Good Morning, Dr. Chandra. I’m ready for my first lesson now.
Arthur C. Clarke died today at age 90. I was never a passionate fan of his body of work but I adore 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s a rare thing that a movie surpasses a book but it isn’t all that surprising when Stanley Kurbrick is involved. The screenplay for 2001 was written by both Clarke and Kubrick and is one of my most favorite movies of all time.
The beginning is the Dawn of Man where ape-like creatures first come into contact with the monolith: the servant of beings that are keeping a careful eye on the development of earth and evolution of man.
The final shot in this sequence is of man attaining his first weapon: the bone of dead animal. Then, the now famous cut to the ultimate weapon: a nuclear bomb orbiting space.
Arthur C. Clarke once commented during the Cold War that the impending nuclear strike between the United States and the Soviet Union was like two men standing in a pile of gasoline, one with five matches, the other with three.
The story now switches to the near future (now recent past) of 2001 where man has unearthed another monolith, one that was deliberately buried and gives off a radio signal when it is hit with the lunar sunrise.
Clarke and Kubrick then delve into a new kind of ambiguity which is whether or not artificial life can have a conscience and consciousness. Once the monolith has been unearthed, NASA sends a manned mission to Jupiter (in the books, Saturn) to investigate where the radio signal was sent. There are two human crew members alive on this mission: David Bowman and Frank Poole. The other is a conscious, intelligent computer called HAL 9000.
HAL has been told of the mission to Jupiter and about the monolith and the impending meeting and first evidence of extraterrestrial lifeforms. However, he’s told to lie.
And to me, this is the heart of the story. HAL 9000 is one of the greatest villains in American movie history but he’s also one of the most conflicted. When faced with doubts about the mission and whether or not his human counterparts are up to the challenge, he begins to malfunction, eventually killing Frank Poole and three other scientists who had been asleep on board the ship.
It’s finally when he attempts to kill David Bowman that he’s stopped. David Bowman unplugging HAL is one of the saddest movie deaths in history.
Kubrick and Clarke took what could have been something as inconsequential as unplugging a lamp and made it into the total and conscious destruction of a living, thinking thing completely capable of knowing that it was being destroyed.
“My mind is going, Dave. I can feel it.”
Finally, Dave Bowman learns of the monolith and the importance of the mission as he approaches Jupiter. He approaches the monolith and is taken through what can only be called a stargate.
The greatest line in the book, “My God, it’s full of stars!” Which is the last line that David Bowman ever spoke as a human being.
He ends his journey in a room where he is aged (and this part has been fought over by geeks for generations now) and evolved by the same beings that helped man first develop from a monkey.
He then returns to Earth. Kubrick ends his movie with the introduction of the Star Child orbiting Earth. It’s a beautiful shot that’s completely worthy of ending such a great movie.
But Clarke is brave and in 1968 ends his book by having the Star Child destroy the orbiting nuclear devices of the world.
“For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.”
Arthur C. Clarke dreamed big. He introduced ideas that actually became realities when he talked about communicating through satellites in the 1940s. He was a peace advocate and a chamption of mankind.
He has moved into the next state of consciousness. He will be missed.