What was the longest review in the HARVARD CRIMSON?

[This review of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by Tim Hunter (with Stephen 
Kaplan and Peter Jasziis) was said to be the longest film review ever 
published in THE HARVARD CRIMSON prior to 1968].

As a film about progress -- physical, social, and technological -- 
Stanley Kubrick's huge and provocative 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY remains 
essentially linear until its extraordinary ending. In the final 
transfiguration, director Kubrick and co-author Arthur Clarke 
(CHILDHOOD'S END) suggest that evolutionary progress may in fact be 
cyclical, perhaps in the shape of a helix formation. Man progresses to 
a certain point in evolution, then begins again from scratch on a 
higher level. Much of 2001's conceptual originality derives from its 
being both anti-Christian and antievolutionary in its theme of man's 
progress controlled by an ambiguous extraterrestrial force, possibly 
both capricious and destructive.

If the above seems a roundabout way to open a discussion of an eleven-
million-dollar Cinerama spectacular, it can only be said that Kubrick's 
film is as personal as it is expensive, and as ambitious an attempt at 
metaphysical philosophy as it is at creating a superb science-fiction 
genre film. Consequently, 2001 is probable commercial poison. A sure-
fire audience baffler guaranteed to empty any theater of ten percent of 
its audience, 2001 is even now being reedited by Kubrick to shorten the 
165 minute length by 15-odd minutes. 2001, as it is being shown in 
Boston now, is in a transitional stage, the theater currently 
exhibiting a splice-ridden rough-cut while awaiting new prints from the 
M-G-M labs. Although some sequences are gone, most of the cutting 
consists of shortening lengthy shots that dwelled on slow and difficult 
operation of space-age machinery. Kubrick probably regrets his current 
job of attempting to satisfy future audiences: the trimming of two 
sequences involving the mechanics of entering and controlling "space 
pods," one-man spaceships launched from the larger craft, may emphasize 
plot action but only at the expense of the eerie and important 
continuity of technology that dominates most of the film. 2001 is, 
among other things, a slow-paced intricate stab at creating an 
aesthetic from natural and material things we have never seen before: 
the film's opening, "The Dawn of Man," takes place four million years 
ago (with a cast composed solely of australopithecines, tapirs, and a 
prehistoric leopard), and a quick cut takes us past the history of man 
into the future.

Kubrick's dilemma in terms of satisfying an audience is that his best 
work in 2001 is plotless slow-paced material, an always successful 
creation of often ritualistic behavior of apes, men, and machines with 
whom we are totally unfamiliar. In the longer version, the opening of 
Astronaut Poole's (Gary Lockwood) pod scene is shot identically to the 
preceding pod scene with Astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea), stressing 
standardized operational method by duplicating camera setups. This 
laborious preparation may appear initially repetitive until Poole's 
computer-controlled pod turns on him and murders him in space, thus 
justifying the prior duplication by undercutting it with a terrifyingly 
different conclusion. Throughout 2001, Kubrick suggests a constantly 
shifting balance between man and his tools, a dimension that largely 
vanishes from this particular scene in cutting the first half and 
making the murder more abrupt dramatically than any other single action 
in the film.

Even compromised in order to placate audiences, Kubrick's handling of 
the visual relationship between time and space is more than impressive. 
He has discovered that slow movement (of spacecraft, for example) is as 
impressive on a Cinerama screen as fast movement (the famous Cinerama 
roller-coaster approach), also that properly timed sequences of slow 
movement actually appear more real -- sometimes even faster -- than 
equally long long sequences of fast motion shots. No film in history 
achieves the degree of three-dimensional depth maintained consistently 
in 2001 (and climaxed rhapsodically in a shot of a pulsating stellar 
galaxy); Kubrick frequently focuses our attention to one side of the 
wide screen, then introduces an element from the opposite corner, 
forcing a reorientation which heightens our sense of personal 
observation of spontaneous reality.

His triumph, both in terms of film technique and directorial approach, 
is in the audience's almost immediate acceptance of special effects as 
reality: after we have seen a stewardess walk up a wall and across the 
ceiling early in the film, we no longer question similar amazements and 
accept Kubrick's new world without question. The credibility of the 
special effects established, we can suspend disbelief, to use a 
justifiable cliche, and revel in the beauty and imagination of 
Kubrick/Clarke's space. And turn to the challenging substance of the 
excellent screenplay.

2001 begins with a shot of an eclipse condition: the Earth, moon, and 
sun in orbital conjunction, shown on a single vertical plane in center 
screen. The image is central and becomes one of three prerequisites for 
each major progression made in the film.

The initial act of progress is evolutionary. A series of brief scenes 
establishes the life cycle of the australopithecine before its division 
into what became both ape and man -- they eat grass, are victimized by 
carnivores, huddle together defensively. One morning they awake to find 
in their midst a tall, thin, black rectangular monolith, its base 
embedded in the ground, towering monumentally above them, plainly not a 
natural formation. They touch it, and we note at that moment that the 
moon and sun are in orbital conjunction.

In the following scene, an australopithecine discovers what we will 
call the tool, a bone from a skeleton which, when used as an extension 
of the arm, adds considerably to the creature's strength. The discovery 
is executed in brilliant slow-motion montage of the pre-ape destroying 
the skeleton with the bone, establishing Kubrick and Clarke's 
subjective anthropological notion that the discovery of the tool was 
identical to that of the weapon. The "dawn of man," then, is 
represented by a coupling of progress and destruction; a theme of 
murder runs through 2001 simultaneously with that of progress. 
Ultimately, Kubrick shows an ambiguous spiritual growth through 
physical death.

The transition from prehistory to future becomes a simple cut from the 
bone descending in the air to a rocket preparing to land at a space 
station midway between Earth and Moon. A classic example of Bazin's 
"associative montage," the cut proves an effective, if simplistic, 
method of bypassing history and setting up the link between bone and 
rocket as the spectral tools of man, one primitive and one incredibly 

On the Moon, American scientists discover an identical black monolith, 
apparently buried over four million years before, completely inert save 
for the constant emission of a powerful radio signal directed toward 
Jupiter. The scientists examine it (touching it tentatively as the apes 
did) at a moment when the Earth and sun are in conjunctive orbit. They 
conclude that some form of life on Jupiter may have placed the monolith 
there and, fourteen months later, an expedition is sent to Jupiter to 

Two major progressions have been made: an evolutionary progression in 
the discovery of the tool, and a technological progression inherent in 
the trip to Jupiter. The discovery of the monolith has preceded each 
advance, and with it the conjunction of the sun and moons of a given 
planet, as well as the presence of ape or human at a stage of 
development where they are ready to make the significant progression. 
The monolith, then, begins to represent something of a deity; for our 
own purposes, we will assume that, given the three conditions, the 
inert monolith actually teaches or inspires ape and man to make the 
crucial advance. Therefore, it becomes a major force in man's 
evolution: man is not responsible for his own development, and perhaps 
the monolith even brings the men to it at the precise moment of the 
conjunctive orbits.

To Kubrick, this dehumanization is more than the result of the 
undefined force exerted by the monolith and proves a direct consequence 
of advanced technology. Kubrick is no stranger to the subject: THE 
KILLING and LOLITA both involve man's self-expression through the 
automobile; Spartacus's defeat comes because he is not adequately 
prepared to meet the advanced military technology of the Roman army; 
DR. STRANGELOVE, of course, contains a running motif of machines 
assuming human characteristics (the machine sexuality of its opening 
titles) while humans become machinelike, a theme carried further in 
2001. The central portion of 2001, the trip to Jupiter, can, as an 
odyssey toward a final progression of man, concern itself largely with 
Kubrick's persistent preoccupation of the relationship between man and 
his tools.

Kubrick prepares us for the ultimate emotional detachment of Bowman and 
Poole; his characterization of Dr. Floyd, the protagonist of the Moon 
sequence and the initiator of the Jupiter expedition, stresses his 
coldness, noticeably in a telephone conversation with his young 
daughter, a dialogue which suggests a reliance on manipulating her more 
than it demonstrates any love for her. These men, all professional, are 
no longer excited by space travel: they sleep during flights and pay no 
attention to what-we-consider-extraordinary  phenomenon occuring 
before their eyes (the rapid rotation of the Earth in the background 
during the telephone scene).

Bowman and Poole are inhuman. Their faces register no emotion and they 
show no tension; their few decisions are always logical and the two 
always agree; Poole greets a televised birthday message from his gauche 
middle-class parents on Earth with complete lack of interest -- he is, 
for practical purposes, no longer their child. With subtle humor, 
Kubrick separates one from the other only in their choice of food from 
the dispensing machine: Poole chooses food with clashing colors and 
Bowman selects a meal composed entirely within the ochre-to-dark brown 
range. In a fascinating selection of material, Kubrick omits the actual 
act of Poole's murder, cutting to his body in space directly after the 
mechanical pod-hands sever his air hose, thus taking emphasis off any 
identification we might suddenly feel and turning the murder into cold, 
further dehumanized abstraction.

The only human in the film is HAL 9000, the super-computer which runs 
the ship and exhibits all the emotional traits lacking in Bowman and 
Poole. The script development is, again, linear: the accepted 
relationship of man using machine is presented initially, then 
discarded in favor of an equal balance between the two (HAL, for 
example, asks Bowman to show him some sketches, then comments on them). 
This equilibrium where men and machine perversely share characteristics 
shatters only when HAL mistakenly detects a fault in the communications 
system. The HAL computers cannot make mistakes and a confirmation of 
the error would necessitate disconnection. At this point the balance 
shifts again: Bowman asks HAL to explain his mistake and HAL denies it, 
attributing it to "human error"; we are reminded of the maxim, "a bad 
workman blames his tools," and realize HAL is acting from a distinctly 
human point of view in trying to cover up his error.

As the only human in the film HAL proves a greater murderer than any of 
the men. Returning 2001 to the theme of inherent destruction in social 
and technological progress, Kubrick's chilling last-shot-before-the-
intermission (a shot from HAL's point-of-view, lip-reading a 
conversation of Bowman and Poole deciding to dismantle him if the 
mistake is confirmed) suggests the potential of machine to control man, 
the ultimate reversal of roles in a situation where man makes machines 
in his own image. HAL's success is partial; he murders Poole, and the 
three doctors on the ship in a state of induced hibernation. The murder 
of the sleeping doctors is filmed almost entirely as closeups of 
electronically controlled charts, a pulsating coordination of 
respiration regulators, cardiographs, and encephalographs. HAL shuts 
his power off gradually and we experience the ultimate dehumanization 
of watching men die not in their bed-coffins but in the diminished 
activity of the lines on the charts.

In attempting to reenter the ship from the pod he has used to retrieve 
Poole's corpse, Bowman must improvise -- for the first time -- ad-lib 
emergency procedures to break in against HAL's wishes. His 
determination is perhaps motivated by the first anger he has shown, and 
is certainly indicative of a crucial reassertion of man over machine, 
again shifting the film's balance concerning the relationship between 
man and tool. In a brilliant and indescribable sequence, preceded by 
some stunning low-angle camera gyrations as Bowman makes his way toward 
HAL's controls, the man performs a 1obotomy on the computer, 
dismantling all except its mechanical functions. Symbolically, it is 
the murder of an equal, and HAL's "death" becomes the only empathy-
evoking scene in 2001. Unlike any of the humans, HAL dies a natural 
human death at Bowman's hand, slowing down into senility and second 
childhood, until he remembers only his first programmed memory, the 
song "Daisy," which he sings until his final expiration.

Bowman's complex act parallels that of the australopithecus: his use of 
the pod ejector to reenter the craft was improvisational, the mechanism 
undoubtedly designed for a different purpose -- this referring to the 
use of bone as weapon-tool. Finally in committing murder, Bowman has 
essentially lost his dehumanization and become an archetypal new being: 
one worthy of the transcendental experience that follows. For the last 
part of the film, we must assume Bowman an individual by virtue of his 
improvised triumph over the complex computer. Left alone in the 
spaceship, Bowman sees the monolith slab floating in space in Jupiter's 
atmosphere and takes off in a pod to follow it; knowing by now the 
properties of the pod, we can conjure images of the mechanical arms 
controlled by Bowman reaching to touch the monolith as did the 
australopithecines and the humans. The nine moons of Jupiter are in 
orbital conjunction (a near-impossible astronomical occurrence) and the 
monolith floats into that orbit and disappears. Bowman follows it and 
enters what Clarke calls the timespace warp, a zone "beyond the 
infinite" conceived cinematically as a five-minute three-part light 
show, and intercut with frozen details of Bowman's reactions.

If the monolith has previously guided man to major evolutionary and 
technological progression, it leads Bowman now into a realm of 
perception man cannot conceive, an experience unbearable for him to 
endure while simultaneously marking a new level in his progress. The 
frozen shots intercut with the light sequences show, debatably, 
Bowman's horror in terms of perception and physical ordeal, and his 
physical death: the last of many multicolored solarized close-ups of 
his eye appears entirely flesh-colored, and, if we are justified in 
creating a color metaphor, the eye is totally wasted, almost subsumed 
into a pallid flesh. When man journeys far enough into time and space, 
Kubrick and Clarke are saying, man will find things he has no right to 

But this is not, as Clarke suggests in LIFE, the end of an Ahab-like 
quest on the part of men driven to seek the outer reaches of the 
universe. Bowman is led into the time warp by the monolith. The Moon 
monolith's radio signals directed toward Jupiter were not indicative of 
life as we know it on Jupiter, but were a roadmap, in effect, to show 
Bowman how to find his way to the monolith that guides him toward 
transcendent experience.

At the end, Bowman, probably dead (if we are to interpret makeup in 
conventional terms), finds himself in a room decorated with Louis XVI 
period furniture with fluorescent-lighted floors. He sees himself at 
different stages of old age and physical decay. Perhaps he is seeing 
representative stages of what his life would have been had he not been 
drawn into the infinite. As a bed-ridden dying man, the monolith 
appears before him and he reaches out to it. He is replaced by a 
glowing embryo on the bed and, presumably, reborn or transfigured into 
an embryo-baby enclosed in a sphere in our own solar system, watching 
Earth. He has plainly become an integral part of the cosmos, perhaps as 
LIFE suggests, as a "star-child" or, as Penelope Gilliatt suggests, as 
the first of a species of mutant that will inhabit the Earth and begin 
to grow. What seemed a linear progression may ultimately be cyclical, 
in that the final effect of the monolith on man can be interpreted as a 
progress ending in the beginning of a new revolutionary cycle on a 
vastly higher plane. But the intrinsic suggestiveness of the final 
image is such that any consistent theory about the nature of 2001 can 
be extended to apply to the last shot: there are no clear answers.

Several less-than-affirmative ideas can be advanced. The monolith is a 
representation of an extraterrestrial force which keeps mankind (and 
finally Bowman) under observation, and manipulates it at will. Man's 
progress is not of his own making, but a function of the monolith -- 
man cannot predict, therefore, the ensuing stages of his own evolution. 
That the initiation of man into higher stages of development involves 
murder casts ambiguity as to the nature of the monolith force. In its 
statement that man cannot control his destiny, 2001 is antihumanistic 
-- this also in the concept that what we consider humanity is actually 
a finite set of traits reproducible by machines.

The final appearance of the Louis XVI room suggests that Bowman was, in 
fact, being observed as if he were a rat in a maze, perhaps to test his 
readiness for a further progression, this time a transcendence. The 
decor of the room is probably not significant, and is either an 
arbitrary choice made by the observers, or else a projection of 
Bowman's own personality (the floor and the food are specifically 
within Bowman's immediate frame of reference).

If Kubrick's superb film has a problem, it may simply be that great 
philosophical-metaphysical films about human progress and man's 
relationship to the cosmos have one strike against them when they 
attempt to be literally just that. Rossellini's radiant religious films 
or Bresson's meditative asceticism ultimately say far more, I think, 
than Kubrick's far-more-ambitious attempt at synthesizing genre and 

Nevertheless, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY cannot be easily judged if only 
because of its dazzling technical perfection. To be able to see beyond 
that may take a few years. When we have grown used to beautiful strange 
machines, and the wonder of Kubrick's special effects wears off by 
duplication in other Hollywood films, then we can probe confidently 
beyond 2001's initial fascination and decide what kind of a film it 
really is.

                                                     (J.A., pp. 215-22)

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