2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Narrative Structure

Stanley Kubrick produced and directed 2001: A Space Odyssey an inventive (and revolutionary) epic sci-fi, which became an event movie and movie event for years to come.

The screenplay, written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, was inspired by Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel” and other stories by him.

A novel released after the film’s premiere was in part written concurrently with the screenplay.

The film follows a voyage to Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL, after the discovery of an alien monolith affecting human evolution.

Thematically, it deals with issues of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of space flight, 2001 movie experimented and pioneered special effects, and present a large array of ambiguous imagery.

Kubrick avoided conventional cinematic and narrative techniques.

Dialogue is used sparingly–there are long sequences that are accompanied only by music.

The soundtrack incorporates numerous works of classical music, by composers including Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss II, Aram Khachaturian, and György Ligeti.

Upon initial response, the film received diverse critical responses, ranging from those who saw it as darkly apocalyptic to those who saw it as an optimistic reappraisal of humanity’s  hopes.

In the prehistoric African veldt, a tribe of hominids is driven away from its water hole by a rival tribe. Later, they awaken to find an alien monolith has appeared in their midst. They discover how to use a bone as a weapon and, after their first hunt, return to drive their rivals away with the new tool.

Millions of years later, Dr. Heywood Floyd, Chair of the U.S. National Council of Astronautics, travels to Clavius Base, a lunar outpost. During a stopover at Space Station 5, he meets Russian scientists who are concerned that Clavius is unresponsive.

Floyd refuses to discuss rumors of an epidemic at the base. Continuing his journey to Clavius, Floyd addresses a personnel meeting, in which he stresses the need for secrecy regarding their newest discovery.

Floyd is tasked with investigating a recently found artefact buried four million years ago near the lunar crater Tycho. Floyd and others ride in a Moonbus to the artefact, a monolith identical to the one encountered by the ape-men. While examining the monolith, it’s struck by sunlight, and emits high-powered radio signal.

Eighteen months later, the US spacecraft Discovery One is bound for Jupiter. On board are mission pilots and scientists Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, along with three other scientists in suspended animation.

Most of Discovery’s operations are controlled by “HAL,” HAL 9000 computer with a human personality. A conversation between HAL and Bowman is interrupted when HAL reports the imminent failure of antenna control device. Bowman retrieves it in an extravehicular activity (EVA) pod but finds nothing wrong.

HAL suggests reinstalling the device and letting it fail to verify the problem. Mission Control advises the astronauts that HAL is in error about the device’s imminent failure.

HAL attributes the discrepancy to human error. Concerned about HAL’s behavior, Bowman and Poole enter an EVA pod so they can talk without HAL overhearing. They decide to disconnect HAL if he is proven wrong, and HAL follows their conversation by lip reading.

While Poole is on space walk attempting to replace the antenna unit, HAL takes control of his pod, severs Poole’s oxygen hose, and sets him adrift. Bowman takes another pod to rescue Poole; while he is outside, HAL turns off the life support functions of the three other crewmen in suspended animation, which kills them.

When Bowman returns to the ship with Poole’s body, HAL refuses to let him in, saying “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” HAL says that the astronauts plan to deactivate him will jeopardize the mission.

Bowman opens the ship’s emergency airlock manually, enters the ship, and proceeds to HAL’s processor core, where he begins disconnecting HAL’s circuits.

HAL tries to reassure Bowman, then pleads with him to stop, expressing fear for himself. When the disconnection is complete, a prerecorded video message plays, revealing that the mission’s objective is to investigate the radio signal sent from the monolith to Jupiter.

At Jupiter, Bowman finds a third, larger, monolith orbiting the planet. He leaves Discovery in EVA pod to investigate, but he is pulled into vortex of colored light. Bowman is carried across vast distances of space, viewing bizarre cosmological phenomena and strange landscapes of unusual colors.

Eventually Bowman is seen in large neoclassical bedroom where he sees, and then becomes, older versions of himself. He is first standing in the bedroom, middle-aged and still in his spacesuit, then dressed in leisure attire and eating dinner, and finally as an old man in bed.

A monolith appears at the foot of the bed, and Bowman reaches for it. He is then transformed into fetus enclosed in transparent orb of light, which floats in space beside the Earth.

Oscar Context

2001 was nominated for four Academy Awards, with Kubrick winning an Oscar (his only one) for his direction of the visual effects.

Critical Status

The film is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. In 1991, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the US Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Cast
Keir Dullea as Dr. David Bowman
Gary Lockwood as Dr. Frank Poole
William Sylvester as Dr. Heywood Floyd
Daniel Richter as Moonwatcher, the chief man-ape
Leonard Rossiter as Dr. Andrei Smyslov
Margaret Tyzack as Elena
Robert Beatty as Dr. Ralph Halvorsen
Sean Sullivan as Dr. Roy Michaels[3]
Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL 9000
Frank Miller as mission controller
Edward Bishop as Aries 1B lunar shuttle captain (uncredited)[citation needed]
Edwina Carroll as lunar shuttle stewardess
Penny Brahms as stewardess
Heather Downham as stewardess
Alan Gifford as Poole’s father
Ann Gillis as Poole’s mother
Maggie d’Abo as stewardess (Space Station 5 elevator) (uncredited)[4]
Chela Matthison as Mrs. Turner, Space Station 5 reception (uncredited)[5]
Judy Keirn as voiceprint identification woman (Space Station 5) (uncredited)[citation needed]
Vivian Kubrick as Floyd’s daughter, “Squirt” (uncredited)
Kenneth Kendall as BBC announcer (uncredited)

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