Stanley Kubrick Explains the Mysterious Ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a Newly Unearthed Interview

Dur­ing the mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, “the film’s nar­ra­tive tra­jec­to­ry point­ed inex­orably toward a big end­ing, even a rev­e­la­tion, but Kubrick kept chang­ing his mind about what that end­ing would be — and nobody who saw the film knew quite what to make of the one he final­ly chose.” Those words come from a piece by The New York­er’s Dan Chi­as­son, pub­lished to mark the fifti­eth anniver­sary of the film’s release. Since then, gen­er­a­tions of view­ers have inter­pret­ed 2001, and espe­cial­ly its end­ing, in their own way. But these debates over mean­ing may all change now that Kubrick­’s own inter­pre­ta­tion seems to have sur­faced.

Not only that, it turns out to dif­fer marked­ly from most of the ones in cir­cu­la­tion. “I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the pic­ture came out,” Kubrick tells jour­nal­ist Junichi Yaoi when the lat­ter asks what 2001’s end­ing means.

“When you just say the ideas they sound fool­ish, where­as if they’re dra­ma­tized one feels it, but I’ll try.” He then reveals his view of the con­cept behind it:

The idea was sup­posed to be that he is tak­en in by god-like enti­ties, crea­tures of pure ener­gy and intel­li­gence with no shape or form. They put him in what I sup­pose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life pass­es from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to hap­pen as it does in the film. 

They choose this room, which is a very inac­cu­rate repli­ca of French archi­tec­ture (delib­er­ate­ly so, inac­cu­rate) because one was sug­gest­ing that they had some idea of some­thing that he might think was pret­ty, but wasn’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with ani­mals to try to give them what they think is their nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment.

Any­way, when they get fin­ished with him, as hap­pens in so many myths of all cul­tures in the world, he is trans­formed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, trans­formed and made some kind of super­man. We have to only guess what hap­pens when he goes back. It is the pat­tern of a great deal of mythol­o­gy, and that is what we were try­ing to sug­gest.

This makes sense, or at least as much sense as any of the bet­ter inter­pre­ta­tions of 2001’s end­ing out there. Draw­ing explic­it­ly on ancient mythol­o­gy has become stan­dard prac­tice for big-bud­get spec­ta­cles, espe­cial­ly after Star Wars did it to much greater com­mer­cial suc­cess almost a decade lat­er, but in devel­op­ment the idea must have seemed rad­i­cal. Some will take Kubrick­’s expla­na­tion as defin­i­tive, and oth­ers, sub­scrib­ing to a dif­fer­ent phi­los­o­phy of artis­tic cre­ation, will show no more inter­est in it than they do in Rid­ley Scot­t’s per­son­al views on whether Deckard is a repli­cant.

The mys­te­ri­ous nature of the inter­view clip itself, a piece of the footage gath­ered in 1980 for a nev­er-released Japan­ese doc­u­men­tary, suits the nature of the rev­e­la­tion. We see only Yaoi as he inter­views Kubrick over the phone, but not, accord­ing to Pixar direc­tor and Kubrick super­fan Lee Unkrich, because the direc­tor was­n’t there. Unkrich post­ed to Red­dit that, as the Warn­er Broth­ers pub­li­cist who toured the Japan­ese crew around told him, “Stan­ley was actu­al­ly at the stu­dio that day, but didn’t want to meet with the crew and be inter­viewed on cam­era.” So even though we hear his voice on the phone, “he’s actu­al­ly just in anoth­er office!”

But then, nobody ever accused Kubrick of pos­sess­ing con­ven­tion­al habits, per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al. Not that a con­ven­tion­al mind could ever have direct­ed the film that 2001: A Space Odyssey turned out to be, one that, in Chi­as­son’s words, “took for grant­ed a broad cul­tur­al tol­er­ance, if not an appetite, for enig­ma, as well as the time and incli­na­tion for pars­ing inter­pre­tive mys­ter­ies.” Kubrick might have com­plet­ed the film with his own ideas about the mean­ing of every­thing in it, but he sure­ly knew, and respect­ed, that every­one who saw it would also come out of the the­ater with their own.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1966 Doc­u­men­tary Explores the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (and Our High-Tech Future)

Watch the Open­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with the Orig­i­nal, Unused Score

What’s the Dif­fer­ence Between Stan­ley Kubrick’s & Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (A Side-by-Side Com­par­i­son)

In 1968, Stan­ley Kubrick Makes Pre­dic­tions for 2001: Human­i­ty Will Con­quer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn Ger­man in 20 Min­utes

Andrei Tarkovsky Calls Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a “Pho­ny” Film “With Only Pre­ten­sions to Truth”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (4)
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  • HAL 9000 says:

    All you need to do to under­stand the end­ing is to READ THE BOOK!

  • Andrew Green says:

    Total­ly agree. Kubrick’s quote seems like a descrip­tion of the end of the book.

  • Jeff Hall says:

    Exactl­ty! Clarke wrote the screen­play based on his own sto­ry, AND wrote the nov­el­iza­tion of the book. The end­ing has nev­er been a mys­tery, and the crit­ics, jour­nal­ists and writ­ers who think there is, should have been fired for incom­pe­tence long ago.

  • Stanku Brickley says:

    Kubrick used to make inter­pre­ta­tions of the used lit­er­a­ture. Also, Stephen King was even pissed off due to this.

    This may have been nec­es­sary, cos not all nov­els turn to films just like that. Star Wars is bor­ing as a nov­el, very enter­tain­ing as a film only. I mean clas­sic Star Wars.

    So it is nice that Kubrick explains his views. This is for­bid­den 🚫 usu­al­ly, cos it has been said that true artist does not explain their works. His view may be real­ly dif­fer­ent com­pared to the orig­i­nal ver­sion by author.

    But Kubrick is Kubrick and does not care a shit what crit­ics or art peo­ple say, which is why he is so orig­i­nal and excel­lent.

    So it was nice to have some expla­na­tion. I do not remem­ber if it is relat­ed to the sto­ry by Clarke, I read the book near­ly four decades ago. But my inter­pre­ta­tion of the film itself is very sim­i­lar to the expla­na­tion by Kubrick. Very nice😃.

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