On the Meanings of the Final Sequence

by Derek Rose

The question was asked in the Newsgroup, "what does the 'hotel' sequence in the third part of 2001 ('Jupiter, and Beyond the Infinite') mean?"...Derek responded:

I don't think it really "means" anything. Rarely does a Kubrick film ever really have any message; I think if he had a message to tell, he is the type of artist who would just come out and say it. He does this twice in A Clockwork Orange: the first time is when the warden says (paraphrasing) "An eye for an eye, I say. We, the state, who were very severely hit by you, young hooligan, should hit back." The second time is the chaplain's speech "When a man ceases to choose, he ceases to be a man."

This scene at the end of 2001 is not about meaning, however, but about effect. Whatever effect it may have on you will lead to its meaning, and it for is this reason that this film can be interpreted so many different ways. Personally, I get the feeling of how ephemeral life really is, about how quickly one passes through the different stages of life.

What does this mean to me? If I had an easy answer, then I would not find this film so fascinating. But the last time I saw this film (it was a year ago, but it seems like yesterday), I left the theatre having realized how quickly time is compressed. Kubrick jumps from the Stone Age to the Space Age in a single cut, probably the greatest time gap in any film. Yet when he shows scenes in real time (the jogging scene, the pod scene, etc.) viewers get extremely tense and restless.

Now contrast any of these "tense and restless" scenes with the "dying old man" scene at the end. While the t&r scenes are frustratingly slow in the way they deal with time, the d.o.m. scene appears frustratingly abstract. At the moment, life may appear slow and tedious but within the context of not only one's entire life (d.o.m. scene), or even more so with the context of the time of mankind's existence (Stone Age-Space Age), what we do on a day to day basis may have dire consequences (look how slow moving the scene where Dave kills HAL and thus saves himself), it occurs only within a fraction of the time that mankind has existed.

So what meaning do I derive from this? None, but I get a feeling that because of technology (especially, of course, nuclear technology), mankind may end his thousands of years of existence in just a few moments during these seemingly interminable yet actually transient times.

I hope I don't sound too insane.

In a contrary essay, Roderick Munday replies, in part:

In retropective critisism of 2001 there is a tendency to cast a 'religious veil' over the ending of 2001 and say that is is not meant to mean anything, it is supposed to be felt or whatever. This is true up to a point but how do proponents of this view answer the critism that 2001 is just pretentious mystical 60's twaddle?"

Derek responds:

I would answer by saying that your essay is well written, but says little more than what has already been said. I think you misunderstood my post about 2001 being "supposed to be felt" rather than "meaning" anything. This is true. I don't think that Kubrick was coming right out and saying "this is what this scene means..." as he did in the ACO example I gave.

This does not mean, however, that there is no meaning in this scene. It's just that one has to look deeper than what's on the surface and get a feel for the film in order to understand it. The way I see it, one has to feel frustrated during the extruciatingly slow scenes to be able to feel compelled enough to question the compressed time in the final scene.

2001 is by all means a product of the 1960's, but it is quality 60's art instead of that mystical twaddle. Inferior 60's shit was pretentious because it either had NO artistic meaning that could be discerned (aside from "Look what a trip drugs does to you, man...") or it's meaning is so obvious that you could gag. This film finds its place right in between; it may not be easy, but if you try hard and lose yourself in Kubrickland, you may see (if ever so slightly) a statement, be it political, philosophical, theological, or otherwise.

For example, good 60's art is Antonioni's Blow Up, one of the most popular films of its time beside 2001. Sure it has meaning, but it takes a lot searching of not only the film, but yourself and your own society as well. His follow up, Zabriskie Point, is also a product of the 60's, but its stereotypes and "message" are so extreme that they are crude (as is the film).