2001 Space Odyssey


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 scale. 
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 future. 
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
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 ideas. 
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
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 analysis) 
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
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
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
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 time. 

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