have been having second thoughts about the mission’ … ‘Well, it's rather difficult to define. Perhaps I'm just projecting my own concern about it.’” (HAL 9000). HAL 9000 is the one who is doing the thinking, the one who is portraying his own point of view on the mission, while the rest of the crew does not seem to question the purpose of their work on the mission. We also see another trait that HAL 9000 has which makes him less machine, lying. Computer’s lack the ability to lie, however, HAL does lie, frequently, we see this when HAL and Frank are playing a casual game of chess, “Um…anyway, Queen takes pawn. OK?” (Frank), HAL responds, “Bishop takes Knight’s pawn.” (Frank) “Hmm, that’s a good move. Er…Rook to King One.” HAL responds, “I’m sorry Frank. I think you missed it. Queen to Bishop Three. Bishop takes Queen. Knight takes Bishop. Mate.” While it is subtle, it was still a lie, this should have been Queen to Bishop Six, instead of Queen to Bishop Three. HAL cheated his way to beating Frank. HAL’s trick was not a legal move, and Frank quits without questioning HAL’s analysis of the game. HAL is not used as a tool, he is a life support system, he does everything for the crew, the crew could not run the ship without him.
The confrontation between Dave with their sentinel computer HAL 9000, is the first time in-which and their confrontation with their sentient computer, HAL 9000 on Discovery One. This confrontation is the first time in the entire film in which we see any human showing emotions. Dave Bowman is the one who becomes angry and impatient after he has to ask HAL, three or four times, to open the pod bay doors. As Dave was getting more and more impatient each time, he finally decides to act quickly to save his own life. As he is asking HAL to open the pod bay doors, he starts to raise his voice, and starts to yell, a trait he refuses to show earlier. As soon as he works his way into the ship, he starts viciously stuttering, another trait he did not show earlier. The moment when Bowman deactivates the main operating systems of HAL’s, he has shed the technological dependence off of him, Dave has gone from relying on technology in his life, to now using it as his tool. The tool in which unknowingly Dave needs to prove to the aliens that he is ready for the next stage in human intellectual evolution.
As we approach the final sequence of the film, 3) Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. the Star-Gate has pushed Dave through another dimension, and is launched straight into an inescapable room, no exit doors, no way in or out. Once he enters the room, we have a first person view of the pod and the room he has just entered into, the panels on the control pod read “Nonfunctional”, their programming and code are broken, the law of physics are completely broken, he must be in a different universe.
The final scene of the film, the greatest question of the film, the ending, the appearance of the elder Dave and the Monolith confrontation. Dave, at the very end of his life, reaches out to the monolith, the same way the humanoids have millions of years ago. However, this time everything around Dave is unknown, like he is in a prison. Dave is also being watched over by the creators of the monolith, displaying their presence through their raspy noise. This is first and only time within the movie in which the monolith is with only one person. It is also Dave’s first encounter with the monolith, and so, like every other human encounter with the monolith, he reaches out to touch it. Why reincarnate as a baby? The first encounter with the monolith, the apes were just trying to survive, not trying to create spaceships. After the monolith appearance, they discover the simplest of weapons and tools, bones. We see Dave Bowman is reincarnated into an advanced spirit, a new child body form, the star-child, displaying the all powerful, but also showing that there is much to learn. The star-child metaphorically represents harmony and hope. The ape-men were babies to the earth, now the star-child is a baby within the cosmos. The star-child’s job now is to watch over Earth, the circle is complete. Dave Bowman has returned home but has also arrived at the next stage in evolution in the process. Dave disposed his use for artificial intelligence with units like HAL 9000, and has become superior to their capabilities.
Kubrick’s masterpiece of a film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is urging us to pursue our discovery into the cosmos. The monoliths were trying to tell the human race something, and not to have us fight over our own resources, the plan for us is to elevate ourselves, become greater beings, not fight over whether or not the Russians or the Americans first discover extraterrestrial life. Until this time in history, we have had no contact in the thousands of years of our existence as a species. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote a speech detailing the lack of human interest in exploration of the cosmos,
“We have one collective hope: the Earth … The day we cease the exploration of the cosmos is the day we threaten the continuing of our species … Until the rise of a visionary new culture that once again embraces the cosmic perspective; a perspective in which we are one, fitting neither above nor below, but within.”.
It is immoral for us to stop the continuing search for extraterrestrial life. We are supposed to be curious beings, the ones who are supposed to venture into the stars, not to be stuck on earth fighting over each other. I also have another interpretation of the ending of the film, the star-child, represents hope, the hope in which one day humanity as a species will dispose all of our differences, and live as one with one common goal, exploration of the unknown. My feelings towards the end of the film, the image of the star-child, was the first time within the entire film where I felt hopeful. We have entitled ourselves to technology religiously. We are completely faithful to our devices. At what point do we shed it and stop relying on our technological capabilities, and start to develop into our own selves. We should be using technology, not relying on it to live. Technology are tools not only for our survival, but for our exploration of the next stage in human evolution.
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Cameron E. Narimanian