Technology & Evolution In Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey
Released in 1968, 2001 A Space Odyssey is widely regarded as one of the best Films ever made.
It demonstrated that Science Fiction was a legitimate cinematic genre that could be used to discuss fundamental questions.
With the rise of Artificial Intelligence in our Society today, 2001’s message on the relationship between Technology and Human evolution can be considered prophetic.
2001 A Space Odyssey Storyline
2001 is divided into 4 Acts:
i) The Dawn of Man;
ii) The Monolith On the Moon;
iii) Jupiter Mission;
iv) Beyond the infinite
The Film opens on the African Savannah plains in an effort to capture the everyday life of our ancestors before the evolution of Homo Sapiens.
Our ancestors compete with other Apes for food and water resources, in addition to facing death from predators that roam the African plains.
The historical human condition is nakedly illustrated when a leopard kills one of the Apes and terrorises the entire troupe which has to hide in a cave until its safe outside. Meanwhile, another fight with a rival Tribe had erupted at the watering hole earlier in the day.
The next morning a mysterious tall, rectangular black monolith appears.
The Apes muster the courage to touch the monolith and in the next scene, one of the Apes lifts a bone from the ground and has a Eureka moment when he realizes that the bone can be used as a Tool to crush other bones and material.
In the following scene, the bone tool is transformed into a weapon at the next wateringhole confrontation, resulting in the death of one of the members of the rival Ape group.
The knowledge of killing also brings with it a diet of meat, and after killing the rival Alpha male, the victorious Ape throws his weapon into the air, and in the next shot its transformed into a spacefaring satellite.
In the next act, we are transported to a time when Man has mastered Space Travel.
A classified government mission takes us to the moon where its revealed that another Monolith was discovered, and that it was deliberately buried there four million years ago.
The discovery of the moon monolith leads to a manned mission to Jupiter.
Onboard is the most advanced Artificial Intelligence Sytem invented, the ‘HAL 9000’ computer believed to be incapable of error.
HAL can talk and exhbits what appears to be a consciousness.
Things go awry when the HAL 9000 computer makes an error in misdaignsoing a technical error and the crew is forced to disconnect it…The HAL 9000 attempts to resist its termination by killing one of the crew because the computer calculates its disconnection as the elimination of its consciousness.
After a struggle, the remaining crew member, Dave manages to reach the HAL 9000’s memory bank and disconnects it.
Once HAL is disconnected, a video screen immediately comes on and plays a recording detailing the secret purpose of the Jupiter mission: To investigate the evidence of intelligent life discovered on the moon with the discovery of the buried moon monolith.
The ship progresses towards jupiter with Dave onbaord, and as it approaches Jupiter, another Black Monolith appears.
Dave leaves the mission ship on a Pod which is drawn into a psychedelic wormhole where he ends up in an antique bedroom located in an unknown region of Space-Time.
Whilst in the antique bedroom Dave ages quickly, and the Monolith appears again.
When Dave touches the Monolith, he is transformed into a foetus, sent into Space and the Film ends with Dave as a reborn ‘Star Child’ floating above the Earth.
Themes & Legacy Of 2001 A Space Odyssey
Due to the Film’s complexity, there is no universal agreement about its intended themes.
What is clear however is that each encounter with the Monolith leads to a transformation in human consciousness.
Each encounter propels Human evolution forward…The first three phases are technological, and it would appear that the final stage is spiritual.
Interesting to note is that the last and perhaps most important phase occurs after mankind severes its connection to its most advanced technology when Dave disconnects the HAL 9000 computer.
Ultimately, 2001’s message may be that its only when we cut ties with the technology that we have come to depend on so much will we be free and at one with the Universe once again since Technology appears to enable the worst human impulses like War.
This message is particularly relevant today, given the parallels that can be drawn between the HAL 9000 Computer and our current forms of Artificial Intelligence which appear poised to surpass the capabilities of the HAL 9000.
The rise of Transhumanism and Posthumanism also points to the potentially ominous alliance between humans and technology
It remains to be seen whether we will harness technology for the good of mankind or whether it will destroy us….It would seem that the message in 2001 is that technology will probably destroy us, and that the return to our true Humanity and Spirituality lies in reducing or even eliminating our dependance on technology.
Given that 2001 was made during the Cold War, the threat of Nuclear annihilation may have been Kubrick’s main concern…This is certainly suggested by his other works like the hilarious Dr Strangelove which explores the Cold War Nuclear threat and the absurdity of the Cold War strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
The secrecy of the Jupiter Mission also reflects how information is controlled in Society, and in particular, how the Extraterrestrial question is dealt with by world governments.
In the final analysis, 2001 A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece which can be appreciated on multiple levels and rewards multiple viewings.
I havent been able to get the DVD as yet, but I’m glad I can always catch it on Netflix when its time to scratch the itch.