Re: 2001's gospel message

George Murphy (""
Fri, 05 Nov 1999 10:14:56 -0500 wrote:
> In his masterpiece film 2001, Stanley Kubrick illustrated a deathbed
> conversion scene. This has gone unnoticed by most critics but I
> recognized it immediately when I first saw the film in 1967.
> In the ending scenes, Dave finds himself in a strange white room,
> with no sound and nobody around. He is eating breakfast, just
> passing time away. Then he is seen as an astronaut in his
> spacesuit. Then he is seen as an older man. Finally, he is seen
> as a very elderly man in bed. At the foot of the bed stands the
> black monolith, vertically, facing him.
> At that moment Dave weakly raises his hand toward the monolith.
> It is a gesture of submission, and recognition.
> In the next scene, the final one of the movie, Dave appears as
> a fetus, or a newborn baby, suspended in space. The music is
> triumphant.
> My interpretation: Dave took a long time, trying to save himself,
> trying to escape death by means of technology, proud of his
> victory in even overcoming the murderous HAL. But when he is
> imprisoned alone within himself, after an extended period of time,
> he comes to the end of himself. On his deathbed, he finally
> gives in and submits to the will of the Power that is greater than
> him. Immediately the heavenly gate is opened, the key having
> been found. Dave is reborn in a new creation.
> (Go back and see the film, and check out my interpretation for
> yourself).
> Now, do you think Kubrick would have interpreted it that way?
> Who is right?

Certainly there are explicit religious, & even Christian, themes in some SF
films & books, but it's equally interesting to look at religious issues & questions
raised by films which don't pose them explicitly, & which might indeed be rejected by
the writers or directors. 2001 raises the question of the ultimate purpose of human
evolution & provides some images in terms of which that issue can be discussed. Whether
or not Clarke or Kubrick intended any of that is another matter. Certainly neither was
trying to argue for the Christian concept of regeneration.
In my adult class on 14 and 21 November we're going to be talking about
religious themes in two SF films, Contact & Forbidden Planet. The first does pose
religious questions (about relationships of faith & knowledge for scientists & the
implications of extraterrestrial life) quite explicitly. (I think, in fact, that
Sagan's book in some ways does that better than the film.) OTOH, the basic theme of
Forbidden Planet isn't stated in religious terms at all, but it can be seen as
the problems of original righteousness and original sin in human evolution.
Tillich's "method of correlation" proposed that Christians should be prepared to
respond theologically to the questions that people were asking, even while trying to get
them to ask better questions. That seems to me the best way of dealing theologically
with books or films (SF or otherwise).

George L. Murphy