2001 and Beyond the Infinite

Commentary and Criticism

February 1998

Send email to Modemac
Return to 2001 and Beyond the Infinite

Date: Sat, 07 Feb 1998 00:39:13 -0800
From: Anduin [anduin@earthlink.net]

    Let me start by saying "Wow!" I am impressed... to tell you the
truth, I feel like renting 2001 right now (although, at midnight, the
store's closed).
    Okay, onto my insights:

    1. HAL drilling Dave - There appears to be one possibility that
you and everyone [whose messages I read] ignored; HAL knew the mission
had a secret and was told that Dave and Frank didn't know its true
purpose. Let me say that again, he was *told* that they didn't know.
It's entirely possible that he was asking Dave all of these questions
to see whether or not Dave would 'slip up' and admit that he knew
everything. Perhaps HAL thought that Dave was told to keep it from HAL
and/or Frank.
    2. Regarding Dr. Chandra's explanation (2010) that HAL was told to
lie - we all know that Chandra loved HAL like a son, and we all know
how easy it is to lie to people. Maybe HAL really malfunctioned and
Chandra covered it up. Can't soil the 9000's reputation, can we?
    3. Can we create anything smarter than us when we do not even
understand  ourselves completely?
    4. Regarding Helen Hughes' message: The monolith (or its creators)
don't necessarily have to come down to Earth and gain human
characteristics such as not interfering. That is a human trait,
created (or rather, discovered the hard way) by humans. Who knows how
the monoliths think? After all, they are an *alien* intelligence and
therefore should not and cannot be explained (as Clarke screwed up and
did in his 2010, 2061, and 3001 books).
    5. On touching the monoliths: There are interesting points in the
movie that take place when a monolith is touched. The first time, the
'human' is hesitant. On the Moon, the human is curious (and doesn't
hesitate). In the 'room', the human reaches for it.

    Well, just my two cents.

-Anduin                           http://home.earthlink.net/~anduin

     "Face it, if crime did not pay,
    there would be very few criminals."
          -Laughton Lewis Burdock

From: "Andrea Strozzi" [a.strozzi@mo.nettuno.it]
Date: Sat, 21 Feb 1998 12:49:12 +0100

When friends ask me how a movie should be to make me appreciate it, I simply
argue "It shall not finish at the end..."
By this, I mean that a good movie should:
1) make you "think", even and mainly after leaving the cinema;
2) interact with your intelligence, i.e. not explain everything and leave
some room for your own interpretation;
Unfortunately, there is only a movie matching both these requirements... But
"2001" makes more, I believe: it also fit a third requirement, that make me
think "2001" should not be considered as a simple movie, but something more,
something very near to... philosophy. This third aspect is that "2001"
widens your sight of life, trying to change it, where possible.
Actually, "2001" changed me and changed my attitude to life. How? Simply
destroying my previous rational and positivistic vision of life. Now nothing
could still be considered certain, nothing deterministic, nothing
definitely... done.
My passion for chess is an example, since it has been radically changed
after my watching of "2001". Once I used to study famous matches, analyse
them, memorise openings.... Now I removed everything from my brain and play
chess instinctively, knowing Science is constitutionally looser, in the long
After thanking you for your admirable essay, I would like to report here a
statement I deeply believe in and which I found perfectly reflected in
"2001": "The biggest and most diffused Evil on Earth is presumption of
understanding". If you deeply think about it, EACH friction ever rose inside
humankind is caused by a lack of comprehension dangerously hidden by a
presumed ability in understanding. If Man accepts that he isn't assembled to
understand the Man, I think Life could grow better.

After this lesson I had from "2001", I try to focus on some aspects of the
movie that have always captured my attention.
1) The name HAL. Obviously, it is obtained lowering of one letter, in the
alphabetical order, each letter of another famous acronym, IBM. Well, I ask
why involve such an important factory? Subliminal sponsoring, I guess...
2) The opening of Discovery's door actuated by Dave's pod. This scene shall
be considered, in my opinion, as a kind of Bible in the history of special
effects. The reason is quite simple: before pod's arm start turning the
handle, the other arm seizes a second handle. A case? No. Remember that in
outer space there is no gravity and absolutely no friction. So, if the
second arm did not previously fix to Discovery, when first arm tries to turn
the handle, it would have been the entire pod to rotate, and not the handle!
Simply perfect, no further comments...
3) And now, a topic I particularly care of: the chess match between HAL and
Frank. I perfectly know that what I'm going to argue could sound as a
blasphemy, but I try the same. Simply, I think Kubrick wanted to send an
almost cryptic message about imminent Hal's breakdown. The only thing I'd
like to put your attention on, is something that only a mad fellow like me
could have noticed! Thanks to an old version of a common chess package, it
has been possible to reconstruct the entire match, finding out it was really
played in the history of chess (mate at 16th move, a Ruy-Lopez opening and a
Worrall attack at move 6, for the experts). Without deepening in details
(not here) I quietly underline the fact that Hal makes a wrong evaluation,
just before mating Frank. I know it looks absurd, but it's true. Let's see
why: exactly, Hal says "Queen to Bishop three, Bishop takes Queen, Knight
takes Bishop: mate". And this is, only partially, true. Granted that, in any
case, the match would have constricted Frank to lose within a few moves,
this fact is, in some way, astonishing: what is false in Hal's sentence, in
fact, is that Frank's Bishop WAS NOT FORCED to take Hal's Queen! Frank could
make any other move, retarding his loss!
Well, people, I don't want to carry out any conclusion from this fact, for a
reason that will be clearer later. This episode has no special meanings, for
the story development, and I don't want to have the presumption to
understand whether Hal is sincere or not when he later on detects the
malfunction of AE-35 unit.
The only thing I ask to myself is this: "Why did Kubrick, so devilishly
careful to minimal details, make this choice?" Was this really a way to
announce imminent Hal's breakdown or is this only a mental masturbation of a
crazy man like me? I leave this question without answers, mainly because I
do not have any. I only hope to throw a bit of light on an aspect of the
movie, which still fascinates me not less than other ones. Every suggestion
would be greatly appreciated and kept in consideration.
I'd like to close my tribute to "2001" with a hint to all those people who
believe having found the... solution. Consider this: I am a fanatic of the
movie, of course, but I have never seen the sequel, "2010", being proud of
my ignorance! I have read that the second episode tries to explain some
mysteries hidden in the masterpiece. Well, I am not ashamed of admitting
that I FEAR those explanations! My fear is not for me, obviously, but for
"2001" itself. I think everything starts and finishes within "2001". It is
basically its extraordinary crypticism that gives "2001" its immense value
in the history of cinema. Why trying to explain the real origin of
Leonardo's "Monna Lisa" enigmatic smile? It could be seen as a challenge
against ourselves, ok, but this challenge is lost at start, in my opinion,
and we must be conscious of this. We have not enough tools to give a
rational and exhaustive explanation of the movie. But also this time, I
guess Man's presumption will not let him declare his impossibility to
understand a Man artifact!

Of course, like all of you, I have my own ideas about the movie and about
the messages in it, and some of them I tried to explain in this
unpretentious essay. But the most important thing that "2001" taught me,
whatever the correct interpretation is, and which I would like to share with
you, is this: we are weak, extremely weak, when compared to a mysterious and
superior entity that, undoubtedly, EXISTS!

Thanks for your time,
Andrea Strozzi, ITALY
(born, ironically, on 12th January 1974)

From: IDGEHAUS@aol.com
Date: Sun, 22 Feb 1998 01:00:05 EST

Pretty good analysis. A couple of things.  The humans saved their OWN lives in
2010 - if you recall - Dave tells Floyd that they have to leave Jupiter - but
when Floyd asks him how they're going to accomplish that, Dave says that he
does not know - but they have to leave in 2 days.  The two crews disregard
their orders to stay separated and come up with a plan of their own to get
home.  They saved themselves by innovation - which is how Dave saved himself
in 2001 - he DID use technology to save himself, but he innovated - I think
THAT'S the point. Although I do agree that Dave's actions sparked his
acceptance by the aliens for his initiation into their world.  And perhaps the
more detailed inclusion of the Soviet/U.S. Dilemma were meant to reflect the
original conflict between the two groups of man-apes in 2001.
	I also believe that the 1st Monolith in 2001 urged Moon-Watcher to reach a
conclusion he would have eventually come upon on his own had his race not been
dying out.  The aliens just sped up the process, or urged him to think - but
the ape-man made the innovation himself.
	The Monolith itself was a tool of the aliens - possibly a gateway to their
world - or a means of affecting our dimension/universe from their own - much
like a pocket of antimatter within a universe of matter.  As with the man-
apes, the aliens recognized the presence of possible life (chlorophyll) on
Europa.  But Jupiter, which is described by planetary-geologists as a failed
star (it still radiates more energy than it receives from the sun) had not the
energy to sustain this life on the ice-moon - thus the aliens decide to fix
the universe's "mistake" and transform the gas giant into a new star. (Yes, I
suppose the effects on the solar system would be great - maybe those effects
are felt later on after the film - keep in mind that there ARE binary systems
in the galaxy) 
	We all know that ice is water and water means life (that's why the supposed
Martian canals stirred everyone up at the turn of the century) - and we see
the moon/planet go through evolutionary stages at the end of the film once
Jupiter has gone nova. Once Europa reaches the same level that the Earth had
reached at the beginning of 2001, we see a Monolith, ready to guide this new
form of life towards maturity - just as they did on Earth.  They ARE the
caretakers - or most likely - indifferent to our plight as humans and simply
going around advancing life for their own hidden purpose.  After all, would
they interfere with humanity and its solar system without warning or
consultation if they were truly caring and benevolent?  And did they REALLY
save the Earth from destruction in 2010 or did the superpower nations come to
peace on their own as the result of the new sun, I think it's the latter.  
Also, Dave returned to Earth (temporarily) of his own StarChild power - not by
directly using the Monolith.
	I still don't get why Floyd said that he didn't know about telling HAL to
conceal info - it's like he was not the same Floyd from the first movie.  Roy
looked kind of like him but the similarity ended there.  That lack of
continuity was disappointing.  
Yes, 2010 belittled the overall idea and theme of the first movie - but had it
tried to match the scope of its predecessor it wouldn't have been made at all.
The early Eighties were a shallow time where art had no home in the commercial
marketplace - completely the opposite from the 60's where anything odd or arty
was immediately accepted as brilliant by the populace ( don't believe me?
Listen to UMMA-GUMMA by Pink Floyd - 1968).  Had the reality, vision, and
cerebral nature of the first film been given to a post-Star Wars, MTV
generation audience - it would have not been understood - nor tolerated.  This
is why we see decent films like Rocky, First Blood, Ghostbusters, and Batman
turned into cash machines with pathetic, shallow sequels - all throughout the
1980's.  If the film had been made in the 90's we would see the mystery of
Dave's transformations marred by explicitly overused morphing and Floyd would
have been played by Brad Pitt or Keanu Reeves.  We would have seen tie-ins
with McDonald's and other forms of marketing (CD-ROM's, action figures, an
animated series perhaps...) - and whole lot of explosions.
	The bottom line is that it shouldn't have been made.  But it was - and it was
entertaining and more cerebral than most of what the 80's had to offer.  My
question is: Why the hell wasn't Kubrick involved - who allowed this project
to go on anyway?  Did Clarke even do any consulting on it?  
	These are all just my opinions - and I have only read the second book so I am
ignorant of the developments in 2061 and 3000.  But I have just gotten them
from the library and I hope to get some new insights soon.
	Keep up the good work.

Milo Aukerman

Date: Mon, 23 Feb 1998 22:08:13 -0600
From: finifrock [finfam@rochelle.net]

    First of all, I have read your essay and I must say it is excellent.
I agree with you on alot of the main points and most of the little
details but there is one major thing that everyone else seems to take
from the film that I have never seen in it: the existance of aliens. The
film, in my opinion, neither implies nor states that aliens exist within
our reach or elsewhere.
    The black monolith, being the creation of an alien race (which
presumbly exists at a level even higher than the star child) would not
need a physical monolith to cause the man-apes to evolve, presumably
they would simply want it to happen and it would happen. Also, if these
aliens exist on this higher plain, they too would have had to evolve
from something mortal, just like humanity. What has caused the aliens to
evolve? Theoretically, everything must start from somewhere- except one
thing: time. Time is the only thing that has always been.
    That is why I believe that "2001" was originally designed to stand
on it's own. Sequels generally don't come fifteen years later. The books
2056 and 3001: the final oddysey I think are also capitalizing on a good
idea. Clarke is attempting to put answers where there were originally
meant to be none.
    I don't believe that there were ever supposed to be aliens in the
story. The monolith, being a tool which is supposedly unneccesary for
these aliens, cannot possibly be their creation. I believe that the
monolith represents exactly what the film implies: Infinite.
    The monolith is nothing more than Kubrick's PHYSICAL REPRESENTATION
of timelessness. The monolith is there for the beginning of man, even
causing it. It is also there for the evolution of man into a
space-travelling being, when it is found on the moon. It eventually
takes man into a higher level of existance, the star child. Maybe in the
future, it will evolve us higher than the star child, maybe beyond the
star-adult, or the star-elder. Just as the first ape had to learn how to
use the bone, Dave Bowman had to be the first human to evolve beyond
    If the aliens want to make Dave a higher being, these completely
omniscient beings should surely be able to do so without causing him to
grow older, or allowing him to eat one last time, or supplying him with
a bathroom in the hotel. The change for them should be instantaneous. (I
accept the possibility that they may be trying lighten the stress on
Dave, but I don't think they would go so far.)
    The monolith, representing infinite and not an alien force,
obviously has no power. It cannot kill anyone, nor create anyone. The
only thing that it is capable of doing is evolving. It makes Dave grow
older because time is the only way it can remove Dave's mortal body.
Upon Dave's death it can finally finish evolving his MIND into a higher
force, or the star child.
    I'm sure you've seen the film alot of times, so I won't ask you too
watch it again, but perhaps imagine for a second that 2001 stands on
it's own with no further explanation and no further books to complicate
the story.
    When 2001 is viewed on it's own, (As I believe it to have been
originally intended to be, as I have explained) the monolith becomes not
an alien force, for the story and theme are clearly human. The monolith
becomes something open to interpretation, which in my opinion is a whole
lot more interesting than some hoaky aliens. The monolith could
represent God, time, infinite, aliens, or, simple human motivation.
Humans have always had the desire to know and to learn and evolve; so
the monolith could be nothing more than aspirations of a species.
    In any case, the clear theme of the piece is that no matter how far
we evolve and how much we learn, we still have a very long way to go.
The fact that the humans of 2001 evolve to a higher order on their own,
with the aid of only time, is far more a timeless and original story. I
have heard, read and seen a million and a half stories about aliens and
visitors being the masters of outerspace, but a story that puts humanity
itself into a scope that broad and poses them as eventually being pure
thought and complete and total knowledge, is something truly original
and interesting, because for now, being human in all we know.
    Thank you for your time and interesting insight to my favorite
    Zachary Finifrock
    PS. I tried the Pink Floyd "echoes" + Jupiter and Beyond Infinite
and I must say it is simply incredible.

Date: Thu, 26 Feb 1998 16:38:27 -0800
From: Tom Brokaw [brokaw@jps.net]

    2001, is the greatest film of all time.  For the most part, I agree
with your interpretation of the film, and found the interpretation of
why Hal initiated the conversation with Dave Bowman to be unique and
intriguing.  I had never thought of that scene that way before.
However, I do disagree with the large emphasis you place on "man
overcoming his tools."  Although I acknowledge the underlying theme of
"man vs. machine" and the similarities between man and machine, I don't
think the driving force of the film is in fact this struggle.

    I believe (and let this be underlined) that the point of 2001 was
simply the evolution of man from his first intonations of intelligence
and sentience, to the highest form of life imagineable- a being of pure
thought, unrestricted by the burdens of physical existence.  The pure
joy and wonderment in even contemplating this is what sets 2001 apart
from every film in history.  Hal was a tool, yes.  He was also
instrumental since by overcoming him, Dave proves that man is superior,
man is innovative, and thus ready for the next step.  But also, (and
you've probably already thought of this) Hal is alive.  He is a living,
sentient and intelligent being, able to experience pride, to make
mistakes, to fear death and he was created... by man.  That man has
created another living, thinking, being is in itself- godlike.  This
enhances the symbolic importance of Hal even further.  Not only has man
created life molded in his image, he has proven himself superior to that
life.  Man's ascendency to the heavens is preceded, initiated, and
warranted by truly godlike acts.

    The details are not important.  How long he's in the room, the
scientific accuracy of space travel- irrelevant.  2001: a space odyssey,
is the greatest statement ever made through the medium of film.

                                                Tom Brokaw (no, not him)

Date: Thu, 26 Feb 1998 20:10:35 +0000
From: Stephen Picard [sgpicard@mail.rdu.bellsouth.net]


I read your essay and the first and last sections of reader comments,
and while I didn't see this idea mentioned, I'm sure someone must have
thought of it...so I wonder what you think:  the first time I saw 2001 I
thought that HAL was malfunctioning because of their approach to the
monolith, that something about it was affecting HAL as they drew closer.
As I watched it again later I thought that the Aliens had chosen David
Bowman, and only Bowman, as the person they wanted to enter the monolith
and so manipulated him through HAL to arrive at the conclusion as we saw
it.  So HAL wasn't malfunctioning because of conflicting orders nor was
he killing the humans to protect the mission, but was in fact being used
as a tool by the Aliens themselves to bring Dave alone to the monolith.
By the way, just curious, after almost two years of having this web
page, are you sick of 2001 yet?