Watch: Stanley Kubrick Interprets the Ending of His '2001: A Space Odyssey'
Confused by the ending of '2001: A Space Odyssey'? Let Stanley Kubrick explain it to you.
The pinnacle of science fiction cinema and the ultimate experience enhanced by an ample supply of hallucinogens, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Hailed by Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice as a "major film by a major artist," the film won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects at the following year's Oscar ceremony. It is almost universally considered a masterpiece.
After having a recent theatrical run overseen by mega-fan Christopher Nolan—in which an "unrestored" 70mm print attempts to take us back to what it would've felt like to watch the film in 1968—now feels as good a time as any to revisit 2001. If you're intimidated by that proposal, finding yourself more befuddled than enthralled by film's end, perhaps you would request the director himself's interpretation of the film, particularly its psychoactive, time-jumping ending. Thanks to a recently discovered interview with Kubrick, that's now very much a reality.
The above clip is derived from an early 1980s, never-completed documentary by Japanese filmmaker, Jun'ichi Yaoi. The feature-length doc (which has also been recently uncovered in full) follows Yaoi as he visits Kubrick's office at EMI Elstree Studios to investigate reports of paranormal activity on the set of The Shining. Of all the sets in the world rumored to be haunted,The Shining's certainly qualifies as a likely candidate.
"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."
As described somewhat humorously by Youtube account Image Circulation, who uploaded the documentary, "the unedited footage came from original production master VHS tapes in the personal collection of famed ufologist Wendelle C. Stevens, who was apparently involved in this production."
What's currently making the rounds, however, is that clip in which Yaoi chats on the phone, somewhat innocently, with Kubrick regarding the conclusion of 2001. What follows is a transcript of how Kubrick explains his interpretation of the closing events of one the most discussed finales of all time.
"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.
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 super-man. 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."
And there you have it! The director's own take on the concluding moments of 2001. While his feels like an extremely well thought out and concise interpretation, does Kubrick's explanation enhance or provide a disservice to your enjoyment of the film?
As Kubrick says at the start of the conversation, he resists having to explain in words what's better off left felt from within. His interpretation is a starting point for deeper analyses, and we're sure he would love for you to continue discovering.
Are you a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Of Stanley Kubrick in general? Watch the doc above (with the lights on, we suppose) and let us know down in the comments.