After the analysis of the first 16 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick this part continues the series by looking at the beginning of the second half of “The Dawn of Man” – the space waltz sequence that introduces us with the future.

(Note: All images are copyright Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) and used solely for the purpose of analyzing 2001.)

After the death of the ape in the first part of the movie, the bone-wielder thrusts its “tool” flying into the air. Exactly at that moment, Kubrick cuts to the future:

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This “match” cut, which visually connects the first image with the later, is not without reason one of the most stated cuts in the history of film. Kubrick not only manages skip round about four million years in one 24th second, he also shows us another tool of man. You can therefore say that regardless of the advancement of their tools, humans are in some way still apes. This is also why the cut over millions of years doesn’t feel strange. Not only would other parts be unnecessary on a pure story level, they also would tell us nothing new.

The next interesting parts of this cut are the objects shown on screen. If you read the script, you’ll learn that the “space station” we see is in fact a nuclear satellite. Therefore, it is hinted, that both tools we see in this cut are used for destruction and are therefore the same. This interpretation is enhanced by the movement and the visual direction/connection: whereas the bone is flying downwards, seemingly out of the screen at the bottom, the station comes into the screen from the top, this time really flying out of the screen at the bottom. In other words: the later one finishes the movement of the first. Yet, at the same time, Kubrick contradicts this a little bit by using contrasting directions in the specific moment of the cut: the first one has a downward direction, the later an upward direction. This could be a visual support for the fact that the bone is not only used for killing or destruction, whereas the satellite only has this specific raison d’être. Nevertheless, both tools share a common, cylindrical form. In that regard it could be said, that the station reflects the form of the bone and therefore reflects the primitive parts of humanity.

One important point cannot be missed, though. Although both tools share many similarities there is one big and important difference: whereas we personally see how the bone is being used to kill another one, the satellite does nothing – and most likely will never do something. If you happen to not know the script, you even wouldn’t know that this is a station filled with nukes. In this case we can say that humanity, although still being some form of apes managed to grow.

After this cut, we are presented with a scene which is by many called a space waltz: we see stations and satellites flying, and hear a classical piece of music, The Blue Danube. If you compare this beginning with everything that came before one can say that Kubrick wanted to generate a contrast of maximum amount: whereas the first 16 minutes were characterized by static shots and no music whatsoever for the most part, the beginning of this sequence is visually filled with fluid, elegant motion and acoustically accompanied by elegant music. Humanity seems to have reached the symbiosis of technology and culture. On an abstract level you can interpret this sequence in two ways: firstly, it is a big occurrence of the tool motif, as we are being introduced to the advanced technology. Secondly it can be interpreted as a hint for the viewer: we get the feeling that man belongs to space, or to be more precise, can feel at home in space. With a small ironic attitude you could say that this is the best commercial ever to promote space and space exploration. On the other hand, this might exactly be another reason why Kubrick made this sequence. Perhaps he wanted to show the viewers that (despite the tools of destruction), humanity only has a chance if it reaches the future.

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These two shots follow right after another. I mention these two for a reason. As you can see, Kubrick one last time shows us the dawn motif, this time from outer space. Humanity has reached the first big goal. Kubrick now fully introduces us with the next storyline which helps humanity to make another step to the final “dawning”: the moon. This hint is supported by the camera pan, which at first shows the earth and ends with the moon.

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This scene is quite interesting as it accomplishes many things at the same time. For one, we are introduced in an unusual way with Dr. Floyd, the main character for the next half hour. As we see at the end of this scene, Dr. Floyd is sleeping. If we compare this behavior with the one of our ape group, we again are confronted with a high contrast. The apes had more or less fear in the dark, now a man is sleeping in space itself. Dr. Floyd is seemingly tired and/or bored, because otherwise he would look out of the window, amazed by its beauty. He also doesn’t follow the TV which is turned on. As we see, too, is the fact that the shuttle has Dr. Floyd as the only passenger on board. If you compare this moment in the dark “night” itself with the night in which the apes huddled each other, Dr. Floyd seems rather loneley in this space craft.

This scene with the sleeping Dr. Floyd also marks another occurrence of the tool motif: a pen is flying in the shuttle (one side note: of course, the characters from now are constantly surrounded by tools and machinery, but I will only talk about specific or special occurrences). This moment serves two purposes. Firstly it shows us, that Dr. Floyd on board is indeed someone who works with pens, therefore someone in with a higher education. And we see that a tool is more or less “acting” on its own. This marks a behavior which later in this movie will become extremely important.

The stewardess who puts the pen into the pocket, shows us yet another motif of 2001: walking. We see that she uses shoes that attach themselves onto the floor, so she doesn’t start to fly uncontrollable through the room. As we remember, the apes at the end of the first part slowly started to walk upright. Since most of us have no problems to walk on earth, this scene shows us that in space, humanity still has to learn to “walk upright”. In some way you could say, that humanity in space is still a child – not yet fully able to walk but starting to. This child motif will later be picked up again in conjunction with the food motif. On a more abstract level you can say that Stanley Kubrick mixes the flow in time by the various motifs: at first humanity is learning to walk (apes) – then humanity is walking (humans on earth) – then again, humanity is learning to walk (humans in space).

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This shot shows us the cockpit of the incoming shuttle. As you can see the cockpit is clustered with tools and technology. Although I can’t see it for sure I assume that the two pilots you see are doing nothing in particular – the shuttle flies automatically. This would be another occurrence of the motif that the tools of man are acting on their own. Only this time (compared to the pen), they are doing it intentionally. The humans want to get on board of the station and therefore willingly give up control – they don’t act.

One thing I haven’t talked about until now is a motif or a theme which is shown again and again (as in the picture above) in the first half of this part of the movie: rotation. It is remarkable, how a motif can be interpreted in so many different ways. On a pragmatic level you can say that the rotation emphasizes the science fiction part of the movie and enhances the visual quality of the images or shots. In some sort of mid-level analysis you can say that the rotation, which awes the viewer, is being ignored completely by everyone in the movie and therefore shows that man seemingly has lost some of its emotions or interests (a motif we see more of later). On a more abstract level, the motif of constant rotation can be interpreted in that way that humanity in space has no clear orientation or footing; there is no real up or down.

And there is yet a more possible analysis of the way Kubrick again and again shows us the motif of rotation: in the last segment, the apes finally started to walk on their feet, in a way they learned to walk. As stated above, humans again have to learn to walk/cannot truly walk. And this connects the motif of walking with the rotation. As space lacks any gravity, the humans have to rely on technology and rotation to get a footing.

With the rotation discussion ends the analysis of the space waltz sequence which not only gives valuable story hints of the future but also introduces us to a state of high tech culture humanity seems to have reached. Of course, as with all interpretations, the thoughts presented here are only my personal approach to the enigmas and motifs of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The next part of this series will deal with everything that happens on the space station. This part will not only deal with the visual motifs and hints of the movie but also take a closer look to the dialogue.

Overview:

Comments

  • Great 2001 blog, dude. Looking forward to your other installments.

    Take care.

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