2001: A Space Odyssey (Film) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

2001: A Space Odyssey (Film) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Monolith

The central symbol and recurring motif in the film is the big black monolith that heralds important evolutionary moments in the development of the human species. The precise literal meaning of the monolith is never adequately explained, but suffice to say that it is infused with symbolic associations to knowledge and intellectual progress. Of course, the monolith has also become an iconic symbol for the unknowable mysteries of the universe.

HAL 9000

The computer that runs the Discovery spaceship has also become an iconic symbol of man’s technology turning on its creators. Beyond that, however, it is in the area of the astronaut’s dependence upon the computer on a more primitive level that is more to the point. The astronauts have essentially turned over the most primitive requirements for their survival to the machine. In the absence of the ability to perform the processes that ensure they don’t die, they have quite literally put their lives in the hands of a machine. HAL thus becomes a symbol for the frustration felt by anyone who can’t get to their destination because the car broke or who can’t get vital information to someone because their cell phone battery has died.

Celestial Alignment

The alignment of heavenly bodies accompanies key moments in man’s evolution in the film. The symbolism of planet, satellite and stars coming into rare moments of perfect spatial situation is one that carries an intense suggestion of a cosmic plan for humanity on some level. The cosmic influence may be divine or perhaps it may be aliens so advanced as to seem divine, but the dance of the cosmos is clearly not entirely coincidental.

The Bone that is Thrown

The single most iconic image from the film is the transformation of a pre-historic bone throw into the air that turns into a spaceship as it begins its fall back to earth. In the blink of an eye, the bone has transformed from mere prop to a symbol invested with all the entire evolutionary history of the human species.

The Star Child

The transformation of astronaut Dave Bowman into a star child floating in orbit over earth is final evolutionary step presented in the film. It is a symbol heavy with optimism that humans will survive their tendency toward self-destruction at least long enough to make the jump from their state in 2001 that is equitable with the leap that was made on a desolate landscape millions of years earlier.

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