Liner Notes

The first time 2001: a Space Odyssey aired on television, I was about 12. Although I was a Star Trek fan, the movie I would come to admire as one of Kubrick’s best seemed, at the time, cerebral, confusing and even pointless. There was no punch line, which I needed as a 12-year-old.

As the star child emerged in its bubble looking down on Earth, with the swelling strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was already one of my favorite works for orchestra, our mom said, “Did you understand what the monolith represents?” (The monolith is a central, enigmatic object in the film, for anyone who hasn’t seen it.)

We assumed from her tone that she thought she did, and from Dad’s derisive look that he was certain she did not.

My sister and I shrugged. We were kids, and had just been exposed to what might have been one of the least conclusive, most ambiguous movies in motion picture history. We had no idea what the monolith represented.

Mom got one of those slightly patronizing, slightly sympathetic looks on her face and said, “It’s God.”

Since no analysis of the movie points to the monolith as God, I can only assume she was trying to influence her children into believing in God.

A note about Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra: if you only know the bombastic opening strains of this piece (from the movie), I encourage you to check out the rest of it, which is far more complex than the simple three-note theme of the introduction.

Burgeoning cumulus clouds are almost universally associated with Zarathustra.
Burgeoning cumulus clouds are almost universally associated with Zarathustra.
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3 Comments

  1. “Since no analysis of the movie points to the monolith as God”

    For fairness’ sake, there are actually several interpretations of the monolith as God:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=2001+monolith+god

    In fact, Kubrick said (not of the monolith, but of the film): “On the deepest psychological level the film’s plot symbolizes the search for God.”

    And some have noted that the monolith’s final scene bears a resemblance to “The Creation of Adam” painting, with the monolith standing in as God.

    On a different note: I read the novel first as a teenager and then again when in my 20s. And I’ve seen the movie a couple of times as an adult. Perhaps I’m dull (I’ve been accused of it), but I enjoyed neither the novel nor the movie, and only read/watched them a second time because I was *sure* that “this time, I’ll ‘get’ what everyone is raving about”. I didn’t.

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  2. Richard,
    Your photos of cumulus clouds and the suggested association with Zarathusthra are truly marvelous, as are many of the other cloud photos and topics I have glimpsed here on your pesonal and interesting blog.
    I saw the film around 1972 at the age of about seventeen, much too young…I was however both impressed and puzzled by it sufficiently at the time to suggest my parents watch it, and my mother later told me she did. She simply said she did not understand it, however your mothers sugestion that it implies God, applies equally as well. To be fair, Kubrick intentionally crafted the film in layers of incomprehensible and enigmatic meaning, and somewhere in the vast commentaries I’ve read since, there was one where he personally substantiates the intentional multiple enigmas of the monolith, and “God” was clearly one he intended, I can easily agree with this because I know he wanted us to frame our understandings in individual meaning and beliefs.
    The monolith has since become a research focus for me, and now some 40 years later, I’ve developed a keen interest in understanding its meaning, indeed this is how I’ve come find this posting. Your thoughts and the comments above have contined to add to this in subtle ways.
    From my perspective the Monolith is rich in meaning, and that meaning has become pesonally crucial to the work I do. If you havn’t read the book, then I do recommend it.
    I indeed plan to take your suggestion to listen to the rest of Strauss’ , and will also follow the link sugestion by Mr. Fry

    I’m also very fond of peach blossoms, another part of a very long story.

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