50 years ago this summer, 2001: A Space Odyssey rolled into theaters and forever changed the way that people understand everything from sci-fi movies to outer space to the existence of human life itself. It reshaped the visual language of movies forever, and expanded cultural imaginations at a time when man entering the larger universe was beginning to leave the realm of pulp novels and fringe movies, and turn into a daily reality.
Needless to say, the legacy of Stanley Kubrick’s film extends well beyond itself; it’s one of those rare movies that’s become more than a movie, instead a frame of reference for multiple generations. At the center of the love for the film has long been its sense of mystery, particularly surrounding the climactic “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” sequence, which sees Keir Dullea’s scientist Dave leaving our galaxy and being whisked away into realms far beyond time and space. It’s endlessly mysterious, a scene that contains multitudes about Kubrick’s themes of true infinity and the savagery of man without actually answering any of the many, many questions it poses. It’s been debated to death, in no small part because of Kubrick’s well-documented unwillingness to spell the sequence out for audiences.
However, in a recently discovered interview (found on a VHS that travelled around the Internet for several years), Kubrick provided some further context on the ending and his own understanding of what’s going on within it. In an unaired clip from a 1980 Japanese documentary, Kubrick has this to say on the subject of what’s assumedly 2001 in context:
“I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I’ll try. 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.”
It’s hardly a far leap from what audiences have long speculated, but much of the magic of 2001, then and now, emerges from the ways in which Kubrick attempts to capture the enigmas of the unknown universe, and to convey how frail human life is when placed somewhere it doesn’t belong. You can watch the full clip here and determine for yourself what’s going on, or perhaps, you can leave some things to the ether of mystery.
For more on Kubrick and his masterfully catalog of motion pictures, check out this season of Filmography wherein we dissect each the director’s films. Listen to episode one below, and subscribe to the whole series.