Has anyone ever figured out the ending of 2001?

[Following are three opinions from the ALT.MOVIES.KUBRICK group.]

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This may be the question of all questions. I suspect that there isn't a 
"logical" explanation . . .

Some seems indisputable: the same aliens who deposited the slab on 
earth at the Dawn of Man to teach the apes left the buried slab on the 
moon; the job of the slab on the moon was to notify the aliens when it 
got discovered. In other words, to say "Remember those apes? They just 
made it to the moon." The moonslab beamed its message towards Jupiter; 
hence the Discovery mission was sent towards Jupiter to see who the 
moonslab was talking to. Now we get to the part where the fun starts, 
and where anybody's interpretation is as good as anyone else's, I 
guess. Mine:

Bowman encounters a slab floating in space, and seems to get sucked 
into it; he travels for a long time and sees lots of cool stuff. Some 
of what he sees seems vaguely biological; sperm and eggs. Other stuff 
seems like formations of land and oceans. Still other stuff seems like 
an exposition of geometrical form. It seems to me that Bowman is having 
the "mysteries of the Universe" shown to him, perhaps courtesy of the 
aliens. Why Bowman? Well, maybe because he was there. Or maybe it 
happens to all of us when we die; who knows? Bowman ends up in what 
seems like a hotel suite, where he seems to age very quickly. My own 
view is that Bowman ages normally; but that now that he sees things in 
a much larger, universal context, he sees his own life for what it is: 
trivial, short, and unimportant in the scheme of things. It passes in 
what seems like seconds, cosmically speaking. At the same time, his 
life IS important; DOES have meaning; an entire environment has been 
created for him, apparently solely so that he can live out the rest of 
his days in comfort. (For the first time in the film, somebody is seen 
eating what seems like an appetizing meal.) Bowman breaks his 
wineglass; I, personally, don't think this is a nod at Jewish symbology 
or anything along those lines. I think it's just the core of Kubrick's 
message: even after learning all there is to know about the universe, 
man is still man; still makes the same stupid mistakes and -- in the 
next shot, as he lies on his deathbed, still reaches out for the slab 
exactly as the apes did millions of years ago, and as Heywood Floyd did 
on the moon. In dying, Bowman graduates to a higher plane of being, the 
starchild. It is only through such a complete transformation that man 
can change at all. We are doomed to be mere apes until we die -- apes 
driving fancy cars and spaceships, maybe, but still apes. The only 
possibilities for real change in human nature are not of this earth, 
and not of this lifetime.

Logical? I dunno. But that's what it says to me.

                                                                 (A.K.)

One reason I like the movie over both the short story and the after-the-
fact novel is that Kubrick leaves things open for many possible 
interpretations from different perspectives. For me the passing through 
the Stargate is "clearly" the characterization of Dave's passing through 
the portal of death. The room where he emerges is an image of the "house 
with many mansions", and the crystal clarity represents the clear vision 
one has of the retrospective of one's own past. Dave is experiencing in 
all calm and objectivity the "judgment" of his past life, and this is 
transformed as he journeys farther through the spheres. He emerges in 
some distant future time pictured as a human embryo, hovering over the 
earth, where he is about to descend to a new incarnation.

Clarke of course would tell us that that is not "what it means" and give 
his detailed explanation of what we are supposed to see in it. Kubrick 
leaves us alone, and he leaves enough things unsaid and unshown that 
many different insights are possible. I suppose if I proposed my reading 
of it to Kubrick he would mumble something about how that wasn't what he 
had in mind, but I bet he would still leave the door open.

                                                                 (G.P.)

At the point of crisis the hero, Bowman, takes on a more active role and 
HAL, by trying to destroy him, becomes the agent of his call to 
adventure. In the act of murdering of the machine Bowman symbolically 
murders his mechanical nature too. We hear no more about Mission Control 
or of collective decision making. We are also not told how long he 
travels in the deserted ship, all that matters now is that he is alone, 
a solitary pilgrim on his way to a meeting with the Godhead.

JUPITER AND BEYOND THE INFINITE . . . opens with a montage of a 
universe that is no longer empty, but filled with the celestial 
splendors of Jupiter and her satellites. There are lots of visual 
analogies to birth and religious (notably Catholic) imagery in the 
styling of the effects shots. The Jovian system is filtered in a 
diffuse, milky light, as if the planets and Discovery are floating in 
amniotic fluid, the sperm like pod leaves the hold of the phallic 
Discovery for the last time and the Jovian moons align themselves to the 
vertical while the floating monolith folds in and out of the blackness 
of space to form the horizontal genuflection of a cross.

Bowman enters the Stargate, a phenomena like a procession of stain 
glass windows streaming by him at incredible speeds. We watch his face 
grimace under the pressure of tremendous acceleration, then blur out of 
recognition.

There is a merging of Bowman's point of view with ours and we pass 
thought galaxies and super novae together now as one traveler. We watch 
as star systems form and decay before our eyes, as if millions of years 
are passing in every second of perceived time. One of the forms we see 
is bright red and looks like a fetus; another is a retrograde comet, or 
perhaps an external view of the pod itself, but glowing white with a 
membranous tail it resembles a sperm, implying perhaps that in the 
furthest extremities of space, Bowman has returned to an enactment of 
his own gestation in the womb.

We cut to Bowman's strangely coloured eye, we are now traveling over the 
surface of a planet. Is this the aliens' planet? If it is, there are no 
sign of the presence of any Civilisation. The terrain looks almost like 
earth's, despite the strange colours splashed over the surfaces. We 
recognise that we are traveling over deserts, oceans and ice floes;
perhaps this is the earth of prehistory, in the throes of its own birth, 
or perhaps this is a race memory from the dawn of humanity -- the empty 
deserts and canyons of the landscape are very reminiscent of those in 
THE DAWN OF MAN.

Cut again to the close up on Bowman's eye moving through a series of 
colours, before the camera comes to rest on an extreme close-up of a 
normal eyeball. We are outside of Bowman's head again, we see his face, 
shaking uncontrollably -- a side effect of the pressures of his 
incredible journey.

We glimpse the exterior of the pod -- it has come to rest in some sort 
of a hotel suite. A white hotel no less! We are in a room styled to be 
reminiscent of the classical opulence of Louis XVI, but with an underlit 
floor and bleached out colours that are incongruously ascetic. As well 
as the obvious Freudian interpretations, this room can also be seen as a 
metaphor for human Civilisation in the Twenty First Century.

There now follows a series of strange transformation scenes where Bowman 
watches his corporeal body decay before his eyes while his consciousness 
is shifted into progressively older versions of himself. Time is 
meaningless: we could be watching moments or years. The quality of the 
scene is nightmarish, strange noises punctuate the soundtrack, there are 
groans and screams as the camera roams around the room -- the symmetry 
of Grecian statues and Gainsborough like paintings. When the camera pans 
around a bathroom there is vaguely hysterical, operatic singing when it 
passes a bath tub. Echoing the space walk scenes earlier in the film 
there is the constant sound of Bowman's breathing in his space suit 
lending the scene an intimacy as if we are inside his head with him.

Now the helmet is off, and we see Bowman again from outside as an old 
man, dressed in elegant clothes and seated at an ornate trolley, eating 
a meal. The mood changes, and the nightmarish voices vanish along with 
the sound of Bowman's breath. Now there is only the scraping of cutlery 
on bone china echoing in the silence. The ambiance of the room seems 
more real now: as if Bowman is really there, as a prisoner perhaps, or a 
specimen -- he no longer seems to be experiencing it as some mental 
aberration, yet the dreamlike logic of the transformation continues.

Finally, we see Bowman as an old man on his death bed; the monolith is 
there too at the foot of the bed. Bowman stretches out his arm in a 
parody of the Birth of Adam by Michaelangelo. At last the epiphany 
comes, he is reborn, a baby inside of a glowing suggestion of an 
amniotic sac floating above the bed.

To the reprised soundtrack of ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, the camera tracks 
into the blackness of the monolith and in the second startling jump-cut 
of the film we are transported millions of miles instead of years. The 
Moon fills the frame, the first celestial object known to man, the 
camera pans down to the blue sphere of the Earth, and then finally to 
the radiant sphere, inside which is the Star Child himself. Protected by 
this halo of light he stared benignly and enigmatically into the camera, 
his infant hands held together in a posture of prayer. The screen goes 
black.

The meaning of the transformation of Bowman into the Star Child is not 
made clear. We sense that he, though some divine and asexual 
reproduction, has been reborn with new powers. He is now a child of the 
universe and like a fish evolving out of the oceans he has evolved into 
space, with no need for the artificial placenta of a space suit.

However, the image of Bowman's transformation which confronts us is 
unambiguously religious, the holy infant, a wise child bathed in a halo- 
like aura. So, the effect for an audience is subliminally very powerful. 
The impression is that Bowman is the first of a new species, a half 
human half god, a Christ like hybrid of the divine and profane.

There is no ambiguity or irony in this depiction and on an intellectual 
level, given the film's thesis, this is very puzzling -- the undeniably 
powerful image of the Star Child is seemingly at odds with the tone of 
rest of the film. But religious experiences are by definition 
unexplainable, and Kubrick forces us to tread the path of the prophet. 
The scenes in the Hotel are deliberately disorientating, so that our 
minds are striving to assimilate them when he presents us with the Star 
Child. In our confusion, its very clear significance is lost in a mental 
gridlock of the higher mind, allowing Kubrick access other more 
restricted areas, where the image resonates with an unspoken power.

The question is why such a cerebral film maker should resort to such a 
technique? Well, perhaps the explanation lies in the spirit of the late 
sixties. Mankind stood on the threshold of a great adventure but the 
hope of nations was very much tethered to the earth by internecine 
strife, squabbling and fear. Kubrick's SPACE ODYSSEY ends with a kind of 
home coming -- the Star Child is an optimistic image of hope and re-
birth, whilst its vision of humanity throughout has been pessimistic and 
even dystopian.

2001 presents us with three ages of mankind: the brutal early man, the 
prosaic yet civilised future man, and a numinous transmutated man.

Kubrick's motivation then, in giving us an ending rooted in the familiar 
grammar of religious experience, is perhaps to subtly satirise the 
palliative hopes and inherent contradictions of the Space Program, which 
ironically relied on technology developed for weapons of mass 
destruction, to enable mankind to make its giant leap.

As the end credits fade, the juxtaposing of these contradictory moods 
leaves us at the end both haunted yet strangely unfulfilled: this is 
perhaps as Kubrick intended. Science Fiction has always been a medium 
primarily of ideas. It can offer us either hope for the future or serve 
as a warning against it. 2001 as the "proverbial good science fiction 
movie" attempts to succeed at both.

                                                                 (R.M.)

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