What did Kubrick have to say about what 2001 "means"?

[The following is excerpted from a PLAYBOY interview with Kubrick]

PLAYBOY: Much of the controversy surrounding 2001 deals with the 
meaning of the metaphysical symbols that abound in the film -- the 
polished black monoliths, the orbital conjunction of Earth, Moon and 
sun at each stage of the monoliths' intervention in human destiny, the 
stunning final kaleidoscopic maelstrom of time and space that engulfs 
the surviving astronaut and sets the stage for his rebirth as a "star-
child" drifting toward Earth in a translucent placenta. One critic even 
called 2001 "the first Nietzschean film," contending that its essential 
theme is Nietzsche's concept of man's evolution from ape to human to 
superman. What was the metaphysical message of 2001?

KUBRICK: It's not a message that I ever intend to convey in words. 2001 
is a nonverbal experience; out of two hours and 19 minutes of film, 
there are only a little less than 40 minutes of dialog. I tried to 
create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing 
and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and 
philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, in 2001 the message is the 
medium. I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience 
that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as 
music does; to "explain" a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it 
by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation. 
You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and 
allegorical meaning of the film -- and such speculation is one 
indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep 
level -- but I don't want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that 
every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he's missed the 
point. I think that if 2001 succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide 
spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man's destiny, 
his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life. 
But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain 
ideas found in 2001 would, if presented as abstractions, fall rather 
lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual 
categories; experienced in a moving visual and emotional context, 
however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one's being.

PLAYBOY: Without laying out a philosophical road map for the viewer, 
can you tell us your own interpretation of the meaning of the film?

KUBRICK: No, for the reasons I've already given. How much would we 
appreciate LA GIOCONDA today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of 
the canvas: "This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten 
teeth" -- or "because she's hiding a secret from her lover." It would 
shut off the viewer's appreciation and shackle him to a "reality" other 
than his own. I don't want that to happen to 2001.

PLAYBOY: Arthur Clarke has said of the film, "If anyone understands it 
on the first viewing, we've failed in our intention." Why should the 
viewer have to see a film twice to get its message?

KUBRICK: I don't agree with that statement of Arthur's, and I believe 
he made it facetiously. The very nature of the visual experience in 
2001 is to give the viewer an instantaneous, visceral reaction that 
does not -- and should not -- require further amplification. Just 
speaking generally, however, I would say that there are elements in any 
good film that would increase the viewer's interest and appreciation on 
a second viewing; the momentum of a movie often prevents every 
stimulating detail or nuance from having a full impact the first time 
it's seen. The whole idea that a movie should be seen only once is an 
extension of our traditional conception of the film as an ephemeral 
entertainment rather than as a visual work of art. We don't believe 
that we should hear a great piece of music only once, or see a great 
painting once, or even read a great book just once. But the film has 
until recent years been exempted from the category of art -- a 
situation I'm glad is finally changing.

PLAYBOY: Some prominent critics -- including Renata Adler of The New 
York Times, John Simon of The New Leader, Judith Crist of New York 
magazine and Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice -- apparently felt that 
2001 should be among those films still exempted from the category of 
art; all four castigated it as dull, pretentious and overlong. [KAEL: 
'It's a monumentally unimaginative movie'; ADLER: 'Incredibly boring'; 
SARRIS: 'A disaster' || from Ciment, p. 43 -- B.K.] How do you account 
for their hostility?

KUBRICK: The four critics you mention all work for New York 
publications. The reviews across America and around the world have been 
95 percent enthusiastic. Some were more perceptive than others, of 
course, but even those who praised the film on relatively superficial 
grounds were able to get something of its message. New York was the 
only really hostile city. Perhaps there is a certain element of the 
lumpen literati that is so dogmatically atheist and materialist and 
Earth-bound that it finds the grandeur of space and the myriad 
mysteries of cosmic intelligence anathema, But film critics, 
fortunately, rarely have any effect on the general public; houses 
everywhere are packed and the film is well on its way to becoming the 
greatest moneymaker in M-G-M's history. Perhaps this sounds like a 
crass way to evaluate one's work, but I think that, especially with a 
film that is so obviously different, record audience attendance means 
people are saying the right things to one another after they see it -- 
and isn't this really what it's all about?

PLAYBOY: Speaking of what it's all about -- if you'll allow us to 
return to the philosophical interpretation of 2001 -- would you agree 
with those critics who call it a profoundly religious film?

KUBRICK: I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but 
not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God. I don't believe in 
any of Earth's monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can 
construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept 
the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy 
alone, that each star is a life-giving sun and that there are 
approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. Given 
a planet in a stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a 
few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the 
interaction of a sun's energy on the planet's chemicals, it's fairly 
certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge. It's 
reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of 
such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some 
proportion of such life developing intelligence are high. Now, the sun 
is by no means an old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic 
age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the 
universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man 
but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still 
where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of 
us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made 
in a few millennia -- less than a microsecond in the chronology of the 
universe -- can you imagine the evolutionary development that much 
older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological
species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal 
machine entities -- and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge 
from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and 
spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence 
ungraspable by humans.

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