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Interpretations of 2001

Page history last edited by Air Dupaix 14 years, 5 months ago

2001: A Space Odyssey

 is commonly debated and talked about in many film courses for one main reason: it is incredibly open to interpretation. There are hundreds of unique ideas about the film. 



Clarke's novel as explanation

One common misconception is that the movie was "based on" the novel, making the novel the official source on thetopic. Arthur Clarke's novel of the same name, published after the film's release, but begun in May 1964 and substantially completed by December 1965 when the film was in production, seems to explain the ending of the film more clearly. Clarke's novel explicitly identifies the monolith as a tool created by an alien race that has been through many stages of evolution, moving from organic forms, through biomechanics, and finally has achieved a state of pure energy. These aliens travel the cosmos assisting lesser species to take evolutionary steps.


Clarke himself used to recommend reading the book, saying "I always used to tell people, 'Read the book, see the film, and repeat the dose as often as necessary'", although, as his biographer Neil McAleer points out, he was promoting sales of his book at the time.Elsewhere he said, "You will find my interpretation in the novel; it is not necessarily Kubrick's. Nor is his necessarily the 'right' one – whatever that means."

Film critic Penelope Houston noted in 1971 that the novel differs in many key respects from the film, and as such perhaps should not be regarded as the skeleton key to unlock it.




Religious Interpretations

On a slightly more theological note, some people speculate about the origin of man versus the human creationism theory used in the Bible. This idea is that the monolith is the "spark" or God given power to make man out of the rest of the population of animals. This is a view that would be taken from a theistic evolutionary standpoint rather than a strictly intelligently designed based belief of the creation of man.


In a sense 2001 could be interpreted as a film which presents the characters and events taking place from a bird's eye view, from outside the world that is projected. In a religious interpretation of this style of storytelling, one could argue that this film shows the progression of man and the universe from the perspective of God.


There are also a few Biblical allusions that can be discussed from the film. The opening sequence of the film shows the moon and as the camera moves upward the Earth is seen at a distance with the light of the sun peaking over the Earth's cap. This stunning light is comparable to the light uttered into existence in Genesis 1 ("Let there be light."). In the "Dawn of Man" segment of the film the monolith is touched by the ape and this event sparks the "dawn of man." This action can be compared to the famous Michelangelo painting The Creation of Adam (seen below) (6). This painting is meant to represent the moment God breathed life into Adam, the first man created in the Bible. This is a parallel to the monolith "breathing life" into the ape to bring forth man into being. Just as man soon becomes a murderer in the Bible when Cain slays his brother Abel in Genesis 4, early man becomes a murderer soon after touching the monolith-as seen in the scene depicting the rival ape groups fighting. 





Conception Allegory

2001 has also been described as an allegory of human conception, birth, and death.

New Zealand journalist Scott MacLeod sees parallels between the spaceship's journey and the physical act of conception. We have the long, bulb-headed spaceship as a sperm, and the destination planet Jupiter (or the monolith floating near it) as the egg, and the meeting of the two as the trigger for the growth of a new race of man (the "star child"). The lengthy pyrotechnic light show witnessed by David Bowman, which has puzzled many reviewers, is seen by MacLeod as Kubrick's attempt at visually depicting the moment of conception, when the "star child" comes into being. 



To conclude

Who is right? No one. Is if fun to think about? Yes.

Ultimately the interpretation of this film is in the eye of the beholder. No single idea should be constituted as the "correct" meaning of 2001.  Surely Kubrick had his ideas of what the film means but the strategic ambiguity of so many key elements in this film are meant to be portals for the viewer to think about and decipher in their own way. This film could mean fifty different things to fifty different people and Kubrick would probably welcome this open ended quality of varying interpretations to his film.




The major edits are so abundant here its frightening. Just google "2001: a space odyssey interpretations" and your computer nearly explodes with the amount of search results.




 Works Cited 






(6) Moore, Charles W. "Revisiting Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in its Eponymous Year." Applelinks. n.d. Web. November 12, 2009.

Comments (1)

Sean Desilets said

at 11:15 am on Nov 5, 2009

* I tried that Goggle thing and my computer said, in a creepily soothing voice, "Hello, Sean. How is the grading going?" What should I do, William?
* Obviously, that conception idea is also Sofia's. It's interesting to note, by the way, the word "concept" sitting latent in "conception."
* Link to Air's HAL page. One way to approach this page would be to talk about the various questions in *need* of interpretation here--the monolith, HAL, the temporal dislocation, the star child, etc. That way you don't have to create this expectation that you will actually deal with all the different interpretations (and there are lots of pages in development to deal with these questions)

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