Space Odyssey

26 April 2015

I've finally convinced myself to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey.1

N.B.: If you haven't seen it, I don't think you should read what's coming. Spoilers ahead.

Well. I didn't love the movie (the pace is really slow, even for a movie from the sixties, and not being a fan of classical scores might not have helped). I don't mind if a film is ambiguous or doesn't explain much, but 2001 may have gone a bit too far.

I get that the monoliths are alien artifacts (or an alien race). I get that David Bowman has been translated in a sort of zoo. I vaguely understood that the Star Gate is a kind of allegory about the human reproduction (there's even a foetus and an umbilical cord during this passage — and the Star Child coming back to earth can also be seen as a birth). But why? Why does an extraterrestrial race would want to improve another race? Why use monoliths? Why would they open the gate near Jupiter and not on the moon?

The HAL sequence was perfectly clear however, even if they don't explain why it was malfunctioning (it doesn't matter). An interpretation talks about the duality between being a perfect computer and having to lie to the crew about the origin of the mission — this would create a paradox inside the machine. I like that idea.

What, in the end, annoyed me the most were the expections I had. I always thought that the story would be phenomenal. And… it's not, really. It's pretty simple as soon as you think about it (not having explanations don't change that fact — it just wraps the movie in more mysteries). I had the same reaction after finishing Blade Runner, a few years ago.

It's not the movie's fault: every awesome idea it invented has been reused everywhere since.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie does not feel that dated: the images are still beautiful and the depiction of space is really well-done (especially for its time).

What I loved about the movie is some of the possible interpretations. I'm really eager to read the novel by Arthur C. Clarke to dive a bit more into the story. Especially for this theory:

Arthur C. Clarke's theory of the future symbiosis of man and machine, expanded by Kubrick into what Wheat calls "a spoofy three-evolutionary leaps scenario": ape to man, an abortive leap from man to machine, and a final, successful leap from man to 'Star Child'.

I've also found a great quote by Stanley Kubrick about intelligent life when I was reading articles about the movie:

I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God.

I don't believe in any of Earth's monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. Given a planet in a stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of a sun's energy on the planet's chemicals, it's fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge.

It's reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high.

Now, the sun is by no means an old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of us.

When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia—less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe—can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities—and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit.

Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.

  1. It was one of the greatest shame of my movie culture. Especially when considering the fact that I love science-fiction books and films.