[Following are arguments for the above four views. C. Clark disagrees with G. Alexander's view that the ending is optimistic, is seconded and thirded, and replies follow] PESSIMISTIC My query concerns your interpretation of Bowman's metamorphosis in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. As I understand it, you have argued in a number of postings that the film ends on an optimistic note: Bowman's evolution into Starchild is a positive event, humanity transcending the cycle of violence which the film traces throughout 4-million plus years of human evolution. . . . My own belief is that 2001 ends on a `downer' . . . Viewed in the context of Kubrick's subsequent films, I find it hard to read Bowman's metamorphosis in an optimistic light; nor do I believe such a reading to be supported by the film itself. . . . An important clue, I believe, is furnished by the starkness of the film's production design during the `futuristic' scenes. The emphasis on geometric shapes recalls the geometric precision of the monolith: this soulless society is indeed made in the monolith's image. The suite of rooms in which Bowman undergoes his metamorphosis at the film's end reinforces this notion. The eighteenth century furnishings recall the `Age of Reason', an emphasis on precision and logic echoed by the geometric black-and-white design of the floor. In this room - as much a product of the monolith-maker(s) as the monolith itself, for all its `terrestrial' trappings - we see no evidence that the monolith-maker(s) value anything other than the cold, logical precision of the technologised and dehumanised society presented in the film's second and third sections. . . . In uplifting Bowman to Starchild, the monolith-maker(s) might place greater control of the universe at his disposal (as they did with the australopithecines), but to no less violent an end. . . . [In another post, C.C. wrote:] I would also argue that there is evidence in both A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and BARRY LYNDON which contradicts an optimistic reading of 2001. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE ends on a note of `transcendence' which I believe can only be read as bitterly ironic: Alex's claim `I was cured' clearly does not refer to any escape from his fundamentally violent nature, as his final fantasy vision makes only too clear. This same tone of bitter irony runs through BARRY LYNDON, most powerfully in Michael Hordern's sardonic narration (listen to his tone of voice during the early passage beginning `First love: what a change it brings in a young man's heart..'). The final title card - I do not remember the exact wording, but it is to the effect that `These things happened during the reign of King George, and all these people are now equal in death' - reinforces the sense that Redmond Barry's (violent) striving for position in society is, in the largest possible scheme of things, utterly futile: even if he had not fallen from a high position, he would still have died and been forgotten. There is no hint of transcendence anywhere: no indication that, even when raised to a higher position, Barry was able to escape the ritualised violence which has shaped his life. Of course, this doesn't preclude the possibility that Kubrick changed his mind between 2001 and the subsequent films, as Geoffrey Alexander points out: but if so, 2001 is the only one of Kubrick's films of those I have seen (these are, in chronological order of release, SPARTACUS, and everything from LOLITA onwards) which does suggest that anything can liberate us from our human and violent condition. . . . The eighteenth century room in which Bowman undergoes his metamorphosis is important here. Despite Clarke's diary entry (17/10/1964), I find it hard to accept that this is an environment intended to put Bowman at his ease. The date of the entry suggests that this was Kubrick's original idea, one of many strange ones which he had according to Clarke, but which he later reworked to different ends. The room we experience in the movie is in fact discomforting in the extreme: the juxtaposition between the glowing floor and the muted eighteenth-century furnishings is disquieting, as are the noises we hear on the soundtrack -- reminiscent of at best a zoo or at worst a prison. The impression it creates in me is not that the monolith-makers have brought Bowman here to redeem us from our human state, but rather that Bowman is just another lab-rat, part of an ongoing experiment. In this light it seems plausible that Kubrick intends us to read the Starchild as indeed possessing a transhuman intelligence, but not one which is necessarily less capable of violence, less `soulless', than either Dave Bowman or HAL 9000. It also occurs to me as I type this that its penumbra or amnion or whatever is spherical in shape . . . (C.C.) My present interpretation of Bowman's transformation (and man, I've fluctuated), sees it as, ultimately, a regressive one. How do I come to this conclusion? With a lot of difficulty and mental and emotional anguish. Let me start with the assertion that, reflecting upon Kubrick's entire body of work, one truly has little reason to believe that Kubrick would conclude any of his films on a note of HOPE. Never have I encountered a vision as unrelenting, forceful and, at the same time, as elegant as Kubrick's. CONSISTENCY OF VISION is not a precept that this director can be accused of violating. As far as the brutality of mankind is concerned, Kubrick's eyesight is 20/20. Next, 2001 is quite clear in its presentation of mankind's failure to utilize any of the knowledge he has been given through the monolith for anything other than destructive purposes. I'm not going to spend time and space documenting this. See the movie. Now, what would lead us to think that Bowman/mankind's final transformation is any sort of true metamorphasis at all? I mean, what evidence is there that man really changes for the better here? One would think that precursors to such a transformation would exist earlier in the film. What hints are there that man is really capable of transforming? Someone suggested that Bowman's dismantling of HAL signifies mankind's "worthiness" of empowerment. I accept this as a valid argument, but why should we think that the 'keeper(s) of the monolith' are any more capable of recognizing man's "worthiness" now then before? After all, they sure seemed to have screwed up in giving us the monolith in the past. Of course, it is possible that all our past mistakes have been in preparation for this final transformation. This would be, in my opinion, a valid argument as well. BUT I am not convinced. So far, nothing in the movie has swayed me at all from what I have seen as total Kubrick consistency . . . which leads me to the final shot itself, the source of my ambivalence. The final image of the 'Star Child' can, I think, be viewed as either progressive (a positive transformation) or regressive. The Star Child is, obviously, a fetus. Is this a renewal then, or has man simply reverted to an earlier stage in development (which would be consistent with the themes of the the film, thus far)? I've got to say that the final image of the Star Child always evokes a tremendous emotional response from myself. I cry, every time. I mention this, not because I want everybody to see how sensitive I am ("Guy's who cry at the movies"), but because it's important in interpreting how I'm viewing this final sequence. For me, the key to interpreting the image of the Star Child lies in the expression on his face. Is it one of wonderment, at the possibilities that lie ahead for humanity (progressive)? Or is it an expression of bleakness, of sadness, of a new knowledge (this knowledge being the familiar gift of the monolith) that mankind will forever misuse this gift for destructive purposes (regressive)? When I cry at the end of 2001, I'm surely not crying for all the wonderful possibilites for humankind that Kubrick has suggested. My response is to a grim, desolate, hopeless vision. Interpreting emotion can obviously be a sinisterly unreliable way of gauging one's (even one's own) response to an event. Maybe I'm just responding to the sheer intensity of the film. I'm really not sure. But this is what I see in the Star Child's face, and this is how I feel. (D.R.) OPTIMISTIC This is a sharp observation, but one which I think is contradicted by the ultimate resolution of the conflict between HAL and his human crewmates. I suggest that Bowman, in defeating HAL (in what I'm sure everyone will agree is "the" sequence in the movie that evokes the greatest emotion), is "proving" himself (a bad word, but I can't think of better) "worthy" (ugh) of the attention of the force behind the monolith. HAL is the embodiment of the cold, dehumanizing trend of the technologically-dominated society of 2001, in which the unalloyed curiosity and wonder of the ape-men before "The Dawn of Man" is replaced by banality and businesslike detachment. HAL is surrogate curiosity, artificial wonder -- where a human might be awed by the nature of his task, HAL is merely concerned about "jeopardizing the mission." By destroying HAL, Bowman sheds himself of the technological baggage which he (and everyone else) has used to shield themselves from the wonder, and terror, of the unknown. So I can't see the conclusion of 2001 as a victory of "technolo- gization and dehumanization"; quite the contrary. (E.T.) There are couple of problems with [the pessimism interpretation]. The cliche of Kubrick the cynic, or Kubrick the misanthrope, gleefully pushing the button at the end of Strangelove or rooting on Alex in ACO, is about as irritating, and numbing, as the cliche of Kubrick the cold intellectual. I would suggest that, if he were really that cynical or misanthropic, he'd have a tough time finding the energy to get up in the morning, let alone devote huge chunks of his life to creating films. That's not to deny that the films can be bleak, but what tends to be called Kubrick's pessimism is nothing but a rhetorical strategy. If you're commenting on a positivist culture that exhibits a blind devotion to progress while simultaneously wallowing in superstition and half- digested mysticism, you want to create the strongest possible contrast. (If the background is an overexposed white, no shade of off-white is going to stand out against it.) Kubrick is actually following in the tradition of Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, etc., by deliberating using dark imagery (scotography) to comment on false light. (This is developed in detail in Levin's The Power of Blackness and David Reynolds' Beneath the American Renaissance.) Kubrick never finishes with a happy ending because his films aren't melodramas. But it doesn't necessarily follow that the endings are pessimistic. The ending of The Shining shows Wendy, who was a major league space cadet at the beginning, taking control, warding off Jack and saving Danny. ACO ends with Alex's victory -- an unsettling victory, but the best victory possible when you consider the alternatives. FMJ essentially ends with the image of the sniper, a young woman devoted to her cause, fighting an apathetic conscripted foreign army. (The Mickey Mouse sequence that follows is essentially a coda.) So I find all of these endings consistent with what Kubrick did with the Starchild in 2001 -- all of them show some kind of transformation, or a leap to a new level. (M.G.) EITHER Perhaps the dominant emotion is either. Imagine that it's opening night, and you are about to go on stage before an audience of millions. If you're prepared, you're exhilarated -- if not, you're in a real-time "Actor's Nightmare"; welcome to the Jungle . . . (B.K.) OTHER The only thing I would ask everyone to consider, in relation to the [first C.C. and E.T.] postings, is that the ending of 2001 may be neither optimistic nor pessimistic but just "other." . . . I feel the movie ends when it does because everything beyond that point is unimaginable. The culture shock that Floyd and the others are so worried about isn't so much different from the kind of disorientation caused by the appearance of a new paradigm. Most people just do not have the right mindset to even begin to understand what is being proposed, so they react to it with ridicule and, sometimes, violence. The old worldview is their whole world; they have too much invested in it to even see the relevance of any other view. (To the Newtonian world, Einstein's theories seemed like pure fancy.) The ending of 2001 is about unimaginable possibilities, and that is neither a good nor a bad thing because, in human terms, it is all but irrelevant. (M.G.)
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