Temporal Reconfigurations in Kubrick's 2001


Colette Balmain

Enculturation, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall 2000

About the Author
Table of Contents


I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself. - Stanley Kubrick

Beginnings
One reason to read Deleuze is to reinvigorate questions and problems that have otherwise reached an impasse. Intentionally or unintentionally, Deleuze challenges contemporary theory to confront its blind spots and dead ends, as well as to question its resistance to other philosophical perspectives on image, meaning, and spectatorship. (Rodowick, 1997, XI)

Deleuze's thought on cinema in Cinema 1: The Movement Image (1992) and Cinema 2: The Time Image (1989) brings together an assemblage of film and philosophy to produce 'a kind of provoked becoming of thought.' (Tomlinson and Galeta in Deleuze 1992: xv). In these two volumes, which chart a brief history of cinema from silent films to Hollywood blockbusters and beyond, Deleuze differentiates between two types of moving image: the movement image and the time image.

The movement image is the space of classical cinema built around an organic continuity and linear structure and can be seen in the typical Hollywood action, generic, studio produced narratives which works through repetition, cause and effect and equilibrium and disequilibrium. The space of the movement image is also that of traditional philosophical thought in which time is subordinated to movement. The time image, which offers a direct image of time consequently, is not just a question of cinematic form but also marks a rupture in philosophical systems of ordering the world.

This article uses Cinema 2: The Time Image to render up a re-reading of Kubrick's 2001 which concentrates on the internal structures, folds and plateaus which make up the text and provide both a resistance to and reconfiguration of contemporary theory.


2001: A Space Odyssey?

I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophical content intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does. You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film. (Kubrick in Agel 1968: 12)

On April 3rd 1968, Stanley Kubrick's 2001 opened in New York City to a less than enthusiastic critical and public reception. Since then, it is estimated that the film has grossed approximately $56 million in the United States alone and spawned four novels, including Clarke's 'original', and a cinematic sequel 2010 (1984). In commenting on the film, Kubrick's own words suggest two different approaches to his narrative. The first that calls for the image to directly penetrate the subconscious reads like Deleuze's 'movement-image', while the second, his call for free speculation, is the space of the 'time-image'. Re-reading 2001 through the time image does not offer a return to an original, if indeed there can be any such thing, but instead follows Kubrick's call for free speculation and reads the text through its own internal logic. 2001 is being used therefore as a place from which to analyze the workings of the time-image and its consequences on theoretical frames of reference.

the journey becomes a privileged narrative form, with characters in a more passive role, and themes centered on inner mental imagery, flights of fancy, and emotional and psychic breakdow. (Torata 1999: 2).

If the story is the configuring force behind the movement image, it is the journey that reconfigures modern cinema of the time-image. This is not an epistemological journey to knowledge but a journey into the fourth dimension, and a reconfiguration of the temporal and spatial co-ordinates of being into the figure of the star child in Kubrick's text. 2001 is broken into a series of disconnected journeys spanning more than 14 million years from the origin of man through to man's disappearance into the infinite. A series of smaller and personal journeys take place within the cosmic background of the narrative: Dr Floyd's journey to Clavius; Bowman, Poole and HAL's journey to Jupiter and beyond; and finally Bowman's journey to the infinite.

This analysis of 2001 focuses in on the attributes of the time image and the way in which the narrative reconfigures our systems of meaning and interpretation. Composed of illogical linkages between shots, disconnected and empty spaces around which characters wander aimlessly, 2001 defies cinematic rules of continuity and the spectator's narcissistic space of identification which relies on an organized spatiality. The fluid flow of characters in and out of narrative space through a series of illogical entrances and exits deconstructs the imposition of meaning within a fixed framework of interpretation. In 2001, the stewardess's movements in the shuttle and Bowman and Poole's movements in the spacecraft multiple movements in and out of the cinematic frame mirror those of the spectator through the maze which is (not) meaning in the text.


The Journey from Ape to Man

Opsign and sonsign: pure optical and sound image which breaks the sensory-motor links, overwhelms relations and no longer lets itself be expressed in terms of movement, but opens directly on time.' (Deleuze 1989: 217-8)

'The Dawn of Man', is heralded in by both the emptiness of the deserted landscape, an any-space-whatever, and the silence of the soundtrack. The importance of vision and sound to the narrative of the time-image articulates the demise of the sensory-motor links of the movement-image. From the beginning of 2001 the spectator is disorientated, cast adrift in a world outside of language which can only be read in terms of the 'opsign' and 'sonsign'.

The juxtaposition of the natural, the music of the landscape, and the artificial, the music of the Monolith, creates a world beyond the cartography of the action-orientated classical narrative. This is a sound-machine not a reproductive machine which 'molecularizes and atomizes, ionizes sound matter, and harnesses cosmic energy.' (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 343). The refrain of the Monolith is a territorial assemblage that is transformed and deterritorialized from within. This is the refrain of the sound machine.

When the apes reach up and touch the Monolith to the music of 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', we are in a Nietzschian space and place of pure becoming. The juxtaposition between musical tempos mirrors the throw ('Concrete') and the landing ('Thus Spoke Zarathustra') of the dice. In the space between these two harmonies the apes' destiny is formed. As Michael Hardt argues 'the two moments imply one another as a perpetual series of shattering and gathering, as a centrifugal moment and a centripetal moment, as emanation and constitution.' (Hardt 1993: 48/4). These two moments of transfiguration as articulated by the clash of the two refrains shatters and transfigures the landscape and the community that lives within it.

The transfiguration of the apes through the alien intervention of the Monolith marks a transfiguration in time and space. To begin with, the organization of space is logical, territorial and marked by a series of establishing shots over the deserted landscape. At this stage, before the Monolith, time for the apes is a linear, organic concept and the first day unfolds slowly mapping the apes daily routine: an every-day-ness which is repeated in later sequences: eating, washing, sleeping. The naturalness of this life is highlighted both in terms of sound and light. Time here is organic and organized, day gradually fades to night and one time naturally unfolds and fades into the next. The organic nature of this primal stage can be thought of as representative of the movement image in which time is subordinated to movement.

The second day opens as the first but a strange, black artifact is now part of the landscape. At first, the apes are scared to go near this artificial object but tentatively they reach out and 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' marks their moment of transfiguration and the time image takes over from the organic unity of the movement image. The discordant refrain of the Monolith puts an end to the relative peace and harmony of the communal spaces. The new spaces are deterritorialized and the tempo of the narrative picks up as a consequence of this new spatiality. As the apes discover their potential for aggressivity and destructiveness as symbolized by the bone, scenes are cut to and from in rapid succession. Time becomes 'the rule of impossible continuity and aberrant movement.' (Deleuze 1989: 39). The bone thrown in the air becoming a spaceship marks incommensurable spaces coexistent in time and the coalescence between past and present.

From primitive man to technological man, from Earth to the Cosmos, 2001 refuses to signal the disjunction between the two time zones through the intertextual signposting which defines the following series of journeys. From one universe to the next, the time difference is only signaled through the transformation of the bone to the spaceship. One of the fundamental characteristics of the time image is to be found in what Deleuze calls its crystalline nature:

the image has to be present and past, still present and already past, at once and the same time. The past does not follow the present that is no longer, it coexists with the present it was. The present is the actual image, and its contemporaneous past is the virtual image, the image in the mirror. (Deleuze 1989: 79)

Within this non-chronological time, Kubrick's characters move, live and change. The result of this is a sense of vertigo within an oscillation between the actual and the virtual which absorbs the real. Symbolic functionality is dispersed within this incommensurability of the real and the imaginary. Characters have no depth, are substitutable, interchangeable, they wander around the surface of the cinematic space, transients in a throw-away culture. The world of the crystal is also that of the multiplication of entrances and exits. The spectator is literally 'lost in space' in a world stripped of metaphor and meaning within a series of spaces that become ever more fragmented.


Dr Floyd's journey

The narrative shifts from primitive to modern cultures and modes of becoming. The community of the apes replaced by the dis-connectedness of life in increasingly rarefied spaces. This fragment of the narrative details a series of journeys taken by Dr Floyd from one 'any-space-whatever' to the next: the spaceshuttle; the space station and the evacuation site of the Monolith. These any-space-whatever's are theoretical spaces darkly depicting a fragmented society full of dysfunctional individuals and as such resist appropriation by the theory of the movement image.

A series of banal interactions take place across these surfaces highlighting the character's 'solitude and incommunicability' (Deleuze 1989: 6). Conversation is limited, small talk is common and even the debriefing in the Boardroom is marked by its brevity. The rarefied white, clinical spaces in which interactions take place are often juxtaposed with glowing red: the red chairs in the spacestation and red glow in the cock pit of the numerous shuttles and ships that stray across the vastness of outer space. These spaces can be thought of as what Deleuze calls 'still lifes' in a meeting between man's banal and cosmological horizon. As the opsign oscillates between saturation and rarefaction, so the sonsign works between sound and silence, life and death. It is through the juxtaposition and eventual collapse of the boundaries between these opposing signs that the narrative flows.

Throughout 2001 the spectator is introduced to a series of characters who wander aimlessly through the narrative spaces. Dr Floyd is just one among many one dimensional, interchangeable and transitory characters who move in and out of the narrative space. Floyd's story, as all those inscribed in 2001, is one of no beginning and end, just a middle that floats within the fragmented frames of the text. In Deleuze's discussion of the films of Fellini in Cinema 2, he sees an increasing concern with movement in and out of the text: 'He became increasingly concerned with entering into a new element, and multiplying the entrances. These are geographical entrances, psychic ones, historical, archeological, etc. (Deleuze, 1989, 88/89).

This obsession with entrances, their doubling and multiplication and connection is the fundamental structuring influence in 2001. These openings which function as both entrances and exits depending on how one sees them confound continuity and logical spatial awareness. Repeating the circular outside of the ships that traverse the cosmos, these entrances are as likely to be up or down as left and right. The multiplication of angled shots through which characters move in and out of screen space disorientates the cinematic spectator used to the proscenium spatiality of the movement-image and the rules of classical continuity who struggles to make sense from the [non]sense of the text.

An example of the way in which the narrative disorientates the viewer is in an early scene on the way to the station. The Stewardess, taking the simulated food to the pilots, enters into one room through a spherical door before leaving by walking up the screen and exiting/entering into the next room upside down. Having entered the red glow of the spaceshuttle's pilot room, the camera swings around and back to a normal construction of space. As all the entrances in 2001, this entrance is a doorway between one space and another but spaces which although logically linked are strangely disconnected. This is a three-dimensional maze working within a depth of field that disorientates the viewer but which the characters traverse unproblematically. These archeological spaces through which the camera circles is a construction of spatiality connected to the body. The postures of the body fold and unfold within an open ended and dynamic space which is always transforming and transfiguring itself. The characterization of the narrative is told not through speech but within the postures and positions of the bodies within the text defined and redefined through the visual and aural spectacle that is 2001.

This play of sameness and difference is produced by the eternal repetition of difference in every posture. The posture of a body, which is the moment of being, is always returning as another synthesis of the flow of chance which unfolds around it. (O'Connell 1995: 4)

The inability of the characters to communicate, the dispersion of signifiers and their signifiers, is apparent within the every day banality of the exchange between Floyd and the Russians. This exchange takes place at the hotel like space-station in one of the multiple 'dehumanized landscapes, of emptied spaces that might be seen as having absorbed characters and actions.' (Deleuze 1987: 5) scattered around the universe. The loss of meaning as inscribed in these banal interchanges mirrors the meaningless mazes of the texts through which the spectator is faced with the ultimate banality: the futility of life.

By the time, the narrative reaches the penultimate fragment, relations between characters and interfaces have become monological as evidenced by the stored transmission of Poole's birthday message from his parents and the final broadcast from Dr Floyd: 'Communication of the world and the I in a fragmented world and in a fragmented I which are constantly being exchanged.' (Deleuze 1989: 221) In Cronenberg's Videodrome (1983) Brenda O'Blivion says in reference to her dead father 'The Monologue was his preferred discourse'. Videodrome's television reality and exploration of the new flesh constructed through the coalescence of machinery and 'man' is a further exploration of the banality of modernity within which the human is a site of perpetual becoming. Over 10 years later, Cronenberg was no nearer than Kubrick at imagining how this state of becoming could be represented within the limitations of the cinematic framework and the mental cartography of the spectator.


Journey to Jupiter

'Jupiter Mission: 18 months later' begins with a similar destruction of spectator/screen coordinates as in the previous one. The camera tracks Poole as he shadow boxes in the circular room. The temporality of the film slows down and we watch his slow progress sideways on as he circuits around the room once. On this circuit, instead of exiting right and entering left, Bowman circles around the camera, partly obscured as he moves towards and then partly in front of the camera. Once more, Kubrick breaks the continuity rules of traditional narrative in which characters are subordinated to the dictates of the camera instead as before the camera remains fixed to the body, its mobility determined by the movement of the body. The rotation of the camera reflects the astronauts' weightlessness and instead of walking, Bowman and Poole seem to flow in and out of the frame moving effortlessly up, down, left and right through the screen's multiple entrances.

As spectators used to the organic flow of the movement image and logical exits and entrances, this spatial deconstruction functions to disorientate the spectator and sever his/her relation with the screen. This refusal of suture resists the narcissistic identification with the cinematic space and dissolves boundaries between subject and object. The mirror of the screen becomes permeable, a visual space which like the Monolith encloses the spectator within the performativity of the text.

The spatial deconstruction is compounded when Bowman and Poole are getting ready to enter the pod bay. A shot from above is pulled back and Bowman is shown upright in the background. Poole is in the foreground of the scene, which is divided thus into two connected and irrational spaces. The camera fixes the frame, which Poole and Bowman move in and out of constructing relations between Bowman and Poole whilst distancing the audience making a almost private space public. The differential status of these spaces is compounded within Kubrick's use of color: the foreground a glowing red whilst the background a sterile white. Then the camera cuts to a cylindrical corridor, which ends in a moving spherical door. Bowman and Poole enter right through the door and down the corridor. They move through the circulating entrances, one exits from the top and one from the bottom.

This multiplicity of entrances reorganizes spatial and temporal co-ordinates and together with the use of angled shots which situate the vertical within the horizontal situates the spectator in a maze of (non) sense:

The organization of space here loses its privileged directions, and first of all the privilege of the vertical which the position of the screen still displays, in favor of an omni-directional space which constantly varies its angles and co-ordinates, to exchange the vertical and the horizontal. (Deleuze 1989: 265)

This spatial distortion, an omni-directional space, prefigures the way in which the sharp geometric spaces and non-Euclidean coordinates of the textual spaces are disrupted by the circular logic of 2001 which is extended to the circular pods. Out to remove the malfunctioning unit, Poole in the Pod is bathed in a red glow. Once again, two illogical and irrational spaces are linked together. The scene cuts to and from Poole outside the ship to Bowman at the controls. The artificial angled shots of Bowman, motionless, at the controls is a marked contrast to the slow movement of Poole across the screen and space. In both cases, the posture of the characters determines the space and placeof the camera. The stillness of Bowman offset by the slow unfolding of Poole within the cosmic horizon. This sequence is repeated and inverted later, ending in the death of Poole: marked by a silence which matches the silence of the death of the rest of the crew--their vital signs terminating with a whimper rather than a shout. In an almost carnivaleque manner, the text articulates birth, death and rebirth and a nexus of terminal connections.

Temporal dysfunction follows spatial disjunction. As Deleuze notes in Cinema 2 the time image was marked from the start by an obsession with time and the functioning of memory and the nature of consciousness. In 2001 the hibernating crew are 'in suspension', the time between sleeping and walking being edited out: 'Well it is exactly like being asleep you have absolutely no sense of time, except you don't dream.' This is repeated in the broadcast on BBC12, which edits out the '7 minutes for [the] words to reach the great space craft.' The editing out of time relays the functioning of memory and remembrance and is explored in the gap between discontinuous time zones.

The gap between the first sequences of the narration and the second (4 million years); 'Jupiter Mission 18 months later' and the culmination of Bowman's journey represents time as discontinuous and disconnected. Whereas the movement image re/presents time as an organic whole moving from the past through to the future, the time-image reflects a much more deterritoritalizing construct of time. This is a formative influence on and cause of the spatial disorientation that was explored earlier. This is a discontinuity which must inevitably 'end in a fragmentation', a fragmentation which is marked by the multiplication of cutting shots, dissolves into black - 'a hacked montage'. (Deleuze 1989: 120). The ultimate fragmentation in the narration is of course the fragmentation of Bowman, into three separate characters at three different ages towards the end of the narrative and his transfiguration into a fourth: the star child.


Journey to the Infinite

The nature of time is another example of an area in which our physics determine our concept of reality. It used to be considered obvious that time flowed on forever, regardless of what is happening, but the theory of relativity combined time with space and said that both could be warped, or distorted by the matter and energy in the Universe. (Hawking 1993: 46)

In 'Jupiter and to the infinite', the final journey of the narrative, time is speeded up and the temporal structure of the narration implodes. Both a temporal reconfiguration and spatial reconfiguration, the spectator is spiraled along with Bowman into an eruption of the screen into a series of fragmentary colors. Bowman's journey is through space and time, faster than the speed of light into a space where time itself ceases to exist. This is in the nature of the crystal image:

What constitutes the crystal image is the most fundamental operation of time: since past is constituted not after the present that it was but at the same time, time has to split itself in two at each moment as present and past, which differ from each other in nature, or, what amounts to the same thing, it has to split the present in two heterogeneous directions, one of which is launched towards the future while the other falls into the past. (Deleuze 1989: 81)

Just as Bowman is launched into the future, the narrative interchanges between virtual past and present. The journey back to the explosion of the universe and the multiplication of Monoliths speeding through space is juxtaposed with snap photos of Bowman's transfixed face. Time becomes a constant two way mirror continually dividing upon itself in which sequences of Bowman's motionless face are interspersed with the movement of the Monolith's traversing the Universe. Present, past and future coalesce in the journey into the infinite and beyond: into the fourth dimension.

The nature of the crystal image is of course the nature of quantum randomness. Quantum theory argues that not only is the nature of reality problematic but that time itself is not a straight line leading from past to the future, but is more like an angled line containing multiple possibilities, probable futures and virtual pasts. All that can be done is to 'predict the probabilities of certain outcomes' (Hawking 1993: 77). In the reflection in Bowman's eye the differential status of the image within the image itself is refracted within the notion of the crystal-image: 'Time consists of this split, and it is this, it is time that we see in the crystal.' (Deleuze 1989:81).

The journey of the Monolith's is a journey that takes place in the space of pure memory and pure recollection which has remained dormant in the virtual past to be triggered off first by the discovery of the Monolith and secondly by Bowman's journey to, through and into it. This is the other side to the virtual image, which is the subject of the earlier narrative.

The end of Bowman's journey is an incongruous 'any-space-whatever' to find in the infinite: a white Louis XIV apartment/hotel room where Bowman becomes a site of becoming within the multiple selves who inhabit the same space and time simultaneously. These three copies caught between middle age and old age wear the ravages of time on their lined and weary faces. The subject disintegrates and disappears into a series of copies within a simulation of the real in the hotel at the end of the universe. Although all three characters (or fragments of the characters) are never on screen at the same time, there are several instances in which two of them inhabit the same space whilst the third is out of camera. This dispersion of real and the imaginary into a simulation of the world inhabited by simulated selves resists organization into the sensory-motor schema of the movement-image. As each Bowman moves in and out of the frame, a series of overlapping perspectives means that there is no way to distinguish between them, 'even though they are distinct and also incompatible.' (Deleuze 1989: 203). The cinema of the body becomes the cinema of the brain: a cinema of the 'new flesh'.


Endings and New Beginnings

The rhizomatic networks of 2001 form a maze in which crystalline narration and terminal identities meet with 'chaos theory and fractal geometry's' (Butakman 1993: 112) and shatter into so many fragments of a crystal. Within a rhizomatic reading though, these are only partial solutions, partial readings as the text itself resists interpretation, remaining ambiguous. Retroactively, the text remains resistant and unexplainable. The maze like structure and its image fragmenting into the spectator's eye.

Instead of concentrating on mythic structures and symbolic features, this approach has refused to reconstruct the film from the outside but instead has focused in on the "determinable multiplicity" organized within the cinematic frame itself. This, it is hoped, has allowed the intensity of the cinematic experience to multiply, proliferate and recombine itself within an infinite number of possibilities and becomings as articulated in the multiple openings of 2001. The dispersion of the real and the imaginary, subject and object and inside and outside creates a textual space that resists and refutes totalization in that it 'ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world.' (Deleuze and Guattari 8).

This article has called for reinvigoration of contemporary theory, a theory which can be reconfigured through a reading of Deleuze and a rhizomatic approach to cinema which concentrates on spaces of intensities, pluralities and the multiplicity's of entrances and exits which contemporary theory would seek to close. These entrances and exits are theory's 'blindspots' in that they subvert and resist resolution into a coherent whole. The fragmentation of the narration, the crystal image, the use of music and color, all add up to a visual spectacle whose meaning we are free to speculate about. The narration leaves us with the image of the star-child. Bowman's death, a representation perhaps of the death of the century, produces the star-child whose eyes turn back towards earth, encircling the narrative, offering a space of infinite possibilities and interpretations.

At the end of the Space Odyssey, it is in consequence of a fourth dimension that the sphere of the fetus and the sphere of the earth have a chance of entering into a new, incommensurable, unknown relation, which would convert death into a new life. (Deleuze 1989: 206)

Theory - into the infinite.


Works Cited

Cronenberg, David. Videodrome. Universal, 1983.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement Image. London: The Athlone Press, 1992.

- - - . Cinema 2: The Time Image. London: The Athlone Press, 1992.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. London: Routledge, 1985.

Bukatman. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.

Clarke, Arthur C. 2001, A Space Odyssey. New York: New American Library, 1968.

Kubrick, Stanley. 2001. MGM, 1968.

Dick, Phillip K. Counter-Clock World. Berkley: 1974.

O'Connell. "Detective Deleuze and the Case of Slippery Signs." 1995. http://www.arts.monash.educ/au/visarts/globe/teaks.htm.

Hawking, Stephen. Black Holes and Baby Universes and other essays. London: Bantam Publishers, 1993.

Hardt, Michael. Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minesota Press, 1993.

Kagan, Norman. The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick. Oxford: Roundhouse Publishing, 1997.

Rodowick, David. Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine. Durham: Duke UP, 1997.

Totaro, Donato. Gilles Deleuze's Bergsonian Film Project. 1999. http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/9903/offscreen_essays/deleuze2.html.



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