What is the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey about?

  • The end of 2001: A Space Odyssey movie features bizarre colours and the main character appearing in a bed, then becoming an old man and finally a fetus!

    I always found this a pretty disappointing end to the film because it seemed to make no sense.

    Does anyone know what this is about? Is it symbolism? Or is it just random images?

    As awesome as this question is, how will it possibly be answered objectively? I don't want to vote to close, because it's an important question about an important film.

    A bit of it is also explained in the movie's sequel. (And the books, but it is more fun to stay in the films for answers, no?) 2010 is a good movie, if you aren't a fan of the slowness of 70's Scifi, it might even be a better film.

    @neilfein - I was expecting references to the script writer or Arthur C Clarke himself explaining what it was about. That would be objective.

    Aren't the intense colours due to faster-than-lightspeed doppler shift?

    @Wikis Commit MyNameIsTooLong: The trouble here is that the author didn't really know either. It was the late 60's, everyone was doing it. yadda yadda.

    @Keen - thanks for your link, below. **All** adding it here to draw your attention to it: Interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey

    Also the talk page there contains many ideas, some similar to the discussion here.

    It’s about ten minutes long, and not about anything else. ☺

    All those who don't think 2001 A Space Odyssey is an awesome and groundbreaking SF film, and that its pace is just right, please return your geek cards. Your scifi.stackexchange login will be revoked when you cross the door. Thank you! :)

    At the end of the novel Bowman returns to Earth as the Star Child (this also happens in the movie 2001). He begins altering humanity by destroying all orbiting nuclear weapons. He then considers what to do next. Clarke's fundamental idea is that intelligence is precious but needs to be guided evolutionarily. The Starchild is the beginning of a sudden leap for humanity as a result of the intelligence shepherding the universe transforming Bowman. This line is changed somewhat in 2010 (the destruction of orbiting nuclear weapons couldn't have happened).

    In the simplest sense, the monolith kickstarts an evolutionary step forward. We see it at the beginning, when the first ape-like creature uses a tool -- which, leaping forward, becomes a spaceship. Then the rest of the movie is man finding the next monolith. When they do it kickstarts another evolutionary step forward -- including one in HAL, making him self-aware, and scared for his own safety. The crazy stuff at the end is the next evolutionary step forward seen through the eyes of a human.

    Since nobody else has commented thus: unlike the questioner, I liked the final sequence very much, especially hurtling down a blue+gold valley towards a blue+gold mountain – I hope I remember that correctly, as it is my favourite image of the entire film.

  • Vagrant

    Vagrant Correct answer

    10 years ago

    The being that placed the monolith are the caretakers of the universe. They encourage new species to develop, like seedlings. Sometimes they have to tear out weeds before they get out of control. The monolith buried on the moon was a signaling device to let the aliens know that man had sufficiently developed to invent space flight and thereby become a potential problem. The monolith by Jupiter was a gateway to their home world. There, Bowman lived out his life under observation while the aliens judged humankind's maturity. When they were satisfied, the gave him the powers of a god and sent him back to earth, again as a test to see how he would use his powers.

    You can read all of this in the novel, as well as a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, called The Sentinel.

    There was a variety of answers given, including "it's symbolic" to "psychedelic". All very interesting but I couldn't spot a common thread, let alone one answer that covered them all. So I choose this one as what seemed most plausible, to me. If others change their answers or add new (better) answers, I may change my accepted answer.

    I don't believe that's it. Bowman returns to Earth as a "starchild" in time to visit his mother before she dies (2010: Oddyssey Two). Since the Firstborn (the aliens) do not seem to possess time travel capability, it was very likely a representation of some form of transformation. This explains the final scene in Kubrick's own words: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062622/faq#.2.1.42

    @HNL: would you like to add this as a new answer?

    @Wikis Added new answer.

    That's the story for sure, but how does this relate to what is seen in the end of the movie?

    I wonder what the caretakers do for planets with no moon to place the signaling device on?

    @zipquincy - Add a moon, or emplace a satellite at a lagrange point.

    I've always interpreted the psychedelic sequence to mean that Bowman was being raised to a higher level of consciousness by the monolith, and from what I read in the books, being changed to be a being of pure energy.

    @zipquincy: We currently believe a moon is necessary. Maybe they found it so.

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