2001 REVIEW

Stanley Kubrick’s monumental “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968; 11 p.m. Monday) was shot in Cinerama and billed as “The Ultimate Trip.” Indeed, few subsequent space movies have embraced its cool, inward-looking intelligence that keeps the film in a class by itself. Scripted by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, it combines mystery, action and awe-inspiring visuals with questions about the origins and limitations of man’s intelligence, the mental and physical effects of long-range space travel, the nature of progress and the colonization of space, and dehumanization in the computer age.
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“2001” — The Monolith and the Message :: rogerebert.com :: News & comment

What disturbed the audience even more, however, was that bedroom at the end of the film. Kubrick’s space explorer runs into another monolith beyond Jupiter and it takes him into a space warp.

Q. What’s a space warp?
A. A warp in space, and therefore in time, thanks to Einstein.

Q. Then when the pilot emerges into the objective world, where is he?
A. In a bedroom.

Q. A BEDROOM?

Yes, a magnificently decorated Louis XVI bedroom. What’s the bedroom doing out there beyond Jupiter? Nothing. It isn’t out there beyond Jupiter. It’s a bedroom.

The spacecraft lands in the bedroom, and Keir Dullea, the pilot, looks through the window and sees himself in a space suit standing outside. He gets out, becomes himself in the space suit standing outside, and sees himself seated at a table, eating. He becomes himself sitting at the table, eating, and notices himself, very elderly, dying in bed. He becomes himself dying in bed, and dies in bed.

Well, it’s not every space adventurer who dies in bed.

Now where did the bedroom come from? My intuition is that it came out of Kubrick’s imagination; that he understood the familiar bedroom would be the most alien, inexplicable, disturbing scene he could possibly end the film with. He was right. The bedroom is more otherworldly and eerie than any number of exploding stars, etc. Exploding stars we can understand. But a bedroom?

The bedroom also provides a suitable backdrop while Kubrick’s man grows older and dies. Why can’t it be just that – a backdrop? Poets put lovers under trees, and nobody asks where that tree came from. Why can’t Kubrick put his aging man in a bedroom? This is what literary critics might call a non-descriptive symbol – that is, the bedroom stands for a bedroom. Nothing else.

The film, in its most basic terms, is a parable about Man. It is what Kubrick wanted to say about Man as a race, an idea and an inhabitant of the universe.

More specifically, it is a film about man’s journey from the natural state of a tool-using state and then again into a higher order of natural state. It makes its statement almost completely in visual terms; and the little dialog in the center section of the film is hardly necessary, like verbal Muzak.

Kubrick begins when man was still an ape, thoroughly at home in the natural environment of Earth. He shows us becoming a toolmaker in order to control our natural environment, and he shows us finally using our tools to venture out into space. At the end, he shows man drawn beyond his tools so that we exist in the universe itself with the same natural ease we once enjoyed on Earth.

The opening sequence is brilliant. If it could be shown as an educational film, it would explain man’s development as a tool-using animal more clearly than any number of textbooks. Two tribes of apes scream at each other. They are frightened of the sounds in the night. A monolith appears. One tribe of apes gingerly feels it, running its hands down its perfectly smooth edges. And as the apes caress the monolith, something like a short circuit takes place in their minds.

A connection is made between their eyes, their minds, and their hands. Their attention is drawn beyond themselves and toward an object in the environment. They are given a “lesson” by the makers of the monolith – and they then discover that, they are able to pick up a club and use it as a tool (at first for killing, then, for more subtle ends).

Kubrick cuts from this most simple tool, a club, to a most complex one, a space ship. The prehistoric bone is thrown up into the air and becomes a shuttle rocket on its way to a space station. Could anything be clearer? Here are both extremes of man’s tool-using stage. Yet, when the men in the space station began to talk, 45 minutes into the film, the person behind me sighed: “At last, the story begins.” This was a person for whom a story could not exist apart from dialog and plot, and audiences made up of those people are going to find “2001” tough sledding.

So what then? Another monolith is found on the moon.

Like the first one, it provides a transcendent experience. By now, man is intelligent enough to realize that the monolith was planted by another intelligent race, and that is an awesome blow to man’s ego. So he sets out toward Jupiter because the monolith beams signals in that direction. And man takes along “Hal 9000,” a computer (or tool) so complex that it may, even surpass the human intelligence. The ultimate tool.

But Hal 9000, made by man in his own image and likeness, shares man’s ego and pride. What is finally necessary is the destruction of Hal – after he nearly destroys the mission – and that leaves one man, alone, at the outer edge of the Solar System to face the third monolith.

And here man undergoes a transformation as important as when he became a tool-user. He becomes a natural being again, having used his tools for hundreds of thousands of years to pull himself up by the bootstraps. Now he no longer needs them. He has transcended his own nature, as that original ape did, and now he is no longer a “man.”

Instead, having grown old and died, he is reborn as a child of the universe. As a solemn, wide-eyed infant who slowly looks over the stars and the Earth and then turns his eyes on the audience.

These last 20 seconds, as the child of man looks down on his ancestral parents, are the most important in the film. We in the audience are men, and here is the liberated, natural being, Kubrick believes we will someday become.

But when Kubrick’s space infant looked at the audience the other night, half of the audience was already on its feet in a hurry to get out. A good third of the audience must not have seen the space infant at all.

Man is a curious animal. He is uneasy in the face of great experiences, and if he is forced to experience something profound, he starts immediately to cheapen it, to bring it down to his own level. Thus after a great man is assassinated, lesser men immediately manufacture, buy and sell plastic statues and souvenir billfolds and lucky coins with the great man’s image on them.

The same process is taking place with “2001.” Two out of three people who see it will assure you it is too long, or too difficult, or (worst of all) merely science fiction, In fact, it is a beautiful parable about the nature of man. Perhaps it is the nature of man not to wish to know too much about his own nature.

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