WTF happens at the end of 2001’s…

…1965 Original Script — Revised Draft? ; )
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NARRATOR (con’t)

But despite their God-like powers,
they still watched over the
experiments their ancestors
had started so many generations
ago.

The companion of Saturn knew
nothing of this, as it orbited
in its no man’s land between Mimas
and the outer edge of rings.

It had only to remember and wait,
and to look forever Sunward with
its strange senses.

For many weeks, it had watched
the approaching ship. Its long-
dead makers had prepared it for
many things and this was one of
them. And it recognised what
was climbing starward from the
Sun.

If it had been alive, it would have
felt excitement, but such an
emotion was irrelevant to its
great powers.

Even if the ship had passed it by,
it would not have known the
slightest trace of disappointment.

It had waited four million years;
it was prepared to wait for
eternity.

Presently, it felt the gentle touch
of radiations, trying to probe its
secrets.

Now, the ship was in orbit and it
began to speak, with prime
numbers from one to eleven,
over and over again.

Soon, these gave way to more
complex signals at many frequen-
cies, ultra-violet, infra-red,
X-rays.

The machine made no reply. It
had nothing to say.

Then it saw the first robot
probe, which descended and
hovered above the chasm.
Then, it dropped into darkness.

The great machine knew that this
tiny scout was reporting back to
its parent; but it was too simple,
too primative a device to detect
the forces that were gathering
round it now.

Then the pod came, carrying
life. The great machine searched
its memories.

The logic circuits made their
decision when the pod had fallen
beyond the last faint glow of the
reflected Saturnian light.

In a moment of time, too short to
be measured, space turned and
twisted upon itself.

Full script here.

That last sentence is where I’m confused.  As you may know, I love 2001 and the title was clearly clickbait.  Prior the passage above, the opening passage of evolution-through-violence is expanded upon, but largely follows the same story-arch with one very important exception: the monolith. in this case, it’s a cube, and at one point, randomly, it displays an image from the future of the hunters sleeping peacefully, and overweight, in a cave having eaten yet another incredible meal. there is focus on the spears and weaponry. then the cube ends.

everyone hasn’t developed (long-term) memory yet, so no one even remembers it happened.  but they dream about it, and fast-forward a year, and “Moonwatcher” (Moon, being key here), is the leader of a pack of early-humans that basically control everything. and yeah, in the film they are more apelike but in the script everything feels very human, even if it is said they are apelike.the rest of the movie is moreorless the same, until the ending.

the movie truly has a better flow, but there is some nice elaboration into just about everyone and everything. but the ending is basically different in that after bowman recovers order to the ship, we immediately cut to a normal-ship with a mission control transmission. we are now in a room with bowman and his superior, who shares with him a videotape, along with the knowledge of the mission; that hal was programmed, for the mission, to disobey his actual programming (which caused hal to both develop and suffer from neurotic fits, including the fear of being disconnected for the first time in his 10 year service history).

the ending of the script is a monologue that is overlain with the real-time passage of the discovery ship flying over to saturn, where another monolith is floating amongst the rings, a mile long, and as the ship approaches, the monologue gets crazy crazy deep. in a nutshell some form of not-human intelligent life existed millions of years ago and studied the universe as much as they could. they passed over all the gas planets, mars and made base camp on the moon. they studied and observed for a long time, then decided to tweak some evolutionary traits in all of the species so that the chance of a “MIND” would be created. i.e. they were coming along to help out as many species as possible evolve as fast as possible.

the mission, as explained by the videotape, was based around the discovery of life. it’s discovered that the buried monolith was sunlight-activated, and then the transmission eventually ends with a replay of bowman discovering the monolith (this time rectangular) on the moon, and it emitting shrieking noises. these noises are detectable on radar, by several earth-satellites in space, where it’s revealed they are directed to saturn.

as revealed by the opening monologue, the narrative is somewhat pessimistic / ‘scientific’, because as we saw, the early-humans were not experimented on. they were shown a vision of themselves in the future. this is important because it suggests that there might be some sort of loop, in which kubrick suggests we show ourselves our own future, a la interstellar. the only reason i say this is because the last line in the script is about time twisting and turning upon itself, just as the ship nears the monolith on saturn.

however, the monologue describes a very literal evolution of a not-human into something very intelligent, that invents a machine that ends up becoming more intelligent. after thousands of years of blissed-out machine-human harmony, humans accept the fact that they’ve been replaced, and feel good about their creation. then the machines end up doing the same thing, as they, themselves, realize a way to store information in quantum space; to float through anything at any level of scale, or speed off in any directly along particles of light. the deeper side of that, is that kubrick is literally proposing that the world around us could be filled with a very literal intelligence that we perceive to be “spiritual”.

regardless, this is explained, and then the monologue focuses back on the monolith on saturn, and how even though those early machines that existed during machine-only times (but not transcendental-only times), were only so involved. so when they were at earth and saturn, their technology was incredibly advanced, but not anywhere near the level to which they had advanced. but they still liked to watch over their forefather’s creations/experiments, out of genuine scientific pursuit.

so at the very end we have the ship approaching the somewhat-outdated monolith, floating amongst saturn’s rings. as it gets near, it blasts our radio waves in all forms to no affect. then there is a robotic probe sent down to investigate, which fails. it is only when the pod containing the mind and life of human (bowman), in which the monolith actually responds. think about this: earlier, the monolith only responded to sunlight (which was why it had been buried). in a similar sense, it needs some sort of power to active its million-year-dormancy — it’s bowman’s presence of mind that does the trick. the machine of the monolithic rectangle scans bowman’s memory.

or so it seems, because then bowman’s like ‘”im out”, and drives off once there is nothing else left to do, because it seems like the discovery couldn’t discover anything — and gave up (via:

The logic circuits made their
decision when the pod had fallen
beyond the last faint glow of the
reflected Saturnian light.)

So the pod, not the ship, but the pod is disappearing off… far off into the distance. then, and only then, has the somewhat-outdated monolith made its decision. and what is that decision??  what is the mystery behind the void?

In a moment of time, too short to
be measured, space turned and
twisted upon itself.

it could just be an ending statement, as if to say the entire events of the story unfold in such an infinitesimal space of time, compared to the script (and movie’s) theme of large passages of time and small, isolated moments of influence that spark evolution. it might just be saying that these events caused a self-awareness and stir amongst the stars, even if only briefly.

but what do you think happens at the end?

the hope in me, deep down, is that it has something to do with time loops and maybe even towards “you going back in time to help your own future” [a la interstellar], in which in this case, the monolith activates some sort of emergency protocol in which sets in motion the events of the beginning.

but i followed everything that happened in this script. it put things that weren’t so obvious into a proper context. the only time i felt a little confused was during the ending — an ending which obviously wasn’t used — but im still curious exactly what happened.

normally im very precise on my blog about my writing, but im letting go a bit for this one and just opening it up to y’all. this is my first and only draft — im sure there are errors — but i really wanna know what you think about this, because it’s all ive been thinking about since i read it.

Interpretations of the “Monolith” (2001: A Space Odyssey)

The marbled monolith represented exactly what it was — a massive slab of obviousness.  It was something that could not be ignored if one was consciously present within the room.  However, it represented something more.  It hypothetically put forward how we evolved from apes to humans, as despite it being so obvious, one does have to be consciously aware to detect a change in one’s environment — to detect a spontaneous black slab that appears out of nowhere.  What I think Kubrick may have been illustrating was how we transitioned from a lesser state of awareness and into something more.  The apes saw the world from a primal and survival-based intelligence level.  Then, one day, they saw something in a way which they could not describe.  It captivated them in a manner which superseded all that in the background.  The apes had their first intelligently conscious moment.  The black slab was so sudden and so out-of-nowhere, that there was no way to not perceive it with intense reactional response, elevating one’s self from a lower conscious level to ultimately realize human potential.  The apes realize that one can use objects as weapons and begin to interact with the world in an evolutionary manner.  Kubrick was describing the birth of conscious intelligent life.

Just as the apes, the bones-as-a-weapon realization and the rocky, wild and unconquered landscape acted as an allegory for where conscious awareness found itself, the ending “room” is the same.  We see a fully civilized, cultured man surrounded by a pleasant bright white light in an ordered and structured room.   Whereas before the sun was the only source of light, now the source is fluorescent and man-made.  The world in which the apes found themselves was completely out of their control and foreign, whereas the room the ‘futureman’ finds himself within is completely of his (in the species sense) own creation and understanding.

Just as before, this man sees a black slab appear out of nowhere.  He chases it around the room and finds himself getting older and older in the very process.  As with the apes (‘dawn of man’), the black slab represents something in which to call attention to and inspire evolutionary reaction.  However, as a being already evolved, it is perplexing to understand its context in this room.  The man is chasing the meaning to his own human life, representing the human species as a whole.  His drive and inspiration is personified as a cold, impersonal metallic slab.  The futureman is chasing this until he dies, but with every realization, he finds himself ending up at a goal, with no memory of how he got there.  His only memory is standing at his previous position, looking out at the end-goal.  He then finds himself at the end-goal, only to not have actually ended anything.  Ironically, he finds himself once again on the chase, immediately focusing on the end-goal, until his physical body runs out of life — the entire process fueled by the monolith.  Yet even on his deathbed, at the very last moment, with his very last ounce of strength, the futureman sees this black slab once more and MUST reach out to it.  He is determined despite knowing that there’s no way he can possibly do such a thing, as he is confined to his bed and limited by his old age.  However, he must reach the end-goal and is always searching for an answer that simply cannot be reached.

This man represents what we are as a human species at the present moment — 1% away from complete control but somehow we still find ourselves unable to reach this remaining percentage.  Kubrick’s only explanation is indirect, as he eventually zooms into the black slab and transitions into space.  We live on earth and we look at space, a massive beautiful black slab, and it drives us.  Space isn’t the actual root drive of humanity; it just represents something that makes us realize our own subjectivity and scale.  It represents something so massive and so incomprehensible — its existence is a symbol for human ambition.  Like the black slab, space is unexplainable, yet we must understand and decode its mystery.  As illustrated in the final room, though, we see how the pursuit will kill us.  It is only in our last moment in which we will ever feel complete, as death is the only end-goal that can be reached with complete satisfaction.  Upon death, we go once again back into the chaotic world which we so often, in life, pretended did not exist.  We are so afraid of the unknown, that just to live we have to build white rooms of cutting edge architecture to hide us from the scary black space.  This space, like the monolith, represents the majority of existence which we do not have wrapped around our finger.  We hide from chaos and disorder, but it always exists.  Death exists, space exists and everything beyond our perspective exists and it is out of our control.  As the apes did in the beginning of the film, we go insane at these realizations — just as the futureman drove himself to death in pursuit of an explanation for what is inherently unexplainable and chaotic.  All perceived order is nothing but one flower in a field of trillions of weeds which are slowly creeping in on our shell of artificial order.

An Alternative Interpretation

The final scene could also be viewed as Kubrick’s interpretation of death, post-existence and post-humanity.  The starchild symbolizes the final peaceful understanding felt just before passing after a lifetime of seemingly futile pursuit.  The last scene shows this starchild looking over the earth and it is here where the individual starchild transitions into a metaphor for the human species.  We see the starchild looking over the earth in a contemplative and honorable manner.  If you could replace the earth with “a lifetime of personal memories” and the starchild with “someone passing away”, the intention would be exactly the same.  Instead, the final scene depicts the personification of the perfect human looking back upon the earth and thinking upon how far man has come.  In this state, one can only observe in reserved tranquility rather than act.  For a perfect, fully-realized species, this is the ultimate heaven — to look back on the source of our life, the earth, and marvel at how far we have come.  In this light, the ending is a love letter for the human species of the future.  We see a peaceful, beautiful, golden and intelligent fetus rather than something wrought with flaws.  Despite the journey, despite the chaos that once so defined humanity and the desire to understand everything, we float in peace at the finish line with nothing to do but bask in the odyssey of our achievement.