Kubrik himself has never publicly discussed the ending to 2001 and admits that this was a very subjective film, while many people claim not to have understood it at all. Many interpretations have been made as to the real meaning of this scene, many incredibly different and most equally plausible. Despite their differences, however, all have one thing in common: an overwhelmingly optimistic vision for the future.
A few example interpretations include alien intervention: an idea that alien technology has helped man progress to the next level' of consciousness; to an understanding beyond the physical realm. Others adopt the idea of the emergence of man as pure thought completely of his own accord.
It is for this reason that the futuristic vision expressed in this scene cannot be labeled simply utopian. What viewers are offered during this scene spans far beyond an idealistic version of the world we live in today: various connotations found in the scene stretch the bounds and horizons of humanity itself.
The problem faced by Kubrik, and indeed the set designer was how to portray a near incomprehensible, purely conceptual journey on film. One theory sits with the idea of a metaphorical shift of entities: the room we see is a metaphor for the human body and respectively, Dave Bowman, the main character, becomes a metaphor for the human mind.
One of the elements that makes this scene appear to be ambiguous is the absence of dialogue and meaningful audio accompaniment. This absence draws additional attention to the visual elements of the scene. Furthermore, very little screen movement encourages us to study Dave's surroundings, in this case an elaborately decorated room.
Though the set is not intended to be a physical rendition of the future itself, it does play a large role in channeling our thoughts and emotions while we are offered these fantastic, conceptual, futuristic ideas.
The set quickly becomes an overwhelming feature of the scene for one main reason: the uncomfortable feeling of incomprehension encourages us to look to physical features for familiarity; something solid to grasp onto. Kubrik does not offer us this. Instead, we are greeted with what appears to be an elaborately decorated hotel room void of doors and windows, complete with renaissance-like artwork and glowing floor tiles. This ambiguity heightens our sense of curiosity.
What we are first presented with is a somewhat illogical mix of objects: a space pod sitting in the middle of a bright white room with geometric space-aged glowing floor tiling and furniture, artwork and wall decorations that appear to be centuries old. This immediately communicates a mix of ideas including artistic creativity, high technology, cleanliness and calculated precision spanning centuries and continents. In all, these are elements which can be attributed to major triumphs and accomplishments of mankind over the physical domain; factors which distinguish the human race from the rest of the animal kingdom. Already the viewer has received a universally positive statement, whether or not they are aware of it on a conscious level.
The fact that this room is void of doors and windows reinforces the idea that it could exist merely as a container, as we have no idea what exists beyond it; where or when this object exists in time. The room appears to exist independent of these factors: it transcends time and space, and for this reason, one can begin to question its authenticity. Could this be a metaphor for the container of the human mind? Is this a tangible representation of our ability, as a human race, to manipulate the world around us? Once again, this is an personally subjective issue which was intended to be dealt with on an individual scale. In this way, the set design encourages the viewer to open their minds, to consider abstract concepts and relative impossibilities.
The glowing tiles which line the floor of the room are symbolic of technology, the future and humanity's yearn for innovation. The combination of geometric lines, the definition of the x, y and z planes and bright white light give an impression of calculation, purity and precision: elements that are synonymous with high technology. It is known that bright cross lighting, used throughout this scene, can be incredibly revealing and in most cases can expose blemishes and imperfections in the set. In combination with the white walls, ceiling and floor, it can be seen that this set achieves nothing short of perfection, another reason to suspect a shift of reality.
The glowing tiles also serve as a source of high contrast to the artworks and old furniture situated throughout the room. Here the viewer is introduced to the featured colour: green. Green universally represents harmony with nature and the environment. The choice of green as a featured colour softens the intensity of the geometry of the floor tiles. If, for example, were blue used as a substitute, the room could risk appearing overly clinical, perhaps too futuristic, which would emphasize a reliance on technology. The furniture itself appears to be sophisticated and stylised, as though it came direct from an upper class nineteenth century western European home. This furniture implicitly suggests the idea of human sentimentality and an appreciation for the old and the aesthetic. The artworks which appear to be in the renaissance style put forth this idea also.
Countless explanations have been offered as to the reason for Dave's rapid aging, the meaning of the monolith and the star child. Despite their differences, all share the idea of eternal optimism and divinity. This can be attributed largely to the set design and its role in channeling our thoughts and emotions during these bizarre encounters. This scene was a successful rendition of an intangible journey on a tangible, viewable scale.
Kubrik has been renowned for producing controversial films, 2001 being no exception. Unlike his other films, however, 2001 offers us an optimistic twist a euphoric, revolutionary concept: that mankind will eventually rise above the physical realm to a level of existence incomprehensible to us at the present point in time.
Brief outline of Entity Shift Interpretation (base for semiotic analysis)
In an effort to portray a spiritual evolution on a tangible scale, we witness a shift in entities. Dave's environment, the decorated white room, becomes a metaphor for the human body. The body, Dave Bowman, becomes a metaphor for the human mind.
At the beginning of the scene, as Dave taps into a new level of consciousness, he is initially shocked. This can be seen by the alarming contrast between the red space suit Dave initially wears and the near pure white background. As Dave begins to accept his surroundings, we can see his body age' rapidly: the mind is maturing. On a different level, this also offers to us the idea that the mind is the only constant throughout life: while the tangible body ages and decays, the spirit remains the common denominator that makes each and every one of us an individual. It has been suggested that this is the essence of humanity.
The room, which remains completely static and has no windows or doors can be seen as a container, and in this way likens itself to the human body, the container of the human mind throughout life. The room itself appears highly constructed and artificial, an indicator of physicality. In some cases this can be seen to represent pretentiousness and vanity. On the other hand, the elements, namely the artwork, tiles and furniture, that make up the contents of the room appear to indicate a myriad of human achievements spanning centuries. Technology, a yearn for innovation, human creativity, classical architecture and high art are just a few elements that spring to mind.
Once Bowman accepts the mental transition, he begins to indulge himself. On one level we can see Dave begin to eat, on another he begins to consider his place in evolution, thinking, examining, progressing, evolving, and spiritually maturing.
When Dave's wine glass smashes we see that it is time to move on. This action has been likened to the Jewish tradition of breaking glass at a wedding ceremony: a symbol of great change occurring. Stanley Kubrik himself is Jewish, which makes this parallel plausible. Aware of the Jewish tradition or not, the sight and sound of broken glass alone in the controlled environment holds enough contrast to shock us into thinking that change is about to occur. Dave is thereby about to enter the new level of conscious existence.
As we see Dave age once more, he appears to be near the end of his life'. We see mankind reach out to the monolith for the final time in the film (the first time being when apes learned to use tools, the second time to make mankind aware of the happenings at Jupiter, some believe this was a call to announce Earth's human race to the rest of the universe).
With a new camera shot, we are introduced to the star child: Dave has reached complete divinity, the sublime. Far more significant than visually aging, Dave has been reborn. He has outlived his physical body and has evolved to the beginning new level, hence we see the fetus-like object. This, followed by the realignment of the Earth, moon and sun; the discipline of space; a mystical frontier, represents a cosmic acceptance, a coming together of entities.
This was Kubrik's vision for the future a euphoric, revolutionary concept: that mankind would eventually rise above the physical realm to a level of existence incomprehensible to us at the present point in time.