What is another view of the plot of 2001?

[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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