“Kubrick: and beyond the cinema frame”

An in-depth analysis of


Text copyright © by Rob Ager 2008

(last updates added 2015)



If you’ve managed to read this far into this review then you will probably be wondering why Kubrick made such an intense effort to encode hidden narratives in 2001. Even if you disagree with many of my observations, at the very least you will recognise that some of the things I’ve brought to your attention, such as the monolith being a cinema screen or the IBM references, are definite examples of hidden narratives.

So setting aside disagreements over smaller details, an over all question emerges as to why Kubrick would make such painstaking efforts to encode hidden narratives. You may also be wondering why he didn’t make these messages easier to decode or why he even bothered with the deceptive “alien intelligence” narrative in the first place.

A good starting point in answering these questions is to look at the films production background. According to Wikipedia's page on 2001, an early cut of the film was shown to MGM studio executives and featured a ten minute black and white opening. This sequence featured interviews with scientists about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, but after the screening Kubrick had the interview sequence removed from the film. Being that Kubrick already knew he’d designed the monolith as a symbolic cinema screen, it’s likely that he included the misleading interview sequence to trick MGM executives into securing a large distribution deal.

Aside from the distribution, 2001 had a budget of ten and a half million dollars, which was a massive sum in 1968 and made it one of the most expensive film productions ever. For such a slow-paced and experimental film to acquire this kind of budget is very unusual so 2001 may have acquired its funding as a projected propaganda film to support the multi-billion dollar space race. The US was already planning on putting men on the moon the following year and, as with any project that requires massive injections of tax payer’s money, intelligent and convincing propaganda would be needed to win public support. You may think I’m jumping to conclusions here, but the following tagline, included in 2001’s marketing campaign by MGM, is a strong indication that the film was marketed according to its space race propaganda strengths:

"Everything in 2001: A Space Odyssey can happen within the next three decades, and....most of the picture will happen by the beginning of the next millennium."

The odd thing about this is that there are no direct references to alien life forms at all in 2001. At no point do we hear the words “alien” or “extra-terrestrial”. However there is plenty of character dialogue relating to “strange rumours”, a “cover story” and an “epidemic”. The popular interpretation that the monolith represents an extra-terrestrial intelligence helping humans evolve to the stars is itself a “cover story” that has long delayed our discovery of the films hidden meanings. If Kubrick had made these hidden narratives more obvious then the film may not have received its required funding or distribution deals. At the same time, if Kubrick had announced the hidden meanings after 2001’s release then he may have upset his funding sources, which could have harmed his future film projects.

So it seems that Kubrick confided in almost nobody about the hidden narratives of 2001 and he remained publicly silent on the issue for the rest of his career. The book of 2001, written by Arthur C. Clarke in collaboration with Kubrick, features many significant differences to the film version and lacks the visual encoding described in this review. So even Clark seems to be unaware of the hidden narratives and, on that basis, the book is an unreliable source for unravelling the hidden narratives of the movie.