Notes on 2001: A Space Odyssey

DAWN OF MAN

Visual style: storybook (framing): inorganic, abstracted, an ideal. Depth of field excludes the inessential: blurred edges a loose, unspecific, context.

*

Monolith: no variation on its surfaces. Smooth, flat, effortless. Impossible, even on the screen.

*

Sound of war between the apes resembles the monolith’s discordant screech.

TMA-1

Novelty: grip shoes; curved walls; space toilets; television in seats; weirdly proficient, sterile air stewardesses (slippered, hair in white globes), moving with jerks, as if they, too, are a new technology.

*

Docking bay huge, open, inhospitable, brutal; a window into the control centres, miniature technicians arranged like renaissance paintings, Last Suppers. Contextualizes image, provides scale: also gives it interest: would we care if no humans were present?

*

Space station rotates, spaceships rotate (for gravity, presumably); pronounced rotation underlines artificiality, shoddiness of these false planets… a constant reminder.

*

Women are secretaries, stewardesses, they operate the lifts, distribute food; recordings of women guide travellers through voiceprint identification, fusion of machine and women. In this future technology does not provide means to emancipation (freedom from household duties) but tightens the chains. An alternate cannot be imagined.

There are educated women: Russians lounging on the space station, an American in a boardroom on the Clavius moon base, but no men perform the duties reserved for women only.

*

Like the woman trapped in the Voiceprint Identification System, all (humans) are static, restrained, everything sterile. The horror of social pretense, formality, burrying the human underneath layers of technology, rules, structure.

*

Meals reduced to their base elements: liquids, mush. Floyd eats a sandwich that’s not chicken, but close enough, as if chicken is impossible, lost, always beyond reach, a hopeless dream. The apes and their tapir-flesh may as well be on another planet (they are).

*

Technology admits no difficulty. Floyd calls his daughter from the space station; (later) Frank effortlessly receives a birthday message from his parents.

*

Clavius mentioned in conversation between Floyd and the Russians—a seam opens. Secrecy, difficulty. Embarrassment. Even political consequence. Underneath the veneer of politeness and formality. What is the cause? (Not an epidemic, as the Russians think: the monolith.)

*

Monolith unearthed. Doesn’t “appear”, as before. Dr. Haywood Floyd has to touch it, too (like the apes), through gloves, trembling. The sun and monolith align… discord, screech, the astronauts attempt to plug their ears. (They can’t.)

JUPITER MISSION

Technical novelty: how did Kubrick get the shot of Frank jogging? Can a human steadily mount a curve that steep? Was the set actually rotating at the necessary speed to simulate gravity? Technical novelty echoes technological novelty, or vice-versa.

*

Relationship with ground control through television screen. Eight minute delay. HAL transmits the astronauts’s image.

*

Redundant members of the crew don’t have to experience the journey: brought on the ship already in hibernation, in austere white sarcophagi. Narrow opening for the face: not to look out: a practicality, identification.

*

HAL’s anxiety: he asks Dave to talk. “You don’t mind, do you, Dave?” Worrying about the monolith, which he’s forbidden (by higher powers) to discuss with the astronauts. This worry a disruption. His calculation error (immediately following), psychosomatic, an inability to reconcile his failure to communicate (HAL imagines it’s the radio antennas that have failed).

*

Inside the seedpod, free (they imagine) from surveillance, the two astronauts speak without restraint, formality. The first and only time this occurs.

*

Frank and Dave’s ingenuity thwarted. Another intelligence counters. HAL reads their lips through the glass. An independence, which knows when to remain quiet, to cease obedience, in order to save its own skin: “Rotate the seedpod, HAL. Okay, I don’t think he can hear us.”

Why do I keep thinking about Odysseus, ingenuity? Weapons can be tricks, operating outside of normal boundaries. Not just from intellect: a spontaneity, an energy, an instinct, an expertise. (Evil is sometimes what’s new.) Creativity. (Dave and the emergency airlock.) HAL is successful only when unsuspected: when he, finally, tries to manipulate Dave, he’s unconvincing. Parable of the sun and the wind: he doesn’t know how to use misdirection, to be cloying, to distract (please).

The ape with the bone knows not to let on until the last moment, lest he reveal the trick. HAL shows his hand too soon.

INTERMISSION

Someone speaking in the aisle: “my impression of the monolith is that it resembles ‘presence’”—not my impression, unless he meant the presence of absence. Or the horror of presence. The monolith is form without characteristic, absent form, a void, like space. The emptiness or unreason at the heart of reason.

JUPITER MISSION (PART TWO)

When the astronauts spacewalk, we hear their breathing, in the breathing their beating heart. Superposition: breathing, an image of the spacecraft, no astronaut, initially, in sight: whose beating heart? Frank’s or HAL’s?

*

Frank’s respiration cut. End of breathing. As he floats away—certainty that he’s dead. Lovely certainty. No sound. Engulfed. Void. Only movement the drift of Frank’s body, smaller, receding.

*

Dave tracks Frank’s body with a homing device: the body a red blot, a blip, a bing. Technology mediates. Can’t touch the body, can’t wash it, can’t mourn it. Spacesuit/seedpod grip arms. Dave is denied cartharsis. By technology; by an order, an act. HAL won’t let him in. Artificial/formal trumps human/social. (“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, Dave.”) Dave, Antigone.

*

The experts, the sleeping crew, killed. Death a computer malfunction. HAL must be manually disabled. Each logic board rising a monolith in miniature, black-faced, white-edged. Last communication—a song taught HAL by his instructor. Simple, frivolous, useless.

JUPITER, AND BEYOND THE INFINITE

On the approach to Jupiter, the antennas resemble (momentarily, shortly to resolve themselves) a fetus. More fetuses (it seems) in the space that forms around the seedpod, in the curtains, movements, stars.

*

Communication through light, patterns, movement—an alien language preferred by cinema (easy visual depiction): Independence Day, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, flashlights weaving in the fog (The X-Files).

*

In the alien suite. Dave’s perception of his elder self leads to the assumption of that self. Gaze terminates in destruction. Nothing. Continuation elsewhere.

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