Perhaps the most symbolic film of all times with the greatest archetypal themes of all ages – from the Dawn of Man to the mysteries of life, death and rebirth – and beyond.
Homer’s Odyssey serves as a sort of loose framework for Stanley Kubick’s 2001; both are epic journeys to return back home. Odysseus returns to Ithaca to re-claim his position as leader of his community. David Bowman returns to the roots of life itself to bring forth a new humanity for the world. Both lost their ships and entire crews. And, both ultimately had to slay a one-eyed monster; Odysseus with Cyclops and Bowman with HAL. But 2001 is even more epic than the ancient tale in that it journeys through all of time as well as infinite space.
The Great Stages of Life: Eating, Killing, Reproducing and Death
In 2001:, Kubrick and Clarke take on the largest issues of life, those that have both perplexed and inspired the greatest sages, philosophers, scientists and theologians throughout time. From the most primitive animal survival instincts to the grandest achievements of civilized humankind, these great themes are explored and exposed in 2001: Eating, Killing, Reproducing and Death:
Quite a bit of time and conversation are spent on eating in 2001: from the beginning to the end and all throughout. While easily overlooked or dismissed, just looking at the eating scenes alone tells the story of the movie – the story of human development – and how our eating procedure changes right along with us.
The proto-humans start out as collector-gatherers, competing with tapirs and other creatures for scarce resources.
On the way to the moon, a stewardess eats processed food from a straw with pictures suggesting their flavor.
Floyd comments that the taste of their fake sandwiches is “getting better all the time,” en route to the Monolith on the moon.
On Discovery, food has become nothing more than warmed over, multi-colored paste.
Finally, Bowman sits down to an elegant meal, alone, and with seemingly real food and cutlery.
At first, killing is about eating and survival, then, competition and conquest, and ultimately, from self-preservation to paranoia.
The proto-human remembers the Monolith and gets the idea to use tools – first, a weapon to kill something to eat.
Competing for the scarce resource of life – water – the now well-fed tool user finds a new use – to conquer by killing.
Beginning his paranoia-driven killing spree, HAL commands the pod to cut Poole’s oxygen line while he is on a space walk.
HAL goes on to terminate the life functions of the three other astronauts in hibernation.
After unsuccessfully trying to kill Bowman, HAL is himself ‘killed’ through disconnection.
Although the physical act of reproduction is never really shown or even implied, we do see the family unit portrayed by the proto-human children as well as Dr. Floyd’s daughter and Poole’s parents. Clearly, the Star-Child is a fetus on the verge of being born, and, there are several visual symbolic representations of many reproduction processes and elements.
In perfect rotational sync with the space station, the Orion shuttle prepares to enter her mid-section.
The airlock is opened on the space station, prepared to receive the insertion of Orion.
The lunar transport, alone in space, like an egg traveling along its monthly journey from the fallopian tube.
Discovery en route to its destination, sperm-like, ever-seeking its destiny.
The lunar shuttle is received into Clavius, like a fertilized egg nestling into the uterine wall.
Death and Rebirth
Poole and Bowman both die under different circumstances: murder and old age, respectively. The Star-Child suggests re-birth and an evolutionary leap of development for humanity.
Bowman’s humanity was shown in his determination to retrieve Poole’s lifeless body.
Bowman finally dies of old age, mirroring the end of this stage of human evolution, so that the new can be re-born.
Immediately following Bowman’s death appears the Star-Child, a fully developed fetus awaiting birth.