Religion and other Opiates

Once Hal is 'dead', Bowman is free to pass through the Star Gate and begin his transformation to the Star-Child - a sequence that has produced such myriad interpretations. In the film Bowman sees himself rapidly ageing. Or rather he looks at older and older figures of himself - experimental versions of Bowman's in the monolith's transforming process? At one point, an aged Bowman is eating a meal. He reaches out for something and knocks over a glass which falls to the floor and breaks. Reaching down for it, his attention is grabbed by something behind him: another even older Bowman, awaiting the final transformation. Many have speculated about the significance of the broken glass: does it recall the broken glass of the Judaic marriage ceremony that symbolises the end of one way of life and the beginning of a new one? Or is it a reminder of the persistence of human error. "This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error."

The broken glass is not the only imagery perceived as religious, and inevitably the spiritual intimations of the film attracted attention. New York Times critic John Simon called 2001 "a shaggy God story," and Clarke recalls how, "Quite early in the game I went around saying, not very loudly, 'M-G-M doesn't know this yet, but they're paying for the first $10,000,000 religious movie.' Nevertheless, it is still quite a surprise to see how many people realised this, and it has been amusing to see how many faiths have tried to stake claims in the finished work. Several reviewers have seen a cross in some of the astronomical scenes: this is purely a matter of camera composition... we have recently discovered - this was quite a shock - that there is a Buddhist sect which worships a large, black, rectangular slab... [and] the fact that the Black Stone sacred to the Muslims [the Kaaba at Mecca] is reputed to be a meteorite is a more than interesting coincidence." Clarke also notes that "critic Damon Knight... considers that the extraordinarily obtuse reaction of some science-fiction critics was simply due to embarrassment. They just couldn't face the film's religious implications." But for some, it seems, the apparent religious implications were just too much: in an LA screening, one member of the audience jumped to his feet at the film's Star-Child finale, ran down the aisle and crashed through the screen, all the while shouting "It's God! It's God!"

Whether this particular individual was or not, it would come as no surprise to learn that his bloodstream had been filled with more than just spirit of the Lord. Most 'religious' interpretation tended to be of in the vein of the growing New Age moment. For some, the experience of the film may have helped fill a spiritual void left by the decline of organised religion. However, in the late Sixties, alternative philosophies also meant alternative ways of becoming intoxicated, and tales of young audience members (the demographic that became the film's core audience) getting high on LSD and marijuana during the Star Gate sequence are manifold. Whilst some of the first film shot in 1965 was for the Star Gate sequence, most of it was added in 1967 and 68 during post-production - after the 'Summer of Love'. Whilst Kubrick eschewed the use of drugs ("the artist's transcendence must be within his own work; he should not impose any artificial barriers between himself and his subconscious") questions remain as to whether the film's technicians who helped create the sequence necessarily did. In many ways Kubrick was overtaken by the wave of psychedelia that blossomed during the film's three year gestation. Kubrick attempts to convey the awesome wonder and possibility of space through unfamiliar imagery, as Clarke does in his novel, but it was inevitable that parallels would emerge with the inner-space projections of hallucination. Whatever the original intent, the film that was initially released with the tagline of "An epic drama of adventure and exploration", soon became marketed simply as "The Ultimate Trip."

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