My favourite film of all time is 2001. That’s hardly an understatement – it was the first film I saw that made me see movies differently. Before 2001 there was Star Wars and, inevitably, Disney. After 2001 there was The Shining, Psycho, Alien, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now. It was the film that defined everything after it. In one afternoon my taste was irrevocably changed. If you like, it was the afternoon my mature taste was born.
So I was incredibly pleased to come across this in my perusal of the interwebs ( read: looking for naughty pictures and free stuff). It’s a bit small so you have to squint. And I don’t care if this bores the arse off you, it’s my blog so I’ll write about whatever I want and you can’t stop me. Go read that retarded Ctrl+Alt+Del webcomic, you philistine.
Mind blown indeed, dude.
Kubrick’s work, alone among directors, is singled out for immense interpretation. I’ve read that The Shining is variously admitting that Kubrick faked the moon landing, an apologia for the treatment of Native American Indians, an essay on the modern father and his place in a boy’s life, yadda yadda, yackety schmackety. That film has given rise to a thousand fan-made conspiracy theories – 2001 has given rise to millions. Partly this is because the movie is so abstruse, never offering more information than is strictly necessary, partly because the ending baffles watchers even now, but mostly because 2001 doesn’t shirk from Big Themes. From the first scene you know you’re dealing with some pretty heavy philosophy – we’re being shown the evolution of man.
And thinking about this, while reading Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel novels (and Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, a book I can’t recommend highly enough), led me to think about What The Film Means. Of course, there is no real answer. Both Kubrick and Clarke have gone to eternity with the answer, if they ever really knew. But i like the answer given in the picture, which fits with how I felt about the movie (in one sense): 2001 is about Birth, but Birth in lots of ways:-
The Birth of Consciousness in Early Hominids, prompted by The Monolith
Consciousness is the game-changer and the highest point of evolution, and I don’t care what you hippy nay-sayers with your “back-to-the-land” nonsense. Consciousness gave us the edge over the competition and allowed, nay forced, us to become the dominant species. Consciousness in the film is preceded by awareness of the Monolith, a massive computer (described by Arthur C Clarke in 2010 as “a galactic swiss army knife”) that forces the hominids into recognition of the world around them. By making the hominids aware of “an other” (for more information, read Heidegger’s Sein Und Zeit until your head throbs) in the world, the become aware of themselves. This is the pattern that babies follow, according to the Piaget theory. First there is only the self, and baby is not fully consciousness, but gradually baby becomes aware of others, and later of how those others have minds.
I’m such a geek I own one of these. No, really.
The Birth of Technology
The other thing the Monolith does is instigate the development of technology. This arises with the birth of consciousness for, as the hominids become aware of the world as a separate thing, they take more notice of it. They start to apply it to themselves. If a stick is sharp and hurts me, can I use it to hurt others? If a bone is heavy and hard, can I hit somebody over the head with it? The motive force for turning the world into a tool-bearing entity is the idea of utility – what can I use to my advantage? The end of the first part of the movie is about the use of simple objects for their utility – technology has been born.
The Birth of Computer Consciousness in HAL
I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that the reason we’re so obsessed with developing artificial intelligence is because we are tired of being alone. In the early days of mankind ( pre-The Enlightenment, really) we populated the universe with beings like us – Gods, Devils, Angels, Sprites, Fairies, Djinni, Nymphs, Naiads and ghosts. While these were all different in shape and form, they were after all palpably human in their thinking. We could understand their motives. They behaved as we expected intelligent beings to behave. Moreover, the justified our thinking by their existence. God is in the form of a man to appeal to our idea of an anthropocentric universe – we created God in our image and then pretended God had created us in his image. It made us feel less alone. By populating the universe with people-like beings, we vaildated ourselves.
Then along came science and pretty much said goodbye to all that. Confronted with the reality of our alone-ness, we grasped onto the next best thing – if we can’t find people like us, we’ll have to make them!
HAL is the ultimate expression of that goal. In a philosophical sense, HAL doesn’t malfunction in 2001. He does his job perfectly. His job is to mimic human beings to such a degree that he appears conscious (to take the Turing approach). He fulfills this role perfectly by making mistakes, covering his tracks, lying, exhibiting paranoid symptoms and eventually killing everybody (nearly). If anything, he’s too human. If he was an IBM instead there wouldn’t be any murders (but there’d be a lot of stack buffer overflows and Blue Screens of Death).
HAL is one of my favourite characters in all of cinema. Since 2001 I’ve been drawn to robotic characters who behave with moral impunity (Hannibal Lector, Norman Bates, Patrick Bateman etc.), so I guess it was the first film where I found myself rooting for the bad guy. HAL is not immoral by any standards – he is just willing to complete the mission at all costs. His moral code is uncomplicated and he exhibits more human traits than the astronauts under his care – engaging them in conversation, playing chess, expressing an interest in their private lives and speculating on the mission. He is the next stage of consciousness, if you like. The Birth of Hal is the next part in the history of evolution, when bodies and minds stray from carbon to silicon.
The Rebirth of David Bowman
For those of you who didn’t get what was happening at the end of 2001 : there’s another Monolith waiting for Bowman. The one on the moon and the one around Jupiter are really the starting line and the finishing line of a marathon, put there as bait for the human race. Having advanced us with the monolith on earth to the point of developing technology, the next goal was to incite us to reach the outer planets, using the moon Monolith as a lure. When it emits a radio signal in the direction of Jupiter, it might as well be saying “come and get us!”.
But I digress. When Bowman reaches the second Monolith, it opens a door that transports him across galaxies to a constructed reality (the room) that acts as holding pen while it deconstructs his memories and transforms him from a being of matter to a being of energy. The mysterious creators of the Monoliths have artificially accelerated human evolution with tricks and prods, culminating in David Bowman’s rebirth as the space baby.
So 2001 is about that most commonplace of miracles – birth. Birth as a thing, birth as symbol, and birth as an idea. The birth of thinking man, the birth of thinking machine, and the birth of a super-being. Not bad for a sci-fi movie with maybe a hundred lines of dialogue. It’s not Star Wars. There aren’t any explosions in it. Nothing happens for long stretches of time. But it’s the finest movie about space exploration that will ever be made, offering up huge questions and a possible answer to the most asked question – why are we here?
And also it has some bizarrely anachronistic pop-culture references, like Pan Am. Remember Pan Am? How come they bit the dust because of Lockerbie? It wasn’t their fault that [CONSPIRACY THEORY]. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be wearing a tinfoil hat.