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Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite

And now, at long last, the Discovery has arrived at Jupiter. Dave now knows the true purpose of the Jupiter mission, and he knows what the three other members of the crew were going to do once they arrived here. But because everyone else is dead, the awesome responsibility of being Man's first envoy to the Unknown has fallen onto the his shoulders.

The shots of Jupiter and its moons are impressive. Ligeti's unearthly choral resounds once more, a sign that an crucial event is taking place.

Then the Monolith appears again. Each time the ebon block has appeared before, an important event in human history occured: the man- apes learned to use tools; later, on the Moon, Mankind's presence was announced to the Universe. Another significant moment is imminent. Whatever happens here at Jupiter will have a lasting effect on human development.

As the Discovery approaches the monolith, its pod bay doors open. Dave is going out to meet it, to learn whatever he can about it. We see the space pod approaching the ebon block.

What happens next is presumably told from Dave's point of view. A familiar sight appears on the screen once again: the "magical" alignment that indicates a landmark in human history. Jupiter and all of its moons are in conjunction, lining up in a straight row…

…when suddenly the Monolith disappears, and David Bowman's journey into the Unknown begins.

At this point, the entire structure of the film changes. Up until now, we have been following the standard narrative pattern of plots, subplots, hidden meanings and character development; now, all this is abandoned and 2001 takes us to a realm uncharted in cinematic history.

Roger Ebert states [1] that in some movies, a vague and unexplained setting such as this one may be necessary - indeed, crucial - because the story raises such complex questions that there simply is no easy solution. After all, these are ALIENS at work here. Their ideas are not human, and they cannot be explained in human terms. Therefore, we do not know "why" there are seven flashing diamonds in the sky above the alien planet, and we do not know "why" the space pod suddenly appears in a room decorated in old Renaissance style.

What is happening here? The answer may be quite simple: The monolith has taken Dave and the space pod out of the solar system, and it is bringing him across the Universe to a new destination. This is the explanation offered by Arthur C. Clarke: his novel offers a more detailed explanation of "hyperspace" and methods of faster-than-light travel used by the Aliens, but exactly HOW the Monolith works is not important.

The progression of the lights on each side becomes faster and faster, an a feeling of impossible speed reaches the audience. Every so often, flashes of Dave's face appear on the screen: he is struck dumb by the awesome sight. He was not totally unprepared for this - he had obviously been briefed on the Monolith by Mission Control, and he was ready for the unexpected - but now that he is actually experiencing alien technology firsthand, he is going into a state of shock. After all, no human being has ever gone through what Dave is going through now, and his instincts are not conditioned for this.

Is it a coincidence that the music here is Ligeti's Atmospheres - the same music that played during the prologue to 2001 and during the Intermission? Definitely not! The purpose of this unusual, "cosmic" piece is to create a mood and feeling in the audience, to give an impression of the Universe, and to instill an atmosphere (as the title of the music declares) of mystery. This vision of travel in unknown dimensions is the visual counterpart to Atmospheres: It is a cosmic mystery whose answers we can only guess at. Kubrick is once again using sound (the music) to complement the images of 2001.

Eventually, we see visions of galaxies and nebulae and newborn stars; the space pod is travelling to a part of the Universe that no telescope has ever seen before.

And now we are flying low over an alien planet, with a landscape lit in weird colours. The journey is nearing its end, and the sense of relativistic speed is gone. Finally, in a series of colour changes, the image of Dave's eye becomes normal once again, and we realize that the space pod has stopped. We have reached our destination, but this is certainly not what we have been expecting at all. As the novel states: "He was prepared, he thought, for any wonder. The only thing he had never expected was the utterly commonplace." We have entered the most alien surroundings possible: a hotel room that resembles a first-class hotel room on Earth. Is Kubrick laughing at the audience here, by giving us something completely unbelievable?

Being human, however, we can make an educated guess as to "why" the fancy room is there. Dave is put into familiar surroundings (familiar, that is, when compared to the journey he has just taken) to comfort him. Indeed, Dave has suffered a great shock already. He is shaking and his hair has turned grey - the journey has obviously had a traumatic effect on him. (But can we blame him? Certainly not!) He has been taken away from everything that he has known, and placed into this completely unknown place; even the flashing instruments in his space pod read "non functional" because all contact with the Discovery (and the known Universe as well) has been broken, and there is nothing here that they are programmed to deal with. Thus, the Victorian room - it calms Dave down enough so that he can at least step out of the space pod and examine his new surroundings.

In this respect, Dave has been placed into something resembling a "cosmic zoo." As though he is the subject of a laboratory experiment, he is here: a specimen of Mankind, placed into surroundings familiar to him, ready to be experimented upon. But what are the Aliens going to do?

However, this is only a theory. Other theories and guesses as to a "meaning" and explanation to this sequence have been offered, and they are equally valid.

Except for the breath resonating in Dave's helmet, all is quiet. There is a strange gibberish echoing from somewhere, but the source is unknown. This may be, in fact, the voices of the Aliens themselves, as They watch Dave's every move - and prepare to set the next phase of Their plan into motion.

Dave's breathing suddenly halts, as he hears another sound coming from somewhere, almost like a metallic clicking of some sort.

In another room, there is a figure sitting at a table, with his back to the audience. The figure slowly stands up and moves toward the camera - and here is one of the film's strangest revelations. The figure is none other than Dave Bowman himself, only it is a considerably older Dave Bowman. He looks around, as if he had heard something, but there is nothing.

At first, it seems as though Dave, still in his spacesuit and having emerged from the space pod, is looking upon this other figure, but it is not so. Either Dave has aged considerably in the space of a few moments, or else he has spent a great length of time in this celestial room. When this older figure looks around, it seems as if we had expected him to meet the younger Dave Bowman – but the spacesuit-clad Dave is gone.

Dave Bowman sits down at the table again, and finishes what he was doing: eating a meal. This food has been provided for him by the creator of this room (after all, it could not have come from anywhere else), and Dave seems to accept this fact as he eats. It seems as though that he has spent a long while in the room, and he has become used to the fact that his hosts will not reveal themselves.

Then he accidentally breaks a glass. The sound of the shattering glass is shocking after the near-complete silence that has reigned since the space pod first arrived here. It is as if the breaking glass is a portent of something about to happen. The glass has been likened to the Jewish tradition of breaking a glass at Jewish wedding ceremony: a portent, a symbol of a great change occuring. Kubrick is Jewish, and this makes the comparison plausible. Therefore, Dave Bowman is about to enter the next stage of his existence.

And then something does happen: Dave hears someone else breathing. He looks up, and sees a figure, lying on a bed. It is none other than himself, dying of old age.

What has happened? Did the young Dave disappear, or did he simply age and become the older Dave? This question is never completely answered. When pondering the mystery of Dave's aging, one must realize that we do not know how much time Dave has spent there, in that room light-years from Earth. He could have been there for a few minutes - or he could have spent the rest of his life there. The appearances of David Bowman as an older man may be glimpses of himself, at various times during his span here.

In attempting to apply logic to this scene – namely, by giving it a standard "progression of events" with Dave growing older and eventually becoming the figure on the bed – we may well be adding unnecessary detail to the story unfolding before our eyes. After all, the basic idea of the scene is clear: Dave grows older. We do not know if it happens during the space of a few moments or several decades. When Dave sees his older self, it may be a way of showing how Time itself is being affected (hence his rapid aging); or perhaps it is only an illusion. But any explanation we can offer is only a guess, because we cannot say exactly what is happening. As with this entire journey "beyond the infinite," it is a mystery that we cannot solve.

(An aside: in The Making of Kubrick's 2001, Kubrick himself says: "The ending was altered shortly before shooting it. In the original, there was no transformation of Bowman. He just wandered around the room and finally saw the artifact. But this didn't seem like it was satisfying enough, or interesting enough, and we constantly searched for ideas until we finally came up with the ending as you see it.")

But the exact question of "how" Dave achieves this transformation is not as important as the question of "why?" Why is he growing older?

This question is much easier to answer. In fact, the entire film has been leading to this point. Dave is growing older, as if his body has out-lived its usefulness. This is exactly what is happening, for he has reached the limits of his Humanity. He is about to take the final step, the last transformation.

The shriveled figure on the bed lifts his arm. It is as though he is reaching out to touch something. We are shocked to see that he is repeating the gesture that has happened twice before in the film – for suddenly, in the room at the foot of his bed, the Monolith has appeared once again…

…finally, as the ebon block stands a silent guard, the transformation is complete. On the bed there is a glowing, childlike figure. Dave Bowman has ceased to exist, but he has not died: The Star Child has been born.

What is the Star Child? No one can say for sure. He may be the final result of Mankind's evolution, the grand result of the Aliens' plan. He is far removed from Humanity as Man was removed from the man- apes. David Bowman has been taken to the Aliens' level of existence.

But even though he has become so much more than Man, he is still a baby. He has much to learn about his new existence, and his child-like form is simply the physical manifestation of that innocence. As he gains experience and knowledge and fully masters his powers, he will find that he does not require the use of crude tools any longer; he has outgrown them.

But now, for the last time, there is one final tool that is necessary to complete his Odyssey: The Monolith. It was the tool that let the man-apes survive extinction, four million years ago; it was also the tool that announced to the Universe that a new race of intelligent beings was leaving its planetary cradle. And it was the tool that took Dave Bowman here, to his new birthplace. Now it has one last purpose: to send the Star Child home. It will be the Star Child's final reliance on tools.

At last, as the Monolith fills the entire screen and the mysterious Victorian room disappears, the Aliens' experiment is complete. The triumphant Also Sprach Zarathustra echoes once more, and the planet Earth reappears. The Star Child has come home, back to the place where he was born. He has not returned entirely of his own will, for he is still a child and he does not yet know the Universe. The Aliens have sent him back to Earth as the final stage of their experiment.

If the opening credits of the film were the point-of-view of the Star Child, then the Odyssey is complete, and we have come full circle. At the beginning we were the Star Child, looking at the Earth - but now we are the residents of Earth, and the Star Child is looking at US.

And what happens next? Arthur C. Clarke's quotation says it best:

"Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next.

"But he would think of something."

This is the ultimate purpose of 2001: Man's final destiny. One day, the movie declares, Man will evolve to the point where he will be free at last; he will be unencumbered by any crude tools or physical forms. He will at last take his place in Eternity.

And where shall we go from there? There will only be one last mystery:

"And if there was anything beyond THAT, then its name could only be God."