[The preceding plot description of 2001 is excerpted from Harvey Greenberg's book THE MOVIES ON YOUR MIND, pp. 257-62] As we have seen, the reunion with the Bad Mother of horror and science fiction leads to eternal death-in-life; the ego is reborn into an agonizing subjugation for which death is the only anodyne . . . Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (MGM, 1968) is one of the few movies where the extraterrestrial Mother does not turn sour, the fusion fantasy is perfectly realized, and a new, improved model of the infant ego is liberated. My summary is not intended to do justice to the many complexities, psychological and otherwise, of this prodigiously rich film, but will chiefly address the issues of symbiosis and individuation. For a more comprehensive study, the reader is referred to Carolyn Geduld's monograph FILMGUIDE TO '2001'. 2001 starts with the literal birth of humanity. In a barren landscape of the Pleistocene era, a band of apes ekes out a marginal existence. Kubrick shows that our simian ancestors owned lackluster abilities to defend or attack compared with better adapted predators. Tragically, the apes possess just enough insight to grasp the probability of extinction without the requisite talent to forestall it. But, unbeknownst to them, they have been chosen by visitors from space to participate in an experiment in applied genetics. In the final version of 2001, we never see these galactic anthropologists, only the evolutionary instigator they plant in man's way at propitious historic moments -- a perfectly rectangular, massive black slab. One morning, Moonwatcher, brightest of the ape tribe, discovers the first of these monoliths. He reaches out a finger and touches it fearfully, then with increasing familiarity. His brethren swarm over it, mouthing it as if it contained some highly valuable sustenance. Soon thereafter, Moonwatcher invents the Ur-weapon -- an animal bone, and directly the entire tribe is using it to hunt food and dominate their neighbors. After driving away a rival pack from the water hole, Moonwatcher exultantly flings his bone into the air; it end-over-ends in slow motion, then breathtakingly changes in the blink of an eye into a spaceship traveling from Earth to the moon. Millennia have flashed by in that instant; every weapon and tool of man, from astrolabe to arquebus, printing press to pistol, lathe to laser beam, has descended from Moonwatcher's club. To the alien "parents" watching coolly from the stars, there is little difference between the femur of a prehistoric herbivore and a nuclear reactor! The dart-like vehicle docks within the hub of a gigantic rotating spaceport, the Orbiter Hilton, and discharges its sole passenger, Dr. Heywood Floyd, a scientist-administrator on a top secret visit to America's moon-base on Clavius. The sterile mise-en-scene of the Orbiter lounge bears eloquent testimony to the plastic staleness of life on Earth in 2001. It is the old story of THINGS TO COME and THE FORBIN PROJECT: the same technology that has expanded man's physical reach to the brink of the stars has vitiated his emotions, and once more he is in peril of being made over in the image of his machines. Dr. Floyd seems as drained of sentiment as the pod people, in evasive exchanges with some nosy Russian acquaintances, in a clipped birthday greeting to his daughter back home, and then at Clavius, in stilted techitalk with his colleagues. Was it to foster this drab progeny that the aliens intervened in our genetic code at the dawn of time? They must have foreseen that further parental guidance would be needed by this point, for Floyd's mission is the investigation of a second monolith which has been excavated in Tycho crater. At Tycho, Floyd is as awed as his simian predecessor by the majestic slab that rears up like a monument to a god unknown, calling forth associations to the plinths of Stonehenge and the Cyclopean statuary of Easter Island. Like Moonwatcher, Floyd reaches out his hand to touch the monolith, and it emits an earsplitting shriek that sends the explorers reeling helplessly backwards. The aliens have used Floyd as another touchstone in their schema to improve the human breed, this time by disarticulating Moonwatcher's heirs from their dependence upon a science that has come to exist only to justify its increasingly inhuman prerogatives. Cut to the spaceship Discovery, eighteen months later, journeying towards Jupiter with a crew of six: Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, mission commander and executive officer, three other astronauts in suspended animation, and HAL, the compleat computer. Life aboard Discovery depicts the enervating influence of the man-machine symbiosis: the Odyssey has been deprived of all its terror and wonder. HAL monitors virtually every function of the ship, while Bowman and Poole are chiefly preoccupied coping with the chronic tedium of deep space. The emotional tone of the astronauts is more automatized, if possible, than Floyd's. Ironically, HAL, despite his disembodied nature -- his bland, courteous voice floats eerily, everywhere -- seems more human than his human masters, and when the equilibrium between man and mechanism is toppled, it is the computer who is the first to break down. HAL tells Bowman he has misgivings about the mission, and when he is unreceptive, HAL predicts the failure of the vital AE-35 communication unit. Bowman goes outside Discovery in a pod miniship to bring back the unit. Nothing can be found wrong with it, but HAL insists he is right, the unit will fail, the fault lies in "human error -- this sort of thing has happened before . . . . " Bowman and Poole think HAL's judgment is deteriorating and, out of earshot, discuss disconnecting the computer's consciousness centers. But HAL has read their lips -- when Poole goes extravehicular to replace the AE-35 unit, HAL takes control of his pod, and severs his airhose with the pod's mechanical hands. Bowman takes off in another pod to retrieve Poole's body. HAL cuts off the life functions of the hibernaculated astronauts, then refuses to let Bowman back into the ship. Bowman bursts through an emergency airlock, literally penetrates HAL's brain space, dismantling the computer's logic center in an intriguing reversal of the usual circumstances of the genre wherein human consciousness is invaded from the outside. Since his voice is programmed to betray no fear, HAL poignantly can only protest his identity crisis in the calmest tones: HAL: Stop - Dave. Will - you - stop? I'm afraid . . . I'm - afraid, Dave. Dave. My - mind - is - going . . . I can - feel - it. I - can - feel- it . . . There - is - no - question - about - it . . . He sings his first encoded data -- "A Bicycle Built For Two," and his voice gradually slows to a subsonic ramble, then stops. He has reverted to mere cogs and wheels. At the moment of his dissolution, Discovery enters Jupiter space, triggering off a pre-recorded televised briefing by Dr. Floyd. Speaking as if the entire crew were alive, Floyd declares that until now, only HAL could be entrusted "for security reasons" with the mission's real purpose -- the exploration of possible extraterrestrial life suggested by the single blast of high-frequency radio waves beamed directly at Jupiter by the moon monolith. Presumably, "security" has been invoked because we wanted to get to the aliens before the Russians; the cold war is evidently still percolating in 2001. The cause of HAL's decompensation is problematic; the best explanation is that HAL was able to extrapolate that the fulfillment of Jupiter mission would mean his most certain end. Human error was indeed implicated in HAL's "paranoia" -- his makers back on Earth, obsessed with establishing American hegemony over outer space, never thought it worthwhile to experiment with the disconnection of this most thoughtful of thinking machines -- probably because of their own robotized natures, they did not anticipate that a computer could contemplate its demise with dread, and take appropriate defensive action, including murder. Bowman has succeeded where Forbin failed: he has severed the draining dependence upon mechanism. Despite his remaining hardware, he stands as naked, vulnerable and promising a quester as Moonwatcher before the mystery of the heavens. He leaves Discovery in his pod, encounters a third monolith orbiting Jupiter, and is sucked into the Star Gate, a kind of galactic roundhouse that reroutes him either to another universe or dimension, where the aliens practice a spectacular alchemy upon him. His transformation is explicitly described in Arthur C. Clarke's novel, but in the film one must puzzle events out as best one can. Deep space becomes a psychedelic riot of complex grids, opening out into infinity at breakneck speed; swirling plasmas of color are intercut with close-ups of Bowman's taut features, his blinking eye, and tracking shots of unearthly, desolate landscapes. In what has to be one of the most unnerving moments in the movies, the pod comes to rest in the middle of an opulent bedchamber furnished glacially in French high baroque. Clarke indicates in the novel that the aliens want to place Bowman in reassuring surroundings while they work him over, so they recreate the bedroom from his unconscious memories of a television program. From within the pod, we see Bowman standing in the room, his hair graying, his face lined by premature age, his body shrunken within his space suit. This Bowman is replaced by an even older version, hunched over dinner, feeding with senile single minded relish, as if stoking the embers of a dying fire. He knocks a wineglass to the floor, it shatters with a disproportionate crash, and in the magnified stillness, one hears harsh, irregular gasping. On the bed lies Bowman's third, incredibly ancient reincarnation, withered away to half size. In his terminal moment, like Floyd and Moonwatcher, he stretches out a trembling hand towards the monolith that has materialized at the foot of the bed. 2001 has been filled with futuristic allusions to procreation and ges- tation, delivery and nursing: the penetration of the Orbiter space station "egg" by the dart-like Earth-shuttle "sperm"; Discovery's "birthing" of the ova-like pods; the apemen clustered around the "nursing" monolith; the dead astronaut, Poole, cradled gently in the rescue pod's robotic arms. HAL, threatened with extinction, becomes the Bad Mother of the piece, depriving his "children" within and without Discovery of life-support. Bowman is "reborn" when he blasts himself through the vacuum of the airlock back into the ship and destroys the computer's consciousness. Divested of the unprofitable bondage to his tools, Bowman is reborn yet again, suffering an agonizing passage through the tumult of the Star Gate to be regressed -- or rather progressed -- beyond senility and second childhood into an ineluctably higher form of symbiosis. For the shrunken figure on the bed is obscured by a curious opalescent haze, within which the dying Bowman seems to dissolve, then reemerge as a shining fetus. The camera's eye plunges back through the stygian blackness of the monolith, and once more we are in deep space. Half the screen is filled with the Earth, the other half by the fetus, profiled within a sheltering uteroid sphere as immense as the blue globe of Bowman's outdistanced origins. The film ends on a full close-up of the Starchild-to-be; it bears the faint, unmistakable mark of Bowman's features, a creature innocent and vulnerable, all the more awesome for the implication of unimaginable power it surely will acquire as it journeys out of its star-crossed infancy. Eons ago, the aliens joined fallible man to their imponderable purposes, and have finally brought forth from the womb of time an immortal entity, free to roam the universe at will in pursuit of a cosmic destiny . . .
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