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Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Scene-by-Scene Analysis of the Movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey


Black screen, dissonant tones

Audience:  Feels unsettled.  (Didn't I come here to WATCH a movie?)

Director:  This is not a regular movie.  Be prepared for a different kind of experience.  The curtain has not yet risen.

Possible Metaphor:  Blackness may indicate what existed before human consciousness or creation:  i.e. literally night before the dawning.

After a minute, dissonance builds... for two more minutes, almost like an orchestra tuning before a play (the evolution tuning/tinkering before the play of mankind?).


Majestic music [Richard Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra, which refers to Nietzsche's text of the same, which stated famously "God is dead."  It is intended to be somewhat irreligious--if replacing it with a religion of science (see ending sequence)].  Dawning of sun on Earth.  Note what appears before the dawning of the Sun--the Moon--which prefigures other monuments/monoliths.


Dawn on Earth.  Animal, insect noises.  Wind.  No music.  A desert (before the dawn).

Bones signify death but also prefigure birth of tech (bones also used for giving death to some in order to give life to others).  Juxtaposition to next shot of "men" eating.  Wild cat attacks (survival of the fittest).   Grooming.  Competition with other animals for food (other ape groups, other grazers).  In other words, up to this point, there's nothing that distinguishes our species as being apart from the chain or cycle of being:  Eat or be eaten.  The wild cat growling over its prey, the zebra, is no different than the apes defending the watering hole from other apes.  Apes hide in cave at night while wild cat growls outside.

Voices singing tunelessly.  Apes awake at dawn.  First mysterious monument appears.  Monument is metaphor made real.  It represents major steps up the evolutionary ladder toward intelligence.  The monument is obviously not natural--rectangle, sharp corners, purely black:  a door without a knob.  It prefigures the discovery of the first tool.  At first the apes fear the monument; then they touch, explore.

Bones--the glory of the first tool.  Achievement is backgrounded with Strauss' majestic music of the second scene (including organ--reminiscent of a church?).  Hint of violence.

Next series of shots:  now eat meat.  Next series:  first murder of (formerly?) same species.  Murder chases away rivals.  Superiority is celebrated by throwing of bone into air.

Scene 4  FROM EARTH TO THE MOON (but not quite to the Moon.  Scene title is a play off an old Wells' novel)

Bone/tool of scene 3 transforms (famously) into spaceship.  The ship is an advanced tool.  Now the music is a waltz, a dance.  Kubrick wants the viewer to glory in the progress of technology since the dawning.  It is a calm, soothing, sophisticated, cultured dance of the ship joining the space station.  This makes Kubrick identify with the typical reader of SF:  the advancement of humanity/technology is central.

Unlike scene 2 where the earth was in shadow, now it looms huge, luminous and blue.

The Blue Danube:  The waltz--usually a dance between partners of opposite sex--now a dance between ship and station (although possibly metaphor for genders. the waltz returns without as transparent of innuendoes).  As the ship approaches, it orients with station (in process of being built) so that to one another they appear normal while the rest of the universe spins.  Good understanding of spin (weightlessness, however, could have been improved upon--Kubrick's technology may not have been capable).


Various demonstrations of what everyday future technology may be like.  Note very stark white interiors:  purity of technology?  People and chairs are highly colored.  The chairs they sit upon are red--like Hal's eye.  Perhaps they ought not to trust so heavily?

Hint of "epidemic" on moon station.  Dr. Floyd is "not at liberty to discuss" the matter.  Perhaps human advancement is an epidemic? or has been falsely portrayed as an epidemic?


Again, the Blue Danube:  Waltz to the moon.  Drink food.  Trick shot of woman walking upside down.  Even a zero gravity toilet is a technological dance.  Not sure what all the bright red signifies:  Pilots in red, ship dock lit in red, chairs of scene 7 in red.  Perhaps they link up to the red of dawn in earlier scenes?  But why chairs?  These are the things that get us there?  the things we rely on?  But what about Hal's eye?  Isn't there something menacing about the red seen from outside the white (i.e. lunar lander from space)?  It may be that the unions of contrast--humans may err, and machine may be perfect--is a dance, a marriage that is spoiled when machines are too heavily relied upon.  Note what BBC interviewer asks Hal.


Hush, hush.  Epidemic is really a cover story.  Some secrecy required.  Seats, carpet blue (blue Earth? Blue Danube? a planet, a river that change over time? or another waltz/dance but of political words?).


Passengers in blue.  Pilots in red (again, well choreographed marriage/dance of men and computers).  Food improving.  Puzzle unravels:  Something deliberately buried on moon (by?).


Passengers disembark and journey to the monument, tentative, questing like the apes, one leading the others. Except this time they take a picture, which appears to set off an alarm.

Scene 12  JUPITER MISSION (18 months later)

Question (perhaps insoluble):  Was the trip to the moon the monumental event or Hal, the machine intelligence, supposedly superior, most reliable (would Hal like to think the latter)?  However, ultimately, the question may be solvable in that Hal is designated as red and, therefore, just the pilot.

"No 9000 has ever made a mistake or distorted information.  We are all foolproof and incapable of error."

"Hal, despite your enormous intellect, are you ever frustrated by your dependence on people to carry out actions."

"As to whether or not he has real feelings is something no one can truthfully answer."

Curious:  Crewmen watch their own responses as they eat.


Dave draws pictures of men in hibernation.  Metaphor?  Machines doing too much of the thinking?  Hal proves superiority at chess.  Hal expresses doubts of mission and secrecy that shrouds it.  Although scene 27 ("A Pre-Recorded Briefing") suggested that Hal knew everything and that the crew knew little or nothing, scene 16 suggests that Hal's information was somewhat limited as well.  According to scene 27, Hal knows that other intelligences await, but he pretends(?) here not to know about the digging on the moon.


Every scene is shown from multiple angles:  Human acting, Computer watching human, Human watching computer.  Curious shot of pod facing mothership as if facing off one another (parent to child--did not humans give birth to machines?  Yet who is mothering?  The machine does most of the acting:  Hal, move me closer.... Hal, rotate the pod.... Open the pod bay doors please, Hal... etc.).

Sound is silent except for gas hissing, human breathing--the lone living inhabitant outside the ship.  Sound probably intended to heighten sense of tenuous life in a harsh space (passing asteroids).  Frank leaps unnecessarily dangerously across space, but this too is probably intended to heighten place of danger though Frank's face appears unworried.


"Well, Hal, I'm damned if I can find anything wrong with it."

"Yes," Hal pauses overlong (i.e. he is damned, as well as...), "it's puzzling."

Hal: Interested in cutting off human communication completely (see related parenthetical 2 paragraphs down).

Mission Control: 9000 in error of predicting the fault. 

Hal:  It has always been due to human error.

Dave having trouble with "transmitter" in the seed pod.  (The little girl, "Squirt," wants a telephone (mother and father not at home).  Communication is delayed between astronauts and Earth.  Technology is distancing people from one another.  Frank and Squirt are separated from one another on their birthday due to technology.  The music during Frank's birthday transmission is melancholic.)

"Caution:  Explosive bolts" 

Great shots from computer angle lip reading.  Great time to cut to intermission.


It may be that this has a few intended functions:  To feel more like a play (with orchestra tuning), and to prolong omnious mood tones.

Scene 21  CUT ADRIFT

Famous shots of dual perspective:  of Frank's face operating seed pod and of the helmet reflecting the lights of the equipment Frank is operating.

Again, multiple perspective shot:  of Frank exiting the seed pod, of Hal's eye watching, of Dave's shoulder watching.

Frank murdered by Hal.


Dave investigates death via pod.  Again, the sign "Caution:  Explosive bolts"  which carries more weight (i.e. explosive emotion, machine bolts).


"Computer Malfunction" vs. "Life Functions Critical" -- More murders (see last note on scene 8).

"This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."  Hal interjects himself as the primary actor/benefactor of the mission.  Humans err; hence, jettison the humans.


Open the doors may be a metaphor for man's inability to achieve progress through machine doors.  True progress comes when... (you'll have to wait for the psychedelic scenes).

Dismantling Hal -- Hal becomes the most life-like of his existence, when he's about to die--he sings a love song, even.  Reflect on earliest scenes of life/death and their intimate connection.  We find out the humans had trusted the machine more than humans with the information about the knowledge of other intelligence.

Scene 28  JUPITER...

Dissonant voices soon to be accompanied by dissonant music.  Monument flies by (in orbit? probably not).  Jupiter (greatest of Greek gods) in sight.  (Planets supposed to be aligned?)  Pod bay door opens, and presumably Dave flew out to fetch the monument, seguewaying into the psychedelic sequence (what movie of this period wasn't enhanced by such?  Apparently, rumors abounded at the time that you couldn't understand the movie without drugs... not that you would understand when you came down).


The lights seem to indicate motion through space, and the still-frames indicate strange, slowed time (if, in some manner, horrifying).  Eerie, dissonant voices stop when the first still-frame of Dave appears--i.e. a different stage of journey. 

The human eye is juxtaposed against the exploding supernova--perhaps a journey to the Big Bang, the beginning of it all and perhaps to, therefore, all knowledge.  Jellyfish-light imagery (parallel between beginning of time and life?).  Alternately, the lights could be said to be of egg-yolk consistency while the *white* *seed* pod trails something behind it like a white tail (need I elaborate?).

Again the juxtaposing of the eye to imagery that mimics the eye.  Perhaps looking into one is like looking into the other, peering into a thing's essence.

Flights over rocky and watery terrains.  Eye turns normal, as dissonant tones smooth out.


Seed pod now in a bedroom (appropriate place if common for the conception of babies--see end of scene).  White floors, bottom lit.  Grecian white statues.  Dave is shaken, shaking inside the pod.  He peers out and sees himself, outside the pod.  In fact, he is that self outside the pod, and the self inside the pod is no more.  Dave has aged.  This motif, repeated often, is not unlike life:  We look ahead to who we will be while looking backward at where we've been... where we no longer are. 

Almost operatic voices in bathroom.  (Renaissance?) paintings fill the walls behind, which along with the statues and other decor, perhaps symbolize human intellectual progress of a few millennia.  Dave peers at self in mirror (not unlike eye of psychedelic scene), then peers at himself older and finally accustomed to this life, cutting up food on his plate.  The future Dave feels like he's being watched, turns around but sees no one (perhaps this suggests that Kubrick saw hindsight as less reliable as foresight).  

Dave knocks the crystal glass over--it shatters on the floor.  He looks at it, then to the sound of heavy breathing from the bed (his future self, of course):  both broken vessels. 

Dave on his death bed crooks a finger like the Sistine chapel painting by Michelango and directs his finger at the mysterious monument, suddenly at the foot of his bed.  Then Dave is gone and is replaced by a fetus.  What is odd about the fetus? 

Scene 31  STAR CHILD

Its eyes are wide open, and it journeys back to Earth--presumably through the monolith gateway--wide-eyed, with the majestic music that played when humanity moved beyond its dawning evolution.  The future awaits.  Something will change, something will be born (though what the next stage will bring, it does not specify).

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