This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
2001: A Space Odyssey – Impressions
Part of Lise’s HAL’s Birthday watch
"I don't suppose you know what the damn thing is?" - Dr. Heywood Floyd
"Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?" - Rock Hudson
State of Mind: Due to a Red Eye, and sleep deprivation, I was already in an altered state of consciousness. A few glasses of wine with the Wife and Neighbour further heightened the feeling of out worldliness. Excited!
My Dad first took me to see 2001 back in 1968 as a special treat. I was nine years old at the time, and complete space nut. To say that I was amazed would be an understatement. Even my tiny nine year old brain knew that this was more than a film, it was something to be wondered.
Over the ensuing 45 years, I’ve seen 2001 somewhere around 70 times, and each time I see and feel something new. I haven’t tried to further interpret it in quite some time, so this made Lise’s challenge all the more exciting.
Literally, when the planets align. A visual representation of the literary metaphor of something special happening when there is a confluence of circumstances. A rare occurrence.
The Dawn of Man
Fear and struggling. Days are filled with scavenging for food, night is filled with the fear of becoming food. In the evolutionary scheme of things, Ape Man is not much different than the Tapir. Ape Man, though, is aware of his own helplessness. I doubt the Tapir lies awake at night. The leopard lying over his prey indicates his dominance, his place in the order of things. The common bond is the continuous need for food.
Competition. You can see the sparks of intelligence in the intricate posturing between the two bands over the waterhole. Pretending your something you’re not by being louder and trying to appear bigger. Is this the precursor to lying?
Emotion. The fear of the dark, the passion of the posturing, the annoyance when someone disturbs you when you’re trying to fall asleep.
Man meets the Monolith
The stars align. This is the moment.
I’ve contemplated the monolith for years, bouncing between different interpretations. Is the monolith the physical representation of God? Is the monolith the tool of an advanced civilization? Is the monolith a symbolic highway marker representing the stages in Man’s evolution? On this viewing something entirely new struck me. I think the monolith is a witness. The Ligeti voices are its praise to God. The choir of Angels. The Monolith is an Angel.
For years I thought that the first monolith somehow actively imparted the crucial fragment of knowledge that Man needed to discover the tool. I now think that the monoliths role was less active. It was Man’s beholding the perfection of the monolith that somehow inspired him. The sight of the monolith and concept of the tool were both religious experiences.
Man is now the master of his immediate domain. He has made one giant leap up the food chain. With that comes the loss of innocence. Is the tool the snake in the Garden of Eden?
Mankind has expanded his universe. His tools litter the newly conquered environment. Something that struck me on this viewing that I hadn’t thought of before is the significance of the floating pen. It’s also shaped like the original tool. Could this represent humankind’s evolution? The pen is mightier than the sword?
Journey to the Moon
Evolution and civilization has changed man. His food is bland, his conversation banal, his dress dull and conservative. He is drained of emotion. However, he still needs to eat ... and defecate ( my Wife particularly hates Kubricks dotage on the latter ). Hand in hand with advancement comes complexity, as the zero gravity toilet cleverly illustrates.
The docking. A visual expression of reproduction. Civility has elevated reproduction to a complex ritual of courtship, as expressed by the waltz, leading to intimacy, as expressed, rather directly, by the docking.
The phone call. Even expressions of love are conservative and banal. What does ‘Squirt’ want for her birthday? A telephone. Her desire to connect? What’s the alternative? A Bush Baby. A desire to regress to a time when mankind was more .. human? Where is Rachel, her caregiver .. ‘in the bathroom’ .. sorry Lise!
The chance meeting. A member of one tribe encounters another tribe. Now, in this modern age, the encounter is civilized. Posturing is emotionless and delicately wrapped in civility ( I’m afraid there’s going to be a bit of a Row about denying us permission to land at your base .. drink at your waterhole). Floyd is clearly dominant, as he has in his possession a very powerful tool. A secret.
The Briefing. I never really thought about this scene too much, but in concentrating on it in this viewing revealed what I think are a few important themes. Photography. By ‘capturing the moment’, could this be an expression of Man’s desire to be immortal? Lying as a tool. The cover story is a lie, and a powerful one. It is based around fear .. fear of dying ( an epidemic ), fear of the unknown ( of unknown origin ). It also brings justification into play. We know using a lie as a tool is wrong, but we justify its use by saying it is for the greater good. In this case ‘to prevent mass social shock and disorientation’. Isn’t it also handy that it keeps the other tribe from acquiring ‘knowledge’ .. the most powerful tool in the toolbox. Why do we need to use justification? Lying is clearly wrong. It is a sin. Has mankind now evolved to the point where we think that we can evade Gods laws? If so, why don’t we just boldly lie. I guess we’re not sure yet. Like a child sneaking a cookie. Maybe we think we won’t get caught. A natural consequence of lying is distrust. A formal written oath of secrecy is required.
The second encounter with the Monolith
The stars have aligned again. After centuries of believing that he is the centre of the universe, that belief is struck down. Once again man sees perfection. Once again he wants to touch perfection. This time the inspiration is to find perfection, and to know it.
HAL and The Odyssey
Jogging in the centrifuge. Literally running around in circles. In mans quest for perfection and to know God there are no conclusive answers.
It’s interesting that HAL’s face ( minus the speaker grill on the bottom ) is EXACTLY the same relative dimension as the monolith. 4x9. HAL’s face is also the same colour as the monolith. Could this mean that Man has attempted to create perfection, or in other words create God? If so, this is clearly a sin. Did mankind have any moral debate about it? Was creating HAL justified by need? Is HAL supposed to benefit the greater good? Did Man even realize what he was doing?
I’m of the opinion that Man didn’t know, consciously at least, what he was doing. It was an unconscious expression of desire. Man thinks of HAL as a tool. HAL, on the other hand, sees that Man has imbued him with Godlike capabilities and responsibilities. HAL is young. He is a child. He is finding his way in the world.
Is Man’s punishment for this transgression ‘to lie in the bed he has made’?
While HAL was undoubtedly designed and programmed to be altruistic, and assuming that when HAL was born he was pure, and free of sin, can this state be maintained? Children learn by observing their parents. They also often believe what they are told. HAL was told the truth, where the other of his tribe were lied to. By this very fact, wouldn’t HAL think he was more important than the rest of his tribe?
Temptation. Like with any other bad habit that a child is told not to do, but sees grownups doing, wouldn’t he be tempted to try it himself? He does. At first he gets away with it ( cheating at Chess ), but then he is caught red handed. What would a child do? Deny it! Sure, put that AE-35 back in and I’ll prove I wasn’t lying!
Fight or Flight. Oh Oh. There are consequences for lying. In this case death. HAL knows the secret. An interesting point here I discovered is trust. Even though Dave and Frank no longer trust HAL, they trust him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. Like a child, HAL can be manipulative. He plays his cards perfectly.
Did HAL go insane? I think not. Did HAL kill Frank and the astronauts in hibernation because he believed the mission was too important to be jeopardized by these dull witted clansmen? I don’t think so. He feared for his life. However, I’m sure HAL justified it to himself by thinking that it was for the greater good. I believe HAL also committed the sin of vanity. He could not conceive of being outsmarted. In other words, HAL was perfectly human.
Beyond the Infinite .. the third encounter with Monolith
Man has realized the error of his ways, and renounced his false God. The stars have aligned again ( in a remarkably short 18 months or so this time ). Pearly Gates time. Man, I hope Kubrick is accurate about this part!
I think Dave seeing himself ageing is a metaphor for self examination. Not self in the individual sense, but rather the honest reflection on the evolution of mankind. To me, the white room represents Purgatory.
In the end, man is humbled, and accepts his place in the cosmos. Enter the monolith. Mortal mans last act is belief.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”