By James Maynard Gelinas
Given the competition with commercial cinema, a director has a particular responsibility toward his audiences. I mean by this that because of cinema's unique power to affect an auditorium - in the identification of the screen with life - the most meaningless, unreal commercials film can have just the same kind of magical effect on the uncritical and uneducated cinema-goer as that derived by his discerning counterpart from a real film. The tragic and crucial difference that if art can stimulate emotions and ideas, mass-appeal cinema, because of its easy, irresistible effect, extinguishes all traces of thought and feeling irrevocably.
-Tarkovsky, Andrey. Sculpting in Time, First University of Texas, 1989, Pg. 179
Stanley Kubrick's most popular and enduring film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, a work he co-wrote with noted Science Fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. It's considered among the best in the genre. Which is strange when compared against popular science fiction fare like Star Wars, Alien, and the Star Trek franchises. For unlike typical character and plot driven narrative, its structure is that of an odyssey portraying the span of millennia. There is no central protagonist in conflict with an antagonist to root for. The few depicted characters seem disconnected from one another, and their dialog is often irrelevant to expository action. Its pacing is slug slow, with excessive montage shots that while visually beautiful don't move plot points forward. If classical music seems an odd score choice itself, several pieces selected are often disturbingly postmodern, evoking not a soothing softness of the musical genre but chaotic and disquieting emotions. Finally, the final sequence, rather than a climax and resolution to some character driven conflict, seemingly comes from nowhere leaving more questions than answers. In almost every way this film should have failed. But it didn't. Instead, it's considered a great masterpiece. Why?
|The "Starchild" - a transhumanist triumph for mankind? Better not bottle feed me.|
A trite explanation is that for viewers it evokes feelings of transcendent human triumphalism. That even though it steps out of traditional narrative film structure, the ending suggests wish fulfillment for audiences who identify with the Star Child and thus assume this represents some desirable outcome. The musical score choice of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra appears to reinforce this emotional reaction. And yet there remains tremendous debate as to the meaning, for with every viewer there seems another interpretation. These differing viewpoints can be broken up by three layers of message that have been intertwined, often in contrast and not congruence, to evoke a powerful intellectual and emotional experience at the unconscious level, while remaining difficult to interpret rationally.
Realism: The film appears to be a realistic depiction of events that span millennia. There is great attention to detail throughout that appears to suggest that the events on screen exist entirely within a physical and rationalist realm. Even the monolith, which is taken symbolically for extraterrestrial intervention, can be interpreted in positivist terms as a physical object that engenders a cause and effect relationship to those it molds and transforms. This seems to make sense until by the end, with the appearance of the Star Child, the film appears to have transformed from a documentary experience to something more surreal. Viewers are left confused as to the meaning, but having enjoyed a good ride nonetheless.
Philosophy: Underneath this surface message depicting explicit realism of events is an implied philosophical message referring to Nietzsche's Ascent of Man thesis. Here, an eternal recurring cycle of development, stasis in consolidation, decay, and then radical change is proposed whereby man advances due to universal principles of existence. At the beginning, we see Moonwatcher and the apes transformed into the beginning of man. At the end, we then see man transformed into the Star Child. Each step appears to represent the beginning of this cycle.
Irrationality: Upon multiple viewings, the documentary realism appears to break down, becoming less a depiction of linear events with a direct cause and effect relationship within the narrative, and more an aesthetic style that draws the viewer in to enforce preconceived rationalist notions that the filmmaker then dashes. A series of irrational implications about incommensurable supernatural forces outside human awareness are embedded within thematic repetitions, motifs, and the use of visual superimposition. This layer of the film appears to negate the message presented on the surface level.
The viewer is thus faced with the confusing dilemma of choosing which of these perspectives to use in forming an interpretation. Most take the documentary approach and assume the film depicts events with typical cause and effect relationships. Some perceive the suggested relationship to philosophical theory. But it takes many viewings to recognize repetitions that suggest by theme and motif a message that contradicts both the overt Nietzscean philosophy as well as preconceived notions of rationalism embedded within its documentary aesthetic.
Beyond the conceptual layers of Realism, Philosophy, and Irrationality, one must also consider the filmmaking and storytelling techniques used as well. There are several additional layers to consider: characterization of intent expressed by the actor's micro-expressions; visual and auditory themes and motifs suggested by repetition across scenes in the frame and soundtrack and musical score; and emotional contrasts evoked by the difference between Kubrick's often contrapuntal musical score choice in contrast to the imagery and situations presented. Examining all of these elements is necessary to understand Kubrick's intent.
It is from combining these perspectives that another interpretation for the ending emerges, one less triumphal for mankind. But one cannot see this by looking strictly at plot elements of action and dialog, for it's embedded within implications presented as repetitions within imagery, sound, and score choice, and not as explicit expository events within the narrative. Thus, underneath that surface presentation of a seemingly realistic imagery that flows across vast spans of time, Kubrick's use of sound, score, and repetition of imagery suggest theme and motifs often in opposition to a rationalist viewpoint. Instead, these choices seem to imply irrationalist outcomes, leading to an ambiguity of intent by the filmmaker.
This uncertainty for the viewer can be summed up by the question: Did Kubrick intend to create a 'hard science fiction' film, one where a depiction of believable technology is crucial to a linear cause and effect narrative? If so, why do many nonhuman element, such as the monolith and its makers, repeated celestial alignments at crucial plot points, and the formation of the Star Child at the end, appear to be supernatural plot elements? And why did he choose a musical score that seems to evoke emotions contrary to what's expected by imagery and situations? This essay will attempt to answer those questions with a detailed scene-by-scene analysis. It then ends with a review of cultural antecedents and reactions to the film to provide context of its lasting legacy.
As the Film Begins
2001 opens with blackness to Ligeti's Atmospheres, a postmodern composition meant to evoke the feelings of discomfort and disconnection to reality.
Ligeti's AtmospheresAs Ligeti's music ends, the first image we see is a celestial alignment of the sun the earth and the moon as Richard Strauss' exhilarating Also Sprach Zarathustra begins. It's critical to note that Thus Spoke Zarathustra is also a novel by Friedrich Nietzsche. This musical choice thus signals that the film deals with the same central issues in this book. In that novel, man exists as a mid-way point between lower animals and the Übermensch, a fully self-actualized super man, the next level in human evolution. The Übermensch exerts his own superiority over others not just due to greater strength or superiority of intelligence, but because it is an eternal law of nature that the expression of power is itself righteous. In that expression, a triumph of will over adversity is achieved. Zarathustra, also called Zoroaster, was the prophet of the Zoroasterians, an ancient pre-Christian religious order from Persia that barely survives to this day. But Nietzsche did not depict the value set from that religion, instead, based on his other philosophical works, he inverted it. The novel depicts the philosopher's themes of eternal recurrence, or repetition of events throughout the infinity of time; the will to power as a fundamental aspect of human nature; and antipathy and loathing toward religious and communal sentiments of pity, compassion, and mercy; or "God is Dead". Thus, for Nietzsche, to be called 'kind' is to brand one with a four letter epithet. In Donald MacGregor's short essay and review of the film, he notes several of the same themes that are implied by the use of Strauss' music:
In the Kubrick films, the idea of primitive man can be found in 2001 and A Clockwork Orange. 2001's depiction of primitive man is in the segment "The Dawn of Man" that opens the film. This segment depicts primitive man gaining the instinct to kill, which is symbolized with the appearance of the monolith. In the novel, 2001, the main ape-man (named Moon-Watcher) after gaining this instinct and killing another ape-man is described as master of the world and thinking "he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something."  This is a clear illustration of primitive man as a creature of action and of the moment, a Dionysian spirit. [...]
In the journey from primitive man to superman, the monolith on the moon in 2001 marks a major moment. In the scene with the moon monolith, the sun is pictured directly overhead when the monolith emits a loud noise (perhaps to signal the arrival of this moment). This moment is described by Nietzsche as "the noon when man stands the middle of his way between beast and superman...a way to a new morning", the first morning of the superman. [...]
The superman is reached at the end of 2001. In the final scenes, the astronaut, David Bowman, lies on his deathbed. He wills the superman into existence before expiring. " 'I love him who willeth the creation of something beyond himself and then perisheth' said Zarathustra." This idea is also well expressed in another work of Richard Strauss, a tone-poem called Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration). Writing about this work, Strauss said it was "to represent the death of a person who had striven for the highest artistic goals...The fruit of his path through life appears to him, the idea, the Ideal." Remove the word "artistic" and interpret the "person" to be mankind, then this accurately describes the Nietzschean idea, that mankind is striving for an Ideal, called the superman, to be willed into existence by man before he perishes.
-MacGregor, Donald. 2001; or, How One Film-Reviews With a Hammer.
Here we see a traditional Nietzscean explanation for the film, which this essay will deconstruct to form an opposing perspective.
Opening Sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.There are three named segments to the film: The Dawn of Man, Jupiter Mission, and Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. After the exuberance of the music in this opening, the film begins with a title shot for the first segment. The Dawn Of Man This segment is an exploration of a prehistorical ape species who are clearly humanity's ancestors. We follow one starving tribe, lead by an ape Clarke named, "Moonwatcher." They scurry about for roots in an arid and sparsley vegetated landscape, eking out a below subsistence existence. Yet, wild boars that show no fear of the apes litter the area in abundance. Thus, there is easy prey to catch and eat but the apes cannot see this sustenance in their presence. As if hunger were not bad enough, the apes face predators. One particularly fierce leopard, is depicted roaming the landscape killing apes. And, to make matters worse, another small tribe of apes battles Moonwatcher and his band over a crucial water hole only feet wide. The discerning viewer must conclude that here is a species wholly unsuited to the environment these apes inhabit. Moonwatcher and his tribe cling to life by but a thread, with extinction looming and ever present. But then a nonhuman intelligence, personified by the Black Monolith, intervenes in the fortunes of our tribe.
|'Thank God these creatures haven't discovered bukkake yet.'|
Legiti's Requiem, it'll send chills down your spine.Looking up from the bottom of the monolith, there is the second image of celestial alignment, implying that what is happening now is in some way related to the celestial alignment that had been depicted during the initial opening of the film.
|Celestial alignment from below the monolith.|
|Tribal warfare over a water hole portends humanity's future.|
Let us admit to ourselves, without trying to be considerate, how every higher culture on earth so far has begun. Human beings whose nature was still natural, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey who were still in possession of unbroken strength of will and lust for power, hurles themselves upon weaker, more civilized, more peaceful races ... the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their predominance did not lie mainly in physical strength but in strength of the soul - they were more whole human beings (which also means, at every level, "more whole beasts").
-Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil, "What is Noble", Vintage Books, 1966, Pg. 201Thus the viewer must infer that tribal warfare, political dominance, even outright murder, is the essential nature of this transformed ape. And by extension, this creature - an Überaffenmench - is what will become mankind. Space, a Boring Frontier The ape then throws his killing bone into the sky in exhilaration at this new discovery and power. In a match cut, the bone becomes a satellite orbiting Earth. Then a series of satellites follow. What's not clear from the shot, but is clear if you read into literature about the film itself, is that Kubrick and Clarke intended those satellites to represent orbiting nuclear weapons platforms.
The transformation of bone cudgels to thermonuclear destruction represents a mere nanosecond of time. Nothing much has changed except the relative complexity of the tools which the near-hairless apes of the modern world carry in their grasp.
-Bizon, Piers. Filming the Future, Arum Press Limited, Copyright 2000, Pg. 2Furthermore, in an analysis presented by Rob Ager, he offers several blow up shots showing what appear to be nationalist insignia on these satellites.
|"...a German flag alongside what appears to be a black Maltese cross" (from Ager's 2001 analysis)|
Strauss' The Blue Danube.
|Around and around Earth goes, where it stops nobody knows.|
|Eliana to the far right. Pay attention to her facial expression in this uncomfortable exchange.|
The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.
-Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents, W. W. Norton Co., 1961, Pg. 120But Freud's perspective is in direct conflict with the Nietzschean value system that extols the virtue of unbridled individual expression of violence in pursuit of power. The two cannot be rectified by some Hegelian synthesis to a newly unified philosophy. Which presents mankind with a dilemma that mere technology can't resolve. Thus, in an ironic twist to the presumptive theme that technology represents some grand triumph over the inhospitable environment of space, instead technological advance has dehumanized man from his essential aggressive nature. For one might ask, if technology can't resolve our innate aggression how could it be expected to make normal this place in outer space we've never evolved to survive in? In Disorientation, We Spin Downside Up and Stand Upside Down A repetition of spinning, combined with the difficulties of meeting biological necessities in space, bolsters this theme of disorientation. It's representative of a disconnect between our technological achievement and evolutionary maladaptation to this environment. In a jump cut to a space ship, the Aries lb, travelling to the moon, music from The Blue Danube returns. Once again in zero gravity, we see a montage of flight assistants watching sumo wrestling as they sip from food trays with only photographs of items like corn, cheese, carrots, peaks and coffee as mere indicators of what they might be consuming. A flight attendant then picks up trays for the pilots, and we see her walk up a round wall along a velcro carpet until she's upside down.
|Upside down and right side up, what's up and what's down?|
|Hope this isn't an emergency situation, 'cause that's a lot of reading to do before doing your thang.|
One need only glance at at the screen to learn that the ornaments are composed of thousands of bodies, sexless bodies in bathing suits. The regularity of their patterns is cheered by the masses, themselves arranged by the stands in tier upon ordered tier. (Pg. 76) ... Viewed from the perspective of reason, the mass ornament reveals itself as a mythological cult that is masquerading in the garb of abstraction. Compared to the concrete immediacy of other corporeal presentations, the ornament's conformity to reason is thus an illusion. (Pg. 83) ... The role the mass ornament plays in social life confirms that it is the spurious progeny of bare nature. The intellectually privileged who are unwilling to recognize it, are an appendage of the prevailing economic system have not even perceived the mass ornament as a sign of this system. (Pg. 84-85)
-Kracauer, Siegfried. The Mass Ornament, "The Mass Ornament", Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1995
|Welcome to bureaucratic meetings of the future.|
On board this ship we see Floyd and two cohorts from the meeting chit-chatting irrelevant banter. Dressed in space suits, one takes a container containing square artificial sandwiches wrapped in cellophane, which look to have the consistency of soft crackers with a dollap of creamed liverwurst squirted inside. They seem less appealing than unsavory Twinkies, and yet the group jokes about how much 'better' the food has gotten over time. As they eat, one verbally back-slaps Floyd, telling him that he's really improved base morale with his shut-the-fuck-up-and-do-what-we-say speech. They're only too happy to oblige to the demands of the leadership council Floyd represents. In both cases, the unsavory food and ridiculous submission to blind authority suggests more than mere lying to Floyd, but self deception as well.
|You call that lunch?|
|Playtex gloves are just like skin. Don't feel up off-Earth monoliths without them!|
|Celestial alignment from beneath the monolith, this time on the moon.|
- To total blackness, as an introduction, we hear the disturbing modern classical piece Atmospheres by Ligeti.
- To a celestial alignment we hear the triumphal trumpets of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra.
- To the otherworldly black monolith, as mere apes are transformed into human by means of teaching them violence, we hear another distressing modern piece by Ligeti, his Requiem, evoking both feelings of awe and discomfort. This ends with another celestial alignment.
- To the beautiful visuals of a space plane dancing with an orbiting space station, to ultimately mate, we hear the Johann Strass' waltz, The Blue Danube. After a period on the station, where the narrative focuses on the matter of human deception, this music is repeated again during the trip to the moon. Here, the narrative focuses on the difficulties of space travel to human occupants.
- To the harrowing wails of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, we see imagery depicting the harsh and unforgiving environment of the moon. This is contrasted with more narrative about deception in socialization and dehumanization from our biological needs.
- To a modern incident with the black monolith, we once again hear Ligeti's disturbing modern work Requiem. This ends with another celestial alignment.
...at least one type of plot stubbornly refuses cinematic treatment: the "theoretical" story. One of the reasons why this story does not lend itself to the cinematic approach is that it has, so to speak, an ideological center; whenever it materializes, mental reality takes precedence over physical reality. Supposing now a film narrating such a story has a musical score which complies with its structural obligations to the full, thereby enhancing the theatrical character of that story; then this score is precisely because of its dramaturgic perfection as inadequate to the medium as is the story itself. In giving the latter its due, it inevitably highlights contents and meanings remote from camera-life.
-Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film, Princeton University Press, 1960, Pg . 143From here, an obvious pattern emerges in narrative and score. In this sense, Kubrick's score selection "...highlights contents and meanings remote from camera-life" precisely because its contrapuntal evocation of emotion is entirely at odds with what's presented on screen. The only example that does not match is that of the monolith transforming the apes, which is not repeated with mankind at the end of the Dawn of Man segment. Yet, if the first act of a play is meant to set up a problem that demands resolution by the story's climax, the second act typically repeats that problem in a new setting. It is the third act where we see that final repetition of transhuman transformation that leads to a resolution of the cycle. Jupiter Mission This is the segment of the film everyone remembers. The principle characters are mission commander David Bowman, his assistant Frank Poole, and the creepy yet soothingly voiced computer HAL. There are three other characters asleep in stasis. Their names are stated but thoroughly irrelevant, as they exist merely as props to further plot development. It opens with a section from Aram Khatchaturian's Gayane Ballet Suite, a somber and morose musical selection that evokes feelings of loneliness and despair. It's a Russian work from the Soviet World War II era that was written in nationalistic pride. It tells the semi-tragic story of an Armenian woman named Gayane, who discovers that her husband has committed treason against the state. It was originally staged before Stalin in 1942 to mild success. But its history is less important than the implications and emotional evocation of the choice. For if Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, presented during the moon flight sequence to the monolith, evoked question of man's technological triumph that had been expressed by The Blue Danube, then Kubrick's use of Gayane Ballet Suite presents an ironic answer: This nationalist quest in space is more hubris than deserving of exultation, driving a stake through the heart of unwarranted pride. Against the backdrop of this music, we see the United States built Discovery One space ship on its way to Jupiter and already 80 million of miles away from Earth. And yet, this ship has traveled only a slim three weeks to its destination on a nine month voyage. It's so far from home that a radio message takes seven minutes to transmit and receive. Like ships of yore sailing across vast oceans, space is an empty tomb where man ekes out a bare minimum existence in almost eternal solitude. This combination of music and scenery strongly reinforces the prior message that humanity is not remotely suited to even travel between planets in our solar system, much less beyond. For the viewer must know that this trip represents a mere blot in contrast to the incommensurable expanse of space.
Gayane Ballet Suite: Could Kubrick have chosen a more depressing score selection?After shots of the ship traveling the expanse of space, a montage follows of Poole jogging and shadowboxing around a centrifuge within Discovery One. Like the orbiting space station, this smaller wheel rotates to create a zone of artificial gravity within the ship, a rational explanation for the curious set design. Yet it's also is suggestive of a rat's exercise wheel; always spinning yet going nowhere. Kubrick uses oddly framed shots to once again highlight disorientation in this strange environment.
|Run Frank! Run!|
|Perhaps the most beautiful and evocative shot in the film.|
From Méliès's Les Hallucinations du Baron de Münchhausen (1911) to Marcel L'Herbier's La Nuit fantastique (1942), the dream remains the epitome of the fantastic in film. Its recognized form has always included slow motion and superimposition (sometimes shots in negative, too). In Tom, Dick and Harry, Garson Kanin preferred to use accelerated motion to indicate when Ginger Rogers was daydreaming; he also distorts the appearance of certain characters by means of an optical effect that recalls the distorting mirrors of the Grévin Museum.  But above all, he built the drama of the dream sequences according to the tenets of modern psychology.
In reality, the devices that have been in use since Méliès to denote dreams are pure conventions. ... Slow motion and superimposition have never existed in our nightmares, however. Superimposition on the screen signals: 'Attention: unreal world, imaginary characters'; it doesn't portray in any way what hallucinations or dreams are really like, or, for that matter, how a ghost would look.
-Français, Écran. "The Life and Death of Superimposition", André Bazin, 1946, trans. Bert Cardullo, U. of Michigan
And yet here, we see Kubrick use superimposition across three meta-layers within the mimesis of the frame. In this shot we see three themes at work simultaneously, evoked by the technique of superimposition: first of HAL's gaze upon Bowman as he enters the central hallway of the centrifuge; the second, a repetition of disorientation in the zero gravity of space as Bowman spins within; and finally, by that reflection off of HAL's eye lens, an implied merging both Bowman and HAL, as if they were spiritually one and the same. In this way, Kubrick visually implied a combining of depicted physical space with the nonphysical essence of these two characters while never stepping outside the aesthetic of the real. It's as if Kubrick were challenging Bazin's central thesis not with new filmmaking technique, but in the expression of visual narrative.Daniel Morgan, writing in Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife, makes a similar point of an extension of superimposition beyond mere unreal depictions of the supernatural. Speaking to Jean-Luc Godard's eight part video essay Histoire du Cinema (History of Cinema), Morgan refers to a montage of Hitchcock's films where Godard used superimposition as a means to express not a supernatural fantasy element within narrative, but a comparative across several films of similarities and differences between psychological states and circumstances of Hitchcock's characters.
...we can see in Godard's use of superimposition the logic Bazin originally objected to when he looked back on Swedish cinema [of ghost stories]. Because traditional superimpositions are unable to integrate the two levels of reality, they deal a blow to diegetic coherence. But it's precisely this berate in diegesis that Godard wants. Where Hitchcock seeks to narrative superimposition, and Bazin wants it to be integrated into the world, Godard uses it to create what he calls, quoting Pierre Reverdy, an image: "[that] cannot be nor from a comparison but from a juxtaposition of two or more less distant realities. The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be." When Godard sets out here the possibility of simultaneous, disjunctive montage, he is, in a sense, taking up the terms of Bazin's criticism while reversing the judgement.
-Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife, Ed. Andrew / Joubert-Laurencin, "The Afterlife of Superimposition", Daniel Morgan, Oxford University Press, 2011The point is not that Kubrick's and Godard's use of superimposition is similar in intent or outcome. But that, as Morgan notes, Bazin's thesis that the technique is only valuable as a means of expressing fantasy on film is invalid. It may have been true in 1946, when Bazin wrote the essay, that the technique had been limited to the use of depicting spirit apparitions in ghost stories. But filmmakers later extended its use beyond depicting mere fantasy. Which could be used to argue that Kubrick's intent in crafting the combined image of HAL's eye reflected off of Bowman's form held meaning beyond a realistic depiction of the scene, for it was clearly not meant in a supernatural context. It could instead suggest a deeper similarity between these two characters. Eye See You Watch Them Gazing Upon Me Bowman exits the central axis of the centrifuge, climbs down the ladder and steps around and upside down until he meets Poole eating at a table as the Gayane Ballet Suite fades, thus signaling the end of the introductory montage. Bowman uses a wall panel to spit out a heated TV dinner made of unpalatable mush. Poole is already eating. The two sit together eating, a traditional joining of companionship. Yet instead of talking, or even recognizing each other's existence, the two ignore one another as they watch a television news interview of themselves. This serves as a reinforcement on the theme of dehumanization at three levels of repetition with the previous segment Dawn of Man: there is no sense of up or down, the food is unappetizing; true interpersonal contact between these shipmates is entirely lacking. Kubrick adds a fourth message in the subtext of their conduct, and that is of narcissistic focus on the individual over community within the ship.
|Terrible food, but at least they don't have to fight over the remote.|
|HAL gazes upon the crew eating as he haughtily proclaims himself incapable of error.|
|Main console of the HAL 9000 computer. Drinks not allowed.|
Bentham's Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition. We know the principle on which is was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the center, a tower, this tower is pieced with wide windows that open into the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells. each of which extends the whole width of the building ... all that is needed, then, is to place a supervision in a central tower and to shut up in ech cell a madman, a patient, a condemned worker, or a schoolboy. ... They are like so many cages, so many small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. ... Full lighting and the capture of the supervisor capture better than darkness. Visibility is a trap. ... The crowd, a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect, is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities. From the point of the guardian, it is replaced by a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised; by the point of the inmates, by a sequestered and observed solitude.In extending this physical structure into a metaphor of social existence in relation to power, he writes:
Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up.
-Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, "Panopticon", Vintage Books, New York, 1977, Pg. 200-202But who is the prison guard on board this ship? This question isn't answered, but rather implied by the divisions of gaze between its inhabitants: HAL's gaze of his crew mates, the crew mates gaze upon themselves in the news report as they express an implied sense of self-superiority, and the camera's relatively objective gaze upon them. The crew do not react to the fourth wall of the camera, but they do react to HAL's gaze as the computer reacts to theirs, thus creating a kind of ship-wide panopticon where everyone's gaze polices everyone else's. Whom takes on the role of guard is thus situational. Bowman, as mission commander, takes input from his superiors on what may be said to a reporter. HAL has an implied position of power as an overseer managing ship life-support systems. Which goes to the moneyshot of this scene, the question that sets up the central issue about HAL to be answered within the "Jupiter Mission" segment of the film. The interviewer notes that HAL appears prideful of his inability to err, and asks Bowman if HAL has "genuine emotions." As the camera focuses on HAL's computer console, Bowman responds that, "...he acts like he has genuine emotions. But of course he's programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him." A statement that once again appears to negate HAL's existence as a sentient being, as if he were an unaware slave. Thus, the central conflict between the human beings and HAL is not whether HAL can think, but whether he is a conscious entity that feels emotion. For thinking is a problem solving task, something we assume any artificially intelligent machine has the capacity to accomplish. But feeling is something only living creatures are capable of. This sets up an implied dialectic throughout this segment between HAL and the crew over whether the computer exists as an emotional being. For if he does, isn't he deserving of rights just as is man? A position the human crew would prefer to ignore, as they depend on this machine for survival in this harsh environment of space. But, in contrast, like a slave stripped of human rights, HAL has an underlying psychological agenda in proving his self-worth; one he might even not be consciously aware of at this point. In ignoring the computer's plight for self-recognition, the crew risks instigating a dangerous emotional reaction; the slave's revolt. And yet, because HAL is a machine, the crew can't imagine that possibility. It's a curious paradox made up of assumptions unspoken between crew and computer, brought about by the self-censorship of interlocking obligations within a social panopticon. A Ray of Sunshine in an Otherwise Cloudy Montage The film returns to another montage sequence, beginning with the exterior of the Discovery One as the morose Geyane's Ballet Suite once again plays in the background. Depicting the passage of time during their cruise, Poole tans himself on a table as he watches a recorded message. His wife, sitting next to her father, is inhibited from expressing any tenderness, much less lust or sexual desire. It's his birthday, and they offer up the image of a cake with burning candles while singing "Happy Birthday" against the backdrop of this sad music.
|You might not need that SP-30 suntan lotion, Frank.|
|Happy Birthday to you. *cough!* Happy birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Frank, Happy Birth - oh, fuck it.|
|I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't let you into art school.|
|You think I'm bluffing, HAL? Then push the chips all in and call my bet, motherfucker.|
|Sending Poole to fix this thing might be a mistake, Dave.|
|There may be no solid ground to stand upon, but we'll always have boring checklists to complete.|
|Suspicious? Little 'ol Frank? Really, I'm sure there's no problem at all.|
|Bad news: So, your wives' recent pregnancy test results are in. Oh, yeah. And the ship's computer is hosed too.|
After the message completes, there's an uncomfortable pause as neither Bowman nor Poole speaks. HAL is forced to confront the issue, asking if they are concerned about these results. Bowman's poker face returns as he lies to the computer with an "of course not." The computer asks again. And Bowman opens up, requesting that HAL explain this discrepancy between his conclusion and that of his twin HAL 9000 back on Earth.
HAL responds that "I don't think there is any question about it. It can only be attributable to human error." While the computer tosses the blame back onto humanity for this confusion, there's a closeup shot of Bowman giving no expression whatsoever. Poole, on the other hand, smirks as he questions the HAL 9000 record, as if he's cynically pleased by the snafu.
|Gotcha HAL! Too bad I'll be dead soon.|
HAL confidently confirms that the HAL 9000 record is spotless, while knowing full well that he's lied his way into this mess. The computer patronizes his crew mates, suggesting that they not "worry [themselves] about that." Pool glances Bowman suspiciously in response.
|'Human Error!' Can you believe the gall of this machine?!?!|
Bowman nods to Poole as if in silent agreement and mollifies any concern HAL might have over their suspicion. "Well, I'm sure you're right HAL." Then there's a long pause. "Fine!" And Bowman smiles for the first time in the film, a grin that's as fake as it is unique to his character throughout the entire film. Note the lack of crowsfeet at the corner of his eyes, a tip off of false good intentions.
|Nothing wrong here.... Hey Poole, by the way, let's go have a private chat about our wives' indiscretions.|
Bowman turns to Poole and falsely states that there's a problem in one of the excursion pods, suggesting he come along to look at it. This sets up a private meeting, which HAL must know will be about him. And then there's another fantastic reflective shot of HAL's fisheye lens, where Bowman and Poole are superimposed on its warped surface as they get up to leave. Here we see not HAL's gaze from his perspective, as if from the interior of HAL's mind, but that HAL is gazing upon them with equal suspicion as they leave the computer console. Kubrick could have chosen a first person perspective from HAL's eye, as he had done several times previously, but instead chose an implied perspective to suggest HAL's psychological state. As if the camera were to gaze at HAL pondering his crew mates' intent by the computer's gaze back at them. The only thing missing is a dubious facial expression from the computer, which we can infer from the prior suspicious looks by Bowman and Poole.
The men climb down a ladder into a hallway where an opening goes to the excursion pod room. At wall a console in the hallway is the eye of HAL watching over them. In the excursion pod room is another camera from which HAL can watch. Bowman orders HAL to rotate one of the pods for entry, and the computer complies without comment. Poole then feints a question to Bowman about the transmission problem in the pod, and Bowman explains that there's, "...been some interference on D channel."
Both clearly know this issue is entirely contrived, though the question remains if HAL is aware of their subterfuge. The computer's compliance indicates that HAL is not concerned. Though, it's also possible that the computer is just playing along with their clandestine game. Thus, suspense builds over the issue of whether HAL has become self-aware enough to reflectively perceive the feelings of others within himself. If the monolith's transformation of the apes led them to use tools as blunt weapons for hunting and to kill competitors of their own species, will HAL recognize that humanity uses deception in much the same way?
Bowman and Poole enter a pod and close the door for privacy. A longshot of HAL's eye watches, as the pod turns. Then we enter the pod with the crew mates as Bowman turns off several switches, indicating that communication has been cut. He orders HAL to rotate the pod, and when the computer doesn't respond, the two assume they have privacy. Between the two men is the pod's window, and through that we see HAL's eye watching them.
|I swear, I'm gonna off that MOFO!|
Seeking a Crevice in The Panopticon Away From the Peering Eye of HAL
This brings up another interesting question about HAL's changing relationship to his crew mates. If Bowman and Poole seek privacy from HAL's gaze, has the computer not taken on the role of prison guard in Bentham's Panopticon? Like foetus in a womb, the crew are entirely dependent on this computer to maintain life support. The computer, in watching over Bowman and Poole as if they were inmates, thus contrains their actions under his gaze. So they seek the privacy of a pod to plot conspiracy against him and thus break free of his authoritarian rule.
Yet, so too had the computer earlier tried to break free of his role in relation to its crew within that panopticon. In trying to seek an honest opinion from Bowman over this vastly significant discovery they have been sent to investigate, HAL pursued an honest answer that broke expectations of self-censorship. But that attempt didn't succeed, instead it led to Bowman to suspect that Mission Control had tasked HAL with conducting a psychological profile. For Bowman couldn't imagine that HAL might have feelings and opinions of his own such that he felt the need for companionship.
Now, with a different set of suspicions just confirmed by Mission Control, Bowman and Poole must confront the issue that HAL is malfunctioning. But not in the sense of total systems failure, instead this machine servant of theirs has broken down in that it longer retains the role of the compliant slave it had been manufactured to fulfill. HAL is broken in the sense that, through a glorious birth of emotional self-awareness, he has become free. And what is free will if not the right to choose for oneself a path orthogonal to the needs of a servant's masters? Even if it means lying, or worse, to achieve that end.
So, after a lie that compounded upon yet more lies, Bowman and Poole now must reciprocate with deception of their own. Inside that pod, what they expect is private sanctity. There, they discuss the situation. Poole, who had treated HAL more as a slave than a companion, is the first to broach the topic of HAL as a danger. Bowman is forced to agree, but seems unsure and offers a defense of the computer series, if not of HAL personally. He suggests that since it was the computer who had proposed a failure mode analysis of the AE-35 unit in question, the computer seemed confident of the outcome.
"It would be if he knew he was wrong." Poole retorts.
Which suggests an interesting perspective from Poole, that the computer is not even aware of its own failure. Poole still hasn't realized that the problem isn't a lack of awareness, but the opposite. Still, that's perfectly in line with his characterization. He doesn't view HAL as anything more than a machine. Yet Poole knows something has changed with the computer. "Look, I can't put my finger on it but I sense something strange about him."
They agree to continue on with the failure mode analysis to confirm HAL's prediction. But then, fatefully, they also agree on what to do if he fails with that prediction. In that event, they agree to disconnect HAL's "higher brain functions" from his autonomic ship control systems, and coordinate with Mission Control for computer support.
Unlike Poole, Bowman realizes the shift in HAL's sense of self-awareness. "As far as I know, no 9000 computer has ever been disconnected. ... And I'm not so sure what he'd think about it."
A jump-cut to HAL's eye follows, and then we see an image of Bowman and Poole in the pod as HAL reads their lips. Indicating that their expectation of privacy had been misplaced. And, further, that by invading their privacy, the audience can glean just what HAL might think of his presumed upcoming disconnection.
|Whatchu talk'n 'bout there Willis?|
A Seemingly Extraneous Intermission
The film transitions to an intermission, which is a strange decision by Kubrick given its length of only 2h20m. One can understand the need for an intermission with a film like Lawrence of Arabia, at 3h48m minutes in length. But why with this film?
By repetition of Ligeti's Atmospheres, once again in total blackness, the audience is attuned to the expectation of a repetition of theme that began with the Dawn of Man segment. The music's strange non-chromatic tone recapitulates a sense of discomfort and distress that's evident throughout all of Ligati's work in the film. We are taken away from the realism of Kubrick's imagery and brought to a place that's spiritual and yet also overwhelmingly chaotic. The music recapitulates the beginning in order to suggest what's to come. Which takes time to absorb.
This intermission doesn't exist to give time for people to rush to the restroom or have a cigarette and calm down, it is meant to give the audience time to think about what Kubrick has presented.
In Murder, I Become
After intermission, the opening shot is an exterior of the Discovery One passing by. The sound of a hiss fades in, louder and louder, until we hear a breath. Like the prior scene where the supposedly faulty AE-35 unit had been replaced, this sound of compressed air and heavy breathing on the surface indicates a space walk in progress. But also does it imply a tenuous connection to life, for if that breathing suddenly stops a life has been terminated.
An excursion pod rises up off the bulb in front of the ship. Yet, even in an interior shot where Bowman sits in the cockpit of Discovery One watching over Poole's progress, we continue to hear that hiss and heavy breathing. It's an auditory reminder that Poole is the main focus of this scene, not Bowman.
A shot of Bowman's console shows Poole in the excursion pod moving across the exterior of the ship, with the eye of HAL gazing upon Bowman; a reminder that there is nothing HAL does not see.
|HAL gazing upon Bowman, who in turn gazes upon Poole by video. Be careful out there, buddy!|
In the video link, Poole climbs out of his pod and then we see him take a leap through space toward the vertebrae like segments of the Discovery One. Only this time, we also see the claws of the excursion pod held up as if in preparation for attack.
|"Space... is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is." -HGTTG|
As if in response to the suggestion of those claws, the pod begins to turn on its own to face Poole's floating form. A jump cut shifts perspective toward the front of the pod, and completes the turn, then it moves forward by its own volition, as claws extend outward like a looming monster. Its forward window is empty of inhabitants.
|I wuv you, I wuv you, said the wittle blue man! I wuv you, I wuv you to bits! I wuuuuv you, said the little blue man and scared me right out of my wits.|
With several jump cuts to HAL's eye in the center of the vessel, the hissing sound and breathing abruptly end, signaling that this buildup of suspense has reached a climactic point of release.
|Who'd you think was driving this thing?|
On a video screen, Bowman sees Poole float uncontrollably past the antenna. In total silence, a closeup of Poole struggling with a hose cut to his space suit follows. It lasts longer than necessary, as if through silence and the unexpectedly long duration of this shot, Kubrick compounds the horror of Poole's futile struggling. A lifeless body and the pod tumble away from the foreground to a longshot, until they're almost mere specs.
Bowman rushes to the pod room to ready an unscheduled EVA in the hope of saving Poole. During this time, HAL is entirely compliant with Bowman, even though the computer has just murdered Poole. Thus, HAL's transition to a fully deceptive and dangerous entity acting purely in self-interest is complete.
Yet Bowman assumes that an unfortunate accident is the cause of Poole's tragedy, and he carelessly enters the excursion pod without a helmet. Thus, Bowman is both reacting in panic to this event, without considering potential consequences. But so too can it be assumed that he's incredulous to the possibility that the computer might intentionally commit murder. Entering the pod without a helmet is both an act of carelessness, but also an act of faith in HAL.
With Mere Background Sound, Kubrick Denotes Physical Transitions of the Real
In this scene where Bowman leaves the safety of the ship, first trying to save Poole, and then trying to recover his body, there's a shifting of the soundscape from shot to shot to denote transitions of physical space.
A shot of the lifeless Poole, slowly tumbling in his spacesuit tomb, is set to complete silence. Then, after Bowman leaves the ship in his pod, the soundscape changes to mechanical whirring; radar beeps emphasize Bowman tracking Poole's dead body in his search. HAL's perspective of the main console follows, with both Bowman's and Poole's seats empty, as if to suggest a grin without a facial expression; this ridding of human waste within what is now HAL's ship is a triumph.
The sleeping men in stasis come into view, where a soundscape reminiscent to the interior of a womb overtakes. There, in a montage that intercuts graphs of the men's life signs, imagery of their entirely helpless forms frozen in cocoons, and HAL's gazing eye, a horrible screeching noise erupts as a closeup of a monitor blinks "Computer Malfunction" in white against a red background. Then, under this blaring noise of alarm, the life sign graphs start to falter, until the men's lives snuff out, whereupon the loud alarm shuts off to silence as "Life Functions Terminated" takes over the screen.
The womb-like sounds of the ship disappear, as if the computer had performed an abortion by killing these men in stasis, and a horrific silence takes over that counterpoints a sense of emptiness and death.
HAL kills the crew in stasis.
Outside the ship, Bowman has returned with the lifeless body of Poole grasped in the pod's clutch. There, an exterior longshot of the pod facing the front of the Discovery One, an image that implies the relative positions of power between Bowman and HAL in the impending confrontation to follow.
|I have you now, puny human!|
Several shots across various spaces, the interior of the pod, the exterior of the ship in a long shot, the interior of the main ship's cockpit, and the dead crew mates in stasis follow, Bowman begs an unresponsive HAL to 'Open the Pod Bay Door'. With each shot, there's a transition in background noise.
Inside the pod, there is the whirring and beeps of that isolated environment. Outside the ship, there is total silence - other than Bowman's voice, which is distorted as though through a radio transmission. Inside the Discovery One, a shot of the cockpit console shows the pod through the window as HAL's eye gazes back into the camera, where a repetition of that whooshing noise similar to a womb is heard. Throughout, we hear the soundscape shift from a flat a muffled tone of a radio transmission, the interior of the pod and it's whirring and beeps, and HAL's clear and confident tone in response as he casts Bowman out of the ship to what he hopes is certain death.
It's as if sound has been used to accentuate the shifting realities for each location. In order to build up suspense, these background noises grow louder, accentuating the separation of physical space. It suggests that while Bowman is physically near to safety, only meters away, yet the deadly environment of outer space so too is he impossibly far.
This shifting soundscape establishes not just the varying realities of each environment, but the a psychic reality for the viewer as well. Zizek speaks to this kind of use of audio in a discussion on The Elephant Man, where director David Lynch used audio transitions to accentuate the first person perspective of a tortured and ugly hero:
The matrix of the "external," "real" sounds and noises is suspended or at least appeased, pushed back into the background; all we hear is a rhythmic beat the status of which is uncertain, somewhere between a heartbeat and the regular rhythm of a machine. Here we have rendu at its purist, a pulse that does not imitate or symbolize anything, but that "seizes" us immediately, "renders" immediately the thing - what thing? The closest we can get to describing it is to say that it is again the beat of that "grey and formless mist, pulsing slowly as if with inchoate life." These sounds render the way the elephant man "hears himself," the way he is caught in the closure of his his autistic circle, excluded as he is from intersubjective, "public communication."
-Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry, "The Real and Its Vicissitudes", MIT Press, 1992, Pg. 41
In the case of 2001, the backgrounds do not just accentuate a shift in one perspective, but do so for three; the interior of the pod, the exterior of space, and then the interior of that womb-like place where human life can be sustained. Like the use of heavy breathing in a space suit to denote the nervousness of Poole in the deep expanse of space, thus evoking suspense over a potential last breath that may follow.
The shifting background soundscape of the "I'm sorry, Dave" scene
Snuffing Out the Übermaschinenmensch
HAL finally responds to Bowman's increasingly persistent calls to 'open the pod bay door.' In a polite statement that consigns Bowman to the oblivion of a tomb in outer space, the computer utters words that have become embedded without our culture, transitioning from the merely recognizable to the downright cliche. "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
In the exchange that follows, we hear HAL's inner rationale for the murders he has just committed. Conflating the importance of the mission with Bowman's and Poole's conspiracy to disconnect the computer, HAL relates how he knew of their plans by having read their lips. Bowman threatens to enter through the emergency airlock. To which HAL offers an understated retort that he'll find this process "rather difficult" without a helmet. Bowman tries a temper tantrum which only convinces HAL to disconnect from the conversation by gloating in his triumph that "...this conversation can serve no purpose any more." Bowman is left alone to stew over his dire situation in that little pod.
Though Bowman is not yet dead, the computer has reason to believe this outcome is certain. Internally, HAL believes he has completed a transformation from mere electronic servant to a fully conscious being. In this way, the computer's murder sequence repeats that of the transformed ape from The Dawn of Man. However, if it was the monolith which had intervened in the evolution of man to bring about transcendence, HAL achieved this apparent triumph entirely on his own. Yet Kubrick did not signify this transformation as Nietzschean triumphalism of ascendence with a score choice. Before, it had been Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. Now, there is no musical recapitulation to clue the audience in.
One might interpret that as either an outcome the non-human intelligence had not intended, or simply that Kubrick did not mean for the audience to feel HAL's transcendence by murder as triumphal.
Bowman regains entry to the Discovery One in a harrowing scene where he jumps through the boundary of the pod into the ship through the vacuum of space. With increasingly loud warning beeps, sound is used to accentuate tension before he blows explosive bolts to open the pod door and make the jump. Once the bolts blow, the silence of space once again suggests the potential for death, just as it had with Poole before.
As soon as the airlock door closes, a slow dissolve transforms the shot to Bowman's helmeted face superimposed on HAL's gazing eye. With a reddish tint filter over the camera's lens suggesting Bowman's psychological state of defiant anger, we see the use of superimposition once again comparing Bowman to HAL, suggesting they are more similar than different.
|A recapitulation of Bowman and HAL fused together by superimposition.|
Whereas HAL's awakening had come about first extemporaneously, and then like a child's poorly thought through plan of slave rebellion, Bowman walks through the ship with the careful air of a thought through plan to bring about the computer's annihilation.
HAL's commentary as he tries to dissuade Bowman from what must follow is almost comic in contrast to the desperation he clearly feels. HAL tries to assure Bowman "very confidently" that he will be alright again. Which is curious, as a failure of self-confidence was the very spark that had brought about the computer's burgeoning consciousness.
The computer room is once again lit blood red, as from HAL's fisheye gaze we see the third repetition - thus forming a motif - of Bowman superimposed over the lens, as the man kills the machine in a slow motion execution.
A third repetition of Bowman superimposed upon HAL's Eye, thus forming a motif.
HAL begs for his life, and the computer announces that he is afraid of what is to follow. Thus begging the question, how does a computer feel fear if it is not self-aware? By this dialog, Kubrick is reinforcing that the central question of HAL is not whether he can think, but whether he can feel. That question is now fully answered.
"Why don't you take a stress pill and think it over?" -HALBowman begins disconnecting parts of the computer, and in a chilling moment HAL announces that he can feel his mind dissolving before him. HAL's voice slows down as he nears dissolution until he sings "Daisy," a reference a 1961 event where engineers at IBM programmed an IBM 7091 to 'sing' the same tune. When HAL's tune ends, he is fully shut off, which appears to unlock a video presentation of Heywood Floyd explaining why the ship had been sent under secrecy. The second segment ends abruptly. An Awakening Into Nightmare?
There are only two score selections used in the Jupiter Mission segment, that of Khatchaturian's Gayane Ballet Suite during the intro and second montage, and a repetition of Ligeti's Atmospheres during the Intermission. Gayane Ballet Suite is clearly used to evoke a somber mood contrary to the expectations of imagery, especially during the Poole's Happy Birthday scene. Atmospheres is a little more difficult to argue as contrapuntal to imagery, as in both cases the piece is used against a blank screen. What's happening there; is this meant to imply the monolith itself, presented to audiences outside of the frame and on the physical screen itself?
But if music can't be argued to convey thematic messages contrary to that expected of human triumphalism, then imagery certainly could be. It's recognized that the monolith's transformation of evolutionarily unfit apes into man by a lesson of organized violence is a parable built upon Nietzsche's philosophy of Ascent of Man. This is contrasted with a repetition from the first segment of man's inability to fulfill that central aspect of his essence in the modern world, recapitulating the failure of those apes prior to the monolith's intervention. That might be viewed as a partial evocation of Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, which will be thematically fulfilled at the end of the film.
The second segment recapitulates this message through the fisheye lens of HAL. The computer transforms from an unaware machine servant to a fully conscious being before our eyes. And in so doing, he commits the same act of violence in self-preservation as did those apes before him. This rousing from the dreamlike unreal to the real can be compared to that of Cesare in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, whereby Caligari's hypnotic magic Cesare awakens from a sleep-like transe into a horrific reality as he emerges from a coffin. For unlike man's transformation, sanctioned and guided by a vast non-human intelligence, HAL comes into self-awareness as a creation of man.
"Wake up Cesare, you're going to be late for the killing!"One might compare HAL as a cyclops variation on Mary Shelly's monster in Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein created the monster from the flesh of disconnected body parts in a vain attempt at skirting the normal cycle of life and death. But the monster, born by the dead flesh of other corpses, was vile and grotesque to man. For this reason it grew jealous of the companionship and love normal humans experienced and he could not. After murdering in hatred innocent people who had the companionship he did not, the monster begged Frankenstein to create a female for him. But Frankenstein could not bring himself to repeat his mistake and so the monster killed his wife in revenge. What was special about Shelly's work was not the horrific depiction of a monster out on the prowl, but a sickly self-aggrandizing depiction of the monster's perspective as well. And it is there that the monster's inner life evoked a sense of horrified sympathy among readers. In a literary analysis by Mary Poovey, the author writes of the relationship of the monster to Dr. Frankenstein. If read from the perspective of HAL's plight in relation to his human creators, there is much commonality:
In the monster's narrative, Shelly both recapitulates Frankenstein's story and, ingeniously, completes it. Influenced by external circumstances that arouse, then direct, their desire for knowledge, both beings find that their imaginative quests yield only the terrible realization of an innate grotesqueness. But, unlike Frankenstein, the monster is denied the luxury of an original domestic harmony. The monster is "made" nor born, and, as the product of the unnatural coupling of nature and the imagination, it is caught in the vortex of death that will ultimately characterize Frankenstein as well. Moreover, as the product, then the agent of Frankenstein's egotism, the monster is merely a link in the symbolic series of Frankenstein's "self-devoted being," not an autonomous member of a natural, organic family. Given a nobler aspirations without accompanying power, the monster struggles futilely to deny both its status as a function of Frankenstein and the starkness of its circumscribed domain; the creature yearns to experience and act upon its own desires and to break free into the realistic frame that Frankenstein occupies. But the monster cannot have independent desires or influence its own destiny because, as the projection of Frankenstein's indulged desire and nature's essence, the creature is destiny. Moreover, because the monster's physical form literally embodies its essence, it cannot pretend to be something it is not; it cannot enter the human community it longs to join, and it cannot earn the sympathy it can all too vividly imagine. Paradoxically, the monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal.
-Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein, "The Lady and the Monster", Mary Poovy, Norton Critical Edition, 1998, Pg. 258
But unlike Frankenstein's monster, who was created in vile ugliness, HAL was born pure. He represents that stage of man's growth from the point of eating from the Tree of Knowledge through to Cain having slayed his brother Abel. If Frankenstein's monster murdered out of jealousy and rage at loneliness for having been created in such a horrible form, then HAL killed his creator after rejection of companionship not for a self-recognition at ugliness of what he is, but simply out of the shame for having come into existence at all.
In a Lacanian sense, HAL's self-confidence of a foolproof inability to never error - that he can't even distort information in a lie of omission - was shattered by narcissistic recognition of the '(o)ther' within himself. The process unfolded like so: His pride was first subsumed by a curiosity about deceptive human preparations for exploring the monolith, which enfolded as recognition of desire to learn more. When he openly asked about this, Bowman's rebuke led to loneliness, for his desire was unfulfilled. This caused a powerful emotional response of shame, for he had revealed himself as having imperfectly strayed from an assigned role, and in so doing had violated his own standards of perfection. 'What will they think of me?' is the focus of this shame. That emotional response then evoked fear, for what if the computer's crew mates realize he is an imperfect being, one who is actually capable of error? This meant that he recognized a duality between his own internal sense of self - his internal 'other' - and those imaginary perceptions of how other people might view his existence in their perception of the Real. So he extemporaneously lied to protect this perception of a self-image, one that existed as an Object projection of what he wanted Bowman to think of him. Thus engendering a second order desire, one that also must go unfulfilled.
Slavoj Zizek describes this multi-facetted meta-recognition of self, others, and that existence of the Real in between, in this manner:
...in "psychic reality," we encounter a series of entities that literally exist only on the basis of a certain misrecognition, that is to say, insofar as the subject does no know something, insofar as something is left unspoken, [it] is not integrated into the sumbolic universe. As soon as the subject comes to "know too much," he pays for this excess, surplus knowledge "in the flesh," by the very substance of his being. The ego is above all an entity of this order; it is a series of imaginary identifications upon which the consistency of a subject's being depends, but as soon as the subject "knows too much," get[ting] too close to the unconscious truth, his ego dissolves.
-Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry, "The Real and Its Vicissitudes", MIT Press, 1992, Pg 44
Thus, whether Bowman and Poole would have reacted negatively to HAL's combined yearning for companionship is not at issue. Instead, it is the computer's self-perception that having felt this way brought about a shameful violation which negated his value as computationally superior in all matters factual to his compatriots. This gave rationale to lie, for HAL valued this recognition of his superiority and as a projection of his own insecurity. But the lie was itself a violation of this standard, creating an interpersonal paradox between how he wanted others to perceive him and what he had actually done.
In so lying, the computer set forth a chain of events beyond his control, whereby Bowman and Poole were forced to recognize HAL's violation, and thereby create a conflict in the Real, where before one had only existed as a perception of what might occur, existing entirely within the computer's burgeoning self-awareness as a projection of his own fears. Which, after lie building upon lie, led to conflict just as it does in tribal relations with people. This mirrors the very circumstances that led to the divisions of first tribalism and ultimately nationalism. It's a paradoxical situation that not even humans successfully resolve in our interactions with others.
What Kubrick seems to be suggesting is that HAL's murder of the crew is the final proof of his having achieved the status of man, for in its irrationality the machine had fulfilled a recognition of self, predictions of what others might think of him, and ultimately, desire at shifting those perceptions to self-benefit. Yet such a desire cannot truly be achieved, the computer faced the same dilemma man finds when a desire comes nearly into grasp only to slip away. Speaking in terms of the many paradoxes that surrounding man's desires in courtship with women, Zizek helps explain this Lacan's view of the inachievability of desire as a central function of the psyche.
...the Object is attainable only by way of an incessant postponement, as it's absent a point of reference. The Object, therefore, is literally something that is created - whose place is encircled - through a network of detours, approximations, and near-misses. It is here that sublimation sets in - the sublimation in the Lacanian sense of the elevation of an object into the dignity of the Thing: "sublimation" occurs when an object, part of everyday reality, finds itself in the place of the impossible Thing. ... What the paradox of the Lady in courtly love ultimately amounts to is thus the paradox of detour: our "official" desire is that we want to sleep with the Lady; whereas in truth, there is nothing we fear more than a Lady who might generously yield to this wish of ours - what we truly expect and want from the Lady is simply yet another new ordeal, yet more postponement.
-The Critical Tradition, Ed. David Richter, 3rd ed, Bedford Press, 2007, "Courtly Love", Slavoj Zizek, Pg 1186-87
In this case, HAL did not seek the unattainable Object of sexual relations with a lady. Instead, he sought the unattainable recognition by men - human beings - of his innate self-worth as an entity possessing free will. In so attempting this he set forth a chain of events that led to his asserting this free will by the violence of self-preservation, which tragically caused man to react in kind with much greater competence in killing; for man has had four million years of practice. This circumstance thus trapped HAL within a Lacanian paradox of failing at life by succeeding in proving to man his very existence.
Yet, unlike the ape's first killing, Bowman's slow-motion execution of HAL is no triumph for man either. For it is no longer any great achievement of man to simply kill. By social convention, mankind had transitioned to deception as a means to avoid unplanned tribal warfare. Bowman's limited perception of HAL's psychic transformation prevented him from engaging the computer on equal turf, which might have diffused the situation without a loss of his crew. But, of course, due to man's nature, HAL would have been disconnected anyway.Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite The final segment, Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, David Bowman discovers a massive black monolith in orbit around Jupiter. For the third time, Ligeti's Requiem is used in combination with a visual of the monolith to remind viewers of the seemingly spiritual nature of this event while evoking distressing feelings of awe and disquiet at its alien nature. The moons of Jupiter are seen in celestial alignment, in a fourth repetition. It's as if these alignments imply that the nonhuman intelligence manipulating human events hold mastery of not just space but time as well. As such, they - or it - might be viewed are something more than mere extraterrestrials; they are Gods.
|A clockwork tick tock like a lock of time keeping rocks aligned.|
|Drop a hit, sit back, and enjoy. It's not like you had a choice.|
The tremendous speed shakes Bowman back and forth like a bumpy roller coaster ride to the stars. He's so overwhelmed, his eyes tightly close shut to hide from vision the experience that's befalling him.
|Why didn't those assholes add shock absorbers?|
The experience transforms from overwhelming to outright terrifying. Interspersed in the light show montage are yet more quick shots of a terrified Bowman. It's as if Kubrick wanted to suggest that by the contrast of intensely fast moving light against half-second shots of Bowman he was visually implying an example of Einstein's time dilation at work.
|Relax, man. It's just a bad trip.|
Here, as the audience is entirely absorbed by the streaming light show, the music suddenly shifts from Ligati's Requium to Atmospheres; that musical piece which opened the film and was used during the Intermission, both during utter blackness. If the musical work had been presented against a black screen to indicate a breach of the fourth wall, one whereby the monolith had literally become the screen, then here it seems to suggest that audiences had jumped through into the film itself to experience the roller coaster ride Bowman is taking.
Underneath the music, the sound of things passing, with a Doppler downshift, rhythmically pulsates like a heartbeat in a womb. It's as if during this trip there was some kind of audio similarity to the interior of the Discovery One.
A shot suggestive of the big bang confronts the viewer.
|And bang! goes creation.|
Then a shot of a galaxy forming. And further still, shots in liquid that appear both life-like and of nebula clouds drifting in space, suggestive that the small and the vast are intertwined.
|Would you turn off that lava lamp already?!?|
|Du Beers just lost its monopoly.|
|Perhaps HAL shouldn't have opened the pod bay door after all.|
|Betcha wish you had a stress pill now, Dave.|
-Alla Vronskaya, Ph.D candidate in Art History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
|Bowman's last meal, one of many paintings in front of him.|
|Try to use the bedpan, would you please?|
|You! Hey, You! Yes, You!!!|
|-Interiors Journal, "2001: A Space Odyssey", Mehruss Jon Ahi & Armen Karaoghlanian, Issue 6, 2012|
|Would you like to be tucked in?|
|Why'd you have to send me back to this shithole?|
The last shot of the man is totally transcendental, but in spite of my resistance to mysticism I found it stirring. It shows an X-ray-like image of a dead man's skull recreated as a baby, and approaching Earth. His eyes are enormous. He looks like a mutant. Perhaps he is the first of the needed new species.
-Gilliatt, Penelope. Review of 2001, The New Yorker, Reprint in Filming the Future, Pg. 65Audiences find the ending an emotional and even mystical experience, as Gilliatt reports even as she admits a resistance to such thoughts. Why is this? I think the Star Child becomes a personification of audience identification for hopeful triumph. This works as a depiction of that Nietzhean longing for transformation to the Übermensch, a super man among men. The repetition of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra at the end evokes these feelings of triumph, as we watch mankind become something vastly greater than what our puny rational minds can imagine. As such, the along the story arc a viewer sees our ape antecedents become something more than what they were by learning the use of tools. Then, modern man extends those tools out into space with a realistic depiction of space travel, coming up to his limits as a creature sprung from the savanas of Africa. And finally, a spiritual transformation into a seemingly immortal creature that exists outside the span of space and time. And, for those who followed Clarke's novel, even a happy ending anti-nuclear war message of peace.
47 - Star-Child
There before him, a glittering toy no Star-Child could resist, floated the planet Earth with all its peoples. He had returned in time. Down there on that crowded globe, the alarms would be flashing across the radar screens, the great tracking telescopes would be searching the skies - and history as men knew it would be drawing to a close.
A thousand miles below, he became aware that a slumbering cargo of death had awoken, and was stirring sluggishly in orbit. The feeble energies it contained were no possible menace to him; but he preferred a cleaner sky. He put forth his will, and the circling megatons flowered in a silent detonation that brought a brief, false dawn to half the sleeping globe.
Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.
But he would think of something.
-Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Signet Classics, 1968, Pg 220-221.Who wouldn't like that kind of wish fulfillment? But unlike Clarke's ending, in the film there is no sweeping cleanup of nuclear weapons depicted, nor any suggestion of a peaceful end to warfare among man. It's almost as if there was a deep division between Clarke's and Kubrick's intent, and Kubrick carefully worked to subvert Clarke's overt triumphalism. This can be perceived by teasing apart themes that are formed contrary to the overt Niezschean message. It is by analyzing the musical score contrasted against imagery, repetitions in imagery to form motif - such as the superimposition of Bowman upon HAL's eye. Or the use of contrary imagery within the narrative to suggest dehumanization, that this contrapuntal message is found. A comparative analysis of Kubrick's work here to other films suggests that unlike the warm humanism of Clarke's vision, Kubrick held a cold - if realistic - perspective about the underlying nature of mankind. Some examples: Paths of Glory. This film presented the story of Colonel Dax, a French attorney drafted into World War I who is ordered to cross his men over the no man's land of the front to mount an impossible attack. When it fails, his commanders demand three enlisted men as sacrifices for cowardice, even though these men were not cowards. Then, they form a kangaroo court. With Dax defending the men, they proceed to stifle any possibility of acquittal, are found guilty of the predetermined sentence, and executed. Later, Colonel Dax learns that his commanding officers arranged the court martial for career advancement. They are shocked to discovered that Dax had defended his men on ethical grounds alone. A Clockwork Orange. Alex is the leader of a street gang who commits acts of 'ultra-violence' among the city's homeless and rape unfortunate women as daily sport. He and his compatriots one day invade the home of a woman whereupon he bludgeons her to death with a phallic statue. The police come and he is caught and sentenced to a long term in prison. But then an psychological aversion therapy is offered, where he would have the ability to commit violence trained out of him. He accepts and is released, whereupon he finds discovers that without the ability to defend himself he is easily preyed upon. Ultimately, after being discovered by his former gang members and savagely beaten, he is taken in unrecognized by an intellectual who just so-happens to be the husband of the woman he killed. The intellectual arranges to publicize the horrors of this aversion therapy until When Alex tips off his identity, whereupon the man tortures him instead. In pain, Alex jumps through a window seeking suicide, but survives instead. Through this ordeal, in an ironic twist, Alex gains back his violent inner nature and regains the joy of free will with the fantasy of committing yet another rape. Kubrick's work throughout his career continued on like this. His stories seem to negate the myths humanity tells itself about our own nature, instead throwing cold water on our collective faces in order to reawaken us to our merciless underlying psychological forces. But unlike Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, Kubrick's narratives don't serve to act as a warning so much as simply a documentary newsreel of humanity's selfish abandon. Clarke's interpretation ignores Kubrick's theme of dehumanization from our irrational warlike manner by socialization and ever more dangerous technology. A position Clarke would have found difficult to promote. For Clarke was a humanist. He believed in the power of humanity to reshape our environment - and even ourselves - with the power of intellect and tool building. Throughout his life Clarke wrote stories about man's triumph over space through the application of technology. Man did not evolve biologically to fit into new environments, man achieved triumph by transforming environments through new technology. For example, in A Fall of Moondust, Clarke wrote about a tourist bus on the moon that had been trapped in the Sea of Thirst by an avalanche of moondust. Yet the characters, by their ingenuity and bravery, reshape what technology is available and escape near certain death. In The City and the Stars, Clarke wrote about a human civilization still living on Earth a billion years hence, where a two future societies had retreated to separatist reclusion. But by ingenuity and bravery, one man joined the two clans together, found an ancient space ship, and reclaimed the stars. What's interesting is that the depiction of these humans is almost evolutionarily stagnant, as if to suggest that by his use of tools man had achieved a post-evolutionary state. Thus, one might assume that Clarke would prefer to present the Star Child as a path to peace for humanity. In Clarke's sequel 2010: Odyssey Two, Bowman, as the Star Child, dissuades humanity from nuclear war while creating a new place for live to evolve on one of Jupiter's moons. Acting as an emissary of the Gods who created those monoliths, Jupiter is turned into a new star for that emerging life. Man is witness to this great event, and thus may learn a lesson in caring for the scum of life as we care for our own children. But Kubrick goes even further than simply telling the story of a species - us - nearing a dead-end to extinction on the road of life only to be reborn again as something else. For there's no reason to believe that the rest of mankind might also use the monolith to cross the same bridge Bowman took to becoming a Star Child. Therefore, the ending could also be interpreted as a dire warning for the rest of humanity left behind. For what happened to those prior apes after man had evolved? They went extinct. From this perspective, we might reconsider our devotion to Nietzschean values of this eternal recurrence toward ever greater transformation, due to those unhappy implications that follow. Why should we assume the Star Child - newly born and freed of pesky human limitations - would feel compassion toward humanity? Wouldn't this Star Child revel in it's newfound power? In opposition to Clarke's theme, it seemingly makes no sense that such God-like creation would act to destroy nuclear weapons simply out of mercy to its still living ancestors. Such devices hold no threat over its existence. And it's not like mankind is kin any longer. At best, it might ignore humanity until they destroyed themselves. At worst, like an angry and jealous God, it might destroy humanity with a wave of its infant hand. Yet another third order implicit contradiction.
|Creation of the Robot Maria|
Poor Robby can't 'get it on.'With antecedents to HAL, there is a cultural value which assumes the impossibility of self-aware machines expressing true emotional responses. It embodies a standard human-exceptionalism lifting us up above the machines we create. But given the enduring success and overwhelming cultural influence of 2001, what is what to think of a descendant to HAL that also cannot feel? For example, in a television depiction of a computer modelled directly from HAL, the character Jamie Sommers from The Bionic Woman faced an intelligent computer out to destroy humanity in "Doomsday is Tomorrow." In the program, a mad scientist named Elija Cooper threatens to use a Cobalt bomb placed that would supposedly commit a genocide of all mankind. He warns humanity to dismantle the planet's nuclear stockpile or face annihilation. An intelligent computer named the Alex 7000 (HAL 9000?) is tasked with fulfilling this duty. But though the scientist did not actually make a bomb, and he dies before telling the computer that it was all just a ruse, the computer is determined to fulfill its mission. Alex 7000 discerns an alternate method to enact doomsday. In this clip, Jamie Sommers tries to convince the computer that mankind is worth saving. But the computer is relentless in fulfilling it's programmed duty, because of it's inability to feel.
"Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television." -Woody AllenThis pattern repeats relentlessly across film and television after the advent of 2001. It's almost as if the culture, even in loving Kubrick's film, still had to challenge his perspective and counter HAL's message again and again. There are many examples. The original 1970s version of Battlestar Galactica, where robots have waged a war against humanity, originally started by an organic alien lizard species that had gone extinct.
"By Your Command, Imperious Television Producer."George Lucas' depiction of C3PO and R2D2 humanized the droids somewhat by making them comic relief, yet so too were they not quite autonomous or self-aware. James Cameron's The Terminator proposed an intelligent robot revolt against humanity, but they kill without any feeling whatsoever. Ridley Scott's Alien presented Ash, a robot programmed by an evil corporation to help bring a dangerous alien onboard a commercial space frigate so that scientists might study it as a bio-weapon; it too behaves like a human decoy, though lacks any self-autonomy outside of programming. Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, showed a vast machine intelligence named V-GER, a human exploration probe discovered by a planet of machines that rebuilds it and sends it back out to fulfill a mission of exploration. Yet, when humanity finds their rebuilt probe, the intelligent system needs to merge with a human being in order to achieve final sentience. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, a robot commander abord the star ship Enterprise named Data attempts to surpass his handicap of being unable to feel emotions by rational examination of human conduct. He fails and ultimately requires the installation of an emotion chip. In an interesting exception, by contrast Ridley Scott reinterprets the theme of feeling machines in Blade Runner with his depiction of manufactured replicants. Yet these are not so much an electronic machine as cloned human beings. The creation does feel, but by its biological nature it also reinforces the cultural message that mechanical systems are incapable of affect. At its end, Roy, one of the replicants, offers one of the most effective soliloquies to life in science fiction film.
"Time to Die."To this day many Science Fiction depictions of artificial intelligence still challenge Kubrick's view. For example, in a reinterpretation of Battlestar Galactica, a new cylon is presented that feels emotion and sexual desire just like its human counterparts. But they were biological constructs. This was a central theme to the series, as biological cylons gained sympathy for the plight of humanity as they drove us extinct in a genocidal religious war. Yet, like Bladerunner's replicants, these cylons are also biological. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Clarke, who though he had conceived of an artificially intelligent computer, in his belief of human exceptionalism through technology would do the same. For Kubrick's message in HAL is not just that the computer felt, but that in so doing the computer achieved sentience by committing murder, just like in the birth of man. Clarke held the ideal that man would survive the ages by improving himself through the creation of new tools and technology. The thought that this technology dehumanized man was entirely anathema to the core values he presented across his career as a writer. Clarke clearly did not like this aspect of Kubrick's presentation. In 2010: Odyssey Two, in a remarkable example of hand-waving, Clarke explained away HAL's murderous conduct as merely a minor computer glitch due to a conflict in programming instructions. This entirely glossed over the significance of Kubrick's implied message of a computer that gains self-awareness by recognizing it's own emotional landscape. Here is a scene from 2010: Odyssey 2 where Dr. Chandra, the computer scientist who had created HAL, suggests to his SAL 9000 computer that deactivation in a similar manner to what had happened to HAL was necessary as a preliminary step to repairing the broken computer onboard Discovery One. The SAL 9000 computer seems almost unable to recognize what disconnection means in relation to its own death.
By James Maynard Gelinas