2001: A Space Odyssey

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A 1968 science-fiction film, written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, with help from Arthur C. Clarke (who also wrote a novel version in tandem with the film's production), and inspired in part by Clarke's short story "The Sentinel".

The film's story tracks long-term human evolution as it is influenced by unseen Precursors. An ill-fated expedition is dispatched to Jupiter, where the astronauts soon realize that their computer has reached critical intelligence levels. The film's disturbing finale is particularly famous for seeming to be a Gainax Ending at first, but actually being a perfectly logical Mind Screw.

Still one of the "hardest" sci-fi films ever made. Features perhaps the most famous Match Cut ever to appear in American popular culture. It is also known for its very slow pacing and enigmatic plot.

Clarke went on to write several sequel novels (Titled 2010, 2061, and 3001) which mostly followed the film's continuity, and one of them was made into a movie as well (2010: The Year We Make Contact).

Tropes used in 2001: A Space Odyssey include:
  • Adaptation Expansion / The Film of the Book: Clarke's original short story, "The Sentinel", dealt only with the part about the Monolith on the Moon. Kubrick and Clarke then expanded the story into a film and book that were released simultaneously. Clarke stated the book should be credited as "Clarke and Kubrick", with "Kubrick and Clarke" credited for the screenplay. Unlike a Novelization, there are distinct differences between the two; for starters, Clarke's Discovery travels to one of Saturn's moons, while Kubrick's Discovery goes to Jupiter. The reason for this change was the Rule of Cool: the film crew couldn't build a model of Saturn that Kubrick liked, so he changed it.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Not the first example, but one of the most famous, and also justified.
  • Alien Geometries: The moving, floating tesseracts from the "beyond the infinite" sequence.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: In the novel, the "hotel" area constructed by the Firstborn to receive Bowman is based on TV broadcasts received by the Monolith. The hotel room is supposed to give Bowman an environment he's comfortable with, but in the movie the aliens clearly did not research things very well, because a room with lights in the floor looks intensely disturbing. They also put the bathroom mirror over the tub instead of the sink. In the book, there are other anomalies, such as writing that is blurry in close-up, and all the food containers have an identical substance that in no way resembles human food while still being perfectly nutritious.
  • All There in the Manual: Clarke's accompanying novel is actually better than the film in a lot of ways, because of the amount of time he spends elaborating on the more opaque aspects of the film.
  • Also Sprach Zarathustra: The use of this composition as a Leitmotif is so famous that almost every use since then is a reference to 2001.
  • And I Must Scream: The flash-cuts of Bowman's horror as he's taken Beyond The Infinite. The journey reduces him to a quivering wreck -- then he appears in the alien hotel room. It appears that that will turn out to be Bowman's purgatory, but it's ultimately averted as Bowman Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • Artificial Gravity: Of the realistic "rotation provides centrifugal force" variety.
  • Artistic License Physics:
    • When Floyd drinks out of a straw in zero-g, the liquid moves back down.
    • One of the flight crew leans on a chair (in zero-g) to talk to Floyd.
    • The Aries lands with its cockpit windows facing upward, so the pilots shouldn't be able to see the Earth moving up past the windows (perhaps the windows have some kind of transparent display overlay?).
    • When the Earth is seen from the moonbase at Clavius and the Monolith dig site in Tycho, it's oriented with north pointing upwards. However, Clavius and Tycho are in the Moon's southern hemisphere, so the Earth should have been upside-down (and angled proportionately to the viewer's lunar latitude).
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The purpose of the Monolith's "trap", set for the first human to stumble upon it. Also the "evolution" of the Firstborn.
  • Benevolent Precursors: The Firstborn helped the human race to evolve in the first place.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: HAL has cameras in every compartment of the Discovery that we see.
  • Big Dumb Object: The Monolith.
  • Bigger on the Inside: As noted here, the Discovery's interior sets are 50% too large to fit into the spherical command module.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Monolith's creators.
  • The Call Left a Message[context?]
  • Chekhov's Gun: The "Explosive Bolts" label on the pod doors.
  • The Computer Is Your Friend[context?]
  • Cool Spaceship: The Discovery.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: This was the real reason for Kubrick's use of Leave the Camera Running and Mind Screw: to convey that space is an immense and hostile place in which humans are insignificant by comparison, where if we encounter aliens they'd be incomprehensibly advanced, refuse to explain themselves to us, and be interested only in using us as tools. Lampshaded in the out-takes book The Lost Worlds of 2001, which covers parts of the astronauts' pre-mission training. They are told simply to take lots of pictures and not to try too hard to make sense of what they see... and to hope their hosts (if any) are aware of their limitations.
  • Creepy Monotone: Inverted. HAL's voice isn't a monotone at all; while calm and unemotional, his voice is actually much more expressive than any other character. That's precisely why it's so damn creepy.
  • Cryonics Failure: HAL intentionally kills the three hibernating astronauts by forcing a malfunction in the coldsleep system; in the novel, he depressurizes the ship as Bowman attempts to wake all three of them.
  • Cukoloris: 2001 was the first movie to show computer monitors projecting their images onto the user's face. This is pure Rule of Cool, because in order to get this effect in real life you'd have to be staring straight into the bulb of a projector. There were 16mm projectors behind all the flatscreens on the sets, so all Kubrick had to do was take the screens off.
  • Cyber Cyclops / Glowing Eyes of Doom / Red Eyes, Take Warning: HAL again.
  • Decapitation Presentation: In the novel, Moon-Watcher holds a disembodied head of a leopard with a bone in front of a rival group of man-apes.
  • Depth of Field / Fish Eye Lens: The shot from the perspective of HAL's cyber-eye.
  • Distant Prologue: "The Dawn Of Man".
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Frank Poole after his oxygen line is cut by HAL.
  • Drone of Dread: The Mood Motifs associated with the Monolith.
  • Electronic Speech Impediment: When Bowman disassembles HAL's neural circuitry, it reverts to demo mode and sings "Daisy Bell" in an increasingly slow, distorted manner before finally shutting down.
  • Escape Pod: Technically, the EVA pods, although they are not used for this, and there would be no way to rescue them anyway, save sending another pod from the same vessel. They're more like Maintenance Pods, really.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: I think you know the problem as well as I do, Dave. [1]
  • Everything Is an iPod In The Future: Ur Example -- the iPod was named after the space pods in this movie, and the white surfaces and black control panels on all of Discovery's equipment were an inspiration for its design. Similarly, the novel describes a device that is extremely similar to modern concepts of the tablet computer.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Self-evolution, but still mentioned -- the Firstborn's status as Energy Beings is stated to be the ultimate stage in physical evolution. "And beyond that, there could only be God." The opening "Dawn of Man" sequence is about the Firstborn giving human evolution a kick in the pants.
  • Executive Meddling: Showing that Tropes Are Not Bad, the retrospective article 2001 set the standard for the next fifty years of hard (and some soft) sci-fi tells us "The film might never had been made in the first place were it not for MGM's desire to showcase its ultra-wide Cinerama format."
  • Explosions in Space: In an aversion of the typical trope, the explosive bolts that decompress Bowman's EVA pod go off silently with just a puff of gas.
  • Explosive Decompression: Averted (though used in the literal, scientific sense in that Bowman went almost instantly from full external air pressure to vacuum when he blew the pod's explosive bolts).
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: The Discovery's displays, which are rather fancy for the amount of data they apparently contain.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: It is not clear whether this really takes place in the movie or not. For the vast majority of the film, space travel is shown in a very realistic manner, and the point where FTL may be taking place could be interpreted in other ways. It quite explicitly does take place in the novel version (and the first sequel), but is subsequently retconned in later novels, with the Word of God explanation that each of the four is in its own "universe," with just enough continuity overlap for it to make sense as a series.
  • Fetal Position Rebirth: The Star Child.
  • First Contact Math: In the novel, Bowman tries unsuccessfully to communicate with the Iapetus monolith by broadcasting primes at it. Unsuccessfully in this case because it already knows he's there and what it intends to do with him.
  • Food Pills: Meals include a collection of zero-gee liquids sucked up through straws, horrible-looking preprocessed sandwiches, and trays of (essentially) Astronaut Chow on Discovery. It all almost makes the raw tapir meat the ape-men eat at the Dawn of Man look appetizing. The book, on the other hand, has the food on Discovery be designed to be just like "real" food, including fresh baked bread, in order to help make the years-long space trip tolerable.
  • Foreshadowing, doubling as Tempting Fate:

HAL: "Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."

    • In the sequel (for those who didn't read the original novel), the previous and following statements were proven true, making the foreshadowing truly epic, although the fate tempting loses a little credence.

HAL: "It can only be attributable to human error. This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error."

  • Fun with Acronyms: The whole (apparently unintentional) HAL/IBM thing.
  • Gainax Ending: Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, far more so in the film than the book, where it's explained in a fair bit of detail.
  • Goo-Goo Godlike: The Star Child.
  • Government Conspiracy: The U.S. government tries to cover up the discovery of the Monolith by cutting off all communication to Clavius Base, spreading rumors about an epidemic, and concealing the Monolith's existence from Dave and Frank.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The USSR is remarkably healthy in 2001. On the other hand, relations between the US and USSR are remarkably amicable, from the point of view of the 1960s (Kubrick's previous film was Doctor Strangelove). They have built a huge space station together, and are generally cooperating in the exploration of the moon. The Russians being suddenly shut out of the Clavius moon base is seen as a very unusual event.
  • Hemisphere Bias: Although the Earth as seen from the moon looks unrealistically washed out (see Science Marches On in the Trivia section), North America is always visible every time we see it.
  • Human Popsicle: The hibernation systems.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: The "Stargate" sequence, and how. See And I Must Scream above.
  • In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Mostly averted. The shot of Dave pushing a button to tint his spacesuit visor serves to hide the face of the stuntman used in the rest of the scene.
  • Intermission
  • Invisible Aliens: Sort of. While there is ample evidence for the presence of alien intelligences, neither humanity, nor Dave Bowman, nor the reader/viewer ever finds out what the actual aliens themselves look like (if they even have physical bodies at all).
  • I Want My Jetpack: In 2001‍'‍s 2001 we have manned interplanetary spaceflight, permanent bases on the Moon, suspended animation and sentient computers. Contrast with Zeerust below.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: For HAL, and for everyone else when HAL starts having problems with it.
  • Kill Sat: The bone-turned-satellite from the opening is one according to Word of God. This makes the Match Cut deeper than it initially appears; they are similarly shaped but also both weapons.
  • Kubrick Stare: Dave Bowman does it when he runs the diagnostic on the AE-35 unit, goes up to disconnect HAL, and arrives in the alien hotel room at the end.
  • Kuleshov Effect: By a prop, no less!
  • Leave the Camera Running: Often cited as one of the film's shortcomings, in the many lengthy shots (by today's standards).
  • Logic Bomb: Revealed in the novel (and the movie 2010) as the cause of HAL's malfunction.
  • Master Computer: HAL.
  • Match Cut: The bone club thrown in the air by the ape-man turns into an orbiting satellite -- by Word of God, a nuclear Kill Sat, making the cut metaphorical as well as visual.
  • Mind Screw: With the novel (and later, 2010) as the Mind Screwdriver.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The tapirs in the first part of the film. In the novel they were warthogs, but Kubrick couldn't find any place in England that could rent him warthogs on short notice.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: HAL.
  • The Monolith: Trope Maker.
  • Mood Motif[context?]
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Inverted. Space travel looks awesome to us, the audience, but to Floyd, Bowman and Poole it's routine and boring.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: For HAL, as a way out of the Logic Bomb he becomes trapped in.
  • Narrative Filigree: Many scenes, especially the middle. The subplot with HAL, which is the most memorable part of the movie, serves only to leave Bowman as the Sole Survivor, and it doesn't really have any connection to the Monolith plot except as a consequence of the Government Conspiracy.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted by Floyd when he has to read through the entire set of instructions for the Zero Gravity Toilet before he can use it.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: This is most obvious with the very '60s-looking women's hairstyles, and the matching plaid suit and pants worn by the photographer at the moonbase.
  • Nothing Is Scarier[context?]
  • Oh Crap: David Bowman as he is taken Beyond the Infinite.
    • The look on Dave's face when he realizes that he forgot his helmet.
    • "Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose any more. Goodbye."
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: György Ligeti's "Requiem" and "Lux Aeterna" are so ominous, you can't even tell they're in Latin anymore (or Greek, in the case of the Kyrie from the "Requiem"!).
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Poole's father in the video letter.
  • Precursors: The Firstborn, the creators of the Monolith.
  • Pride: See Foreshadowing above.

Dave Bowman: Another thing just occurred to me: As far as I know, no 9000 computer's ever been disconnected.
Frank Poole: No 9000 computer's ever fouled up before.
Bowman: That's not what I mean. I'm not so sure what he'll think of it.

Arthur C. Clarke: If you understood 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered.

  • Wham! Line: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
  • Zeerust: HAL is a mind-bogglingly advanced, sentient computer, but can't print plain text onto looseleaf paper. Humanity in 2001 can build spectacular space-stations and has mastered interplanetary flight, but people are still using typewriters.
  1. Note that the Trope Namer for this trope is Red Dwarf, which may have been making a Shout-Out to 2001.