Home > Words > Interviews > In 2001, Will Love Be a Seven-letter Word?

In 2001, Will Love Be a Seven-letter Word?
by William Kloman

Stanley Kubrick has directed such films as Paths of Glory, Lolita, and Doctor Strangelove. Kubrick's latest film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is reported to have cost more than $10-million, and was more than two years in production. Most of the production time was consumed by the creation of special effects, from lunar landings to a brilliant psychedelic apocalypse. Kubrick's films customarily stimulate controversy, disagreement; and occasionally outrage. 2001, a deeply enigmatic science-fiction fantasy, has opened to lukewarm reviews and left many viewers puzzled over What It All Means. In the following interview Kubrick provides clues, some of them between the lines.

The plot of 2001 hinges on man's eventual discovery of intelligent beings elsewhere in the Universe. Is this fantasy, or probability?
Actually, they discover us. But the premise isn't just fantasy. Regular "pulsar" radio emissions have been picked up by scientists in England and Puerto Rico. Four separate sources of transmission have been isolated so far, and the evidence points to highly advanced civilizations, perhaps hundreds of light-years away from the Earth.

Do you consider the evidence conclusive?
Even if it weren't, the odds are heavily in favor of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. There are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and roughly a hundred billion galaxies in the visible Universe. Given the common chemical nature of the Universe, the origination of life is now felt to be an almost inevitable occurrence on planets the proper distance from their suns. Most astronomers are now very predisposed to believe the Universe is full of life. And if it is, some of it would be millions of years advanced, simply because it was formed earlier. Our sun is not a particularly old star.

Have you speculated on what form such advanced life would take? What sort of technology it would produce?
Our interest, in the film, is more in man's response to his first contact with an advanced world. It is really inconceivable what form its technology would take, but Arthur Clarke (co-author of the screenplay for 2001) believes that any technology, say, fifty thousand years ahead of our own would seem like magic to us anyway. Of course, nobody particularly thinks that biological life-forms would endure very long. Immortality - reversing the chemical process that causes the cells to forget what they are doing - seems likely even for man within a couple of hundred years. It's generally thought that after a highly-developed science gets you past the mortality stage, you become part-animal, part-machine, then all machine. Eventually, perhaps, pure energy. We cannot imagine what a million-year jump in science will produce in life-forms. Pure spirit may be the ultimate form that intelligence would seek.

That seems very Platonic.
It is. And all human mythology - which certainly expresses the yearnings of mass psychology - reaches toward this ultimate state. There's an instinctive awareness of the advantages and perfection of the non-biological condition.

The opening sequence of 2001 shows an ape-man at the dawn of man's existence learning to use objects as weapons. He throws a bone-weapon in the air and it comes down as an orbiting spacecraft in the year 2001 A.D. What's the connection?
The link is very close, and the time period is really very short. The difference between the bone-as-weapon and the spacecraft is not enormous, on an emotional level. Man's whole brain has developed from the use of the weapon-tool. It's the evolutionary watershed of natural selection. Shaw said that man's heart is in his weapons, and it's perfectly true. There has always been this fantastic love of the weapon. It's simply an observable fact that all of man's technology grew out of his discovery of the weapon-tool.

Which he learned to love, like the Bomb in Doctor Strangelove?
There's no doubt that there's a deep emotional relationship between man and his machines, which are his children. The machine is beginning to assert itself in a very profound way, even attracting affection and obsession. There is a sexiness to beautiful machines. The smell of a Nikon camera. The feel of an Italian sports car, or a beautiful tape recorder. We are almost in a sort of biological machine society already. We're making the transition toward whatever the ultimate change will be. Man has always worshiped beauty, and I think there's a new kind of beauty afoot in the world.

There was a curious story in one of the news magazines recently about the exceptional instability of marriages around the space installations.
Because the machines are so sexy.

HAL, the computer-protagonist of 2001, seems almost human, while the human actors in the film appear to be models of dispassionate efficiency. Is one of the themes that as computers become more like men, men become more like computers?
I don't think they do, unfortunately. HAL is programed with emotions because most advanced computer technologists feel that when we start building computers more intelligent than men, emotions may be a part of their equipment. Emotions may be a useful short-cut to forming attitudes. But my view is that man will probably remain more or less in the state he is in now. Men are not really becoming more objective or rational. We are still essentially programed with the same primitive instincts we started out with four million years ago. Somebody said man is the missing link between primitive apes and civilized human beings. You might say that is inherent in the story too. We are semicivilized, capable of cooperation and affection, but needing some sort of transfiguration into a higher form of life. Man is really in a very unstable condition. People have been very good, really. Countries have acted very responsibly since the nuclear bomb. But there's no question that since the means to obliterate life on Earth exist, it will take more than just careful planning and reasonable cooperation to avoid some eventual catastrophic event. The problem exists as long as the potential exists, and the problem is essentially a moral one and a spiritual one. Perhaps even an evolutionary one rather than a technical one. The technical approach, you might say, is first aid, but it can't be a very profound answer.

Since 2001 ends with an apparent evolutionary transformation, is it offered as an alternative to the end of the world in Doctor Strangelove?
Not really. I'd hate to categorize it as really deeply revolving around that issue. I don't really want to say what it is, but it's more of a mythological statement. All myths have a kind of psychological similarity to each other. Of the hero going somehow into the underworld, or the over-world, and encountering dangers and terrifying experiences. Then he re-emerges in some god-like form, or some greatly improved human form. Essentially the film is a mythological statement. Its meaning has to be found on a sort of visceral, psychological level rather than in a specific literal explanation.

One of the newspaper critics thought that in order to get across a philosophical viewpoint you needed more words than you used.
This, of course, is part of the word-oriented reviewer psychology. I don't have the slightest doubt that to tell a story like this, you couldn't do it with words. There are only 46 minutes of dialogue scenes in the film, and 113 of non-dialogue. There are certain areas of feeling and reality - or unreality or innermost yearning, whatever you want to call it - which are notably inaccessible to words. Music can get into these areas. Painting can get into them. Non-verbal forms of expression can. But words are a terrible straitjacket. It's interesting how many prisoners of that straitjacket resent its being loosened or taken off. There's a side to the human personality that somehow senses that wherever the cosmic truth may lie, it doesn't lie in A, B, C, D. It lies somewhere in the mysterious, unknowable aspects of thought and life and experience. Man has always responded to it. Religion, mythology, allegories - it's always been one of the most responsive chords in man. With rationalism, modern man has tried to eliminate it, and successfully dealt some pretty jarring blows to religion. In a sense, what's happening now in films and in popular music is a reaction to the stifling limitations of rationalism. One wants to break out of the clearly arguable, demonstrable things which really are not very meaningful, or very useful or inspiring, nor does one even sense any enormous truth in them.

You were quoted once as saying that the comic sense was the most human reaction to the mysteries and paradoxes of life. Do you feel there's a comic sense to 2001?
It isn't reverent, but it certainly isn't comic. There are a few lightly humorous touches, but the moods it tries to create wouldn't be enhanced by any strong comic element. There are very few comic myths.

The New York Times, April 14, 1968

Home > Words > Interviews > In 2001, Will Love Be a Seven-letter Word?