Breaking down the one joke Stanley Kubrick hid within ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (2022)

More than half a century ago, director Stanley Kubrick, alongside futuristic writer Arthur C. Clark set out to make, “a good science fiction” cinematic experience. The resulting film,2001: A Space Odyssey,premiered in spring 1968 (nearly a year before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon) is a landmark moment in the history fo cinema and one that has influenced sci-fi filmmakers for generations including the likes of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Christopher Nolan.Nolan, in an interview with the Stanley Kubrick Appreciation Society, said, “[2001] is in dialogue with our ideas of the future.”

The influence of2001: A Space Odysseyon subsequent sci-fi technology and special effects has been pervasive. The film won an Oscar for its pioneering special effects and has been called a “quantum leap” in technological advancements by film criticJames Verneire. However the concurrent artistic and philosophical bravura of the film is unparalleled. Never before or after has a film on space engaged in such immersive visual dialogues on the philosophy of humanity’s evolution and the philosophy of technological advancement. Unlike Kubrick’s 1964 nuclear satireDr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb,2001:A Space Odysseyrestrained its use of humour to one hidden ‘intentional joke’ which stopped the comic element of an otherwise ambiguous film from flushing down the toilet.

The virtuosity of Kubrick is indeed in infusing the scientific with the enigmatic. The subliminal transcendence of the trajectory of ‘2001’ can be akin to a psychedelic hallucinogen ingestion induced epiphany or Scientological epiphany depending on the viewer’s biases. At the time of its premiere in 1968, Renata Adler in the Times described the movie as “somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring.”

Indeed one of the biggest philosophical easter eggs hidden within2001:A Space Odysseyis the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The film opens to Richard Strauss’s evocative tone poem, ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ based on Nietzsche’s, ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’, with the visual the sun, moon and earth aligning in the symbolism of Zoroastrianism, based in the teaching of Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra).

2001’s divergence from quintessential sci-fi music is reiterated with Johann Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube’ playing to the docking of the space shuttle. The film’s divergence from the staple is future exacerbated by exiguous verbal sound in the film. While most cinematic pictures rely on dialogues to reveal plotlines, Kubrick intended 2001 to be a visual experience, mostly devoid of verbiage. In 1970, Kubrick explained that the movie was “basically a visual, non-verbal experience. It avoids intellectual verbalisation and reaches the viewer’s subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophical”.

Kubrick further added, “I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension”.

(Video) Stanley Kubrick Explains the Ending to '2001: A Space Odyssey'

2001 exemplifies Hitchcock’s dictum not to tell what you can show. The narrative of the film unfolds in four movements:

‘The Dawn Of Man’

The initial ‘Dawn of Man’ segment opens with the eponymous landscape shots of dawn in prehistoric earth. A tribe of apes in a Darwinian struggle for survival engage in territorial battle over a watering hole with another tribe of apes only to be defeated. The former tribe of humanoid primates encounter a mysterious black monolith. The monolith accelerates their enlightenment, as one of the Apes figures out the use of bones as weapons and kills a tapir, turning the pirates into carnivores. The tribe deploys their newfound weapon in a battle against the opposing tribe and kills the leader of the opposing tribe.

In triumphant jubilation akin to a footballer’s celebratory high five, the ape-man flings the bone in the air. In one of most iconic ‘jump-cuts’ in cinematic history, the bone in the air transforms into what is presumably a space satellite, propelling the timeline of the narrative forward by four million years. According to Clark, the ‘Space Satellite’ is “supposed to be an orbiting space bomb, a weapon in space”. Thus the transition from the Pleistocene era to space-age is tethered by the notion that human evolution is concurrent with the evolution of bigger and better ways of destruction.

The Floyd Segment

This segment introduces Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) en-route to a space station and onwards to Clavius, a lunar settlement. Replete with technological advancements such as artificial gravity, zero-gravity toilets, voiceprint recognition, video payphones, corporatisation of space travel (did someone say Elon Musk?) Clarke and Kubrick’s futuristic predictions are of near Nostradamus proportions of accuracy if not wholly infallible and a tad over-optimistic.

(Video) James Cameron & Steven Spielberg Discuss "2001: A Space Odyssey"

The banality of dialogues between Floyd and his Russian counterparts is interspersed with the parody of a full page of instructions to use a zero-gravity toilet. The narrative progresses with the revelation of the discovery of a monolith, now identified as TMA-1 or Tycho Magnetic Anomaly, buried under the lunar surface which emits a signal to Jupiter.

The fearful reverence of the apes is replaced by the arrogance of man as the astronauts try to take a picture in front of the monolith. Under instructions from the National Council of Astronautics, Floyd prohibits his colleagues from disclosing the news of the TMA-1.

The Jupiter Mission

Fast forward 18 months Dr Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood)) and Dr David Bowman (Keir Dullea) are aboard a spacecraft, Discovery 1, on an expedition to Jupiter along with three other astronauts in hibernation and a H.A.L 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain) supercomputer that talks in a Canadian accent.

In a fastidious sub-plot, the question of the sentience of the machine is evoked when H.A.L who proclaimed to be “foolproof and incapable of error” misdiagnoses a fault in AE-35 unit and Poole and Bowman discuss disconnecting HAL’s primary brain functions. HAL goes ape-shit crazy (Remember the primate with bone?) and kills the entire crew except for Dave, who manages to disconnect HAL. The supercomputer is acutely humane in his last moments as it says, “I am afraid Dave”, “my mind is going, I can feel it”.

Jupiter and Beyond the infinite

(Video) Stanley Kubrick on the meaning of the ending of 2001 in a rare 1980 interview

Perhaps the most baffling part of the movie is its ending, which is more evocative than instructive. A third monolith suspended in Jupiter’s atmosphere propels Dave in a space pod through a kaleidoscopic, psychedelic plethora of colours and shapes, popularly known as the Stargate sequence.

Kubrick’s special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull used a pioneering slit-scan technique to achieve the impressionistic psychedelic effect, a feat which will be replicated decades later by CGI. Dave is transported into a neo-classical French style room, and in an anachronistic time wrap the film rapidly shifts perspective from young Dave to an older Dave and finally, a bedridden Dave, who reaches towards the monolith in action oddly reminiscent of Adam reaching out to God in Michaelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine chapel, only to be transformed into a foetal ‘Star child’.

The film ends in a shroud of ambiguity with the ‘star child’ floating in space near earth. However, Kubrick, unperturbed by the annals of audience restlessness to the pervasiveness of ambiguity in ‘2001’ said in aninterview with Joseph Gelmis: “Once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting—you don’t need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to “explain” them.”

Perhaps, thus the ‘zero-gravity’ toilet instructionis the only intentional joke in the film. In a scene aboard the space station, Floyd is seen peering at a detailed and convoluted instruction manual on the use of the zero-gravity toilet. Kubrick’s disdain of instructions for the understanding of the film highlights the irony of a page long instructions from the zero-gravity toilets. In an interview, Kubrick’s explained the zero-gravity toilet was the only intentional joke in the film. That evolution and technological advancement would lead to convoluting of tending to basic human needs is well worth a snigger. Despite its ambiguity, Kubrick doesn’t “want to spell out a verbal roadmap for 2001”. Kubrick’s film doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but the zero-gravity toilet does.

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(Video) 2001: A Space Odyssey - Ending Explained


What is the main message in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

2001: A Space Odyssey explores technological innovation, its possibilities and its perils. Two particular dangers of technology are explored in great detail. First, Hal presents the problems that can arise when man creates machines, whose inner workings he does not fully understand.

What does the monolith mean in 2001? ›

The Monolith in the movie seems to represent and even trigger epic transitions in the history of human evolution, evolution of humans from ape-like beings to civilised people, hence the odyssey of humankind.

What is the last line in 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

'2001: A Space Odyssey' Ending Explained: “I Can Feel It. My Mind Is Going.”

What does a monolith symbolize? ›

The monolith is here, therefore the monolith was once made, and therefore we are not alone: It is a symbol of terror and reassurance at the same time.

What does a monolith represent? ›

Monolith (Space Odyssey)
GenreScience fiction
In-universe information
FunctionDeals with themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial intelligence
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What is the black monolith and what does it symbolize? ›

The monolith points to entities that are so powerful they might as well be gods compared to humans. As Kubrick pointed out in an interview on the 2001 Blu-ray: Can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? Their potential would be limitless.

Is the monolith a real car? ›

The vehicle that was the basis for the Monolith is a 5th generation Ford Explorer. Director Ivan Silvestrini finished the sound mixing for the film two days before its premiere at the world premiere at UK's Frightfest.

What is the difference between an obelisk and a monolith? ›

According to the definition, a monolith is ”an obelisk, column, large statue, etc., formed of a single block of stone” or “a single block or piece of stone of considerable size, especially when used in architecture or sculpture.” From what we have heard from people who have seen the mysterious objects up close or ...

What is so special about 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

The film is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of space flight, pioneering special effects, and ambiguous imagery. Kubrick avoided conventional cinematic and narrative techniques; dialogue is used sparingly, and there are long sequences accompanied only by music.

What is the black monolith in 2001? ›

The plot was simple and stark. A black monolith, shaped like a domino, appears at the moment in prehistory when human ancestors discover how to use tools, and another is later found, in the year 2001, just below the lunar surface, where it reflects signals toward Jupiter's moons.

Why is 2001: A Space Odyssey so important? ›

Movies had been made prior to 2001: A Space Odyssey with space themes, but after 2001 arrived it became obvious to many that space is an ideal template for grand stories. It inspired a legion of filmmakers, and still does to this day. The camera work is the definition of pure cinema. The restraint shown is exceptional.

Who was behind the monolith? ›

Unlike the Utah and Romania monoliths, we do actually know who is responsible for the California monolith. It was built by Atascadero residents Travis Kenney, his father Randall Kenney, Wade McKenzie, and Jared Riddle. They're local metal artists, and they were inspired by the appearance of the two other monoliths.

Why did Hal go mad? ›

Dr. Chandra discovers that HAL's crisis was caused by a programming contradiction: he was constructed for "the accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment", yet his orders, directly from Dr.

What is the opposite meaning of monolithic? ›

The opposite of monolithic is of course polylithic. These terms are used with megalithic architecture and structures. Rather than referring to something composed of a single stone, it is something composed of several or even of many stones.

What is the biggest monolith in the world? ›

Uluru is the world's largest single rock monolith. That is to say, there is no other single rock formation as large as Uluru. Mount Augustus, on the other hand, contains a variety of rock types.

What is a monolith in society? ›

Answer and Explanation: A monolithic society is a static society that resists change and applies a single, society-wide set of customs, norms, and values. Often, the elites or dominant section of society determines the values and enforces adherence to them.

What are the monoliths found? ›

Referred to as "monoliths", these sheet metal structures began to be constructed in the wake of the discovery of the Utah monolith, a 3 m (9.8 ft)-tall pillar made of metal sheets riveted into a triangular prism, placed in a red sandstone slot canyon in northern San Juan County, Utah.

Is the monolith a screen? ›

The monolith is the film screen and it is singing directly at its audience in the same way that the apes and astronauts are entranced by its heavenly voice, not realising that they are being communicated with directly!!!

Where did the monolith come from in 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

The monoliths were created by an unseen alien race, known only as the "Firstborn." The first monolith to be discovered was officially dubbed Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One, or TMA-1. Three of the other monoliths were also given "TMA" designations, although none of them except the Tycho Monolith were located on the moon.

What is the Tycho monolith? ›

Tycho Monolith, designated TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One), is a large black crystalline monolith found on Earth's moon in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and its film adaption.

Where is the monolith now? ›

Utah monolith
Dimensions291 cm × 50.6 cm × 58 cm (114.5 in × 19.92 in × 23.0 in)
Conditiondisassembled but later reassembled
Locationformerly Lockhart Basin in San Juan County, Utah, United States; 27 km (17 mi) southwest of Moab, currently held at undisclosed location by the Bureau of Land Management
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WHO removed the monolith in Utah? ›

Lewis, a professional sportsman in nearby Moab, Utah, took credit for the sculpture's removal with his group, posting a video on his Facebook page. Mr. Lewis is a 34-year-old slackline performer who specializes in high-altitude stunts and brought his sport to Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl halftime show.

How do you make a monolith? ›

To make your mini monolith:
  1. Turn your flattened box blank side up. Pick a skinny side and measure how wide it is. ...
  2. Cut out the shape with your scissors. ...
  3. Glue aluminum foil to the outside of your monolith. ...
  4. Let the glue dry, then trim off or fold in the extra foil.
  5. Put your monolith somewhere dramatic and take a picture.

What does an obelisk symbolize? ›

For Egyptians, the obelisk was a reverential monument, commemorating the dead, representing their kings, and honoring their gods. These monuments were representational in both structure and arrangement, serving as monuments with a complete structure of understanding.

Why is it called a monolith? ›

The noun monolith comes from the Greek words monos, meaning “single” and lithos, meaning “stone.” Any large structures, like a factory that could cover many football fields in size, can be called a monolith.

How many obelisks are in the world? ›

Only about 30 such obelisks are still in existence worldwide; figures vary between sources with different definitions of extant Egyptian obelisks. For example, David Allen states there are 29 such obelisks, with more in Italy than in Egypt.

Why Space Odyssey is a masterpiece? ›

Kubrick's and Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey presented a disturbing vision of human transformation due to technology, positioning all our strivings within a colossal cosmic framework and evoking the existence of extraterrestrial entities so powerful as to be godlike.

How scientifically accurate is 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

Accuracy. 2001 is, according to four NASA engineers who based their nuclear-propulsion spacecraft design in part on the film's Discovery One, "perhaps the most thoroughly and accurately researched film in screen history with respect to aerospace engineering".

Is 2001: A Space Odyssey the greatest movie ever made? ›

2001: A Space Odyssey 3rd greatest film.

What is the monolith agents of shield? ›

The Di'Allas, colloquially known as the Monoliths, are three powerful objects from a non-corporeal realm that have power over time, space, and creation, respectively.

What is the meaning of 2001? ›

Hidden Meaning of 2001: A Space Odyssey – Earthling Cinema

How big is the monolith in 2001? ›

On the eve of 2001, a steel monolith was discovered on "a windswept hilltop" in Seattle's Warren Magnuson Park, according to the Los Angeles Times. The monolith measured 1 foot by 4 feet by 9 feet — a tribute to the first three prime numbers squared and an understanding of mathematics, as described in Clarke's book.

Is 2001: A Space Odyssey a masterpiece? ›

Friday, we're talking about the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's such a weird and mysterious film, and it's considered Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece. When it was released in 1968, it drove the critics crazy, but audiences loved it.

What does the opening scene of 2001 mean? ›

The opening “Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001 suggests that humanity is defined by its capacity for violence. Throughout the scene, some apes are ousted from their watering hole. One of them learns that he can use a bone as a weapon to hit things, then uses it to their advantage.

Why is 2001: A Space Odyssey so good? ›

The camera work is the definition of pure cinema. The restraint shown is exceptional. The fluid camera work is what makes the shots awe inspiring. Space is grand as it is, and 2001 is the first film that showed what traveling and living in space is really like, and it terrifies you.

What was the Jupiter mission in 2001? ›

Jupiter Mission

The purpose of this mission was to recover the American Discovery spacecraft and, if possible, set its course back to Earth; as well as locate and investigate the “alien artifact”. The Russian crew referred to it as zagadka (Russian for 'enigma').

What happens at the end of 2001 Space Odyssey book? ›

So the end of the book loops back around to the beginning. It makes a parallel between Moon-Watcher, the evolved human who holds the future in his paws, to David Bowman, now a little moon himself circling the earth, who holds the future in his paws.

What is the black monolith in 2001? ›

The plot was simple and stark. A black monolith, shaped like a domino, appears at the moment in prehistory when human ancestors discover how to use tools, and another is later found, in the year 2001, just below the lunar surface, where it reflects signals toward Jupiter's moons.

Why does 2001: A Space Odyssey start with a black screen? ›

The black screen is the monolith, just as the screen is filled with the monolith right at the very end of the film, before the birth of the starchild. Either the film itself, Kubrick seems to be saying, is the start of our evolutionary journey, or that creation itself is the work of the monolith-bearing aliens.

What is the location of the first scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

The first scenes to be filmed, though, the visit of Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) to the mysterious monolith on the moon, had to be shot at Shepperton Studios, southwest of London, where there was a soundstage large enough to accommodate the vast set.

Why did HAL 9000 malfunction? ›

Chandra discovers that HAL's crisis was caused by a programming contradiction: he was constructed for "the accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment", yet his orders, directly from Dr.

Is A Space Odyssey scary? ›

Most of the film contains mysterious, surreal, and potentially creepy atmosphere and imagery, and is often accompanied by a mysterious or even eerie score at times. The silence of space is also used to achieve similar effects.

Why was Space Odyssey important? ›

Long recognized as one of the greatest science fiction works of all time, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is celebrated for its technological realism. The themes it raises, in artificial intelligence and deep space exploration, remain relevant today.

Has anyone been to Jupiter? ›

Mankind has been studying Jupiter for more than 400 years. But we've only been sending spacecraft there since the 1970s! Nine spacecraft have visited Jupiter since 1973, and they've discovered a lot about the planet.

Why havent we been to other planets? ›

According to NASA, there are a number of obstacles that we still need to overcome before sending a human mission to the planet, including technological innovation and a better understanding of the human body, mind and how we might adapt to life on another planet.

How scientifically accurate is 2001: A Space Odyssey? ›

Accuracy. 2001 is, according to four NASA engineers who based their nuclear-propulsion spacecraft design in part on the film's Discovery One, "perhaps the most thoroughly and accurately researched film in screen history with respect to aerospace engineering".

What does Bowman finally do to Earth from Japetus? ›

Bowman puts the ship back in order and re-establishes contact with Earth. Only then does he learn that the true purpose of the mission is to explore Japetus, a moon of Saturn, and learn more about the civilization that left TMA-1 behind on the Moon.

Who said I'm sorry Dave I'm afraid I can't do that? ›

"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." Happy 50th Anniversary to Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What literally takes place to Bowman once he enters the Star Gate? ›

The final leg of Bowman's journey takes him through the Star Gate and into the infinite. The laser rock show to follow can be read on two levels. On the literal level, the scene is showing Bowman's travels through time and space as he's transported light-years away from our solar system.


1. How Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey - Part 1: The Dawn of Man
2. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - 50th Anniversary | "Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick" Mini Documentary
(FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras)
3. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - Trailer
(Warner Bros. Pictures)
4. No aliens in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY meaning of the monolith revealed (2021 update) film analysis
(Collative Learning)
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Trailer [1968] HD
(Stanley Kubrick)
6. How Kubrick Made 2001: A Space Odyssey - Part 4: Jupiter Mission [A]

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