Kubrick's cosmic vision of 2001, when man mates universe in blackest space

Arthur Zeldin August 1 1968

Kubrick's cosmic vision of 2001, when man mates universe in blackest space

Arthur Zeldin August 1 1968

Kubrick's cosmic vision of 2001, when man mates universe in blackest space



Arthur Zeldin

Fly me to the moon,

A nd let me play among the stars.

Let me see what spring is like

On Jupiter and Mars . . .

In other words, darling, / love you.

LET’S PUT ASIDE considerations of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as science fiction for the moment. Ultimately, I think of this gorgeous film as being a love song, in intention and feeling not unlike the tender and rather prophetic little lyric I quoted above. But infinitely more epic in scale — like, say, the difference between Shakespeare’s account of Anthony and Cleopatra compared to Silver Screen's account of Dick and Liz. 2001 : A Space Odyssey is a slow' and stately and fluid love song, a song to the blackness of billowing space and brilliance of unknown stars, a song to all that is divine about man and his thrust into this majestic, incomprehensible, infinite, orgasmic universe we live in.

Do you remember the opening behind-the-credits sequence for Kubrick’s prior effort. Dr. Strangelove, Or How / Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb? To the tune of Try A Little Tenderness two aircraft were shown coupling in mid-flight for refueling. The scene was a tremendous sexual double entendre, an image delivered with cutting irony to suggest the film’s dominant theme — that American society was so sexually hung-up in its machinery that it could, in a fit of neurosis, blow us all off the face of the earth.

In 2001, Kubrick and his co-author, science-fiction writer Arthur Clarke, continue essentially to play the same high-minded game of sexuality-technology. Only this time, they play it straight, without the irony. Indeed, with a great deal of love and flourish — five years and $10 million worth. At one of its most appealing levels. 2001 suggests that man’s rocket movement to outer space is simply a metaphor writ large, or an extension, of the sexual energy with which he pro-

creates life in the everyday w'orld of Earth.

The voyage to Saturn (via Jupiter), w'hich is the film's main action, takes place in a space ship with a round head and a huge tail, a fantastic vehicle which looks like nothing so much as human sperm magnified a few hundred million times. This voyage lasts a significant-sounding nine months, at the end of which, with the vast globe of Saturn looming up, there is suddenly a cataclysmic explosion of light and color and sound—plus the inter-edited microscopic close-ups of an animal ovum, perhaps just about to be fertilized — and all time and space seem to circle in upon themselves as the ship’s astronaut (Keir Dullea) confronts images of his own age and death. There is a final upheaval, and the film closes with the astronaut miraculously reincarnated into a beautiful new star baby floating free in a aureole of glowing space.

I realize this sounds complicated. Nevertheless, it looks glorious. And in its emotional effect, it feels rather like the promise of a rainbow to come after the flood of computerized technology in which we post-Cape Kennedy types sometimes begin to feel ourselves immersed.

But Kubrick’s messianically tinged finale is, in fact, not the film’s only symbolically ambiguous element. 2001 begins with a representation of ape civilization somewhere around that mythical point in time when the apes began to evolve into what eventually became mankind. The film abruptly flashes forward into space travel, and the suggestion is made that the development of man - into - astronaut will change the history of life as radically as did the development of ape-intoman.

What directs this creative progress. Kubrick asks, this huge expenditure of curiosity and vitality which constantly re-shapes our collective destiny?

In the film the answer, as such, is a mysterious symbol, a gigantic metallic slab which pulsates with sonic energy;

it appears on earth to urge the apes on to evolution and on the moon to urge the astronauts on to Saturn.

Call this slab what you will, a manifestation of God. or the Cosmic Consciousness, or Einstein's principle -of energy transforming itself into matter re-transforming itself into energy, or what have you; and then either debate the issue endlessly or give it a shrug ot the shoulders — the point is. the question has been raised. The Question. Kubrick’s film dares to approach the eternal, the unknowable, the beyond. and while some people have sneered at the seeming ingenuousness ol this temerity, it is nevertheless a function of the very highest forms of art and certainly of the very highest forms of science fiction. The petty moralizings and stereotyped villainy of such other recent sci-fi releases as Planet Of The Apes and Fantastic

Voyage are not even to be thought of in the same league.

Aside from high-minded thoughts, however, in the last analysis science fiction succeeds only to the extent to which it succeeds in intriguing you with its effects, its simulations of future machines and spatial activities. The great visual heart of 2001 lies precisely in this area of its accomplishment — it not only intrigues, it enchants. Above all else, 2001 moves. surely and in depth, and moves you with it through a dynamic cornucopia of rocket launchings, satellite flotations, weightlessness sequences, computerized instrumentations, moon landings, space buses, craters, planets, and, of course, the blackness of space itself. I tell you truly that the film elated me, and that when 1 left the theatre 1 felt as though 1 had just played among the stars.