Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is a landmark not just of science fiction films but of cinema as a whole. As such, ‘2001’ is famous for a lot of things, from its classical score to its groundbreaking special effects. Also on that list is the film’s ending. Dubbed ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite’, the lengthy ending sequence is as memorable as it is inscrutable.
But just because the surreal events of the film’s finale are a bit opaque on the screen doesn’t mean there’s no meaning to be found. Co-writer Arthur C. Clarke’s interpretation of the sequence can be found in the eponymous novel, for example. But what about the man who actually put it to film? Well, thanks to footage recently unearthed by Cinephilia & Beyond, you can hear it from the man himself!
According to Cinephilia, the footage – a feature-length documentary by Japanese filmmaker Jun’ichi Yaoi sought to “investigate reports of paranormal activity on the set of ‘The Shining'” – includes a telephone interview between Yaoi and the legendary director and co-writer of ‘2001’, Stanley Kubrick. In the course of the interview, Kubrick offered the following explanation of the ending of his sci-fi masterpiece:
“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 happens 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 we 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 into some kind of superman. 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.”
Whether the film’s climax truly benefits from the explanation or is better left ambiguous to a large extent comes down to personal preference in storytelling styles. But what seems impossible to argue with is that much of its effectiveness is, as Kubrick alluded to, derived from the fact that that segment of the film is better described as an experience than a proper narrative. Even if it’s been decades since you’ve seen the film, if you’ve never had the faintest idea of what’s actually happening during that sequence, you remember how you felt when you saw it.
If you want to check out Yaoi’s entire documentary, it is available on YouTube. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is, of course, available on Blu-ray and recently received a 4K UHD release. Additionally, a 70mm theatrical re-release is currently touring the United States as part of the film’s fiftieth-anniversary celebration. More information on the 70mm roadshow is can be found here.