2001 A Space Odyssey ending

Stanley Kubrick‘s iconic sci-fi masterwork 2001: A Space Odyssey is 50 years old this year, and people have been wondering about its enigmatic ending ever since the film blew audiences’ minds back in 1968. Kubrick was famously reluctant to talk about the ending for fear of establishing one single interpretation that all others must bow to, but in a recently rediscovered interview from 1980, the director lays it all out and explains his interpretation of the 2001 A Space Odyssey ending. Check it out below.

Obligatory warning: spoilers ahead for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Before we get to Kubrick’s comments, here’s a brief refresher. After telling a fairly straightforward story, 2001 takes a hard left turn into ambiguity with its ending, which involves surviving astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) entering the “Star Gate” and witnessing a dazzling display of mind-blowing visuals before suddenly ending up in a elaborately designed bedroom. Bowman notices and then transforms into increasingly older versions of himself, at one point desperately reaching out from a bed to try to touch the mysterious monolith, before being transformed into the “Star Child,” a fetus that floats through space and looks down at the Earth. (There are versions of this scene on YouTube, but the sequence is so visually stunning that it’s almost insulting to embed such a crappy version here.)

ScreenCrush points us to this video interview from 1980, in which Kubrick explicitly tells filmmaker Jun’ichi Yaoi his interpretation of what the ending means.

In case the video is taken down, ScreenCrush transcribed Kubrick’s explanation:

“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 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.”

Again, just because that’s how Kubrick interprets the movie doesn’t mean it’s the lone correct interpretation. Factoring in filmmakers’ specific intentions is always an interesting element when thinking about a film, but ultimately, it’s just one thread of a much larger tapestry. Ultimately, it’s up to each person to judge the movie on its own terms, which could result in dozens of different interpretations. (See also: Room 237, a great documentary on a bunch of wildly varied interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining.) Still, it’s cool to hear his take on one of the most famous endings in movie history.

An unrestored version of 2001 is currently playing in theaters, and I saw it last month for the first time at the ArcLight’s Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I knew this was one of the most respected and highly esteemed movies of all time, so I wanted to see it in theaters for the first time to try to replicate the experience of seeing it as a regular audience member in the late 1960s. Mission accomplished: this film rocked my world, and the presentation was outstanding. 2001 is still in theaters as of this writing, and I’d highly recommend seeing it that way if you haven’t before.

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