When it was originally released in 1968, audiences didn’t really know what the hell to think of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, 250 critics walked out of the New York premiere, literally asking aloud, “What is this bullshit?”
Now, 2001 is regarded not just as a sci-fi masterpiece, but as one of the greatest films of all time. Yet, still, people find themselves wondering exactly what happened at the end of the movie, where Dr. David Bowman gets sucked into a Star Gate, trapped in a neoclassical French room then turned into a fetus known as the Star Child.
It’s some trippy ’60s space shit!
There are a number of interpretations about this ending, which include theories about rebirth and human transcendence.
Stanley Kubrick himself was always hesitant to offer an explanation of the ending, once telling Playboy, “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and 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.”
But, in a bizarre video, which has appeared on Reddit this week, the director seems to provide a very simple and clear explanation of the 2001: A Space Odyssey ending. It comes from a Japanese paranormal documentary from TV personality Jun’ichi Yaio made during the filming of The Shining. The documentary was never released, but footage was sold on eBay in 2016 and conveniently appeared online this week timed with the movie’s 50th anniversary.
While we don’t see Kubrick in the footage, we do hear all of an hour-plus phone interview between Yaio and Kubrick, during which the filmmaker offers his explanation of 2001:
I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I’ll try.
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.
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 we 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 into some sort 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.
It’s oddly a very simple answer for a film whose meaning has been debated for a half a century.