2001: A Space Odyssey / Man, God and Magic
Reviewed by Heidi Boudro
I've started reading a curious book, Man, God And Magic, by Ivar Lissner (1961; originally published in German in 1958). I'd recognized it as a book I often saw in the branch library my family went to when I was a child. It is about prehistory and spirituality: reconstructing the religious beliefs of early man. The author visited and studied traditional people in Siberia and relates their culture, in a wide-ranging way, to that of other traditional people in historical and prehistoric times.
In Chapter 3, I found something connected to another childhood interest of mine: the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. My parents took me to see 2001 in a re-release in the early 1970's; we were all fascinated by it. I then read Clarke's novelization, and a book about the making of the film, without gaining much enlightenment about its mysteries. What was with the monolith, anyway? Why did the apes suddenly start brandishing femurs? What the heck happened at the end?
Now it seems that Clarke, or Kubrick, must have read Man, God and Magic. Chapter 3, "Man 600,000 Years Ago," reveals, "It is possible that Australopithecus prometheus [a hominid of about half a million years ago] used the longer bones of hoofed animals as a form of club." This was deduced from marks on the bones and accompanying indented baboon skulls.
Meanwhile, Lissner maintains, no "missing link" between man and ape has ever been found. How did man arrive? "There must be an outside power, a power we cannot perceive, an unknown creative force which summoned man, and no other living creature, and burst the bonds of instinct." Lissner means God.
But the outside power could also be a mysterious black monolith! So, yes, the mysterious monolith caused the apes to suddenly evolve (and hit each other with femurs), culminating hundreds of thousands of years later in space stations and Keir Dullea.
I almost hesitate to admit that when I saw 2001 again recently, I thought I understood the ending.
Spoilers Follow: I believe that the Dullea character died during the film's psychedelic portion, a process that included a death experience and/or hallucination of watching himself die as an old man in an empty mansion. After/during death, the mysterious monolith caused him to suddenly evolve into the star-child, an entity that we cannot understand, any more than the pre-monolith apes of the prologue could understand us.
Copyright © 2008 by Heidi Boudro