Watch Pink Floyd 'Echoes' perfectly soundtrack Stanley Kubrick film '2001: A Space Odyssey'
(Credit: MGM)

The one joke Stanley Kubrick hid within 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, even now – an astounding fifty years after its original theatrical release – continues to be among the most influential and defining films in the entire history of cinema. It stands as a colossal testament to that of the sheer genius of Kubrick, who with this film completely changed the landscape of the prevailing film-art.

Based on the screenplay that was written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey followed a voyage to Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL after the discovery of an alien monolith affecting human evolution. Dealing with themes concurring with existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life; it received diverse critical responses, ranging from those who saw it as darkly apocalyptic to those who saw it as an optimistic reappraisal of the hopes of humanity.

Displaying no remorse for the flag-bearers of the conventional narrative form, Kubrick instead decided that he wanted the film to be a primarily nonverbal experience, something that did not rely on the traditional techniques of narrative cinema, and in which music would play a vital role in evoking particular moods. About half the music in the film appears either before the first line of dialogue or after the final line. Almost no music is heard during scenes with dialogue: to communicate on a visual and visceral level rather than through conventional narrative.

A sublime exhibition of cinematic brilliance; it brings a seriousness and transcendence to the visuals. During a 1968 interview with Playboy, Kubrick said of his film: “How much would we appreciate La Gioconda today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: ‘This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth’ — or ‘because she’s hiding a secret from her lover’? It would shut off the viewer’s appreciation and shackle him to a reality other than his own. I don’t want that to happen to 2001.”

What dialogue remains is notable for its banality (making the computer HAL seem to have more emotion than the humans) when juxtaposed with the epic space scenes. The narrative of the film remains symbolic, in accord with Kubrick’s final intentions. Kubrick explained: “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.”

Very interestingly, however, amongst other delights, it offers a zero-gravity toilet. In interviews at the time of the film’s release, Stanley Kubrick said the Zero Gravity Toilet sign was the only intentional joke in 2001. The Clavius flight also features instructions for the ship’s comedy Zero Gravity Toilet. Let’s take a brief aside to find out how a Zero Gravity Toilet works, according to Visual Memory:

1. This toilet is of the standard zero-gravity type. Depending on requirements, system A and/or system B can be used, details of which are clearly marked in the toilet compartment. When operating system A, depress lever and a plastic dalkron eliminator will be dispensed through the slot immediately underneath. When you have fastened the adhesive lip, attach connection marked by the large “X” outlet hose. Twist the silver coloured ring one inch below the connection point until you feel it lock.

2. The toilet is now ready for use. The Sonovac cleanser is activated by the small switch on the lip. When securing, twist the ring back to its initial-condition, so that the two orange lines meet. Disconnect. Place the dalkron eliminator in the vacuum receptacle to the rear. Activate by pressing the blue button.

3. The controls for system B are located on the opposite wall. The red release switch places the uroliminator into position; it can be adjusted manually up or down by pressing the blue manual release button. The opening is self-adjusting. To secure after use, press the green button which simultaneously activates the evaporator and returns the uroliminator to its storage position.

4. You may leave the lavatory if the green exit light is on over the door. If the red light is illuminated, one of the lavatory facilities is not properly secured. Press the “Stewardess” call button to the right of the door. She will secure all facilities from her control panel outside. When green exit light goes on you may open the door and leave. Please close door behind you.

Quite the fun, ain’t it? That’s it, maybe we’ve just been looking at the film the wrong way.

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