For Nietzsche, the superman would be a move back to the Dionysian spirit: "A return to nature, although it is not really a going back but an ascent - up into the high, free, even terrible nature and naturalness." The Dionysian spirit that has died in the winter of modern man will be reborn in the spring of the superman. The parallels between Moon-Watcher and the Star-Child have already been mentioned: the matching sentiments of "he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something" suggest creatures of the moment, of action and of impulse. Whilst Moon- Watcher is only able to utilise the power of a bone-weapon, Star-Child is able to detonate a nuclear weapon: "He put forth his will, and the circling megatons flowered in a silent detonation that brought a brief, false dawn to half the sleeping globe." Nietzsche writes, "The spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world." Bowman the astronaut lost to the world on his many million mile voyage, returns to earth with new powers. A title of another Nietzsche book, The Will to Power, also springs to mind, a will that the philosopher believed mankind lacked, a deficiency masked by traditional philosophies, religion and morality.
But man must will the superman into being before he can exert that will. Whether or not Bowman wills the Star-Child into existence is open for debate. Clarke's novel tells of Bowman crossing vast interstellar distances through the Star Gate (Nietzsche: "In the mountains the shortest way is from summit to summit: but for that thou needest long legs.") and of a teaching process by the monolith. The aliens appear to be willing a rather more passive Bowman on to the next stage and "when he needed guidance in his first faltering steps, it would be there." However Kubrick's Bowman, with the final breaths of his old life, reaches out his hand towards the monolith as the sun rises above it. "Even as one David Bowman ceased to exist, another became immortal." (Clarke). Or as Zarathustra says to his disciples: "I love him who willeth the creation of something beyond himself and then perishes." Nietzsche also says the superman will be like a child, begotten of a Dionysian rebirth, because "the child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning." To Nietzsche, the human child was nearer to the superman than the grown man, as it was of a Dionysian spirit, before societal conditioning softens it out of him.
Nietzsche talks of man giving "birth to a dancing star", and Star-Child Bowman is now able to travel at will throughout the universe: "With the instincts of three million years, he now perceived that there were more ways than one behind the back of space. The ancient mechanisms of the Star Gate had served him well, but he would not need them again." He is now a god-like being of seemingly limitless power and capacity. As Nietzsche writes, "I learned to walk: now I let myself run. I learned to fly: now I need no pushing to move me from the spot. Now I am light, now I fly, now I see myself beneath myself, now a God danceth through me. Thus spake Zarathustra."
And of the Monolith-aliens themselves: though they were briefly technology - products of the triumph of that Apollonian spirit - "the age of the Machine-entities swiftly passed. In their ceaseless experimenting, they had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter... Into pure energy, therefore, they presently transformed themselves... Now they were lords of the Galaxy, and beyond the reach of time. They could rove at will among the stars, and sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space." They are the ultimate supermen.
Kubrick was said to be initially "confused and puzzled" by the perplexed reaction that early screenings of his film generated (before the removal of nineteen minutes of footage, and the addition of title cards "Jupiter Mission - 18 months later" and "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.") He said in an interview not long after the film's release that "man is the missing link between primitive ape and civilized human beings," and has commented that the ending represents man reborn as a superman, "returning to Earth prepared for the next leap forward in man's evolutionary destiny." Perhaps the message in 2001 was clear all along.
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