Analyzing the overall structure of 2001: A Space Odyssey seems to be rather easy since Stanley Kubrick added titles to important chapters of the movie (with exception of “Intermission” which is marks a break for the audience in some cinemas (and is missing in all TV versions of the movie I know of)).

Going by the title cards in the movie it contains three chapters:

Diagram 01

But now a problem kicks in. The problem is the fact that an important part of the movie plays on a completely different time but isn’t marked with a title. Of course, I am talking about the early third of the movie which shows Dr. Floyd and the monolith on the moon. If you add this section to the structure you get something like this:

Diagram 02

As far as I looked in the internet, there are some who call this a different section which simply has no title card. On a pure aesthetic level I can almost feel the pain Stanley Kubrick might have had: should I add a title card or should I simply use the mind blowing match cut? On the other hand….did he feel any pain? Was there a problem at all?

I believe that Kubrick didn’t add a title card because of the match cut but because there is no different chapter at all. In other words I think that the part with the lunar monolith is in fact a part of the chapter “The Dawn of Man”. I don’t want to work it out at the moment since I am on the structural part but you can see that man advanced technologically on many levels, but he also is still some sort of ape who slowly learns to walk or grows up.

If you look closer at “The Dawn of Man”, you can see that the percentage both single parts of this first chapter share is also very interesting: from around the first minute to the seventeenth minute you have the apes. From minute 18 to minute 51 you have the other part dealing with the moon monolith. If you put those numbers in one simple formula you get a 16:33 ratio or roughly 1:2. The most important part, the arrival of the monolith happens about 8 minutes after the beginning, dividing the first 16 minutes of “The Dawn of Man” right in the middle. The first usage of a tool begins at 12 minutes with its climax at minute 13, which means 4 minutes after the monolith arrived. (By the way, the first killing happens at minute 15 in other words 2 minutes after the first usage of a tool.)

The information gained can be now used for a first structure diagram (the important points in the movie are the vertical lines in the second row):

Diagram 03

The second chapter with a length of about 64 minutes also has a ratio. In fact, its ratio is 1:1. The first part is everything until the intermission around the 1 hour and 24 minute mark (0:52 plus 0:32 is 1:24), the second part is everything after it. Therefore the intermission is placed right in the middle of “Jupiter Mission”. Of course I don’t take anything story-wise into account, although right before the intermission HAL learns of the plans to shut him down. This has many layers of meaning in it of which I will talk in another part of this series.

Up to now, the structure roughly looks as follows (instead of “Intermission” I will use “Shutdown Plan”):

Diagram 04

So what happens if we split those 32 minutes again for the second act? Of course we get 16 minutes, the length of the whole ape sequence. Now if you add those 16 minutes to the beginning of “Jupiter Mission” (51 minutes), you get 1 hour and 7 minutes. Almost exactly at this point in the movie HAL discovers that the unit AE35 has an error after some talking about the mission and the rumors. On the other side of the intermission moment, around the 1 hour and 40 minutes mark, HAL ends all communication with the astronaut in his EVA, forcing him to improvise to get into the ship. With that information we can further divide the structure:

Diagram 05

So what happens if we split the 16 again, resulting 8 minutes, which marks the time the apes discover the monolith in the first sequence? Does anything of importance happen? Well, if you add 7 to 8 minutes after HAL explains that there is an error in unit AE35 (~ 1 hour 7 minutes), the astronauts discover that in fact there is no error (1 hour 16 minutes). On the other side of the division, at around 59 the minutes mark, HAL is interviewed by a reporter in which his/its perfectionism is stressed.

The structure diagram now looks like this:

Diagram 06

After the decision of the astronauts to shut down the computer, the movie gets “disoriented” for a short amount of time, meaning that the order of the 8 is more or less gone. At around 1:32 one astronaut is searching in his EVA for the remains of the other one which is not that an important moment compared to the killing of the sleeping astronauts around 1:36. At 1:48 the movie is more or less in order again, as the last remaining astronaut is entering the core of HAL:

Diagram 07

If one didn’t know better you could almost say that Stanley Kubrick cut most of this movie following the most important “part” of world today: the bit or the exponent of two (2, 4, 6, 8, 16, 32, 64).

The last chapter doesn’t seem to follow a certain order witnessed in the first two parts. This could be interpreted as a story device to show the difference of this last part in the movie or to stress its importance. The last part starts around 1 hour and 54 minutes, the trip begins at 1:58 (4 minutes – 8 divided by 2) while the astronaut is entering the room at around 2:08 which makes 14 minutes from the beginning of the whole chapter or 10 minutes after the beginning of the trip. Here the difference between this and the other sequences is rather clear to see.

Although the last minutes of 2001 don’t fit the 8 minute length perfectly (it lasts only 7 and 20 seconds, with the transformation at around 2:15) you can say that the end in the room can be interpreted as a mirror of the first 8 minutes of 2001. There the apes started with the journey, now the astronaut is ending it. The circle is complete and the movie finished as well as the structure diagram:

Diagram 08

As you can see, Stanley Kubrick didn’t cut this movie – he in fact designed it meticulously. Of course, there are differences here and there, as nothing really meets the numbers I have used above. But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean very much since a master knows the rules of composition and breaks them (slightly) on purpose to make things a little bit more interesting.

Last but not least, if you compare the structure of 2001 with the general structure used in Hollywood you can see that 2001 also manages to somehow follow it. Generally spoken the third Act of a movie is about eighteen minutes long with a 2 minute resolution. In 2001 the last chapter is with 24 minutes slightly longer than the standard, without a clear resolution. The second act, the Jupiter Mission, is 64 minutes long, which means it almost hits the 70 minutes proposed by many writers. The biggest difference between the theoretical standard and 2001 is the first act. With 51 minutes it is way longer than 30 minutes a normal first act should have, while the strong difference between the first and the second part in this chapter makes that a minor problem from a Hollywood perspective.

So you can say, that Kubrick not only managed to create a very own structure in 2001 he also managed to follow the principle of Hollywood story design quite well.

As a final note, if you want to be ironic, you could say that the structure of 2001 is the reason of why some sequences are longer than “necessary”. Of course, this is not completely true although slowly but surely I start to believe that this structure had at least a little bit to with the result we have today. On the other hand you could say that the structure “forced” Kubrick to enhance the meaning of certain scenes (the very long breathing sequence for example) to keep the structure intact he had in mind.

After finishing to analyze the overall structure of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the next part of this series will analyze the beginning of the movie, the first 16 minutes of “The Dawn of Man”.


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