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Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Push the Sky Away » May 28th, 2016, 7:08 pm

I originally wrote this in response to the "Philosophical Films" thread, but it seemed to long to post as a comment and It also concerns other philosophical ideas that I think it can be justified to create an entirely new thread:

I have yet to see anyone on this thread mention 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. I have watched/read some analysis on this inspiring and frightening film but have not come across someone who shares my analysis on it (usually originality is a sign of being so far off that no one else was incompetent enough to reach that level of inaccuracy - but I'll still put this out there). I will try to be concise, I might later expand on this depending on your response.


It is clear that the film concerns evolution of consciousness (not necessarily human consciousness as primates, the "starchild" and the artificially intelligent character HAL are also a part of this theme along with the human characters). This theme is clear from the opening of the film which features a piece of music "Also sprach Zarathustra" (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) obviously named after Nietzsche's philosophical fiction. I will not go into Nietzsche's writing (not that I could do this very adequately) but the idea of evolution (the metamorphosis from mensch to ubermensch) as a part of what is referred to as the eternal recurrence. This idea of eternal recurrence is critical to 2001: A Space Odyssey - note the primate throwing a bone into the air that is then paralleled by mans greatest technological achievement, the space ship. Although this also concerns themes regarding technologies role in evolution, it also illustrates how evolution is a constant, although the shapes it takes on may be vastly different - the eternal recurrence. For those of you who think that the opening song can in no way have so many implications - I would say you do not know Stanley Kubrick's films.

Another instance of this theme of eternal recurrence is at the end where Dave becomes what is referenced outside of the film as a "starchild" (no, not David Bowie - but a giant floating space embryo). The fact that the supposed next great leap in mans evolution is materialized as an unborn child shows that this is by no means the last step. Again, the eternal recurrence.

Of course the theme of human evolution is what critics typically refer to when they talk about this film. These are just a few examples.

But what is the film saying ABOUT evolution. Sure, there are many themes about technologies role in our evolution, but beyond that is what I see as a mirror of Plato's theory of forms - and how when this realm of perfect insight is experienced, consciousness evolves. Let me try to explain.

Probably the most confusing part of this movie for first time viewers is the last 20 minutes or so. When Dave transcends space/time after encountering the monolithic structure featured in the beginning of the film (the same structure that the primates encounter). Dave then enters a world with references to Greek architecture (perhaps a reference to Greek philosophy?) along with baroque art and artifacts from other time periods - including the future. If you have not seen the film, I assure you that it is even more surreal than I can describe.

Time does not seem to exist here. This is shown as Dave ages when he looks at different versions of himself. Just like Plato's theory of forms, this realm that Dave finds himself in is perfect and eternal. I think it is quite fitting that right when Dave breaks a cup (corrupting the perfection), he then appears on his death bed gazing up at the monolith - ready to escort him out of the realm. Just like the primates in the beginning of the film (although we do not view their experience like we do with Dave), this experience within this realm is what drives the next step in the evolution of Dave's consciousness.

I would also like to briefly point to the allegory of the cave by the same philosopher. It is largely undisputed today that the world of shadows in the cave is what we experience everyday. The outside of the cave is the world of forms - perfect insight. It is my argument that this film portrays the monolith as some sort of portal to the outside of the cave. Now I think Plato would argue that through philosophy, one can leave the cave - perhaps the monolith represents philosophy or maybe even divine inspiration - I don't know (if I did, I would probably be a starchild right now and not typing away on my computer...)

The question then follows: What role would this experience have in evolution? To me, it seems rational (and this idea is often talked about by those who have had a religious/devine or even scientific experience) that when one achieves this level of inspiration - they are only able to understand so much. Imagine if you were exposed to all of the infinite truths of the universe and beyond (not to delve into the supernatural), it would be quite the overwhelming experience, maybe even similar to Dave's experience of being surrounded by flashing lights and complex shapes preceding his entry into the realm of forms. It would be so overwhelming that your consciousness would only be able to comprehend a small amount of the truths - however, this limited insight would propel you to your next step in the evolution of your consciousness. For example, the primate who entered this realm only understood as much as his monkey brain could - but this was enough insight to drive him to use a bone as a tool.

To wrap this all up, the realm of perfect forms is the constant of our evolution - eternal recurrence.

If you have seen the film, please let me know what you think of my theory, or if you have seen this theory elsewhere. Again, I am suspicious that I am way off target - but every time I watch the film I cannot help but notice the Greek architecture, or even the monolith as a reference to Nietzsche's claim that he realized the themes of Zarathustra when he was near a "pyramidal block of stone" (according to the wikipedia page on Thus Spoke).

Thank you!

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Atreyu » June 11th, 2016, 10:25 pm

Thank you for this post.

I have watched 2001 a few times, and it's obvious that there is a lot of hidden meaning in it, but I never could extract too much from it. Your analysis has enabled me to see some of this hidden meaning, and it seems to me that your insights are generally correct.

I like your idea that man's psychological evolution must be initiated from an already existing higher psychology (represented by the monolith). It is not as if man 'figures it out' as much as a certain knowledge is given to him. This is also how I view it. The theory of evolution is only applicable from the POV of physiology, not psychology. Genetic drift and natural selection alone cannot explain how we we went from not being able to understand the principle of a lever to building spaceships that can reach Neptune and beyond.

The only thing I didn't like about your analysis was the use of the word 'Eternal Recurrence', but this is personal. The term used in another context is much more important, and I try to teach and discuss it whenever possible, so I didn't particularly like its use in this altogether different, but also important, context.

In your definition, 'Eternal Recurrence' refers to the repeated occurrence of some cosmic/psychological impetus which propels man psychologically to the next level of his existence. But in the definition I often talk about on this Forum, 'Eternal Recurrence' refers to the idea that our lives are cyclical, and that life/death is something like our awareness going round and round on a circle. So after we die, our lives 'recur' --- we find ourselves at the point of conception again.

But this is really immaterial to your analysis and I think it was a good one....

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Mark1955 » June 12th, 2016, 4:40 am

If something is perfect why would it need to evolve?
If you think you know the answer you probably don't understand the question.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Push the Sky Away » June 12th, 2016, 11:28 am

Mark1955 wrote:If something is perfect why would it need to evolve?
you should probably quote me if you are referring to something specific in my post. The only thing that I referred to as being perfect was the realm of perfect form. This does not evolve. Our experience within this realm allows us to evolve - at least according to the film in my opinion.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Push the Sky Away » June 12th, 2016, 11:48 am

Atreyu wrote:Thank you for this post.

The only thing I didn't like about your analysis was the use of the word 'Eternal Recurrence', but this is personal. The term used in another context is much more important, and I try to teach and discuss it whenever possible, so I didn't particularly like its use in this altogether different, but also important, context.

In your definition, 'Eternal Recurrence' refers to the repeated occurrence of some cosmic/psychological impetus which propels man psychologically to the next level of his existence. But in the definition I often talk about on this Forum, 'Eternal Recurrence' refers to the idea that our lives are cyclical, and that life/death is something like our awareness going round and round on a circle. So after we die, our lives 'recur' --- we find ourselves at the point of conception again.

But this is really immaterial to your analysis and I think it was a good one....
I had a feeling I was going to get called out on this one. But part of me still feels that this could be a theme in the movie.

Eternal recurrence is not samsara (which is more of a cycle of life and death where no progress is made and is therefore the source of suffering). Eternal recurrence does concern a cycle of life and death, but death is where evolution occurs (consider dave sitting on his deathbed in the film just before his consciousness evolves)

You also state in your definition of the term that "after we die, our lives 'recur' --- we find ourselves at the point of conception again.". This is why I feel that the image of the space fetus (or whatever the hell you want to call it) at the end of the film, fits into this idea of eternal recurrence. There was in fact a cycle of life and death, but this was necessary part of a greater evolutionary process.

Let me know what you think of this, if I am off target I will go and change my original post. I will probably go back and include a more concrete definition of this term. Thanks

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by A Poster He or I » June 12th, 2016, 12:29 pm

I first saw 2001 at the age of 8, when it first opened in theaters. It immediately became my favorite movie and remained so until about 15 years ago. I have watched it probably 25 or 30 times. I support several of your considerations about the movie, but I reject your principle point, which you summarize as:

"To wrap this all up, the realm of perfect forms is the constant of our evolution - eternal recurrence."

To me, this statement contradicts itself. The realm of Plato's Forms, as classically understood, is changeless and static but eternal recurrence implies a dynamic at the very least. (To be fair, I should let you know that I consider Platonic philosophy to be drivel). Also, the conception of a changeless perfection behind evolution, to my mind, implies a teleology for evolution -- something that is thoroughly alien (and utterly unnecessary) to evolution as a model.

The Forms that are being projected as shadows onto the wall of Plato's Cave are themselves defined only in terms of how they differentiate from one another; such differentiation likely "imposed" as projections upon them. In other words, the Forms are themselves trapped in their own, bigger, cave, which exists inside yet a bigger mega-cave, ad infinitum.

Evolution is a constant then not for its approach toward perfection, but for its approach toward eternity and infinity. The cycles of endless recurrence are the pushing out to the next layer of an infinite onion. The process is endlessly open, not circumscribed by a static perfection.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Raspberry_Yoghurt » June 20th, 2016, 12:23 am

I recently read an analysys that made perfect sense to me. The film is a traditional sci-fi movie with a rather standard sci-fi story. What makes it special is that it is told only from the human perspective (plus the last bit is sped up). so it becomes entirely bewildering.

Anyway

Some very powerful aliens like to evolve other species. They do this using various monoliths plus a space station. To get to the space station you need to go through a wormhole operated by a monolith.

The aliens sends 3 monoliths to Earth's system.

Monolith Nr 1 goes to Earth - It evolves a species of it's choice and then leaves. (It picks the ape guys who then become humans a lot later.)

Monolith Nr 2 buries itself on the Moon. It's function is a) to test of the species has evolved enough to go to the Moon b) to show them where the third and most important monolith is,

Monolish Nr 3 is orbiting Jupiter. It's function is to send whoever gets there first through a wormhole to the space station. The astronaut guy has to fight HAL to get there first, presumably the computer would have gotten evolved if he had failked.

The space station Is a place where whoever gets through the wormhole stays for a long long time to learn new stuff and evolve even more. When you are done with the programme, takes all your life, you have changed a lot (so you look like a baby and is so strong you can resist space) and you get sent back to your home planet to spread the message and teach them how the also can evolve.

- the only thing that makes the movie so mysterious, is that Kubrick is smart enough never to show the aliens that made the monoliths and the space station.

-- Updated June 20th, 2016, 12:35 am to add the following --

Zarathustra refers to the astronaut guy being evolved into a superhuman, that looks like a baby.

The story as such is rather straightforward. Kubrick is a visual genius, and manages to make it so enigmatic by using very strange visuals.

For instance the monoliths - if the Jupiter monolith had looked like a gate construction, it would be obvious what happened. From the astronauts stay in the space station, he only shows things happening inside the room he lives in. Presumably, he leaves the room and does evolving stuff in other rooms also.

He also likes to just not show parts of he story, which makes it so mysterious what happens in those parts that aren't shown. There is no voice-over expclaiming "and thus aliens came to Earht, looking for a nice species to evolve". This makes it so enigmatic what the monoliths are for and what they are doing.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Atreyu » July 1st, 2016, 7:40 pm

An interesting analysis, Raspberry.

It's interesting to me that Mankind likes to think that 'aliens' (as in beings living on other planets) were/are responsible for the evolution of Mankind's consciousness.

I'm convinced that there is some truth in this idea, at least in the sense that Mankind needed outside help to evolve. But I certainly don't imagine this outside help coming in the form of benevolent alien beings coming to the Earth. I merely imagine certain unknown conscious forces being involved, the nature of which are beyond our comprehension....

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Greta » July 1st, 2016, 10:39 pm

It bothers me that there is a baby (albeit, a further evolved one, apparently) in a bubble out in space. I keep wondering what the hell will happen from there - how does the baby go from being a bubble being in space to the Earth and function without being immediately captured by researchers? Does the baby still contain Dave's awareness or is it a new, reincarnated individual?

I do like Raspberry's idea bout HAL being the one to evolve had Dave not survived. In fact, an alternate ending with the disembodied HAL surviving and evolving would be fascinating. Would it end with a motherboard in space? :) Or is consciousness a full-system phenomenon that requires other components and peripherals to work?
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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Raspberry_Yoghurt » July 2nd, 2016, 12:30 am

To be fair it wasn't my idea - I saw it somewhere on the internet, I have no idea where. I was browsing for interpretations of 2001, and hit upon this as the best one I saw. Some bright person out there thunk it up...

The bubble-baby supposedly isn't a normal baby, it just looks like a baby. It is super evolved, should be as different to humans as humans are from the ape-men in the first scene of it's movie. It has it's owe space-protective-menbrane thing, and I think is ready to go down to earth and teach everybody else to get to this stage. I think the bubble also has propultion in it, so he just zips down to earth and starts teaching :)

Looking at the scene again it seems to me the baby is Dave himself.
After he has been taught all his life and he is about to die, the monolith zaps him into the next evolution stage, bubble-baby, then sends him back to earth off screen the same way he got there, through all the lights.

Again I guess Kurick using visuals to throw us off. The standard visual of the super-evolved human would be a tall hairless man with a big forehead and a serene facial expression. Kubrick then just goes for another visual, a bubble-baby, and then we are lost again.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by LuckyR » July 26th, 2016, 10:39 pm

Kubrick was a master at taking ambiguous plot points and using cinematic flair and tricks to inject the sort of fabric that anyone can superimpose whatever biases or views onto to create the movie they want to see.
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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Greta » July 27th, 2016, 9:03 pm

Raspberry_Yoghurt wrote:To be fair it wasn't my idea - I saw it somewhere on the internet, I have no idea where. I was browsing for interpretations of 2001, and hit upon this as the best one I saw. Some bright person out there thunk it up...

The bubble-baby supposedly isn't a normal baby, it just looks like a baby. It is super evolved, should be as different to humans as humans are from the ape-men in the first scene of it's movie. It has it's owe space-protective-menbrane thing, and I think is ready to go down to earth and teach everybody else to get to this stage. I think the bubble also has propultion in it, so he just zips down to earth and starts teaching :)

Looking at the scene again it seems to me the baby is Dave himself.

After he has been taught all his life and he is about to die, the monolith zaps him into the next evolution stage, bubble-baby, then sends him back to earth off screen the same way he got there, through all the lights.

Again I guess Kubrick using visuals to throw us off. The standard visual of the super-evolved human would be a tall hairless man with a big forehead and a serene facial expression. Kubrick then just goes for another visual, a bubble-baby, and then we are lost again.
Yes, the baby is definitely Dave - one moment he is a weirdly aged old man and the next he is a baby in a bubble on the bed, seemingly induced by the monolith in the same way as the monolith induced tool use in early humans. I'd like to revisit Dave's ageing at the end of the movie. Was it a makeup issue or was he ageing very strangely? Was that a combination of normal ageing plus an influence that was adding the evolutionary features of the alien race to him?

The Wiki article about the monoliths seems to clarify many things, but I don't remember having this information when I read the book many years ago:
The extraterrestrial species that built the monoliths developed intergalactic travel millions or perhaps billions of years before the present time. In the novels, Clarke refers to them as the "Firstborn" (not to be confused with the identically-named race in Arthur C. Clarke's and Stephen Baxter's Time Odyssey Series) since they were quite possibly the first sentient species to possess a significant capability of interstellar travel. Members of this species explored the universe in the search of knowledge, and especially knowledge about other intelligent species.

While these early explorers discovered that life was quite common, they observed that intelligent life was often stunted in its development, or else died out prematurely. Hence, they set about fostering it. The "Firstborn" were in many ways physically different from human beings, though from another point-of-view they were fundamentally the same: they were creatures made of "flesh and blood", and hence like human beings they were mortal.

However, the evolutionary development projects they began would by their nature require very long time-spans to complete, far longer than the lifetimes of their creators. Therefore, the aliens created increasingly complex automated machines to oversee and carry out their projects over the eons. When they encountered a living world that had features in favour of the evolution of intelligent life, they left behind the monoliths as remote observers that were also capable of taking a variety of actions according to the wishes of their creators. One such planet, encountered when it was still quite young, was the Earth. They also observed Jupiter and its watery moon, Europa. The decaying ecology of Mars was also visited, but passed over in favour of more fruitful locations like Earth. The aliens left behind three monoliths to observe and enact their plan to foster humans to pursue technology and space travel.

As described in Clarke's novel, the Firstborn discovered later how to transfer their consciousness onto computers, and thus they became thinking machines. In the end, they surpassed even this achievement, and were able to transfer entirely from physical to non-corporeal forms – the "Lords of the Galaxy" — omniscient, immortal, and capable of travelling at great speeds. The Firstborn had abandoned physical form, but their creations, the monoliths, remained, and these continued to carry out their original assignments.
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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by BardoXV » August 9th, 2016, 7:13 pm

It has been many years since I have seen the movie, but from some of the comments I can see a similarity to the Buddhist concepts of dualism and non-dualism, where non-dualism is the perfect realm that does not change and dualism is the environment that evolves. I would agree with the comments that sum up the concept of the movie.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Jan Sand » November 20th, 2017, 1:20 am

I saw 2001 when it first appeared and was very impressed with the expression of science fiction on the screen in its true form as an exploration of philosophic concepts and future technology. It was in the spirit of H G Wells and many of the stories published in John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction magazine written by scientists and engineers in contrast to much of the current crap such as Star Wars and Star Trek which is science decorated fairy tales at the level of a 10 year old. 2001 was wonderfully satirical on current society in the spirit of Dr Strangelove but also sincerely philosophical in probing the utter mysteries of actual existence and its impenetrable oddity. The concept that an alien supervisor is controlling the development of humanity is not impossible, but considering current situations wherein our civilization is in the hands of complete brutal idiots pushing the world towards radioactive sterility and fatal heat, it seems highly unlikely. Kubrick's genius in the film is in implying immense potentials for alien situations with symbols rather than explicit monsters with tentacles was quite wonderful.

In general, what I surmise about evolution is not a steady progress towards a superior mankind but rather a cooperative effort for basic life forces to produce continuous menus of DNA variations to meet current ecological challenges. When intellect and technological expertise liberate highly destructive forces such as planetary atmospheric disasters or nuclear destruction in the hands of incompetents, intellect may prove detrimental to survival and the rather bright octopuses now extant may have more promising futures.

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Re: Analysis: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Post by Jan Sand » December 5th, 2017, 9:13 am

Although Kubrick's 2001 has its moments of sharp irony on the half wits in charge of current civilization he and Arthur Clarke succumb to the fantasy that there is an interstellar superior supervisor of human development that would coerce humanity into overcoming its brutal savagery and infinite stupidity to emerge into some sort of infinite wisdom.The current batch of nincompoops now in charge of the world are literally hell bent in totally disrupting the coordinated matrix of planetary ecology and life forces to destroy all possibilities of life on Earth to continue. It's a race between natural forces and nuclear bombast as to which will manage the final obliteration.

Rather than Kubrick's admirable film I find that sequence in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" more edifying as to man's nature.That latter film tells of a monster master computer which can give the final answer to everything and after, perhaps, a thousand years of computer computation it comes up with the total answer to everything. That answer turns out to be 42. This answer neatly demonstrates that when you ask a question you had better know everything about what the answer should be before you ask it.

Just a day or so ago there was a news report about a computer that was asked to design an algorithm that could recognize any object it was shown. This type of algorithm had been designed before by expert programmers and the computer's effort was far better than any human could do.But the expert programmers were unable to analyze or understand the computer's algorithm. So, in this very modest sense, this computer was brighter than human's could manage and this seems to be the point much warned against by bright people as the trigger to the very dangerous time when our digital machines could overwhelm humanity. Considering what is going on with the politics of the planet, that might be the only thing that saves us.

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