Mark Overanalyses Film

2001: A Space Odyssey

July 17, 2023 Season 3 Episode 11
2001: A Space Odyssey
Mark Overanalyses Film
More Info
Mark Overanalyses Film
2001: A Space Odyssey
Jul 17, 2023 Season 3 Episode 11

Mark's mind is going, there's no question about it, as he tries to figure out what makes 2001: A Space Odyssey possibly the greatest film ever made, how it did and did not change the form, and if he associates with HAL a little too much.

Show Notes Transcript

Mark's mind is going, there's no question about it, as he tries to figure out what makes 2001: A Space Odyssey possibly the greatest film ever made, how it did and did not change the form, and if he associates with HAL a little too much.

Hi everybody, and welcome to Mark Overanalyses Film! This is sadly the final episode of Season 3, so today, it’s time for a big swing. I’ll be looking at maybe the greatest, and maybe the most influential, film of all time: 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Before I begin, allow me to remind you that I am available for story coaching and reading at

2001: A Space Odyssey was directed by the boy Stanley Kubrick, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur C Clarke. It should be noted that Kubrick and Clarke first co-wrote a treatment together, based on a short story called The Sentinel, which Clarke had written years earlier. From that treatment, unusually, Clarke wrote the novel at the same time as Kubrick worked on the screenplay and made the film. Now, to try to clarify some elements of the film, I’m going to be referring to Clarke’s novel throughout, but it should be noted that it is commonly thought that there were real divergences in the two visions of the story. And so, just because Clarke’s novel appears to clarify something that happens in the film, that doesn’t necessarily mean that his explanation is entirely accurate.  

Now, there’s a lot to get into with 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in many ways, because it’s so elusive, my 2 big questions are really the fundamental questions that drive this podcast, and those are: what does the film mean, and how does it go about meaning it? 2001 is particularly challenging in this regard, I think, because normally you can chart the argument or lesson or meaning of a story by charting the decisions of the protagonist. But it is very difficult to pin down what decisions the protagonists are making here because so many of their decisions are withheld from us or seem unimportant or quotidian in nature.

One ‘in’ that we have though is 2001’s apparent use of a 5 act structure, so I will be taking that approach to my overanalysis. Now, a 5 act structure is really just a 3 act structure, but with the long 2nd Act split into 3 chunks to help us better understand distinct segments of the story. Here, Act I is the dawn of man, Act II is Floyd on the moon, Act III is Bowman and Poole on the ship when all seems relatively normal. Act IV is HAL going rogue. And, finally, Act V is Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. The acts are 19 minutes, 34 minutes,  31 minutes, 29 minutes, and 22 minutes in length. Pretty symmetrical right? 19, 34, 31, 29, and 22. Revolving around our central act, the first two acts are a combined 53 minutes and our final two are 51 minutes. And in a runtime of 134 minutes, the midpoint of the film happens almost exactly halfway, at minute 67. 

I draw attention to this because, well, it’s a thing that can be observed in a lot of films, and it’s reassuring to see that 2001 is so clearly playing within the realms of a usual structural sandbox.

And if you think this all makes me sound like I’m a HAL-esque AI trying to understand human consciousness, well, you wouldn’t be the first.

So, with all of that in mind, first I’ll look at the fundamental features of the protagonist, and then I’ll go through the main story beats by looking at the sequences of the film. Then, I’ll talk about the main things I learned along the way. Then, Dave will cut my higher brain functions without disturbing the purely automatic and regulatory systems.

So, let’s begin with the 5 Questions about the protagonist.

The 5 Questions

Question 1: Whose story is it?

Or, who is the protagonist? As far as I can figure, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the first multi-protagonist story that I’ve done. What that means is that rather than the thematic argument, or really, the main lesson of the story, being invested entirely in one character’s arc, the flow of the story is at different times conveyed through different people. But the thematic argument, or central message, remains the same. So, in this case, we have 3 protagonists. In the novel and the script, the man-ape that we follow in Act I is called Moon Watcher. Then, in Act II, we follow Scientific Specialist Heywood Floyd. Finally, for the bulk of our story, we follow astronaut Dave Bowman. 

Question 2: What is their life dream? 

Life dream here refers to what it is that the protagonist wants or is aiming to do when the film begins and the story has yet to properly start. And this is where it gets exciting, because all of these individuals end up exploring new knowledge, but when we join him, Moon Watcher’s life dream is simply to survive. And at the beginning of our story, that is looking like a tall order.

Question 3: What is their Want?

Want here is what the character is trying to achieve in Act II of the film, from the moment they really begin their journey until the moment they are at their most defeated. The whole point of this is really to give the character something to do and to give shape to the story. As such, the Want is a SMART goal, in that it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound. And for all that 2001: A Space Odyssey appears to mess with the form, this is actually crystal clear. At minute 19, we meet Floyd as he attempts to collect information on the monolith on the moon. At minute 116, Bowman arrives at Jupiter. While Bowman might not have been aware of the details, his and Floyd’s Want is to complete the mission they’ve been assigned, and that mission is to find out what the purpose of the Monolith really is, and perhaps even more importantly: who put it there.

Question 4: What is their Need? 

Now, in what John Yorke calls a 3 dimensional story, wherein a protagonist needs to change, Need is the human quality or piece of wisdom that the character lacks at the beginning of the story. In a 2 dimensional story though, wherein a protagonist needs to stay the same against tremendous pressure, Need is the human quality or piece of wisdom that the character has at the beginning, and must maintain throughout.

And this is the big one. 2001: A Space Odyssey is enigmatic to say the least, but if we keep things as simple as possible, we should be able to find a throughline. If this is a 3 dimensional story, we’re really looking at what fundamentally changes from when we first meet Moon-watcher to when we finally leave David Bowman once he has been reborn as what is termed in the book, Starchild. Well, you could say that we have evolved. And some could say, pretty convincingly, that the structure of 2001, in 3 acts, is pre-technology, with technology, and post-technology. But while that is outlined as a journey undertaken by the aliens in Clarke’s novel, I just don’t see that as the real core of the story, though it is potentially close to it. 

So, my favoured theory is a 2 dimensional one, and as we will see later, I believe this because of the film’s midpoint. Now, Kubrick and Clarke were both atheists, in that they did not believe in what would be considered a religious God. However, Clarke’s most famous quote is probably as follows: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In 2001: A Space Odyssey, he implicitly posits: any sufficiently advanced alien race is indistinguishable from God.

And, with this race acting in the place of a religious God, 2001: A Space Odyssey tells us that mankind was chosen, because mankind has a special kind of capacity within us. If it weren’t made by atheists, you might even call it a spark of the divine. In the 2001 novel, Clarke writes that as advanced beings “had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere”. These beings chose mankind because we had an unusual capacity for consciousness. The question is: how far can that go, and can we maintain it?

Question 5: Do they get what they Want and/or what they Need?

These do feel like somewhat trite questions in the face of the grandeur of a story like this, but hopefully I’ll show that the answer is yes on both counts.

Ok, now that I’ve attempted to answer the 5 key questions, let’s have a look at 2001: A Space Odyssey’s 5 acts and its sequences. 


The Sequences

There are traditionally 8 sequences, or stages, in a film. A sequence is a combination of scenes that are tied together by having a single overriding dramatic question or tension, and they tend to be between 10 and 15 minutes in length. A good way to think about it is that every 10-15 minutes, the audience should be on some level asking themselves a different dramatic question. Now, normally that tension is invested in the protagonist, and we can pose that tension in the form of a question, like “Can X accomplish Y?” Then that question gets answered with a yes or a no, and we move on to the next tension, as the protagonist moves on to their next short term goal. One of the most curious things about how 2001 actually works is that it is so bloody hard to tell what these tensions are, partly because the characters rarely communicate what their objectives are. That’s why the HAL-turning-on-the-humans stuff pops so much. It’s really the only part of the film that is largely traditional. Dave Bowman is a protagonist with a clear set of short term objectives fighting against clear external antagonistic forces. He will or will not succeed in terminating HAL. Now, there’s so much to talk about here that I don’t want to get too bogged down in this. For now, let me just say that we have 5 clear acts, and that each act has a protagonist with a clear objective. 1) Moon-watcher wants to survive, 2) Floyd wants to complete his mission of collecting information on the moon monolith, 3) Dave and Frank want to maintain the ship, 4) Dave wants to stop HAL from killing everyone, and finally, 5) Dave wants to find out what awaits him at Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. Each of these acts are probably split into 2 sequences with their own individual midpoint, as we’ll see. But enough already, let’s get into it!

Act I:

First, let me ask a question? What is the first thing you hear when you watch 2001: A Space Odyssey? You might understandably assume it’s this [], but for most of you, it will not be. If you see the film in a cinema or on DVD, you will actually have a black screen playing this music: []. Now, I think that’s important, but I’ll talk about why later.

For now, Act I has our first two sequences, and the first one is always pretty much “life as it is”, or really in the case of 2001, it’s “life as it was”. And life as it was sucked! The desert is hot and dry, there’s no food, there’s not enough water, other clans are jerks, and just when you think you can happily mind your own business, a leopard attacks you and your friends leave you for dead. It’s not looking good for Moon Watcher and his clan, but then suddenly one morning, something changes. A monolith appears, and this is our inciting incident, or: the event without which our story as it is would not happen. What the monolith represents has been the source of some debate, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty clear. It is either the device of an alien or some physical manifestation of an alien itself that has come to implant some kind of intellectual capacity within the man-ape. Or, perhaps more accurately, to act as a catalyst for that intellectual capacity within the man-ape. And with its arrival comes our first real tension: “Will Moon-watcher’s fortunes be changed by the monolith?” and so, at minute 11, we enter sequence II.

The man-apes poke and prod at the monolith, and something seems to happen to them. Soon, Moon watcher is playing with some bones, and he picks one up and starts using it as a club. At that, the journey of the race is changed forever. The other animals are slaughtered and their meat devoured. With the added strength of both the weapon-tools and a full belly, Moon watcher and his clan then go and mark their territory at their favourite watering hole. You’ll notice that when they do so, they are now more upright than the other man-ape clan. Moon watcher clubs the opposing leader to death, and they are successful. Moon watcher throws his bone weapon-tool up in the air, and we have arguably the single greatest jump cut in cinema history. As the bone flies through the air in slow motion, we jump forward 3 or 4 million years, to see man’s most advanced weapon-tools do likewise. Now, a quick note here: in the novel, Clarke makes a note that Moon watcher, with this revelation, is now essentially lord of all that he surveys, and there’s a question raised of just what he will do with it. The line is repeated for the Starchild as the very last line of the novel. But for now, Moon watcher’s fortunes most certainly were transformed by the monolith, and so we’ve answered our sequence and act tension, and at minute 19, we leave Moon Watcher behind as we leave Act I and we enter Act II.  

Act II begins with sequence III, or the first attempts to solve the problem. This sequence always begins with a “What’s the plan?” scene, which tells the audience what the middle of the film is going to look like. And while 2001 is certainly ambiguous, it nevertheless unquestionably does this. Because the majority of the next 100 minutes is going to be the day-to-day ennui of space travel and pleasantries on the way to something profound. And so, we spend 5 minutes having Floyd’s shuttle land on the space station. Once there, we have one of the most interesting aspects of the film, precisely because it’s so boring. First, Floyd calls home and talks to his daughter about her birthday tomorrow. Then, Floyd meets some Russian scientists, and most of what follows is day to day pleasantries. 

But: we learn that there’s been rumours of an outbreak of some kind on Clavius, and the Russians are concerned. But Floyd, the consummate politician, refuses to be drawn on it, and one Russian, who it should be noted is clearly a good friend of his, moves the conversation along. You can interpret this in two completely opposite ways. Either we are still man-apes fighting over territory in subtler ways, or we have undergone 3 million years of evolution and we no longer shriek at each other. The Russians say that they just so happened to have a shuttle that needed emergency help passing by Clavius the other day. Was this by chance, or an example of obvious spycraft? And there’s a really small thing that once you notice it, it’s hard to un-see it. The male scientist who pushes Floyd has an unusual habit of reaching for his glass with his middle finger. Twice, it seems like he’s giving Floyd the finger. It might just be an unusual tick of the actor, but it feels so consistent with the overall tension of the scene that I find it genuinely hard to tell. There can be no doubt though that this scene is in direct conversation with the last group scene that we saw, 3 million years ago. And on that note, there’s something else to consider as well. The second act in a 5 act structure is always defined by first a rejection and then finally an acceptance of the call to the protagonist’s Need. This acceptance can also be regarded as the protagonist’s first UNconscious move towards their Need. It’s unconscious because it’s often in direct reaction to something and just simply not a conscious decision. 

So, what is the rejection of the call here? Is it the fact that Floyd spends so much time sleeping while surrounded by the wonders of space travel? Or the fact that he stops his mission to go and call his daughter? Or, is it that mankind exhibits its old traits and gives in to fear, secrecy, and possessiveness by refusing to share a valuable resource? In this case: the information of what they have found at Clavius. 2001 is a journey to revelation, and at this point, Floyd is doing everything possible to hold back the revelation.

Anyways, Floyd continues on his way to Clavius, famously reads some zero-gravity toilet instructions, and soon arrives in a striking meeting room where he sympathises with the workers’ negative views. And it is here, finally, 40 minutes into our film, that we discover what Floyd is doing there. There is no outbreak, but some kind of truly significant find that called for the cover story. Once again en route, we discover that they’ve found something which was almost certainly placed there by aliens, and we soon see that it’s another monolith. Now, it’s not totally clear in the film, but in the book it states that the deliberately buried monolith springs into action once it is hit by the sun for the first time in millions of years. The astronauts are deafened by a high pitch tone, and they don’t know it yet, but they are being summoned to Jupiter. Just like at the end of any 2nd act in a 5 act structure, the protagonist makes their first UNconscious move towards their Need. We once again cut forward in time to 18 months later, so we know that they accept this summoning, or: they accept the call to their Need. And so, at minute 52, we end Act II and we enter Act III.

It’s 18 months later, and we finally meet our main protagonist, Dave Bowman, his colleague Frank Poole, and the most iconic element of this most iconic film: HAL. This is either our 4th or 5th sequence, depending on how you want to think about it, and from the moment HAL says he never makes a mistake, you are waiting for something to go wrong, so something around that is our tension. While this is ticking away in the background, we see that Kubrick and Clarke clearly invented the iPad, and there’s a lot of passing the time. Now, personally, I’m inclined to think that 2001 spends so much time showing seemingly boring day to day life because it’s sort of alienating in how it documents human life the same as it documents the man apes lives. We see both doing the same stuff: eating and sleeping and occasionally dealing with potential threats. 2001 almost feels like a documentary about something that doesn’t exist yet, and mankind itself is part of that documentary. 

 But while that is going on, there is clearly something unsettling here as we watch these astronauts deal with being on a spaceship for 18 months on their own, with nothing but an overly confident AI that is clearly passive aggressively negging you. And apparently if you really pay attention, there are signs that HAL is acting up. He makes some kind of mistake in his chess game with Frank, and then, at minute 67, exactly halfway through our 144 minute runtime, we have 2001: A Space Odyssey’s midpoint, or the protagonist’s first conscious move towards their Need. And this is one of the most discussed elements of the entire film. HAL makes conversation with Dave, and raises the issue of the secrecy involved with the mission. Dave considers what is being asked of him, and after a moment responds “You’re working up your crew psychology report.” And HAL responds that of course he is. And maybe I’m imagining it, but to me he sounds sheepish. And as soon as this happens, the thin end of the eventually murderous wedge hits. [] HAL has detected a fault, which will eventually appear to not exist. 

Now, again, there’s a lot of interpretations of what is happening here and why. But if we go off of 2001: A Space Odyssey the novel, HAL begins to malfunction here because he has been asked to essentially perform doublethink and he is incapable of doing so. In his interview with the BBC, he used the curious phrase that no HAL 9000 has ever made a mistake “or distorted information”. But HAL has been instructed to withhold knowledge from Dave and Frank on the true nature of their mission, and in raising the issue with Dave, he has actively distorted the truth. As incredible as HAL is, he lacks something that human intelligence possesses. You could call it intuition, or perception, or even some kind of spark.

So, why is this the first conscious move towards the protagonist’s Need then? Well, you could interpret it a couple of different ways. It could be that this is what triggers Dave, and therefore humanity, to maintain the human spirit against the threat of technology. But, when I boil this moment down to its core, and relate it to the chess match that occurred just before it: there are two different types of intelligence, perhaps even consciousness, trying to understand the intentions of the other, and only one has the capacity to do so. HAL would beat the humans at chess 10 times out of 10, but this? This is what makes us special. Dave is controlled here, but any human would know, more or less, what he is thinking and what he is not saying in saying what he does say. It is the incredible human capacity for the non-literal. HAL, for all his intelligence, does not have that capacity. 

Now, I don’t like jumping around in the narrative, but this is the other thing to note in Floyd’s meeting with the Russian scientists. Both parties know that they are concealing information, but both parties are able to compartmentalise it and see where the other is coming from, even if it is not necessarily for purely benign purposes. That meeting then could either be considered a refusal or an acceptance of the call, depending on your interpretation. But I am really disappearing off into distant space here. We’ve had our midpoint, something has seemingly gone wrong, and so we enter sequence V: the honeymoon sequence.

The honeymoon sequence is so called because the protagonist has acted in accordance with their Need, and so things generally go well for them for a while. Now, you could argue whether or not that is the case here, as Dave has to go out into space and collect an AE35 unit that is not in fact faulty. He then organises to chat to Frank in private in the pod. But, of course, the big difference between this and the following act is that the humans have the intellectual or instinctive upper hand here. They know that something is up, even if nothing is being said or done explicitly. And they are proving it. But then of course, at minute 83, something is said explicitly about it. And we realise that HAL can read lips. The humans no longer have the upper hand, and they don’t realise it. Dave and Frank’s act objective was to maintain the ship, but we know now that that’s not going to happen. Things are about to take a turn for the worse, so after a brief intermission, we leave Act III, and we enter Act IV: the bridge from the Honeymoon to the lowpoint.

And this is the act that is not only the most traditional, but arguably the most iconic. This time, Frank goes out to reinstall the non-faulty AE35 unit, and HAL oh-so-creepily turns the pod on him when he’s not looking and murders him. It is disturbingly dispassionate and clinical. Bowman rushes out without his helmet, and while he’s away, HAL murders the rest of the crew in their sleep. It really appears like man might not survive its machines. But Dave manages to re-enter manually. Gotta say, it’s a good thing the Discovery wasn’t designed by Apple. Then, we have arguably some of the most amazing shots in cinematic history. Dave enters HAL’s Logic Memory Center, and not coincidentally to my mind, at the end of Act IV, it is specifically HAL’s “mind”, or consciousness, that is lost. But, this triggers the reveal of the true purpose of the mission. [] Dave has defeated HAL, and Mankind’s intelligence has defeated machine’s, but he is now alone and unsupported as he is about to encounter alien life for the first time. Just like at the end of so many fourth acts of 2 dimensional stories, the protagonist — and us — finally have all the information, but to successfully maintain the Need in the face of this information seems impossible. And so, at minute 112, with 22 minutes left, we enter 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Act V. 

And that’s when things get weird. Act V always has a false resolution and a true resolution. And man alive, I would pay any amount of money to watch the false resolution in IMAX at any given moment. It is amazing. And perhaps more than any other single sequence ever filmed, it needs to be experienced. It cannot be described. And it should be noted that in a captured piece of audio that you can find online, Kubrick himself says that if you explain it, it sounds kind of stupid. But to experience it… well, that’s another story entirely. Dave leaves the ship to investigate the monolith floating in space near Jupiter. In the book, this monolith is called the Stargate. No relation. And you might notice that the lights on the Discovery are off. This is the false resolution, and Dave knows he is not coming back. As he approaches the monolith, well, as a writer in the New Yorker puts it, it looks like he’s shot through a rave going on in a birth canal. 

So, what is actually going on here? Well, Dave is being shot through space, and possibly through dimensions. And you’ll notice here there are actually a few different phases. There’s the first phase, which is the famous light show where it feels like you are being hurtled through space. Then, there’s a second phase, which appears to contain a lot of sperm, egg, and womb imagery — a suggestion perhaps of what is to come. Then, 7 glowing diamonds appear above more lights. Now, I have heard that these are apparently like different gateways or paths through the universe that will take you to different places, and I’m not sure where that information comes from. There is certainly a chapter entitled “Grand Central” in the novel, but it’s not quite described like this. I always liked the idea that these glowing diamonds are some kind of visual manifestation of the alien consciousness, but that’s just my own preference really. And that’s because the next phase is where we begin to see the surface of planets that look like Earth, but with all the colours being wrong. Now, this once again could be further travel going on, which matches ideas in the book. But again, I always liked the idea that this is the alien consciousness attempting to understand Dave’s mind and to copy his natural habitat, and eventually his new room, from his memory. Which is why it looks like Earth, but all wrong. And that leads to the end of this sequence. Even for an audience, this has been an intense experience, and throughout it seems to have terrified and overwhelmed Dave completely. It would appear that it might be too much, and that human consciousness might not survive the encounter. But then, Dave, clearly suffering extreme trauma from the experience, arrives in a bizarre looking room. And sure, he’s traumatised, but Dave has survived. And so we enter 2001: A Space Odyssey’s true resolution. 

I always think the next sequence is a little reminiscent of someone recovering from severe brain trauma, where there’s a question of what someone can take in and if they can register time or changes. But whatever is going on, Dave begins to see himself as he quickly becomes older and older and older. Whether he is getting older at a ‘normal rate’ but has lost all sense of time, or he is aging extremely rapidly, doesn’t really matter. What is clear though, is that Dave Bowman is in a kind of human zoo. He is being observed and perhaps tested by alien life. And the reason the room looks so odd is again that they have tried to copy a human habitat, but without really understanding it, in the same way that humans would poorly attempt to recreate animal habitats in a zoo on Earth. And, by the way, I’m stealing this point from another podcast, (I’m really sorry I don’t remember which one!), but if you get the chance, you should look up the paintings in this room. They are really creepy, because just like the room, they have an uncanny valley aspect to them. But however much time passes, Dave is soon on his deathbed, and he reaches for something. And we see that it is actually… another monolith. And just as the first monolith gifted man-apes with higher brain functions, this last monolith transforms Dave Bowman from death into a reincarnated Starchild. The Starchild returns to Earth, and as the incredible Thus Spoke Zarathustra plays, he turns to look at us. Mankind has journeyed beyond the stars, encountered new unexplainable forms of consciousness, and transformed itself to be born anew. Mankind has encountered a revelation, and it has survived.     


Jesus, where to start? There’s something about 2001: A Space Odyssey that makes it feel like the monolith. It’s so smooth and compelling and fundamentally unknowable. But what I’m fascinated by is what makes it so fascinating. There’s a tantalising interview with Steven Spielberg you can find on youtube, and I just so wish I could ask him about it. He says a couple of things of particular interest. 1) that Kubrick was interested in “changing the form”. And Spielberg said, “Didn’t you do that in 2001?” and Kubrick responded “Just a little bit, but not enough”. And I so desperately want to know what they mean here. What does it mean to “change the form”, and in what way did he do it in 2001? 2) He says that the way Kubrick told stories was antithetical to the way to which we are accustomed. And again, I just so desperately want to know what he means by that. 

So, what I find interesting is how 2001: A Space Odyssey works. I think it broadly speaking adheres to the principles of story structure. There is, to my mind, a pretty clear, pretty traditional 5 act structure. There is a clear inciting incident. There’s a journey that begins at the beginning of Act II, and that is embraced fully at the first UNconscious move at the end of Act II. There is a midpoint, that is very open to interpretation, but again, that I feel works pretty well within the framework of understanding that I have for this film as a first conscious move. If the first unconscious move works as a call to revelation, this first conscious move is an awareness that it is our minds alone that are ready for the revelation. Act IV threatens this like any Act IV would, leading to a low point where it’s hard to fathom anywhere for our protagonist to go. And this in turn leads to the false resolution, where it looks for all the world like the human mind might not be able to handle what it is experiencing. And this gives way to the true resolution: it does handle it, it embraces it, and it experiences revelation. This is what provides us with our ecstatic final moments. 

But there are other aspects which are more unusual, reasons why it remains so elusive and hard to pin down. It’s not just that this film is, ah, deliberately paced, it’s that it seems to belie our understanding of what drives story, which is dramatic tension. My great tutor Mary Kate O’Flanagan defined dramatic tension as “someone wants something badly and is having great difficulty getting it.” But that’s not really the case in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or at least for big chunks of it. 

And so, here’s where I start to get high-falutin’. There’s something about 2001: A Space Odyssey that is very hard to pin down, but it seems to speak directly to the viewer more directly than most. The protagonists here represent mankind, and the tensions of the story are rarely invested directly in the protagonists, but in us. Floyd knows what he’s doing, but we don’t. He’s thoroughly uninterested in space travel, but we are gradually being shown how it works, as if 2001 was an old school documentary about something that didn’t exist yet. There is so much information oh-so-gradually revealed to us in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which means that the protagonist’s journey to revelation is our own. What Dave Bowman sees through the Stargate is represented directly to us. Just as Dave struggles to take in what he is experiencing, Kubrick explicitly aimed to take us on a journey that would bypass our conscious minds. 

One final note on this, when I overanalysed In The Mood For Love, I talked about the cinematic technique known as decollage, which is, as I understand it, basically anything outside a shot or frame or scene that provides it with meaning. Now, that can encompass a lot of different stuff, but one of the most common tricks that film uses is that it will repeat some shot or technique or music from an earlier shot to confer meaning on a later shot, or vice versa. There’s lots of examples of this in 2001, for example, the fact that Dave’s face is always at an angle, or reflecting screens in front of him, or what have you. Any close up of HAL is always completely stable, straight on, and uncluttered. It makes HAL seem so in control and powerful. 

But, most interestingly to me, as I said right at the start, the first piece of music you will hear in 2001: A Space Odyssey is not the piece of music you might think. It is in fact a piece of music you will hear 3 times during your viewing. Once for the overture at the beginning over black, once during the interval, and finally, during the trip through the stargate — the journey to revelation. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe I truly am overanalysing, but it seems appropriate that our entry into 2001: A Space Odyssey is mirrored by Dave Bowman’s entry beyond the stars and to revelation. The film itself feels like the stargate. 2001: A Space Odyssey more than any other film I can think of really feels as though the medium is the message. The film conveys, without telling us, that there is something profound in the universe, and mankind’s place within it. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a revelation. What we do with it is up to us. 

This has been Mark Overanalyses film on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s it for Season 3. I’ll be back in September for season 4! If you enjoyed this episode and/or this season, please do like and share the podcast! It really is a huge help to the show. A special thanks to Mary Kate O’Flanagan who taught me everything I know about film, including these methods. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and see you soon.