Saturday, April 05, 2008

'Jupiter and the Infinite Beyond'

After recently watching some of the documentaries contained in the new DVD of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it amused me that so much time was spent discussing the film as a prediction of the future by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Many of the directors and film experts interviewed felt the need to defend the inaccuracy of this prediction, how we're just as far from an interplanetary civilization as we were 40 years ago (to the day), and that 1960s optimism fueled the two men to think such feats could be accomplished by 2001. I say the year is irrelevant. It could have been titled 4001 -- because Kubrick's main message is that traveling to Jupiter is no more noteworthy than crossing the street.

If the race to the moon fueled Kubrick's desire to make 2001, then it was out of his amusement of society's optimism more than the director jumping on the bandwagon of Jupiter By 2001. I think Kubrick could see that however far space travel advanced, man would still never understand the universe or its creation. 2001 is about the unknown and the unknowable. The viewer doesn't understand the fantastical sights in the final act any more than Dave, and what he sees could represent the impossible nature of the universe -- an expanse of life too great for human minds to understand.

What lies beyond Jupiter is Kubrick's mockery of society's overconfidence -- he's the ultimate killjoy at the biggest party on Earth. "Oh, you made it to the noon? Whoopty shit. Bout damn time." Kubrick was looking far past the moon, and he saw what man will never have. Even today we're still not sure of just how little we know about where we live. Earlier this year, scientists at Michigan State University found that the seemingly-vacant areas of space between galaxies is often home to unseen stars, and possibly more galaxies. This discovery brings our current estimate of total galaxies to around 50 or 60 billion and possibly many more, with each galaxy containing about 100 billion stars each. So if the entire universe was Earth, our total understanding of it would be limited to a wastebasket in a one-bedroom apartment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. If that.

The vision of the future in 2001 will remain the most accurate ever predicted. Even if we send a manned crew to the outer planets, it'll still be a small ripple in a tiny pond. Just as Dave finds out at the end, the universe does not exist for man to decipher, and this fact will only be reinforced the further we probe to find the limits of space. While the idea of HAL 9000 and cosmic commuting may have excited audiences about what the future would hold, Kubrick probably saw it as a dark reminder about our inconsequential rank in the cosmos, and perhaps how we are all dwarfed by a higher power.


Paul C. said...

Very good piece, Adam. A good, succinct summation of the genius of 2001.

I wrote a piece on the film a few weeks back following Clarke's death. Check it out here.

Adam Ross said...

Thanks, Paul. You make a great point about the attitude of the astronauts and the monolith -- I hadn't thought about how the monolith is reacting to their disrespect, but it's true.

It's funny you mentioned those old moon books. My dad had one from his childhood that I read all the time, called You Will Go to the Moon. Those books are fun time capsules about the optimism of the space age -- it seemed if you wanted to reach the moon your family just needed to drive to the launching pad.

Zane said...

This line caught my attention more than any other -

"the universe does not exist for man to decipher" -

Yet, "2001" is a man-made vehicle. And it deciphers the universe a little further. By offering the conjecture that Outer Space and Inner Space are one in the same - and that life is confined to the sphere of BOTH (at any end of the spectrum).

With all those atoms CO-EXISTING,
Man is closer to the "higher power" (i.e, Light) than he'll ever know.

Light may be confined to infinity, just as our bodies are confined to death. But our minds shine in physical wavelengths FOREVER.

Thus, man is diety. For all time. And the universe will be further deciphered until it folds in on itself and blows up again.

-But the Celluloid remains! In dreams that stretched beyond infinity back in 1968.

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