An Odyssey in Bits: White White White is the Color of our Carpet

Or: MISS CARTILEGE REGRETS.Blink! Dave Bowman blinks his way back into normal Metrocolor. And finds all his computer systems have gone offline.Well, they would, wouldn’t they? What follows is… strange. Dave’s accelerated aging starts immediately, though because he’s such an unforthcoming lead, we never find out how he feels about it or if he even is aware of it. And he progresses through this sequence in an odd way, repeatedly seeing himself in an older form… our focus then shifts to the new (older) version, who looks around and allows us to see that the previous Dave has vanished… What’s most interesting here is that there’s no way to make rational sense of it. If Dave at least got out of his spacesuit before the wrinkling set in, if one of his close encounters with himself wasn’t an over-the-shoulder, so that we can see two Daves at once. My memory of seeing this for the first time is that I was so creeped out I completely missed the starchild. My eleven-year-old brain just shut down.

We jump right in on Middle-aged Dave, straight down the eyeline, 1-2-3. A lot like the jumps in on HAL’s cyclopean eye when he’s about to kill Frank Poole. Make of that what you will.

The creative continuity errors of THE SHINING are in action here, and not just in the way the protag’s age and number keep changing. In an uncanny pre-echo of the way the Overlook Hotel’s furniture shuffles around when we’re not looking, the chairs visible from the pod’s window, which appear to flank the bathroom door, keep dancing about, thus:I know it’s a different angle, but the chairs are either the equidistant from the door or they aren’t. Perfectionist my ass.

Then Dave’s pod vanishes which is a creative continuity violation in itself, I guess.

Dave checks out the bathroom. Bathrooms are important in Kubrick’s work. It’s surprising, on the whole, that BARRY LYNDON pays so little attention to the lavatory activities of its historic period, but we do see one bathtub in use.Scary noises: I believe part of Georgi Ligeti’s lawsuit against the film was based on his objection to the filmmakers tampering with his tunes. But if that’s in reference to the creepy, echoing laughter/voices heard in the white room, I think it falls within the parameters of a movie sound mix, just as the propulsive, low-end rumble that undergirds Bowman’s trip through those tunnels of light qualifies as FX, not score. Thought admittedly the use of Ligeti polyphony kind of blurs the line between diegetic and non. But that’s the composer’s fault, isn’t it, for writing such weird, messed-up music.

Are we to take it that the reverberant chatter we hear IS laughter? An excited audience at an alien zoo, watching poor Dave age through one-way walls? “Look, how hilarious, he’s going bald and wrinkly!” If that’s the aliens’ sense of humour, I might be inclined to agee with the conclusion of Spalding Gray, after he interviewed a lot of alien abductees:: these aliens really don’t seem to have ou best interests at heart. Even though they are ultimately going to transform Dave into a celestial foetus in a radiant bubble — and who wouldn’t want that? — their methods seem low on sympathy. The bedside manner is wanting.

From Middle-aged Dave’s POV we track around to look back into the dining/bedroom and see — Dave. But (viewing through virgin eyes) we don’t know it’s Older Dave (made up as Dick Van Dyke). We may assume that Dave is finally about to meet the mastermind responsible for all this. It would be just like a mastermind to appear by magic, unconcernedly munching on his dinner while the fellow he’s been toying with creeps up behind him.

So when Older Dave approaches, investigating a curious feeling that someone’s watching him (we are, and the aliens presumably are, but Middle-Aged Dave has vanished, as if catching sight of your older self immediately erases you. That must be what happened to Young Dave, and his little pod too. Older Dave returns to his dinner, the first apparently real food anyone in this movie has enjoyed since that delicious tapir flesh in the stone age. In fact, it’s been synthesised by his alien keepers, using memories drawn from his dreams, according to Kubrick and Clarke’s interviews and novels. (Back on Earth, is Dave a French duke living in a rococo lightbox?) As I believe Heywood Floyd remarked earlier on the subject of space chow, “They” are getting better at it all the time.

Then Older Dave knocks over his glass, which seems to be merely a device to allow him to notice Very Old Indeed Dave in bed, apparently dying. Noticing Very Old Indeed Dave erases Older Dave, so he never gets to finish his grub.Very Old Indeed Dave’s vision of the monolith standing at the foot of his bed like a doctor or undertaker is clearly a vision of Death. Like the three wooden posts we track towards in PATHS OF GLORY’s execution scene. And, in one sense, 2001 IS Kubrick’s most optimistic film, because for Dave, alone of all mankind, Death is not final. Kubrick was about to get into quoting himself: I think the first striking in-joke is the 2001 soundtrack album visible in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And the high angle from over the bed-bound Dave is much like that the POV Alex near the end of CLOCKWORK: the giant speakers wheeled in to cheer him up with a but of Ludwig Van have to be a direct joke on the monolith’s appearance here. And so we have to take the later film as a kind of rebuttal, I think, not of 2001’s meaning and purpose, more of the hippy-dippy positivity that flower power audiences attributed to 2001. I never understood Michael Herr’s overjoyed reaction reported in his memoir Kubrick. I mean, I get a lot of joy from 2001 but it’s more about awe at the beauty and mystery and the filmmaking and the ideas than at any idea that the movie is reassuring us that Everything’s Going To Be Alright. Pauline Kael’s outraged review, which I would sum up as “How dare he make a film about space? I HATE space!”, actually describe the film better: cold and desolate, dry and ironic, pessimistic at heart — but engagingly CURIOUS, which she gave it no credit for, being proudly incurious herself. I quite like crackpot theories: Rob Ager’s ideas sometimes drift off beyond what can be taken from the movie in question, but his suggestion that the monolith is a Cinerama screen turned on its side is very pleasing: so the origin and purpose of the monolith are the same as those of the film it appears in: to educate and advance our evolution. Of course, many of the TV and computer monitors in the film are also designed to fit within and echo the widescreen frame (long before widescreen TV was a thing —  and Kubrick was a 16:9 skeptic, it appears, since he released his first DVDs in 4:3 — apart from 2001, which got the correct treatment). But just because some of the 2.35:1 objects in the film are shaped that way just for our viewing pleasure, does not mean the monolith has been designed to echo the frame only to look nice.

The clincher is the way Kubrick tracks (and zooms?) INTO the monolith so that the black vertical “screen” swallows the wide, largely white one, like we’re entering a new movie.

Which, in a way, we are. Maybe I need one more installment of this series to do justice to Kubrick and Clarke’s happy ending…

11 Responses to “An Odyssey in Bits: White White White is the Color of our Carpet”

  1. Grant Skene Says:

    This final segment will haunt and fascinate me until I, too, am pulled into that pitch black monolith that awaits us all. A couple of thoughts:

    1. I like how breaking the glass transitions us to the final death/reincarnation/rebirth. The falling glass echoing the rising bone. And again, a reminder of gravity. It’s back.

    2. What’s with the paintings? The seem to be telling a story of seduction, and possible rape, by a man who descends from a tree like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The beauty and abundance of the natural setting sits in stark contrast to the cold sterility of the entire film. Even the apes were stuck in a desert.

  2. A lot of thought seems to have been given to those paintings: I read up on it and the ignored them.

    The rococo period is obviously one Kubrick liked, though Ken Adam felt that SK had a leaning toward the Victoria, as when they were choosing locations for Barry Lyndon he was continually drawn to places of the wrong period.

    These paintings are studio copies — not great, but they don’t need to be — of works whose originals appear in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (French embassy scenes). So obviously thought went into their selection/production. The Edenic theme is certainly relevant, the sex thing perhaps being another harking forward to Clockwork Orange.

    Good call: the broken glass in some way echoes Moonwatcher’s heap of bones.

  3. Grant Skene Says:

    It’s probably just me, but I also think those paintings evoke Barry Lyndon. Or, in keeping with the weird way time is functioning, maybe Kubrick is alluding to that film from the future like the 2001 album in A Clockwork Orange.;)

  4. It’s the right period/school for Barry L (and the same as the painting in Clare Quilty’s mansion that he gets shot through).

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    It’s also the period “Eyes Wide Shut” should have been made in

  6. bensondonald Says:

    Just some 60s goofiness, but actual parody begins at the 7 minute mark:

  7. I love it! And I’d never seen or heard of it. Particularly cool how the parody is very close but with all-new angles and design and techniques. The strangeness of the original still comes across, but now with added funny and dog. And it’s MORE trippy!

  8. Chuck V. Says:

    Future generations would appreciate tags on this post…

  9. That’s weird, because I remember writing them. Probably failed to save ’em, for which I will blame insomnia, which in turn I will blame on the fact that I’ve stupidly begun writing a novel.

    Have added them now. I’ll also do a post that links to all the Bits.

  10. I mostly think of that sequence as the ultimate form of waiting room, one in which you are kept enclosed in opulence (but a luxury hotel room, ersatz kind of opulence, where the decor is more the idea than the object itself) and then have to wait yourself to death. Maybe it is a premonition of the movie junket?

    Which is perhaps the main connection to the early Moon-set section of the film which is basically a long series of travel sequences broken up by stops at service stations (to phone home), until triggering off the ultimate broadcast beacon.

    Kubrick’s films often seem circularly constructed, in the sense that events and narrative ‘move forward’, but the characters despite superficially changing are often just psychologically back where we began ready to go through the same cycle all over again on a even grander scale.

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