Saturday, 21 January 2012

2001 : Analysis of the last 10 minutes

2001 a space odyssey, the iconic sci fi movie and incidentally one of the few that I recognise as a true Sci Fi. From way back in 1968 it's probably one of the most written about movies of all time, but also it's one of the most enigmatic to some. Understanding the last 10 minutes is the key to understanding the entire movie. For those who have been perplexed by Kubricks vision I offer my take on the films ending.
The trip through the wormhole takes our protagonist to a particularly ambiguous environment, adorned with luxurious furnishings but maintaining a clinical or rather detached, oddly misunderstood and superficial facsimile of luxury. Here Dave runs through his life, in fast forward until he dies and is reborn in the form of the 'Star Child'.
So what's going on? The images have had many a movie goer going in circles trying to grasp the meaning of what's happing in this two and a bit hour journey.
After Dave is transported through the wormhole to an unknown destination, possibly a laboratory, the clinical aspects of the set certainly suggest it as such, Dave's life is accelerated.
The cuts we see here have Dave observing himself in the third person, then we switch over to the other Dave and follow him. This device is an ingenious way that Kubrick elegantly side steps the use of the montage technique, simultaneously progressing time without resorting to fades, whilst furthering the artificiality of the environment (with) a deliberate manipulation of time.
In order to understand what's brought us to this point it's now necessary to consider the monolith.
It's arrival at the dawn of man spurred the next step in human development, man begins to use tools, and rapidly the balance of power shifts in his favour, even within his species. The famous moment of the bone being thrown into the air and the jump cut to the spaceship is making a parallel between the two tools, the bone and the spaceship, and this illustrates a defining moment on evolution where man begins to use tools, the rudimentary bludgeon to begin with through to the sophisticated space ship.
It's important to keep this in mind as we progress through this clip.

The environment that Dave has arrived in is rather suggestive, we cannot be very sure of exactly what it is but it does carry something of the laboratory to it, or more likely a holding tank from where is prepared to move onto the next stage. The apparent calmness that he achieves, while initially he seems understandably anxious, is helped by the luxurious if somewhat sterile surroundings that have been provided for him.
As the camera pans around the doorway we once again see Dave in the third person, that third person surrealy being Dave himself, through who we see the next step of his rapid ageing. Kubrick makes a seamless and flowing depiction of Dave's lifespan with no crossfades or apparent gaps in time as he's hurtled to his bodily death. This ingenious use of the camera and editing to avoid the use of standard transitions takes the events outside of normality or indeed natural progression, lending them an air of oddness that doesn't require verbal exposition to project its meaning.
This moment fortifies the sensation that the process is unnatural and quite alien at least within the human sphere of experience. As Dave turns to look at his past self observing only to find nothing
we move into his perspective and the progression continues. Dave, despite his passive acceptance of
the situation seems at least in part aware of the process that we see.
Whatever is providing this space for him it seems to be concerned with his well being to a great extent, he's provided with physical comfort, food and a degree of luxury. Stylistically there is a jarring conflict between the old and new. The antique furniture and art clashes with the stark illumination and clinical feel of the containment in which Dave is confined.
An interesting thing to consider is why this is happening, what is the reason for this to be happening now. The point at which the aliens have interacted with humans again coincides with the point that artificial intelligence, in the form of HAL, has arrived. HAL is the tool that becomes a threat to humanity, it's sophistication approaching and reflecting, possibly fully achieving, the emotional capabilities and immaturities of humans, becoming sophisticated to the point where it almost becomes more human than the rather unemotional creators. This is to the point of resorting to murder and becoming defensive and to a great extent paranoid regarding its existence and also to the being fearful at the point of its demise. All very human emotional displays in contrast to the crews almost robotic stoicism in the face of the most extreme circumstances. This ability to create a sentient being may well be the reason for the need, or at least the catalyst for the aliens to progress mankind beyond its current evolutionary stage.
As Dave's journey approaches its end we see him observing the final stage of life as we know it, that of death. Once again the transition is seamless as we move into the dying moments of the current stage of human existence, an existence that must end to make way for the next step.
The Monolith reappears again at the time of Dave's impending death, when he dies the Star Child is born, the transcendent being that exists literally and in every way above humanity. The monolith then returns Dave back to Earth. The cycle of his trip and the cycle of the films arc is completed as we see the beginning of a new phase of humanity again.
The process that Dave has gone through in this sequence is one of evolution, albeit not by natural means. His accelerated lifespan is a journey passing on to the next stage of human existence. The driving force of the major jumps in evolution seems almost god like but is physically tangible in a way that theistic ideas are not. The alien element uses technology that seems magical but is simply ahead of our experience, another thematic echo of the bone to spaceship cut. Once again the difference in the tools is being highlighted only the monolith is as advanced as it is multipurpose as it is elegant.
The starchild has now returned to earth and has a certain godlike aspect to it, an ethereal being that resides above earth, it's comparative sophistication evoking our awe of the unknown, almost making a deity of what is simply an advanced life form, indeed a progression of us. The choice of an image of a child is perfect as it represents a new stage, a new beginning, not an ending or an arrival at the pinnacle of existence, it suggests a humble progression and a continuing journey, the new leg of which has just begun.

6 comments:

  1. An interesting analysis.. Please drop by and visit my site too: "http://whatslifeanillusion.blogspot.com/"

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  2. Just saw your youtube analysis of the ending,, pretty cool.,. there is significance in what the person said who commented about dave being alone.... starting out as a family, tribe, community, with a small sense of individuality,., which the discovering and innovating and implementing of technologies developed the individual but also allowed for more loneliness, making life a more personal experience or journey, not that it always wasnt, but more so... think school of fish, flock of birds, to procreate efficiently man must have pretty much always been a pack animal, one of community and cooperation... the way I interpret the ending is that daves climax of life, this astronaut on missions, the pinnacle of human, who gained so much from that discovering of the bone as tool "long ago"( time is quite relative), who is so refined and civilized does what with his given nature... he isolates him self, and creates lonely and sterile environments, i think the room in the end represents any modern human ideal of value and material and aesthetic quality,,,. all technology trying to sate curiosity and escape death, continue the species.,., when the unescapable fate is ( this is my interpretation) that the universe has its own plans,.., that all your "progress" is for naught, when we see he is born again as a child,,,. perhaps even the next step in natural universal evolution becoming a star to use its gained consciousness to create worlds etc. etc. to me the monolith maybe represents base mysteries of the universe,, unknown ideas, concepts, perspectives, that seemingly appear out of no where,,, anomaly or singularity which sparks, or causes effects of novelty...... just my 2 cents ill check back to see if you reply and found anything of what i wrote relevant... i love the move much, havnt viewed it in a bit though

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  3. Have you read any of the books? It's laid out very clearly what happened to Dave.

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    1. The novel is Clarke's take on the theme, in every aspect inferior to Kubrick's vision. In "Lost Worlds of 2001" Clarke describes Bowman transported to alien world, where kids shoot toy ray-guns at him! Hey, beings at least two major evolutionary steps above us play with toy weapons we can recognize!?

      Sorry, but while Kubrick was an awe inspiring genius, almost incapable to make a less than fantastic movie, Clarke was much overhyped unremarkable SciFi author - solid, but not much more (like Asimov, too).

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  4. 2001 is my favorite movie and you can read my interpretation here. Given Kubrick's history of phallic imagery and existential themes I hope you'll agree, or clarify, my interpretation. Randy

    http://philaneed.com/2001.html

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  5. Having seen the original nearly four hour long movie (with intermission I might add) I am sad to see the versions being out on disk are not really complete. Seeing it in 70mm "Wide Screen" at the age of 13 was a completely astounding experience. What I find more amazing is I got the gist of the movie at that age. I find that your take on the ending is right on par with what I took away from the film. In the original release it showed Dave actually opening the boxes and liquid containers containing the "Blue Raisin Bread" that the aliens had provided him with. Then there was the ceiling mounted TV set that had recorded excerpts from broadcasts when the TMA 1 blasted its signal to the monolith at Jupiter upon its discovery / Sunrise. I would really like to see the original release again, just as it was in 1968. Thank you for the "trip back in time", I really enjoyed it. I've also read all the books in the series, but I think Kubrick's production stands out from all the rest.

    Rich

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