Anti-Technology in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey

Director Stanley Kubrick once said in a Playboy Magazine interview, “…You are free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film – and such speculation is one indication it has succeeded in the gripping audience at a deep level…” (1). In his science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick declares that the viewers have the liberty to wonder about the films’ philosophical issues, such as the human condition – a science fiction characteristic.

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Science fiction is a fiction that incorporates a blend of scientific fact and imaginary elements and utilizes futuristic technology such as spacecrafts and robots. Two examples of technology used in Kubrick’s film are The Discovery spaceship and the HAL computer. They cogitate on what might happen in the future in our universe; hence it has some foundation in our reality. Science fiction stories take place where things are very different than Earth in a way that highly engages science or technology (Trietel). Science fiction stories also “…contradict some known or supposed law of nature” (Card 17).

However, this is not the case for 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is conflict that when traditional items are not utilized, technology takes its place, which is disapproved of. Although science fiction stories include technology that opposes known laws of nature, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey uses the very technology it creates in three evolutionary stages: apes to humans, humans to machines, and machines to the Star Child, and removes the power of the dependence of technology by utilizing simple tools. The beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey shows the first evolutionary stage: from apes to humans.

A group of apes are seen scavenging for food, when a leopard attacks and kills one of the apes. In this scene, the apes show emotions of terror, curiosity, and courage. When the black monolith is presented to one of the apes, his curiosity and courage surmount his fear. At this moment, the lead ape “…wields the first primitive tool – a bone – extending his physical reach and allowing his mind to grasp the idea of function. Employed also as a weapon, the tool carries the idea of the destructions as well – a characteristic of Kubrikian irony” (Walker 164). All the apes learn to use this bone as both a weapon and a tool.

This is an advantage for the apes in which they learn to kill animals with the bones and eat them. However, the disadvantages are displayed when the apes encounter a tribe competing for a water hole. The apes fight the tribe and kill their leader in this process. This shows one example of Kubrick’s irony, in which the use of this new “technology”, a bone, can be destructive in this evolutionary stage. When the apes gain control of the water hole, one of the apes, triumphantly, throws his bone into the air. The perspective changes as the bone is then depicted as a satellite, along with other few satellites.

These satellites are recognized as orbiting nuclear weapons (Castle 2). This is a second example of Kubrick’s irony in which this scene foreshadows the disadvantage of futuristic technology, such as weapons of mass destruction. The bone as a tool is misused when it can also be used to kill – a weapon. The weapon is then advanced to higher technologies, so not only one can die, but more than one at the same time. The ape man figure is like that of a human’s; in addition to the way they think and act. Inside an ape, there is a human waiting to emerge once an ape’s intelligence advances (Kagan 148).

Four million years later, in the year 2001, humans reach their highest peak of evolution. Humans have become so technologically advanced that the simplest things are not utilized anymore. Men are characterized as civilized, rational and scientific – very different from the apes. Aboard the spaceship Discovery One on a mission to Jupiter, are astronauts David Bowman and Francis Poole along with three scientists put in hibernation. They are so technologically advanced on Earth, but not in space and have to learn how live accordingly in their new environment.

The computer HAL 9000 is then used as a “tool” to help these astronauts arrive safely to Jupiter. HAL sees himself superior to these astronauts because he knows that the astronauts depend on him. With that, HAL begins to make a scheme and tells the astronauts that the AE-35 unit is going to fail. The astronauts check and notice that HAL has made an error and may have to disconnect the computer. HAL “… becomes a classic Kubrickian character: violent, desperate and suddenly willing to sacrifice any last semblance of order in the name of survival — which, ironically, is not to be” (Libby 2).

While Poole checks this error, HAL kills Poole and the hibernators to keep him from shutting down. “If machines could be said earlier in the film to do a lot of man’s living for him, now we see with chilling truth that they also attend very efficiently to his dying” (Walker 188). HAL was meant to be a machine to aid humans in this mission to Jupiter. He now aids in the destruction of humans. As Bowman realizes that Poole is dead, he goes through a sudden realization, more dramatic than when the bone was discovered.

Bowman he gets hold of his “ape brain” finally decides to disconnect HAL with one of man’s simplest inventions: a screwdriver. Bowman “…frees technological man from the tyranny of his own tools” (Nelson 129). What is only for humans can be destroyed and replaceable by technology. This is what is impossible to isolate. Man would be full of technological reason to exist but still have little common sense (Ciment 126). When technologies malfunction, the source is blamed on and substitutes are needed to perform the same type of work, such as the screwdriver. fdfffffAs Bowman is unaccompanied in the Discovery One, he is nearing Jupiter. As Kubrick’s relatively straightforward narrative gives way to a series of kaleidoscopic images, Bowman is transported into the realm of the mysterious, godlike aliens, who have seemingly guided human evolution for 4 million years” (Libby 5). Once he lands in Jupiter, he sees monoliths and sees is space pod he traveled in disappearing. Each monolith acts a symbol of change. The monoliths in this scene represent that something “magical” will occur, and that Bowman, a human, will evolve into some form of spatial/planetary realization (Nelson 133). He then finds himself in an 18th century style room similar looking to a hotel suite.

Kubrick explains that this room was supposed to represent a human zoo in which when Bowman will prepare take the next step of evolution (ibid). Bowman seems as if he has rapidly aged due to his profound wrinkles and white hair in a matter of time (Castle 6). When Bowman prepares to eat his last meal, he accidently drops his wine glass, breaking it. However, the wine is still present. This represents that he wouldn’t have his body anymore, but he would still have his spirit. When this happens, he finds a replica of himself on the bed, this time, older than he already looks.

Then at the foot of his bed, he sees the black monolith, glowing (Kagan 158). He is then transformed into an embryo-like form and into a ball of bright light, otherwise known as the “Star Child”, and wanders into outer space. This is his transformation when he breaks out of his “zoo”, from the comprehension of the wine being present when the glass breaks. Bowman “…escapes the artificial enclosures of technology…and the formal remains of pre-mechanical man…” (Nelson 134). The Star Child, like an embryo, has an underdeveloped brain, containing no knowledge – much like an ape’s brain.

Bowman leaves all technology behind such as his (space pod and spacesuit) and brings back the relationship of a human and planet; not human and machine any longer. This is when man completes his odyssey. aaaaaaThe three evolutions were depended so much on technology that it almost replaced Bowman with HAL, and then tried to destroy him. In the stage of apes to humans, there is the foreshadowing of conflict between man and technology when the monolith is presented to the apes. They take advantage of the bone by gathering prey and protecting themselves but it was also used as a weapon to kill their leader ape.

The bone also represents the misuse of nuclear weapons, which are used for mass killings. In the stage of humans to apes, the astronauts relied on HAL to aid them in their mission, so HAL took advantage and killed everyone but Bowman. Bowman then used a simple tool finally deactivate HAL that could have been used earlier if technology was not overly dependent on. In the stage from being humans to the Star-Child, Bowman is independent of his mission to Jupiter. In Jupiter, he changes into an elderly man and leaves his technology to become a Star Child. The Star Child wanders into outer space, toward Earth, where Bowman started from.

All three stages revolved over the monolith – which serve to hearten humans in their technological advancement into their next evolutionary stage. Each time a monolith appeared, a dramatic change or sudden realization occurred, for example, the discovery of the bone (Kagan 150). A new stage of evolution will not dispose tools or new innovations of technology that progress through time. There are many struggles to be found and when they are, there are sole consequences. Humans depend on these tools to make new technologies, and therefore make us more human.

With time, humankind progresses with new technological advancements. We really do not know who we are, where we came from, and what we are limited to. This film suggests that the “solution” to this is that we cannot escape these mysteries (Castle, 9). A man without his tools is practically nothing. The philosophical and allegorical meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is that traditional items or techniques have been forgotten due to the dependence of technological advancements. Technology cannot be fully depended on and there must be an alternative. Works Cited 001: A Space Odyssey. Dir. Stanley Kubrick Perf. Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter and Douglas Rain. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Turner Entertainment, Warner Home Video, 1968. DVD. Castle, Robert. The Interpretive Odyssey of 2001. Bright Lights Film Journal. Issue 46 (2004). 1-10. Web. 31 Dec. 2009. Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Fiction & Fantasy. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990. Print. Kagan, Norman. “2001: A Space Odyssey” The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick. By Kagan. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company. 2000. 45-66. Print. Libby, Brian. “Masterpiece: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’” Salon. com. Salon Media Group. 05 Mar. 2002. Web. 09 Dec. 2009 Nelson, Thomas Allen. Kubrick: Inside of a Film Artist’s Maze. New and Expanded Edition. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000. Print. Norden, Eric. “Playboy Interview: Stanley Kubrick” Playboy 01 Sept. 1968: 1-12. Print. Trietel, Richard. What is Science Fiction? Richard Trietel, 2006. Web. 24 Jan. 2009. Walker, Alexander, Sybil Taylor, and Ulrich Ruchti. Stanley Kubrick, Director. New York: W. W. Norton and Company Inc. , 1999. Print.


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