Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Alchemy of the Movie 2001

Stanley Kubrick made 13 films in 46 years. His first film, Fear and Desire, was made in 1953 for almost no money and has rarely been seen. When his final film Eyes Wide Shut was finished in 1999, Kubrick suspiciously died soon after the editing was completed. The work of Stanley Kubrick has always intrigued me to no end after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Shining. Something about his productions drew me in and has forever captured my fascination. In a lifetime of watching cinema, I must conclude that Stanley Kubrick was not only a great filmmaker — he was perhaps the greatest filmmaker of them all, and it may be that Stanley Kubrick made the greatest film ever produced with 2001.

Kubrick left the United States in 1961 and moved to England. There he lived in a weird, old castle on a huge estate. He never came back to America. Stanley had a provision in his contract at Pinewood Studios that the sets for 2001 could not be torn down for two years after the shoot was completed. Kubrick would come by the studio, late at night, always alone, and walk through the sets very slowly. When the sets were finally torn down it was rumored that Stanley went into a deep depression.

When one considers the entire film it becomes apparent that this is the story of the black monolith. In fact, Kubrick magically cuts out all of human history in the famous shot where the bone turns into a spaceship. Kubrick completely dispenses with everything that has happened to the human race and goes directly to the very next human encounter with the monolith. He does this throughout the film. The only story that he is concerned with telling is that of the monolith.

The first time that this black stone appears in the film it is revealed in a very religious and spiritually-styled motif. This stone, this monolith, has invaded the ape man’s reality; our evolution will be forever altered by the encounter. The monolith is a turning point in the history of man. It directly intervenes in our history. It is directing humankind on a path that IT has chosen. Kubrick shows us that we may not have all that much to do with these grand decisions. They are being made elsewhere... by someone else. But who? Is it God? Extra-terrestrial advanced intelligence? A false god? Perhaps these interventions are really not necessarily all majestic, noble and wonderful. Kubrick is clearly showing us that this intervention is a descent, in a way, both for the ape and for humankind.

The monolith is the most important single aspect of the film. It unites all of the plot elements and it is, in a sense, the author of the film. Kubrick has made sure that the stone is black. In alchemy all things that exist come from the black stone, or the “prima materia.” The black stone is the stone of transformation, and even more important to this argument the stone of projection. This is the Philosopher’s Stone. This is the object that can change, or transmute mankind, according to alchemical lore. It is rare and, when it makes an appearance, it transforms the seeker. There is little doubt that the black monolith in 2001 is the Philosopher’s Stone. What is it that the Philosopher’s Stone promises? The two main gifts of the stone are total gnosis, or knowledge, of the seeker and the immortality of the soul. 

Does the monolith deliver on these great promises? In my opinion, the two promises of the Philosopher’s Stone are what is actually accomplished by the monolith in the film. There is little doubt that Kubrick knew this at the time and that its central theme in the movie isn’t accidental in anyway. This is a movie about the black stone, the prima materia, and the power of projection. Kubrick may actually be telling us that the monolith is the film, and conversely, the film is the monolith.

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