I know it’s weird to say this… but this is the last normal article of “Reel Christianity”. You know how I usually have a series during a month with five Wednesdays? And how I didn’t do that last month? That’s because I was saving it for the last month of the year—and you’ll see what that series is in a couple weeks! But anyway, today we take a look at a fitting conclusion to what has been nearly three years of discovering the mystery of faith through film. And what better film to conclude with than one of the most thought-provoking films ever made, and possibly Stanley Kubrick’s greatest achievement.
Since “2001: A Space Odyssey” has such a unique structure, it’s going to be hard describing the “plot” in this article, so I’m just going to go ahead and break the film down into large sequences. So here we go:
The Dawn of Man: this movie begins under the assumption that humans did indeed evolve from apes (which I don’t really agree with, but whatever), and we witness a group of apes discovering weapons (using the bones of dead animals), using said weapons to defend themselves against predators and other apes, and even coming across a great big chocolate bar—excuse me, monolith in the dirt. This monolith, literally a black rectangle of sorts stuck in the ground, is a recurring symbol in the film, and we’ll get to that in a little bit.
An ape throws a bone victoriously into the air after killing another ape, and we suddenly cut to the next sequence, which I’ll simply call 2001: the bone becomes a spaceship, and for a few minutes we see what humans have created for themselves—a smorgasbord of spaceships and interplanetary travel. One of these travelers is Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester), on his way to a base on the moon to make a report on secret goings-on at the base. That secret turns out to be a monolith on the moon, a monolith identical to the one we saw before.
Prompting a search for extraterrestrial life, we begin the Jupiter Mission sequence: Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are the leaders of a trip to the planet, accompanied by a speaking auto-pilot known as the HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Think if Siri was a male and wanted to rule the world, and you’ve got a good idea of what HAL is like. HAL has enough of a mind to wonder aloud to Bowman about the mystery surrounding the mission. Suddenly, HAL detects a fault in the ship’s antenna, and the astronauts investigate it to find that there is actually nothing wrong. So as they decide that HAL made a mistake in detecting the fault, HAL claims that there was a mistake made that can be attributed to “human error”, prompting Bowman and Poole to discuss disconnecting HAL.
In part two of the Jupiter Mission sequence, HAL, who has detected the discussion about disconnecting him, begins preventing any means of that happening—even going so far as to let Poole die in space and suffocate the other astronauts in hyper-sleep. Bowman realizes what’s going on and has to risk being sucked into space in order to reach HAL’s processor core and turn him off. He does so, and as he starts disconnecting HAL’s parts one at a time, he comes across a pre-recorded video message from Dr. Floyd, explaining the existence of the monolith.
FLOYD: Eighteen months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried forty feet below the lunar surface near the crater Tycho. Except for a single very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four-million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert. Its origin and purpose are still a total mystery.
The final sequence of the film is Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite: Dr. Bowman travels to Jupiter and consequently goes into what many in 1968 called “the ultimate trip”, a series of film images that cannot be described in words. As the sequence finishes, Bowman finds himself in a Neoclassical-style bedroom, transforming via editing cuts from an astronaut to a middle-aged man to a very old man lying in bed. And suddenly, in front of him in bed is a black monolith. He reaches for it, and suddenly, he is transformed into a star of sorts staring at the earth. But not just a star: it is as if he has become a fetus the size of a planet. Again, it’s hard to describe in words, but that’s the way it is. And with that, the film ends.
So… what the heck does it all mean? I know I didn’t know the meaning of a lot of these things for a very long time, and I still don’t. But I think that was Kubrick’s point: through history, and into the future, there are going to be symbols and events around us that don’t make sense. But maybe that’s because we are only human. The only way we can make sense of anything in this universe is if we transcend the human world—which Bowman does at the end of 2001, but I also believe the followers of Christ will do at the end of time.
It’s difficult to find a Bible verse that closely relates to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but the Bible does say a lot about the creation of the universe and who made it all. A cool one I found comes in Isaiah 40, where the prophet cries out about the coming Messiah (“Comfort, comfort my people”) and describes the power of God to create all things. “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” (40:26)
We as humans can never understand creation, let alone “2001: A Space Odyssey”. But all we need to know is that there is indeed a Creator in control of everything, and I pray that we would all remember Him today and this week, no matter what happens around us.