The Canonical 2001: A Space Oddessy Thread

In this [post=6069357]thread[/post] BrotherCadfael responds to my suggestion that Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddessy is a movie “that truely stood up to the tests of time” with:

I’m not going to respond with any bombastic nonsense about how if you didn’t get anything from the film you must be a pea-brained whippet or somesuch–I don’t go for that kind of snobbery–or that there are some deep philosophical meaning buried in the dialog. In fact, the plot of the film, such as it is, is deceptively simple; obelisk comes to Earth, enlightens tribe to use weapons, cut to modern day, Man finds obelisk, obelisk sends out signal, Man follows signal to Jupiter, computer goes crazy and tries to kill Man, Man disappears into obelisk, woo-woo flying effects, and strangoid ending. There’s very little dialog worth nothing that isn’t spoken by HAL, and indeed, HAL is (deliberately) the most personable and developed character in the film.

Here’s what I get from 2001 in terms of the themes: Man discovers and uses technology, but doesn’t really understand it or have complete control over it. Instead, it shapes his destiny (causing him to fight, first with bones and later orbiting nuclear weapons) and backfires when he becomes to arrogant (HALs psychotic breakdown, owing to the conflicting commands issued to him.) Also, for all of his technology, clothing, spacecraft, et cetera, Man is still nothing but an ape, formed by his environment and shaped by adaptation. Kubrick’s inclusion of the scene with the water closet on the trans-lunar shuttle and the griping about sandwiches on the lunar transport (“They all taste the same, don’t they?”) weren’t just random scenes, but indicates that for all of our cognitive abilities, we are still tied to our biology and the needs of our bodies, no matter how inconvenient.

Clarke and Kubrick resorted to the obelisk (with its “natural” dimensional ratio of 1:4:9) and its unseen and apparently unknowable alien benefactors as a McGuffin to drive the plot, but the obelisk could be equally considered to be a representation of the unknown, a boundary past knowledge or measurement that you must enter and pass through in order to achieve the next stage of existence, after which Man is no longer human. The mundanities of normal existince–Floyd’s banal and pointless speech to the Moonbase crew, the domestic routines of the astronauts Poole and Bowman–along with the need for other biological necessities such as food, conversation, perhaps even the linear perception of time, are shed during this transformation (the Star-Child). HAL, more than just a mindless tool to be used and put back into the drawer, is a precursor to that change, but himself an evolutionary dead end with limitations (his dependency on humans, his need to carry out assigned orders despite logical conflict and his inability to “humanely” resolve the conflict.) Our attempt to evolve ourselves with physical tools has an ultimate limitation.

Now, I don’t know that this is what Kubrick intended to put into the film–for all I can tell, he was just making a greak-looking piece of entertainment–but the long, languorous silences and slow camera tracking give you plenty of time to reflect upon the events on-screen and apply your own explainations rather than handing you a pat answer. So, I guess my point is that the film isn’t meant to be so much “understood”, but rather serve as a germ for reflection and speculation on Man’s place in Nature. He isn’t hiding answers in a puzzle, the way David Mamet does well or (IMHO) David Lynch does poorly, but rather tossing out a few questions and letting you come up with answers in the closest thing to a Socratic dialog one can have with cinema. Anyone looking for deep meanings will come up empty.

That’s what I get, anyway. At least it isn’t as vapid as his worst work (A Clockwork Orange or Eyes Wide Shut), and as I said, the effects and attention to visual detail was so outstanding that the effects and fashions (other than the Howard Johnson’s restaurant and the hideous red chairs on the station) still look contemporary even today. I think it justifably ranks as a great film, but one that has to be approached with a comptemplative mindset and taken in repeated viewings, most preferably projected on a large screen, not seen on the televisor.


So, are we going to concentrate on the movie (which struck me as a big pile of stupyfyingly dull hooey) or the book (which I never got around to reading)?

The movie. The book is doddle, as far as I’m concerned (and besides, it sends Discovery to Saturn, not Jupiter.)

For the purposes of this thread, we’ll also pretend that 2010: The Year We Made Contact does not exist, not just because it is an inferior film but because there are a number of continuity problems with it. Ditto for the (IMHO, pointless) successive book sequels.


Well, guess I’ll try to get a few words in before the inevitable “2001 is great/no, it’s shite” trainwreck that always seems to ensue when this film comes up for discussion.

The thing I like most about 2001 is that it comes closer to being a sort of music of images than just about anything else I’ve ever seen, and there is little I know of in cinema that is comparable in tone, except maybe Koyannisqaatsi (sp?) and its sequels. There certainly is a reasonably coherent (and for me at least) not entirely uninteresting story line, if one has the patience to figure it out and not expect the story to be spoon-fed to them, but I don’t imagine that that was Kubrick’s main concern. I can see how that might piss some people off, but for me the oblique manner in which the story is presented is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Seeing the film again, or even thinking about it, is a bit like seeing a piece of astract art that one likes: it’s not so much what you are seeing at the time, it’s more the sequence of thoughts and contemplation that seeing it triggers in one’s mind. Er, so I guess I’m just repeating what the OP has already said.

Beyond that, I was just thinking that one of the several threads that run through the film is that it can be seen as a (more or less) scientific justification for a belief in God, more specifically what some would call Intelligent Design. I don’t particularly buy that sort of thing, but there it is.

Lastly, even if I personally thought this particular movie was “stupefyingly dull hooey”, from a technical standpoint I think it would still never fail to blow me away. The production design, sound, music and effects, IMO, all remain impressive, the more so considering the state of the art at the time it was made.

Interesting. As a huge fan of the movie myself (and subsequently Kubrick and Clarke), that is one message that I never derived, nor do I belive that was an intentional one. But as the movie was clearly left open to interpretation, it is facinating to hear how other’s perceived the movie’s ideas.

Actually, if I recall correctly, Discovery did go to Jupiter, but used Saturn as a gravitational assist. This was removed from the movie because it added unneccessary complexity.

Can’t agree more here. I still content that the effects are more convincing than most of the CGI we see today. Even Star Wars, by comparison, looks dated, while 2001 still holds up quite well imo.

You pea-brained whippet!

Nope, in the book version the final destination is Saturn via Jupiter, not least because Clarke wanted to incorporate the idea that the then-unexplained odd lightcurve of Iapetus was a result of the entrance to the Star Gate being embedded on one side. Kubrick tried filming the Saturn sequences, but these proved too difficult and switched to Jupiter instead - see the relevant part of the photo section in Agel’s essential The Making of Kubrick’s 2001.

The divide between those who love this film and those who despise it is not a new one. I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey the very first day that it opened in my town, in a large, luxurious theater which had a state-of-the-art sound system. The audience’s reaction was interesting. I’d say that about two-thirds of us were thunderstruck with awe, but the remaining one-third were either puzzled, annoyed, or downright angry. I remember a middle-aged man stomping down the aisle toward the exit, declaring “What the hell is this crap?”

Agel’s book is still the definitive one on 2001. I got to see it in the Capitol Theater in NY where it opened (in Cinerama!) and have the roadshow program and the Life Magazine issue featuring the movie (which was pretty clear about it.) I had the benefit of reading all Clarke’s books before.

First of all, unless you are considering the movie as a movie, Clarke’s book is a valid guide. Floyd is not such an ass in it true.

That the theme is from Thus Spake Zarathustra is no accident. 2001 is all about the transformation from ape to man and man to superman. There are three sections: the first, with the apes, where they are transformed, by the monolith, into humans, signified by their discovery of weapons. The second is the leadup to the second transformation, starting with weapons (the satellites are nuclear bomb satellites in the book) and ending when Bowman (note the name) uses his brain to defeat the latest in technology, showing himself worthy of the next transformation, which occurs in the third section, which leaves him as an infant superman. This transformation is also enabled by the monliths. Especially telling is that the old Bowman’s last act as a human is to point at the monolith at the foot of his bed. This has always meant to me that he understands what is happening at last, and is thus ready for the transformation.

The obvious analog in Clarke’s work where humanity is transformed to the next stage, enabled by other aliens.

Oh - the toilet scene was a deliberate joke, the only one in the movie.

From what I’ve heard, the problem Kubrick’s special-effects guys had with their Saturn models was that the more realistic they made it, the “faker” it looked. (In later pictures from the Voyager space probes, the rings look like they’re on one super-thin piece of transparent plastic – so Saturn indeed does look “fake” up close!)

The comic was great!

I do remember having seen a comment that the hurdle was getting the rings to look convincing and had expected to find that when I checked in Agel before writing that last post, but he isn’t that specific. While my copy’s boxed up at the moment, Clarke presumably has something to say about the decision in The Lost Worlds of 2001 and he may be the one to publically blame the rings.

Crap, my first Pitting, and it’s in Cafe Society!

I love this movie. The special effects, as noted above, are still remarkable even in comparison with today’s state of the art. The last half of the movie is a visual delight. The first time I saw it, in 1969, I remember trembling as I walked out of the theater.

BUT, the story is essentially nonsense, and it only gained a reputation as having serious meaning is because most of its showings were seen through a haze of pot smoke. Wow, heavy, man!

As I said before, not only does it not make sense, there is no scenario which can be constructed that would make it make sense. Kubric himself admitted that he had no idea what the Star-Child was, or why it was in the picture.

The themes cited in the OP, including nuclear weapons and the causes of HAL’s insanity, are from the book, and are absent from the movie, and hence, can’t be considered part of the movie’s alleged “timeless message”.

The two short stories Clark used as his source, “The Sentinel” and “Encounter at Dawn” are excellent, by the way, bringing up some interesting – but not timeless – concepts.

Sorry, Brother’, you just didn’t piss me off enough to Pit you. Try harder next time. :stuck_out_tongue:

They are suggested in the film, but not made utterly explicit. HAL’s comments to Bowman, justifying his actions (“I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…This mission is too important for me to allow you to jepardize it.”) in killing Poole and the scientists indicate that he was given instructions on maintaining both the necessity and secrecy of the mission even to the point of conflict with his other crewmembers.

That the satellite featured in the second sequence is a weapon is strongly suggested by the superposition of it with the thighbone thrown in the air. Neither of these require a reading of the book, which overexplains many aspects of the story in any case.

I can’t disagree with you, BrotherCadfael that there really isn’t much story, or that the themes I find in it were deliberately planned by Kubrick. I think the film “makes sense” in terms of being able to construe a meaning and cause for the actions that occur, but Kubrick doesn’t even begin to try to explain what lies beyond the portal in the obelisk or what the motivations of its creators are, instead just indicating that the transformation is beyond our comprehension. (FWIW, I think the “wormhole” sequence is rather drawn out and kind of pretentious, actually. I’m sure it’s cool though a haze of pot smoke or under the influence of special blotting paper, but it goes on way too long for my sober taste.)


The exact “causes” may not be there, but we do understand HAL goes nutty when he sees the mission endangered by the crew and his inability to acknowledge his one mistake. Again, the major theme of the movie plays: HAL is more human than the humans. It’s time to go to the next step and that is the Star Child.

The movie is about the evolution of man, the tools as the means, and the dehumanizing of man and humanizing of the tools and, in a way, a tragic redemption of man that plays both as mockery and irony when you consider HAL is defeated by another tool, one vastly inferior to him: a screwdriver.

There are themes, they’re not explicit in the film, but they are there and… the film is frickin’ awesome. :stuck_out_tongue:

2010 will always have a warm place in my heart because, at one point in the film, Floyd acknowledges the terrific basketball being played in my home state of Kentucky.

2001 should win the award for Best Jump-Cut Ever.
And I though HAL9000 was an amazing character - creepy, hypersensitive, malevolent, complex, just human enough to be driven mad by his/its isolation. Brilliant.

I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…"

As one of those ageing hippy types who takes 2001 waaaaay to seriously :-), I have a few little pet theories about the film
a) that it has, and is intended to have, no concrete meaning. It’s objective theory of art taken to it’s extreme
b) that maybe Kubrick was intent on creating something which was simply a thing of (modernist) beauty, like a Henry Moore work or a Klimt painting (not precise analogies but ones that can be easily observed)
c) That the music is as important as the film.

My new girlfriend and I are about to take the ultimate test of commitment and compatibility. We’re going to watch “2001” together this weekend. She fell asleep midway through “Spartacus” last week, so it’s not looking promising…

… anyway, it may be a load of bunk but it’s two cents worth on , for me, easily the greatest film ever made.


Since no one’s mentioned it yet check out for an interesting analysis of the film.