Thus Spake Clarke and Kubrick
Satire or prophecy; a manifesto for the future, or a Frankenstein-esque cautionary tale; karmic imagery of peace and lover, or a tale of the eternal capacity for destruction; monstrous machines or human error? People have found many meanings, from both book and film. Some have found none. Rock Hudson fumed as he stormed out of the cinema, "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about!" The film, as mentioned is particularly open to subjective analysis: each and image has been seen as significant in some way or another, and the endless interpretations could not possibly be contained in this Guide. However, whilst Kubrick was very much allowing for the subjectivity of audience response, there is a clear central narrative arc that is sign-posted in both book and film - albeit often subtextually. As Kubrick said, "If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed", but sometimes the only way to film a message is symbolically, as a trail of visual and audio clues. For the movie-goer, clue number one comes in the opening sequence, and the solution to the conundrum of 2001 is the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.
The film opens with the sun rising above the crescent earth, accompanied by the opening fanfare from Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra ("Thus Spake Zarathustra", 1896). The work is a tone poem homage to the philosophy of Nietzsche. The music represents the wise man Zarathustra stepping "into the presence of the Sun" one morning and descending from a mountain where he has been for many years to teach his philosophy to the people. And in 2001, the sun rises above the Earth (as it does above the monolith before each instance of transformation), and aliens descend from space to teach the beginnings of their intelligence to the man-apes.
The book Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-85) by Nietzsche presents the idea that one day mankind will be surpassed by the "ubermench", (the superman or "beyond-man"): "I teach you beyond-man. Man is something that shall be surpassed... Beyond-man is the significance of earth." This is in fact a preoccupation of Kubrick's that can also be found in his films Dr Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, but it is never clearer than in 2001. The Nietzschean idea grew from the Darwin's discoveries and theories of the mid-nineteenth century. Nietzsche, like many after Darwin, perceived life as a struggle for existence in which the fittest survive, strength is the only virtue, and weakness the only failing. He believed that the evolution of man would pass ultimately through three stages: that of primitive man or ape, modern man, and ultimately superman. "What with man is the ape?" he writes. "A joke or a sore shame. Man shall be the same for the superman, a joke or a sore shame. Ye have made your way from worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once ye were apes, even now man is ape in a higher degree than any ape." Or as Douglas Adams once put it, "Earth-men are not proud of their ancestors, and never invite them round to dinner." Man is but a bridge between ape and superman: "Man is a rope connecting animal and beyond-man - a rope over a precipice... What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what can be loved in man is that he is a transition and a destruction." However, to achieve the status of superman, man must exert his will "a will to procreate or a drive to an end, to something higher and further."
According to Nietzsche, the spirit of man is derived from the essence of two gods: Dionysus and Apollo. Dionysus, known also as Bacchus, is the god of wine and revelry, of vegatation and nature, who according to tradition, died each winter and was reborn in the spring. He is connected with the joy of action, of ecstatic emotion and inspiration, of instinct and adventure, of song, dance and drama. Apollo on the other hand, whilst a gifted musician and athlete, was represented as a god of peace and leisure, of aesthetic emotion and intellectual contemplation. Apollonian is taken to mean 'harmonious, measured, ordered, or balanced in character'. He is connected with logic and philosophy, painting, sculpture and epic poetry.
With this in mind, primitive man is seen as Dionysian in spirit: led by instincts and living in the moment, but lacking intellectual abilities. Modern man of Apollo, however, has his instincts suppressed by progress, religion, socialism, democracy and so on. Nietzsche was harshly critical of such things, and had contempt for sluggish, subdued modern man. And despite modern man's supposed wisdom, he is forever at the mercy of human error. The ageing Bowman who smashes the glass is still "human, all too human". Incidentally, Apollo was a master archer, or bowman. And the name of the rockets that took men to the moon: Apollo.
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