When writing the earlier posting on the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, I came across several interpretations of the cryptic ending that consists of only images with no explanatory dialog, and I agreed with none of them. I am not saying they were wrong, just not how I interpreted it. And this is how it should be. Leave it vague, and let the viewer interpret it to fit their own experiences. I have often said, if you want to start a new religion, publish any sort of babble. Many other smart people will give it meaning. It takes a civilization to create any religion, many people to interpret and refine the initial premise. Judaism had its Rabbi Hillel, Christianity its St. Augustine, Islam its al-Ghazzali.
Stanley Kubrick himself gives an explanation of the metaphors, but I do not consider that to be the final word, either, even coming from one of the authors. The apostle Mark could not explain modern Christianity. Neither could Luke. The life experience of the viewer is part of the answer. I am not saying that my interpretation is better than Stanley Kubrick’s—I am saying my interpretation is just as valid as his, as is yours.
We have the appearance of the plain black monolith: first at the opening with the cavemen, then on the moon where one is found that was buried 4 million years ago, and near the end in orbit around Jupiter. It finally reappears at the foot of Dave’s deathbed. The opening music plays unusually long over a blank screen. Some say the blank screen is the same monolith, except we are standing very close and it fills our whole view. I like that. The monoliths are not black, they are blank, like a movie screen with nothing projected onto it.
The monolith represents the ultimate eternal unity of everything where there are no opposites, such as white and black, hard and soft, life and death, existing and not existing. There is only “is” where everything is part of the whole, including us. Our brain cannot comprehend this ultimate unity and has to break it into separate parts that it can understand. All this is explained in Alan Watts’s slim and readable book, The Book, that was so much a part of the hippie culture of the 1980s. Try to think of a circus. You cannot. You can only picture a part of a circus: a clown, a trapeze performer, a lion tamer, a ringmaster, perhaps in rapid sequence, but not a single image of the circus as a whole.
Age, too, is only our brain’s division of our eternal unity into comprehensible parts. Once Astronaut Dave passes into this eternal unity, shown by the wild graphics, and obviously a terrifying experience, he sees himself as first a wrinkled, much older man slowly and silently eating alone in a room decorated in nondescript, even tacky, motel-modern Victorian. He also sees himself as a very old man, lying still on his deathbed, who only moves to point to the monolith at the foot of his bed which he now understands at the instant of death, as we all will as we pass from the temporal to the eternal. We see him, in his helmet and space suit, staring at all of this in amazement.
The movie ends with him floating as an embryo in the womb. All forms are valid and all exist together, a concept that can only be suggested by a black monolith. The old joke that time is our brain’s way of keeping everything from happening at once . . . is not a joke.
If this sounds like my own gibberish, it is really Theology 101. The existence of an eternal, perfect, parallel world is the basis of every religion, Eastern or Western, major or minor, sophisticated or primitive, so universally accepted, Aldus Huxley called it The Perennial Philosophy. The world we know is only a specific of the incomprehensible perfect world. Jesus is a specific of the incomprehensible God. It is what Plato described in his allegory of the shadows on wall of the cave. The world we see is only the shadows of a perfect world, and, seeing nothing else, assume the shadows are reality. Huxley suggests the universality of this concept confirms its validity.
If you see it differently, that’s okay. We both can be right, we both can be wrong. We both can be both.