Satire, Tool Use and War
In much of Clarke's work, technology, when not troubled by "human error" or created in the interests of destruction, is so often painted a distinct shade of moral positive. Kubrick's attitude towards it is, however, is more ambiguous, to the point that it seemed to have rubbed off on Clarke. The message in 2001 is that, whilst it is the use of tools - the basis of technology - that makes us human, they ultimately alienate and dehumanise us and pave the way for our destruction.
When the first monolith appears to the man-apes it spurs on their minds to grasp the "awesome and brilliant concept" of using natural artefacts as tools to help gain food and defeat enemies. From there on in, humanity's course is set: "The tools they had been programmed to use were simple enough, yet they could change this world and make the man-apes its masters." And the monolith itself is clearly a super- advanced tool in the hands of its alien controllers, working towards the advancement of Mind. In should also be born in mind that the alien's own transcendence has come via their mastery of technology, indeed their becoming technology: "First their brain, and then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and plastic... In these, they roamed among the stars. They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships."
Incidentally, we know now that humans are not in fact the only animals to use tools - chimpanzees have been seen to use a range of natural artefacts, and even some species of birds use rocks to smash open eggs for food. What makes us human is, in fact, far more complex than simply the ability to hit an tapir over the head with a femur bone, and since the Sixties a great deal of work has shown the crucial importance of the need for social as well as technical intelligence in developing our brainpower. Once again the truth is "far stranger."
But Clarke marks out the man-ape's future as the masters of the earth and beyond, with an apparent inherent drive towards achievement; with a reach that exceeds their grasp: "Of all the creatures who had yet walked on Earth, the man-apes were the first to look steadfastly at the Moon. ... when he was very young, Moon-Watcher would sometimes reach out and try to touch that ghostly face rising above the hills. He had never succeeded, and now he was old enough to understand why. For first, of course, he must find a high enough tree to climb." Eventually man finds that high tree in the form of rocket propulsion, so whilst Floyd, Bowman and Poole might seem as different as is possible from his man-ape ancestors, they is essentially pursuing similar goals, with similar intents - to reach out beyond his current grasp. Mankind is still throwing things up in the air.
However, by this point in man's evolution, technology seems to have sapped man of his fire. We have become dependent on and weakened by our tools, which now not only define what is possible, but also fix the limits of what we dream may be possible. Though Kubrick forces the viewer to marvel at the grace and achievement of his spacecraft, space stations and moon bases, the humans contained in them are all subdued and flat, eating grim looking processed space-food and exchanging limited and banal dialogue. The prosaic dialogue has been seen as Kubrick's satirical comment on the futility of the spoken word in a future defined not by human passions but by technical ability. The humans in 2001 are played by apparently uncharismatic and relatively unknown actors: outside the firmament, Kubrick cast no stars in 2001. The flatness of the central performances have contributed to the criticism levelled against the film, but it is a deliberate ploy rather than, as some supposed, a weakness in Kubrick's direction. (Though to be fair to his critics, Kubrick's perfectionist approach has, in many of his films that demanded more passion, unnecessarily subdued performances with perhaps one too many takes forced out of his wearied actors).
For Kubrick the corporate nature of technology is also keenly observed (perhaps to the point of satire). The space consultants on 2001 had managed to convince various corporations that their inclusion in the film would be good publicity - IBM, Boeing, Pan Am, Bell Telephone, General Dynamics, AT&T, Hilton and more all have their logos scattered throughout the movie. But this was no simple 'product placement' as we are now increasingly used to in our cinemas - none of the companies paid any money for their inclusion. Beyond the effect of verisimilitude, Kubrick, has a secondary purpose - to show the ubiquity of the corporation and their brands as symbols of their increasing controlling interest in our lives (perhaps Kubrick's most
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