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Essay/Term paper: 2001 space odyssey

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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The film segment chosen was the final scene from Stanley Kubrik^s 2001
A Space Odyssey made in 1968. As the name would suggest, the film is
set almost entirely in the future. Already having projected itself over
30 years into the future, it would be safe to assume that this motion
picture offers a wealth of imagery and futuristic vision. It does. It
is towards the end of the film, however, that Kubrik offers this to us
on a much greater scale. In these few minutes, we are presented with
the dawn of a new era: a near incomprehensible evolution of humanity.
Through many complex design devices, the set design successfully
achieves a vision for the future that is neither dystopian, nor
entirely utopian, yet extraordinarily positive on a revolutionary

Kubrik himself has never publicly discussed the ending to 2001 and
admits that this was a very subjective film, while many people claim
not to have understood it at all. Many interpretations have been made
as to the real meaning of this scene, many incredibly different and
most equally plausible. Despite their differences, however, all have
one thing in common: an overwhelmingly optimistic vision for the

A few example interpretations include alien intervention: an idea that
alien technology has helped man progress to the ^next level^ of
consciousness; to an understanding beyond the physical realm. Others
adopt the idea of the emergence of man as pure thought completely of
his own accord.

It is for this reason that the futuristic vision expressed in this
scene cannot be labeled simply utopian. What viewers are offered during
this scene spans far beyond an idealistic version of the world we live
in today: various connotations found in the scene stretch the bounds
and horizons of humanity itself.

The problem faced by Kubrik, and indeed the set designer was how to
portray a near incomprehensible, purely conceptual journey on film. One
theory sits with the idea of a metaphorical shift of entities: the room
we see is a metaphor for the human body and respectively, Dave Bowman,
the main character, becomes a metaphor for the human mind.

One of the elements that makes this scene appear to be ambiguous is the
absence of dialogue and meaningful audio accompaniment. This absence
draws additional attention to the visual elements of the scene.
Furthermore, very little screen movement encourages us to study Dave^s
surroundings, in this case an elaborately decorated room.

Though the set is not intended to be a physical rendition of the future
itself, it does play a large role in channeling our thoughts and
emotions while we are offered these fantastic, conceptual, futuristic

The set quickly becomes an overwhelming feature of the scene for one
main reason: the uncomfortable feeling of incomprehension encourages us
to look to physical features for familiarity; something solid to grasp
onto. Kubrik does not offer us this. Instead, we are greeted with what
appears to be an elaborately decorated hotel room void of doors and
windows, complete with renaissance-like artwork and glowing floor
tiles. This ambiguity heightens our sense of curiosity.

What we are first presented with is a somewhat illogical mix of
objects: a space pod sitting in the middle of a bright white room with
geometric space-aged glowing floor tiling and furniture, artwork and
wall decorations that appear to be centuries old. This immediately
communicates a mix of ideas including artistic creativity, high
technology, cleanliness and calculated precision spanning centuries and
continents. In all, these are elements which can be attributed to major
triumphs and accomplishments of mankind over the physical domain;
factors which distinguish the human race from the rest of the animal
kingdom. Already the viewer has received a universally positive
statement, whether or not they are aware of it on a conscious level.

The fact that this room is void of doors and windows reinforces the
idea that it could exist merely as a container, as we have no idea what
exists beyond it; where or when this object exists in time. The room
appears to exist independent of these factors: it transcends time and
space, and for this reason, one can begin to question its authenticity.
Could this be a metaphor for the container of the human mind? Is this a
tangible representation of our ability, as a human race, to manipulate
the world around us? Once again, this is an personally subjective issue
which was intended to be dealt with on an individual scale. In this
way, the set design encourages the viewer to open their minds, to
consider abstract concepts and relative impossibilities.

The glowing tiles which line the floor of the room are symbolic of
technology, the future and humanity^s yearn for innovation. The
combination of geometric lines, the definition of the x, y and z planes
and bright white light give an impression of calculation, purity and
precision: elements that are synonymous with high technology. It is
known that bright cross lighting, used throughout this scene, can be
incredibly revealing and in most cases can expose blemishes and
imperfections in the set. In combination with the white walls, ceiling
and floor, it can be seen that this set achieves nothing short of
perfection, another reason to suspect a shift of reality.

The glowing tiles also serve as a source of high contrast to the
artworks and old furniture situated throughout the room. Here the
viewer is introduced to the featured colour: green. Green universally
represents harmony with nature and the environment. The choice of green
as a featured colour softens the intensity of the geometry of the floor
tiles. If, for example, were blue used as a substitute, the room could
risk appearing overly clinical, perhaps too futuristic, which would
emphasize a reliance on technology. The furniture itself appears to be
sophisticated and stylised, as though it came direct from an upper
class nineteenth century western European home. This furniture
implicitly suggests the idea of human sentimentality and an
appreciation for the old and the aesthetic. The artworks which appear
to be in the renaissance style put forth this idea also.

Countless explanations have been offered as to the reason for Dave^s
rapid aging, the meaning of the monolith and the star child. Despite
their differences, all share the idea of eternal optimism and divinity.
This can be attributed largely to the set design and its role in
channeling our thoughts and emotions during these bizarre encounters.
This scene was a successful rendition of an intangible journey on a
tangible, viewable scale.

Kubrik has been renowned for producing controversial films, 2001 being
no exception. Unlike his other films, however, 2001 offers us an
optimistic twist ^ a euphoric, revolutionary concept: that mankind will
eventually rise above the physical realm to a level of existence
incomprehensible to us at the present point in time.


Appendix I

Brief outline of Entity Shift Interpretation (base for semiotic

In an effort to portray a spiritual evolution on a tangible scale, we
witness a shift in entities. Dave^s environment, the decorated white
room, becomes a metaphor for the human body. The body, Dave Bowman,
becomes a metaphor for the human mind.

At the beginning of the scene, as Dave taps into a new level of
consciousness, he is initially shocked. This can be seen by the
alarming contrast between the red space suit Dave initially wears and
the near pure white background. As Dave begins to accept his
surroundings, we can see his body ^age^ rapidly: the mind is maturing.
On a different level, this also offers to us the idea that the mind is
the only constant throughout life: while the tangible body ages and
decays, the spirit remains the common denominator that makes each and
every one of us an individual. It has been suggested that this is the
essence of humanity.

The room, which remains completely static and has no windows or doors
can be seen as a container, and in this way likens itself to the human
body, the container of the human mind throughout life. The room itself
appears highly constructed and artificial, an indicator of physicality.
In some cases this can be seen to represent pretentiousness and vanity.
On the other hand, the elements, namely the artwork, tiles and
furniture, that make up the contents of the room appear to indicate a
myriad of human achievements spanning centuries. Technology, a yearn
for innovation, human creativity, classical architecture and high art
are just a few elements that spring to mind.

Once Bowman accepts the mental transition, he begins to indulge
himself. On one level we can see Dave begin to eat, on another he
begins to consider his place in evolution, thinking, examining,
progressing, evolving, and spiritually maturing.

When Dave^s wine glass smashes we see that it is time to move on. This
action has been likened to the Jewish tradition of breaking glass at a
wedding ceremony: a symbol of great change occurring. Stanley Kubrik
himself is Jewish, which makes this parallel plausible. Aware of the
Jewish tradition or not, the sight and sound of broken glass alone in
the controlled environment holds enough contrast to shock us into
thinking that change is about to occur. Dave is thereby about to enter
the new level of conscious existence.

As we see Dave age once more, he appears to be near the end of his
^life^. We see mankind reach out to the monolith for the final time in
the film (the first time being when apes learned to use tools, the
second time to make mankind aware of the happenings at Jupiter, some
believe this was a call to announce Earth^s human race to the rest of
the universe).

With a new camera shot, we are introduced to the star child: Dave has
reached complete divinity, the sublime. Far more significant than
visually aging, Dave has been reborn. He has outlived his physical body
and has evolved to the beginning new level, hence we see the fetus-like
object. This, followed by the realignment of the Earth, moon and sun;
the discipline of space; a mystical frontier, represents a cosmic
acceptance, a coming together of entities.

This was Kubrik^s vision for the future ^ a euphoric, revolutionary
concept: that mankind would eventually rise above the physical realm to
a level of existence incomprehensible to us at the present point in

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