By Peter Krämer
By Peter Krämer
|'The Monolith' in 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
|3 'stories' in 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
|Landscape in 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
What are the characteristics of the “human” in both readings? The first reading suggests that, in contrast to their herbivorous, non-violent and rather ineffectual predecessors, humans can be defined as highly effective carnivorous and murderous tool-users. Since their first weapon in the film is a phallic bone, we can also say that humans are strongly associated with maleness here.
|'Murderous tool-users', the hominids turn in 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
|The 'Hilton' Space Station in 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
Let’s go back now to the idea that what we call humankind is merely a transitional stage between animal and genuine humanity. In this reading we might say that what we know as “human” history is fundamentally flawed due to our killing of animals for meat, the murder of members of our own kind, and our dependence on technology. We might go further by noting that, both in the space sequences and in the few scenes set on Earth, 21st century “humanity” is completely divorced from nature as it was experienced by its hominid predecessors.
And the life of 21st century individuals is characterised by increasing separation from each other. In contrast to the band of hominids forever huddling together and cuddling and grooming each other, “human” families are dispersed and there is hardly any physical contact between people at all. Indeed, the film shows how Bowman’s journey finds him ever more isolated – millions of miles from Earth, his fellow astronauts being killed, his only companion – a computer – being switched off.
|Isolation, 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
|'Starchild' in 2001: a Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1968)|
While asking ourselves such questions, we must not forget the very last words spoken in 2001: a Space Odyssey, which state that “the origin and purpose” of the monoliths “remain a total mystery”. Rather than trying to solve the film’s mysteries, we should perhaps accept that its mysteriousness is among its greatest qualities.
You can hear more of Peter's thoughts on 2001 here or read his 'BFI Film Classics' book on the film