The Ending Of 2001 A Space Odyssey Explained By Stanley Kubrick

August 7, 2012 | 8 Comments » | Topics: Movies

This one goes out to all the folks that love 2001 A Space Odyssey but still don’t know what the hell was going on at the end…

GELMIS: The final scenes of the film seemed more metaphorical than realistic. Will you discuss them — or would that be part of the “road map” you’re trying to avoid?

KUBRICK: No, I don’t mind discussing it, on the lowest level, that is, straightforward explanation of the plot. You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe — a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system. When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny. That is what happens on the film’s simplest level. Since an encounter with an advanced interstellar intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself.

GELMIS: What are those areas of meaning?

KUBRICK: They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded. (Gelmis, The Film Director as Superstar, 1970, p. 304.)


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  • Paradox

    Stanley Kubrick was a genius and before his time. The reason why 2001, A Space Odyssey did not take on quickly in 1968 is because of that. Now we have a clearer understanding of technology and what is possible. I suggest first time viewers, especially this generation watch it without preview or opinion from others. At the end, ask yourself what happen? Nowadays at least half of the western world will get 80% of what happen, unlike Rock Hudson in the 60’s who asked after watching, “Will someone please tell me whats going on!” Such reflected where humans as a whole were at in intelligence and open mindedness. 2001 is a perfect allogory of the human condition and what we may be able to look forward to. Special kudos to Pink Floyd’s contribution at the end. Last suggestion: After watching tithe first time and you don’t get the meaning, search the internet and you will be enlightened greatly.

    • paradox

      Knowledge is the key to get everyone on board. Cavemen and cave women need not apply. you are so keen to call others monkies, when it is you that is the primate. You and your kind will be discarded in the next step of human evolution. You know you you are.

    • Maximilian

      I’d say the most important advice to anyone watching it for the first time is: watch it a second time.



    • A. notnymous

      You ever read watchmen? now THAT’s biblical material.

  • jero

    the movie Interstellar recalls on the same basic idea, the one that we’r meant to live earth, and go beyond

  • Jimmy Gabriel

    The film has no literal meaning, as Kubrick was kind enough to explain here. It means only what we project onto it, in terms of what we understand at that particular moment in time in which we view it. Which is why the meaning varies not only from person to person, but to ourselves as well. If we watch the film again years later, our experiences will be different, and the film will have a different meaning. Kubrick was wise enough to keep things abstract, and not literal, which is how life actually is. Reality is always subjective to where the viewer’s mind and past conditioning are at that moment of experience. Things are always just as they are, but our understanding of reality is how we will experience it and remember it as.

  • Fujimooji

    Favorite movie of all time. Thought the monolith represented man’s education/learning/enlightenment through time because every time that thing showed up man was more advanced … kinda got it. Happy to read Kubrick’s explanation and that he pretty much let’s us use our own imagination. I guess the mystery is the fascination!