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.