Unearthed interview shows Stanley Kubrick finally explaining the ending of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science fiction film, is regarded by many as one of the most iconic cinematic pictures of all time.
With the screenplay written by both Kubrick and the great Arthur C. Clarke, the film is loosely based on Clarke’s short story ‘The Sentinel’ and follows follows a voyage to Jupiter and tackles themes from existentialism to the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the process.
While regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, Kubrick’s decision to end the film in somewhat mysterious fashion has led to endless debates of its meaning. Critics, arguing Kubrick was playing with ideas of human nature or, in turn, attempting to make a statement about humanity as a whole, were left unanswered for years.
In a 1968 interview with Playboy, the director refused to be drawn into the conversation: “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film—and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level—but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point,” he said defiantly.
Despite trying to avoid the debate in the years that followed the film’s release, Kubrick had agreed to take part in a Japanese documentary being made by journalist Junichi Yaoi. The documentary, however, would never be completed but footage of Yaoi’s interview would recently be unearthed.
When questioned about the ending of 2001, Kubrick sighs and replies: “I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out,” he begins while speaking on the phone to Yaoi. “When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatised one feels it, but I’ll try,” he added.
Despite initially holding back, Kubrick took the opportunity to detail his intentions on the ending of the film with a lengthy explanation:
“The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.” he said.
“They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with animals to try to give them what they think is their natural environment.
“Anyway, when they get finished with him, as happens in so many myths of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, transformed and made some kind of superman. We have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is the pattern of a great deal of mythology, and that is what we were trying to suggest.”
Interestingly, when the footage emerged online, Pixar director Lee Unkrich commented on Reddit that while the interview was being conducted on the phone, Kubrick was merely feeling camera-shy that day and didn’t want to be filmed: “I spoke with Julian Senior, the WB publicist who tours the Japanese crew around, when I first saw this footage two years ago. He told me that Stanley was actually at the studio that day, but didn’t want to meet with the crew and be interviewed on camera,” Unkrich explained.
“So, in the bit where Julian is getting Stanley on the phone for them, he’s actually just in another office! It’s funny watching Julian pretend to be calling Stanley elsewhere once you know this tidbit.”