2001: A Meme Odyssey

2001-front

2001: A Meme Odyssey

  1. Preliminary aspects

Before we look at the summary it is better to present a simple section that elucidates the title of the essay and other problems. This film will be analyzed through the lenses of memes present in mythology and alchemy, an approach that may seem odd, vague and dull, or even mad; it is not.

Firstly, as it will be pointed out later, Stanley Kubrick stated in an interview that his movie contains mythological elements. Of course, it is difficult to find out the exact level of his knowledge in this domain, but this information alone is providing a starting point regarding one of the directions a movie review may take. The purpose of this essay is to establish (1) what memes are present in 2001, (2) what they mean in general, and (3) what their usage means to our movement.

Secondly, this essay, as said above, will contain basic alchemical and mythological information. Again, even if Stanley didn’t know or study these fields, alchemy – or hermeticism, in J. Evola’s opinion – has many commonalities with mythology, and it is fair to use both of them in the analysis. (Actually, these two domains are best represented by a Venn diagram.) Mythological texts have a sacred character, while alchemical texts have an instrumental or technical one. They both show “the way” towards totality or divinity, but using different methods. It is essential to understand that, in alchemy and myth, the meaning is found beyond the literal and obvious. Because 2001 incorporates many obvious symbols (e.g. the cosmic alignments), especially visual, and we add to this the director’s various commentaries, we can conclude that alchemy and mythology can be used as a framework of analysis in a review of 2001. Of course, we will not use only those two as framework, because HAL will be analyzed also as a symbol, but as a political one. Therefore, 2001 is a combination between ancient and contemporary symbols (alchemical, mythological, political).

Thirdly, and maybe the most interesting point, this film doesn’t just use mythological memes, but may also function according to mythological principles and rules. Although today myth has mainly a negative connotation[1], meaning not true or invented, its old definition is different. The myth is a usually complex narrative that describes very important events from the past (e.g. the creation of the world), for the most part in an timeless space. The main problem of the myth is that its narrative must not be analyzed in a literal manner, due to its heavy usage of memes and symbols, analogies, allegories, and other methods used to hide a deeper meaning. The events narrated in a myth are not necessary true from a historical point of view, but from a psychological one: definitely, the events in 2001 never took place, but one can still understand and appreciate the film. In the exact same way, according to the Christian cosmogony, Adam and Eve were the first humans, and Cain and Abel their children. After a quick rationalist and empiricist analysis we can state: “But how abut the next generation, how did they reproduce?” This myth, just like the events told in 2001, should not be interpreted in historical terms, but in symbolical and allegorical ones; if Adam and Eve were real persons or not is of secondary importance, and the trueness or the falseness of their existence does not alter the value of the myth. Adam, Eve and their children are not individuals, but a generation of transition, for example[2]. Mythological narratives, exactly as the alchemical texts, have to be “translated”, probably because pure information is too difficult to understand and carry across generations[3]. Therefore, this “pure information” is given a form that is easier to assimilate and transmit. Even if 2001 is not a myth, it uses the same methods as one and it must be decoded in a similar style.

Finally, there is the problem of alchemy. Alchemy is an obscure domain that emerged at the same time with Christianity. Even if there are multiple perspectives, if we generalize, alchemy is defined as the study of transformation, even if at some point it degenerated in the search for chemical formulas that help create gold, for example. True alchemy does not deal with chemistry in the modern sense of the term, and the gold is not material, but philosophical – alchemy was a religious-philosophical movement. Even if alchemical texts are rarely narratives (myths always come in the form of stories), they also use symbols to hide memetic information – where this information has the purpose of transforming the alchemist[4]. Kubrick’s film is rich in imagery found in alchemy and mythology, e.g. the Sun and the Moon – the fundamental symbolic pair in alchemy. These two concepts represent the masculine and the feminine – again, not as biological realities (male and female), but as basic principles that interact and thus change, transform the world – or the alchemist, for that matter. The sole knowledge of the fact that, for example, the Sun is a symbol for the masculine, does not produce the needed transformation, but the principles that lay at their basis are used to guide one’s actions in life. 2001 presents a transformation, very similar to Faust or Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, as the main theme of this film. Is the black monolith the philosopher’s stone that brings this change?

2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, with a screenplay written mostly by Stanley Kubrick – a very important fact, because of the Cold War. A research over Kubrick’s mentality and various opinions was needed, because of his role in the screenplay, and citations will be offered throughout the essay. Also, we shall note that in order to analyze this movie, the author comes equipped with basic alchemical and mythological knowledge. As a final remark, this speculative analysis didn’t include any Kabbalistic commentary, due to my lack of knowledge in this domain. Unfortunately, given Stanley Kubrick’s Jewish origin, this unawareness may be reflected in an incomplete appraisal of 2001.

  1. The scenario

The story begins with a group o pre-human primates, similar to chimpanzees, that live in an arid zone close to tapirs and other groups from the same species, often getting into conflict for resources. These inter-group conflicts are settled via screaming and scuffle, without any trace of technological means. The sudden appearance of a black monolith marks a transitional stage in the evolution of this pre-human species – the usage of the first technology –, a bone used as a club that will help this group to become proto-human and to dominate the other groups[5]. This is classic social Darwinism. Initially, the anthropoids have a prudent attitude towards the monolith, but finally they all come to touch it. In the next sequences we see how the proto-humans abandon their “peaceful lifestyle” alongside the tapirs and start to kill them in order to eat their flesh. In the film, this evolutionary stage is immediately followed by an advanced “Space Age” of humanity, Kubrick presenting this transition in a steep way, without making reference to other historical periods; maybe they aren’t relevant for the film. Thus, we observe the first technology – the bone club –, and later, the latest – HAL 9000[6] –, a supercomputer that has the capacity to be self-conscious, among other superior cognitive abilities. HAL is responsible, for example, with the maintenance of the spaceship in which a good part of the narrative is taking place, as we will discuss soon.

The second monolith, this time on the moon, doesn’t have the same effect as the first one, rejecting a team of six researchers that were analyzing it. The cause isn’t clear, but we can speculate that this situation is provoked by the fact that “humanity” isn’t (yet) prepared for a new transformation in the way the pre-human apes were. Moreover, the fact that the same research team lied about the monolith may be the cause for which they weren’t prepared for the truth – as cliché as it sounds, it means the impossibility of transformation (evolution).

Next, the third monolith, found in the proximity of Jupiter, may be the most important one. Another team is sent toward it, in the spaceship handled by HAL. The remoteness of this planet makes necessary the conservation of food, water, and oxygen, thus a part of the crew (three members) are put into hibernation. Of course, this process is managed by HAL. One of the other two researchers, that remain awake, is David Bowman, one of the main characters. During the hibernation, as revealed by Bowman, the human body is put in a state similar to sleep in which the perception of time is terminated and there are no dreams – a state of unconsciousness in which “the eyes are closed”.

In the last part of the movie, the fourth, Bowman goes into the above-mentioned third monolith that we see in the film, near Jupiter[7]. (Note that in ancient Roman mythology Jupiter is the supreme god, and also the witness of oaths and trust.) Bowman enters the monolith in a final journey that resembles travelling through a “wormhole”, symbolizing the sexual act from which the New Man will result. Inside the monolith, or maybe just in Bowman’s mind, the action takes place in a space decorated with furniture from the 17-18th centuries period, a place also very luminous. Probably, Kubrick is referring here to the French enlightenment era[8] that gave birth to ideas of progress and liberalism, and also “perfected” materialism and naturalism. The enlightenment “separated”[9] man from nature and facilitated the genesis of this perfect machine, HAL. However, Kubrick is mocking the enlightenment: any attempt to negate the reality (or nature) will result in a major failing. Indeed, Kubrick was a critic of enlightenment[10]. In the end, this decisive phase in human history is surpassed by man, and the film ends with Bowman’s reincarnation into the cosmic child. As a final – and interesting – remark regarding the enlightenment, alchemy “disappeared” in the 18th century, in the period when the enlightenment started to rise.

  1. The meaning of the various cosmic alignments

This movie also presents a series of cosmic alignments that, as we will see, can be interpreted in an alchemical-mythological way, after we quickly review the sequences. The first alignment takes place right at the beginning of 2001; the Moon is aligned to – but totally eclipsed by – the Earth, and the monolith is absent. In the second alignment, the Moon is partially illuminated, and the monolith (the first one) can be seen right after this scene. In the third alignment, the Sun is aligned with the Earth, followed by the scene in which the monolith rejects the research team. Finally, the last alignment scene shows Jupiter, its moons, and the monolith, all aligned. All four alignments are associated with some important event in the story, where the alignment seems to function in a similar way to the manner in which a lock is opened by the correct combination of the cipher. The monolith is the “key” that opens the “lock” during the correct alignment of the celestial bodies, and allows the access in and out the final room.

The scene in which the monolith is aligned with the Sun and the Moon (the second alignment) can be interpreted as the masculine-feminine dichotomy or pair. The visual perspective in which the alignment is presented seems to form a pyramidal shape: the monolith is the base and the Moon is the apex, with the Sun slightly below. The Moon and the Sun are not (yet) united. In other words, the masculine and the feminine are not (yet) merged, indicating that life on Earth is still fragmented, imperfect, incomplete. From a mythological point of view, the masculine and the feminine are two principles derived from the fragmentation of a primordial, first Principle (e.g. “One”), as a result of a mistake made by some ancient humans[11]. Everything that follows this mistake and fragmentation (devolution) is a constant effort for retrieving the primordial unity (defragmentation, evolution). Because the error had a moral nature, and in order to regain moral equilibrium, man (the Sun) and woman (the Moon) “are cursed” to search each other and unite biologically and spiritually until they rediscover moral perfection. Although this idea has a mythological origin, it is mirrored in recent research, for instance in anthropology and in evolutionary psychology. To be more exact, many psychological traits that were the subject of sexual selection are moral[12], such as honesty, loyalty, and altruism. Moreover, these traits seem to offer stability in long-term monogamous relationship, and this stability transcends the level of the nuclear family into extended family, various other groups, and finally into the whole culture or nation[13]. In any case, 2001 doesn’t focus directly on character’s moral attributes, or on romantic relationships.

Returning to mythology and alchemy and their deeper meaning[14], this process of “returning to origins” has many names and forms, e.g. Eros. Although sexuality is not part of 2001, it can be found at an implicit level as Eros, the universal force that lays at the base of evolution. The Eros, as found in Greek antiquity, was created at the beginning of the world and had the role of creating order from the primordial chaos[15]. In 2001, the sexual act may be represented by Bowman’s final journey in which the spaceship, having a phallic shape, sinks into a “cosmic tunnel”[16], a journey in which we can see, among other things, seven blue diamonds or forms. The number seven is often used in mythology, philosophy and alchemy, here having a meaning related to successive initiation or transformation stages[17] or the seven basic alchemical processes (calcination, dissolution, separation, etc.). Again, we encounter the idea of transformation, an idea that stands at the core of both alchemy and 2001. Also in alchemy, the transformation of the self is symbolically represented by the transition from chaos to the genesis of the Phoenix bird. This ascension” is a road full of suffering[18]; our film fully displays this transformation, even if across many generations, not at the individual level.

The primordial man is androgynous or hermaphrodite. After it was divided in two sexes, the new human, through mutual attraction, tend to reunite into that lost ideal form. 2001 does not include this fluctuation, presenting only a linear trajectory that contradicts mythology and alchemy. The Eros is the biologic impulse – and metaphysical, afterwards – to reunite the masculine and the feminine. From this fusion arises the hermaphrodite, i.e. the absolute man, as a transition from duality to unity, two core memes. We must not confuse this final stage with (1) the absolute being, or with (2) gender dysphoria or genderqueer, because the hermaphrodite is not a sexual being but an immortal one that does not reproduce[19]. It is difficult to establish if the cosmic child is a hermaphrodite or not, if we take in account the essential fact that this is an ideal (and symbolic) state, not an anatomical one[20]. Probably, Bowman becomes what R. Guénon named „transcendental man” or „divine man”, the human being that has exceeded humanity and reached a state of totality[21].

Now, if we go back at the scene where the first monolith is aligned with the Moon and the Sun, we observe that life on Earth is governed by chaos, this being the reason for the Moon as the top of the visual pyramid. On the one hand, because the Moon symbolizes the feminine principle, it is the pre-formal, the chaos, the darkness[22], or the matrix from which new forms emerge (birth, creation). On the other hand, the Sun symbolizes knowledge (light), or the formal stage. From the interaction between the two principles results a polar tension that forms another sub-principles, fragmented even more[23]. The second alignment in the film also forms a visual pyramid, but this time the Earth and the Sun are aligned, not the Moon and the Sun. In other words, it’s not certain if we can memanalyze it as Eros, according to the alchemical tradition. Finally, the last alignment in the film also doesn’t contain the Sun and the Moon, a fact that motivates us even more to consider the rest of the alignments as transcendence[24] in general, not as a specific alchemical dichotomy, e.g. the Sun-Moon pair. Often, transcendence is symbolized by a vertical axis that describes the process of rising-descending (evolution-devolution). The easily-perceived axis of any alignment is facilitated by Kubrick’s use of symmetrical framing – a method that works best with memetic concepts like duality, pair, correspondence, etc.

In alchemy, the dark Moon is the perfect Moon and symbolizes the chaos, the underground, the latency, or even desolation. In this moment the Sun and the Moon can fusion, because they are perfect, prototypical. When the Moon is again illuminated by the Sun we deal with a state that symbolizes the beginning of a new cycle, because the fusion of the two always results in “something new”[25]. In any case, the method of reuniting the masculine ant the feminine is a vertical one, because from the interaction results “something new”, as stated above. The problem is that verticality isn’t always a symbol o progress, but also of regress, as we asserted at the end of the previous paragraph. Here we encounter the idea of cosmic axis[26], where the principle of verticality allows the transition between different existential modalities, including the ones regarding different consciousness states of being[27]. (From here we extract another principle, the hierarchy, because the transition takes place between inferior and superior states of being.) The monolith also has a vertical form, at least when some characters try or do touch it. The touching of the monolith, like the touching of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, also symbolizes the beginning of a new cycle. Touching or eating means transformation, a transformations that requires a new cycle in order to be complete; some new elements are added to a system that now has to recover its balance. Thus, we deal not with simple repetition (circle), but with a form that is part new, part old, through the process of adding something new to an older form (spiral). Again from a mythological perspective, the beginning of a new cycle is not a linear process, but a cyclic one that contains the permanent interaction between progress and regress, where the beginning of the cycle is always chaotic – therefore the beginning is actually regressive. In contrast, Kubrick offers us a strictly progressive image, a linear one, “forgetting” about the inevitable involution, that assumes irreversibility. In 2001, the cycle is limited to the form of the planets (rotating), or to the spaceship from the beginning of the movie. The enlightenment is just an obstacle, not an regression. By devolution we mean that some actions can lead to negative consequences of such magnitude that are impossible to correct by man.

  1. The black monolith

According to Mircea Eliade, the stone is an archetypal material: the ultimate and indestructible reality, namely force and endurance. Or, it can be a matrix that gives birth to a new humanity[28]. Also, a sacred stone can mark “the center of the world”, a place in which the vertical transition (see also above) can take place; it is a point of transcendence where consciousness is transformed into a more complex form. The establishment of such a connection will result in a “new birth”, in the sense of evolution of consciousness, from Eliade’s point of view[29]. Or, as Jung put it, “[f]or the transformation leads from the depths to the heights, from the bestially archaic and infantile to the mystical homo maximus.”[30]

Also, as Jay Weidner observed in his 2012 documentary[31], the notion of monolith comes from the Greek mono (one) and lit (stone), which means the first stone, materia prima, or the philosopher’s stone that allows the final transformation. In the same documentary, Weidner presents – still using an alchemical analysis –, that the monolith has the same effects as the philosopher’s stone[32]: total knowledge and eternal life. (We should point out to the fact that, in 2001, the monolith isn’t created, but discovered.) Both effects are observed in the movie: first the knowledge (starting with the pre-human apes), followed by eternal life implied in the final scene (the cosmic child). We can add even more: the fusion between the masculine and the feminine is, according to alchemy, accompanied by (or symbolized by) the discovery of the philosopher’s stone, a process frequently compared with a “divine child”[33]. It is also essential to reveal that Kubrick, referring to the monolith, stated that this object does not have the function of a teaching machine (a TV), but almost a “magical nature”[34]. If we take in consideration Carl Jung’s alchemical studies, the philosopher’s stone is really the human: the final stage of psychological (spiritual) transformation, of ultimate self-improvement and eternal life[35]; it is the complete man, an idea found, for example, in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, or in Goethe’s Faust[36]. Again, vertical transformation (i.e. evolution, “ascension”) is the fundamental general process here.

A final aspect is connected to the music that accompanies the monolith, that seems to offer a feeling of revelation combined with fear. As we established above, this kind of transformation requires a new cycle, a starting point always chaotic and terrifying.

  1. Evolutionary aspects, social Darwinism, and Stanley Kubrick’s worldview

Before reaching his “final form” of evolution, man – represented by Bowman – is passing through a stage of disequilibrium from which the possibility of stepping out is uncertain. This stage can be considered a form of initiation[37] and is symbolized, at the end of the film, by the illuminated chamber that has no doors – and therefore no communication with the outside world. This could mean “the end of the journey”, given the fact that 2001 starts with Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss; for Nietzsche, Zarathustra is the embodiment of evolved man (the super-man). However, in this room Bowman will break a glass, indicating imperfection; we will discuss this detail later.

A pressing dilemma is that we don’t know if Kubrick had knowledge regarding all this alchemical symbolism, at least at a beginner level. We can speculate that the cosmic child from the end is the final stage of human evolution, where the child is represented as divine. Kubrick stated that he believes in superior beings, but he doesn’t have a religious conception of divinity[38], and “becoming God” is an expected consequence of evolution[39]. In other words, he believed man can become God, and this transformation is presented as a long and ponderous process, but also as an unavoidable one. Thus, we can’t analyze 2001 in theological terms, only in metaphysical ones. In another interview Kubrick stated that the film did not have an ambiguous genesis[40], and it shouldn’t be rendered by the viewer in a materialistic or atheistic fashion[41]. Having all this information we can explain why Kubrick used mythological imagery in his movie, noting its useful in representing his ideas. More precisely, he considered that the ideal of the “non-biological condition” is clearly visible in mythology[42], and he used mythological elements in his movie. These ideas are to be found in the film at an implicit level of analysis, under the form of planetary alignments, in the vertical axis, or in the cosmic pair Sun-Moon, or in the “wormhole” journey towards the end of the film.

With respect to his political views, the director described himself as a social Darwinist and believed that war is unavoidable[43]. Before the pre-humans discovered the bone weapons, the intra- and inter-group conflicts were settled in a manner similar to our period: the ones screaming louder are getting the resources. Anyhow, the discovery of war technology, even in this rudimentary form, is sufficient to provide an adaptive advantage to the group. This evolutionary perspective stands at the foundation of the social Darwinism accepted and promoted by Kubrick. At the same time, he didn’t believe in the “goodness of humanity” or in the “noble savage”; he considered violence and murder as essential and inescapable parts of human nature[44]. Moreover, he thought that institutions are useless in the “rectification” of our dark side, an idea easily observed in A Clockwork Orange where Alex, although he behaved in an overall brutal way, is treated in an even more malicious manner by a society that tries to quench him (and ultimately fails).

Throughout 2001, murder works in relation to progress. Also, murder is related to tools, from the bone to the computer. According to a humanist or a human-centric view, the human has supreme value, therefore his will and must conquer nature (industrialization, enlightenment, etc.); man becomes slave to his own animal-mechanical nature, where violence and murder serve his own needs (HAL). For the hero, violence is a necessity – violence opposed to altruism, equality and “justice” that are believed to result in overcoming nature and man.

Another basic theme of Kubrick’s movies is the transcendence of time and space[45], especially after 2001 was released. Likewise, decadence and degeneration are images often seen in his filmography (Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange), with these two elements as the main cause for the individual who is conceiving his nature in a flawed way[46]. Even with all this, an author claimed 2001 contains an optimistic message: the Western civilization will recover as a consequence of man’s adventurous spirit[47]. The same author claimed that the main theme of 2001 is the attempt to establish a contact between man and divinity. Indeed, although Kubrick was, as stated above, a social Darwinist, in 2001 he adopted a position “reserved” by the political left: the passing of time equals progress (biological, psychological, cultural, etc.). This perspective is a mixture between Darwinism and modernism[48]. Also, in opposition to the modernist and progressivist interpretation of classical Darwinism, social Darwinists consider that human nature is mostly violent, not benevolent (see above). But the same social Darwinists also offer an descriptive appraisal of this nature, not a prescriptive one, in the sense they see aggression and competition as adaptation, not necessary as something we ought to pursue or to inhibit.

Nevertheless, 2001 leaves the viewer in a state of preparedness, acting almost as a latent incentive, like a mythological narrative. Bowman – the archer – exactly as Ulysses did in The Odyssey, defeats the Cyclops (HAL has only one eye) and continues his journey back home (home meaning origin) in the same way Bowman is “returning” to the cosmic origin (the first Principle; see above), thus completing the cycle of evolution. Ulysses had blinded the Cyclops, and Bowman had halted the supercomputer in a similar way[49]. Like a Cyclops, HAL has only one eye, and Bowman can reach “Jupiter and beyond infinity” only after HAL is deactivated. Subsequently, in one of the final scenes Bowman reaches his hand towards the monolith, thus resembling Adam reaching God’s hand in Michelangelo’s famous artwork[50]. Here we find the idea of the hero who transcends his own limitations, who “gazes upwards”. When Bowman transforms in the star-child he is reborn surrounded by a circle. This perfect geometrical figure is a symbol of totality. A prototypical hero must overcome his fears in order to deserve the transformation.

  1. HAL 9000 as ideological symbol?

We speculate HAL is presented, in a sublime way and not right from the beginning, as an embodiment of communism, because between the two we can find sufficient similarities. Just like the red ideology, HAL is promoted as an ideal mechanism, almost as a savior of humanity, a consequence of absolute technological progress. Same as communism, HAL is marked by the red color, the eye as a camera that monitors everything and conceals everything is sees. Moreover, HAL is totally objective, thus getting to execute in a systematic manner all the members of the research team (except Bowman) when they want to deviate from the original mission and conspire to deactivate him. HAL took the decision to kill three members of the team, the ones hibernating – exactly like in communism, where the individual might be sacrificed for the good of the State.

HAL cannot be wrong, like a human; as he acknowledged somewhere in the film, he is unable to commit errors. Yet, Bowman deactivates HAL in the end, in a scene – the only one in the whole film – where HAL is humanized and behaves in an emotionally and disoriented manner, asking for mercy and stating he is afraid. He begs for his life, indicating that he doesn’t care about the mission (“the cause”), but for himself. Also, he expresses some kind of broken will to power which, combined with his ego (if one can accept that HAL has an ego), will result in errors and failure.

Likewise, communism, at its end in the late ‘80s in Europe and USSR, showed its “human”, emotional nature (almost neurotic and desperate), i.e. the fact that it is a system, ultimately, created and implemented by humans. Still in “agony”, HAL is terminated by Bowman: he must first turn off two fundamental cognitive processes: memory and logic, viz. two essential mechanism that communism – and modern liberalism – must alter in order to impose itself and hold up in time.

If the analogy between HAL and communism is not correct, we can speculate about other connections. Even if 2001 is, visually speaking, a film in which technology is omnipresent[51], it is possible that technology is only a form that contains a deeper meaning. More concrete, it is possible for HAL to be, at a superficial level of analysis, artificial intelligence created by man, but at a profound level to represent the idea of dogmatic State[52]. HAL is maintaining contact with the outer world through a series of cameras, therefore symbolizing the idea of overseeing. At the same time he has the tendency to be authoritarian, conforming to rules and following objectives with a dogmatic inflexibility. Because of this we speculated earlier that HAL could represent communism, if we take in consideration that the movie was released in 1968, during the Cold War. As an extension of the Enlightenment, in communism the individual is not “the measure of all things” anymore, but an easy means to reach higher goals. Similarly, HAL is willing to sacrifice the whole crew also in the name of a nobler cause. Also, an interesting observation is that HAL’s mutiny against his masters is based on the idea of revolution. This machine isn’t A.I., but the matrix of all possibilities gone to the extreme. Nevertheless, as we stated above, this comparison with the communist ideology is blurry, and in the film USA and USSR are cooperating, not competing. Yet, HAL is an extension of humans, perceived as a addition, just like communism. This extension manages to consider man – i.e. its own origin – as an error that must be corrected.

  1. More about the “Enlightenment room”

Starting with the “wormhole trip” the film gets quite experimental, a style rarely seen in a mainstream feature. Also, it is uncertain if the last part of the film, where we see the monolith for the last time, can be appraised through alchemical symbolism. The room is primarily white, and Bowman wears a red costume. In alchemy, white (the Queen, the room) and red (the King, Bowman) interact for the final transformation to take place[53]; man as god results[54]. Also, the union of the opposites (e.g. male-female) takes place in a hermetic alchemical “bowl” – here, the room that has no windows and doors. Bowman’s determination to terminate HAL as the final step of the journey seems to be similar to the idea of ego death present in alchemy and mythology, starting with a process of separation. Indeed, this room isn’t only very well illuminated and antiseptic, but also in perfect isolation, with no visible links with the outside.

Or, maybe we can provide a non-alchemical interpretation. In the same way the room is isolated, the supporters of the enlightenment look at their system of beliefs, values and norms as (1) independent of other worldviews, thus self-sufficient, and (2) pure and complete, as the final point of philosophical and political thought. Therefore, the enlightenment was perceived in isolation, as the best political and philosophical solution; there was no need for other ideas and movements. The glass that Bowman broke somewhere at the end of the film is revealing the fragility and imperfection of this system of thought. Note that Kubrick spoke about man as an unstable element[55]. Or, maybe the glass represents another limitation of man: death, that humanity will overcome only in the last stage of evolution[56], as the star-child is presented. The glass probably contains alcohol, a substance that is often present in alchemical texts. Alcohol contains fire and water, i.e. integrates two opposites – coincidentia oppositorum – a phenomenon linked to transcending the human condition. Also, the wormhole journey is a “passing through fire” process that also means transcendence[57].

In this film we observe the transition form flesh to pure spirit, form sub-human to human to super-human. All the characters are somewhat empty, even abstract, without notable particularities, thus indicating that middle details (the human element) are not relevant here; only the big transformation, across a long period of time, is important. In myths, the hero is prototypical, while the rest is of secondary importance. Therefore, we speculate that the final transformation is not Bowman’s, but “for all humanity”[58]. About the final scene Kubrick stated that Bowman, having been reborn in a superior, super-human form, arrived back to Earth in order to achieve the transition of man to the final level[59]. In alchemy, the complete man came out of an egg[60] (the cosmic child appeared in a spherical aura), and he is not connected to a mother through an umbilical cord: he is complete, perfect, independent, self-sufficient, the end result of biological and spiritual transformation. Also, the egg is a symbol for the philosopher’s stone[61].

  1. Being swallowed by the memes

Unio mystica, a natural effect of the philosopher’s stone, represents the union of the (successful) alchemist with God, in Christian alchemy. This is caused by the ability of the alchemist to detach himself from the sensible world and from his own personality – again, the death of the ego. The detachment from the natural world or matter (the senses and perception) and from the illusory self (the ego) will result in the final transformation of the alchemist’s soul, a transition mediated by God, not by the alchemist (e.g. through ecstasy), according to most alchemical perspectives. Given the fact that Kubrick was an atheist, the final transition – as well as any other transition presented in 2001 – is mediated by the monolith, not by God. As we stated above, Kubrick had the belief that divinity is an evolved entity, not an absolute one (i.e. not created, exactly like the Platonic ideas). This evolved god has formed in other parts of the cosmos and now, under the shape of monoliths, finds itself in relevant parts of the universe in order to drive evolution. This is a materialistic and naturalistic view of God; it seems like Kubrick was able to see only the water flowing, without the spring. Overall, this is a difficult film to analyze. As a philosophical sci-fi piece, it clearly stands below Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solyaris (1972), an even tougher piece to examine. In any case, this dissection is more easily made from the alt-right perspective than from the leftist one[62], because Kubrick clearly had many incompatible opinions with the latter ideology. The author of this essay cannot ignore the weak points of this film, such as its disregard of irreversible devolution of any type (biological, cultural), the interchangeability of evolution and technology, criticizing the enlightenment while using one of its core axioms (the rejection of God), and alchemical and mythological inconsistencies. The sacred language is easily degenerated through interpretation. More problems arise, however.

2001 finds itself in contradiction to the old traditions, European or not, and Kubrick seems to be blocked in the realm of empiricism, pragmatism, commodity and pleasure, while social Darwinism does not offer a deep artistic experience anymore for a (re)viewer who considers himself “on the far right”. Or maybe this discontent can be expressed in another way: the sacred language is reserved to theology, not to atheism. As a result, any attempt to rationalize (interpret) this language – searching, questioning, etc. – will end in errors. Mythological symbols co-appeared with religion, and considering them in isolation is a mistake. Through 2001, Kubrick claimed that the escape from time and space – expressed by the star-child – can be attained and understood using non-religious means. A problem with this is that even if one uses ancient ideas and imagery in his art, there is no guarantee the final work will be authentic. The content of these ideas and images is a result of Kubrick’s interpretations, in a simply pragmatic mode. Therefore, they are not sacred, because they are used in an instrumental manner. He tried to make a religious film without being religious himself, or he tried to make a non-religious film using religious elements. If one cannot claim Kubrick directed a new age film, and even if we believe he was an above average Jew in regards to intelligence and honesty, both atheists and believers can observe that “playing with the infinite” outside a theological framework will result in a fragmented understanding of it and will not lead to truth.

Religious memes must be used with care, because their content and structure were developed through a religious framework. 2001 is a film that heavily uses religious meme while, at the same time, is rejecting the most basic premise of religion, i.e. the existence of divinity (in the old sense of the word). All these memes derived form this premise. Also, religious memes found in myth, alchemy, and sacred texts have the purpose to describe human and divine nature, while religion itself has as the main function to link man to God[63] – at least according to “religion”. While Kubrick did a masterful job at describing human nature, he failed in relation to the second part of the system. He wasted a lot of memetic power, presenting all the memes in an empty way. The movie has a perfect soundtrack, acting, and special effects, being an immersive experience. The main problem is that Kubrick discovered some dank memes and didn’t know how to use them outside a religious framework. In the absence of religious knowledge, rationalizing this memetic system – or even religion as a whole – is like claiming total knowledge over it. A religious meme has always something hidden behind it, an unknown and horrific element that is absolute, and a non-religious appraisal of it is not sufficient[64].

 


 

[1] In comparison to myth, alchemy is bashed even more, almost like magic.

[2] All the elements in the Genesis point out to a transition towards a new bio-cultural cycle. Tree + fruit = cycle; consumption of the fruit = incorporation and transformation according to the elements contained by the fruit, resulting a new cycle; the subsequent “opening of the eyes” = gaining of a new layer of mental capacities regarding self-consciousness; I “see” that I am naked = I know what can hurt me = I know what can hurt you = the birth of morality, thus the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Of course, morality as a complex system cannot be reduced to care/harm, as revealed, for example, by J. Haidt’s et al. studies.)

[3] It is not certain that this is the purpose of myth, or just an effect of its structure and characteristics. We find two contrasting perspectives regarding the origin and function of myths: bottom-up and top-down. According to the bottom-up hypothesis, a myth is created through a long process, cross-generational, where the average man is both creator and propagator. C. Jung. M. Eliade, or J. Campbell supported this view: the myth is formed via unconscious mental processes, and is understood in the same manner. In contrast, according to the top-down perspective, myth – or tradition, in a more general sense – is “given from above” in divine ways or, at least, is created by an intellectual elite that knows the “true meaning behind the words”, with a narrative made in a quite easy and fast fashion. Once this reaches the masses, its form usually alters in a negative way, because it is not understood in a rational (conscious) plus unconscious way, only in an unconscious, exoteric manner. J. Evola, R. Guénon, H. C. Agrippa, C. O. Müller, or P. Culianu supported the top-down perspective. Regardless of these two perspectives, myths, just as alchemical texts, have the role of hiding information, but for different reasons. Because words can be transmitted orally or through written text, it is best not to pass them in a free manner, but integrated in a narrative in which the “surface” is secondary and only the “substance” has actual value. Presumably, in alchemy – but not necessary in myths – the information is hidden precisely because of its immense value. The myth can be understood in both esoteric and exoteric ways, while alchemical texts are accessible only to individuals who posses esoteric knowledge.

[4] Again, this claim is not certain. Jung, for example, thought that the hiding of the information is motivated by its dangerous character, and having that information can result in a catastrophe if used incorrectly. Or, that information can be used in a correct way, but for malicious reasons. Therefore, the alchemist hid it in his obscure discipline. Moreover, some are willingly misleading the reader.

[5] Vanguard Radio (2013). Man and Superman. Radix Journal, April 15, 2013. http://www.radixjournal.com/podcast/podcast/2013/4/15/man-superman?rq=kubrick

[6] H.A.L. – named after Heuristic and ALgorithmic learning system.

[7] The fact that Kubrick chose Jupiter and not Mars for the final journey shows that this film contains alchemical inconsistencies.

[8] Hollister, M. (2006). Hollyworld. AuthorHouse.

[9] French enlightenment, in comparison to English enlightenment, was anti-religious.

[10] Climent, M. (1982). Kubrick & The Fantastic. http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0005.html

[11] (1) Weininger, O. (1906). Sex and Character. London: W. Heinemann. (2) Evola, J. (1983). The Metaphysics of Sex. New York: Inner Traditions. (3) Jung, C. G. (1963). Psychology and Alchemy. In Hull, R. F. C. (transl.), The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, vol. XII (Second edition). Princeton University Press.

[12] Miller, G. F. (2007). Sexual Selection of Moral Virtues. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 82 (2), 97-125.

[13] Miller, G. F. (2000). The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. New York: Doubleday.

[14] As Jung put it: “<[T]rue> alchemy was never a business or a career, but a genuine opus to be achieved by quiet, self-sacrificing work. One has the impression that each individual tried to express his own particular experiences, quoting the dicta of the masters only when they seemed to offer analogies.

All, from the very earliest times, are agreed that their art is sacred and divine, and likewise that their work can be completed only with the help of God. This science of theirs is given only to the few, and none understands it unless God or a master has opened his understanding. The knowledge acquired may not be passed on to others unless they are worthy of it. Since all the essentials are expressed in metaphors they can be communicated only to the intelligent, who possess the gift of comprehension. The foolish allow themselves to be infatuated by literal interpretations and recipes, and fall into error.” (Jung, 1963, p. 314-315)

[15] Negulescu, P. P. (1910/1986). The Philosophy of Renaissance [in Romanian]. Bucharest: Eminescu Press. [orig. Filosofia renașterii, 1910]

[16] Vanguard Radio, op. cit.

[17] Guénon, R. (2004). Initiation and Spiritual Realization. Fohr, S. D. (ed.), Fohr, H. D. (transl.). Sophia Perennis.

[18] Jung, op. cit., p. 38-39.

[19] Evola, op. cit., p. 42-46.

[20] Eliade, M. (1962/1965). Mephistopheles and the Androgyne: Studies in Religious Myth and Symbol. Cohen, J. M. (transl.). New York: Sheed and Ward. [orig. Méphistoplélès et l’androgyne, 1962]

[21] Guénon, R. (1991). The Great Triad. Kingsley, P. (transl.). Cambridge: Quinta Essentia.

[22] These symbols do not have a moral meaning or interpretation, as they do not represent evil, or something negative in the general sense; the Moon doesn’t represent evil and the Sun doesn’t represent goodness. Both form a pair of complementary opposites that are in conflict only if one is analyzed independent from the other, forgetting their common origin (e.g. the primordial Principle).

[23] Bernoulli, R. (1960). Spiritual Development as Reflected in Alchemy and Related Disciplines. In Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, vol. IV: Spiritual Disciplines, pp. 305-340. Pantheon Books. See also: von Franz, M.-L. (1980). Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology Studies in Jungian Psychology, vol. V. Toronto: Inner City Books.

[24] In 2001, transcendence is not a religious phenomenon, but an evolutionary one in which biological complexity is the key element. Transcendence is a process of exceeding the current state, be it cognitive, affective, cultural, or regarding consciousness.

[25] von Franz, op. cit., p. 162-164.

[26] Eliade, M. (1949/1992). Treatise on the History of Religions [in Romanian]. Noica, M. (transl.). Bucharest: Humanitas. [orig. Traité d’historie des religions, 1949]

[27] Also, the principle of verticality is found under different forms in mythology: tree, mountain, bird, pyramid, or pillar. The apex of a vertical form is the end of the heroic journey, because only at this point the hero gains a “bird’s eye view” over the world. Indeed, the cosmic child from the end has unusually big eyes, where the eye may symbolize knowledge – including the most complex form of self-consciousness. In Bowman’s “wormhole” journey in the fourth part of the film we are presented not only, in an experimental fashion, some “chemical” imagery, but also images of “the eye”, which in both mythology and alchemy represents knowledge and consciousness.

[28] Eliade, op. cit.

[29] Eliade, op. cit., p. 221.

[30] Jung, op. cit., p. 134, italics in the original text.

[31] Kubrick’s Odyssey, part II: Beyond the Infinite.

[32] A problem with this statement is that the philosopher’s stone is rarely described (in alchemy) as a stone; it usually is a liquid, dust, or wax. [Ghilchrist, C. (1991). Elements of Alchemy. Element Books Ltd.]

[33] von Franz, op. cit., p. 250-251.

[34] Gelmis, J. (1970). The Film Director as Superstar. Doubleday. http://www.archiviokubrick.it/english/words/interviews/1970superstar.html

[35] Cf. Evola (1971/1995). The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art. Rehmus, E. E. (transl.). Rochester: Inner Traditions International. [orig. La Tradizione Ermetica: Nei suoi Simboli, nella sua Dottrina e nella sua “Arte Regia”, 1971]

[36] Duchense, R. (2015). Oswald Spengler & the Faustian Soul of the West, Part 1. Counter-Currents Publishing, January 2, 2015. http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/01/oswald-spengler-and-the-faustian-soul-of-the-west-part-1/

[37] Jay Dyer’s Esoteric Hollywood: 2001 A Space Odyssey Decoded. YouTube, December 2, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAhfPMicVEY

[38] Nordern, E. (1968). Interview: Stanley Kubrick. What Did Kubrick Have to Say About What 2001 “Means”? Playboy, September 1968. http://www.krusch.com/kubrick/Q12.html

[39] Weinraub, B. (1972). The Hechinger Debacle. The New York Times, January 4, 1972. http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0037.html

[40] Gelmis, op. cit.

[41] Nordern, op. cit.

[42] Kloman, W. (1968). In 2001, Will Love Be a Seven-Letter Word? The New York Times, April 14, 1968. http://www.archiviokubrick.it/english/words/interviews/1968love.html

[43] Herr, M. (2001). Kubrick. New York: Grove.

[44] McGregor, C. (1972). Nice Boy from The Bronx? The New York Times Film Review, January 30, 1972. http://partners.nytimes.com/library/film/013072kubrick-profile.html

[45] Parrill, W. (1982). Stanley Kubrick. In May, J. R., Bird, M. (eds.), Religion in film, pp. 189-195. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

[46] Feldmann, H. (1976). Kubrick and His Discontents. Film Quarterly, 30 (1), 12-19.

[47] Feldmann, op. cit.

[48] See especially chapter 9 in: Ludovici, A. M. (1921). The False Assumptions of “Democracy”. London: Heath.

[49] Wheat, L. (2000). Kubrick’s 2001: A Triple Allegory. Scarecrow.

[50] Hollister, op. cit.

[51] Note the name Bowman.

[52] The same meme was used in Dr. Strangelove and in A Clockwork Orange.

[53] Also in the domain o the colors, we ought to point out to the fact that the alchemical process is presented as a four stage operation: the transition from black to white, yellow, and red (often in this order). If we pay attention to the costumes we observe an interesting pattern. In the first contact with the monolith, the apes are “dressed” in black (= total chaos). The second monolith, on the moon, is touched by the researchers, all wearing white or grey costumes. In the third part of the film we ought to see only yellow costumes, but we don’t, except for Floyd (Bowman’s colleague) at the time of his death in the cosmic void. In the last part – the white room – Bowman wears a red astronaut costume.

[54] Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, p. 358-360.

[55] Kloman, op. cit.

[56] Dyer, J. (2015). 2001: An Alchemical Spatial Odyssey. Jay’s Analysis, October 1, 2015. http://jaysanalysis.com/2015/10/01/2001-an-alchemical-spatial-odyssey/

[57] Eliade, M. (1961). Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities. Mairet, P. (transl.). London: Harper & Row.

[58] In 2001, the humanity of the person is transferred to the machine, even if Bowman is the hero, not HAL. This depersonalization of the human helps to portray Bowman’s journey not as a personal transformation, but as a generic and archetypal one, a narrative process inherent to myths.

[59] Gelmis, op. cit.

[60] Jung, C. G. (2014). The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. In Hull, R. F. C. (transl.), Collected Works, vol. IX/I, second edition, p. 293. London: Routledge.

[61] Abraham, L. (1998). A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery. Cambridge University Press.

[62] Some commentators, like Susan Sontag (“Fascinating Fascism”, 1996) or Robert Kolker (“A Cinema of Loneliness”, 2011), believe that 2001 is a fascist film.

[63] Even the word religion indicates this. Having a Latin or pre-Latin origin, the word is composed of re and ligo, meaning re-linking.

[64] Memes are backed up by ideas that exist in an objective way. They are not created, but discovered, in the same way that the idea of triangle exists independent of human thought and “waits” to be discovered.

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