Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011: An Inner Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a slow and masterful telling of man's ascent from primitive ape-man to space-faring astronaut, and eventually to cosmic being. The movie is unusual in that not a word is spoken for the first 25 mins, as the director instead focuses his attention on the grunts of the early human hominids and the glorious strings of Johann Strauss.  It is no surprise then, that the movie should induce an almost meditative state in the viewer, as they wait between long bouts of quietude for any hint of action or dialogue. An important part of the practice of meditation is the ability to focus on one's breath. In 2001, the audience is subjected to the sound of Dave Bowman's breathing (and nothing else) for several minutes, as he ventures outside of the spacecraft to replace a faulty unit.

If I am correct in my assertion that 2001 is an attempt to make a movie capable of putting its audience in a trance-like state, then presumably the story-line should reflect this.

2001: A Space Odyssey is about a manned mission to the planet Jupiter that goes awry when the ship's on board computer starts killing of its crew members. As the sole surviving member of the ship, Bowman must re-enter the spaceship and deactivate the computer: HAL 9000. What follows is probably one of the most moving scenes in the entire film, in which Bowman removes each of Hal's memory cassettes one by one, effectively killing him. From a transcendental meditation point of view this is the equivalent to dismantling of the ego. Once Bowman has accomplished this unpleasant task he is free to go on his epic journey of self-discovery (through the monolith) and arrive safely at the centre of the Universe.

From this perspective, Kubrick seems to be suggesting that without dismantling the ego - whose possessive nature is touted as being the cause of all mankind's wars and woes - humanity will never be able to progress to that transcendental state, which to quote Bowman himself is "full of stars". The defective nature of the ego is embodied in the concept of the thinking computer, which is well known to be incapable of processing two conflicting pieces of information at the same time. HAL developes his homicidal tendencies in response to just such a conflict arising between his programming, which tells him not to lie, and his orders, telling him to conceal the truth. Kubrick appears to be saying that in order for humanity to evolve and survive its war-like nature, mankind must get beyond the black and white thinking of rationality and morality towards a more dualistic state of being, and possibly a more open and inclusive society.

This change must occur on an individual and internal basis, as much as on the societal level, although it is still too early to predict if Kubrick was correct that this change would come in the 21 Century.

For those amonst you who resist the idea of dismantling the ego, as it might imply a total character assassination, let me remind you that in the sequel 2010: A Space Odysssey, HAL is resurrected as a cosmic being to help Bowman in his role as ambassador of Earth. The ego, like the self, never really dies it just becomes transformed, and as it does so, it is said to dispense with its violent and dominating nature to assist in the total being.

That time is now, potentially, at hand.

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