My first thoughts about the movie in light of recent events caused me to think that this was one of those times that science fiction seemingly predicts the future. There are 2 prominent monoliths in the movie. The smaller one that is on Earth in the beginning and the larger one in orbit around Jupiter. This reminded me of the twin towers in Manhattan which fell on 9/11/2001.
What we have with the movie is a deeper story than the overt one, which in my view also relates to the 9/11 attacks.
The movie begins in darkness. Then we see the logo for MGM and the fantastic shot of the Moon, Earth, Sun as seen from space.
We enter at the "Dawn of Man". Where proto-humans, which seem much more ape like than any kind of pre-humans, are engaged in the act of survival. It seems that this is the world before the Garden of Eden. The ape-like creatures live a relatively rough existence, and are subject to the whims of nature and predators. The also appear to have no physically aggressive tendencies. They posture and pose and screech but they do not attack one another and barely even have an idea of how to resist or fight back when they are attacked, like when the leopard attacks. They also appear to be largely vegetarian living in peace with the other mammals.
After a night cowering in a crevice in the rocks some of the pre-humans awake to find the monolith resting before them.
The monolith is the intervention of God, who then brings the Garden of Eden into being with the "creation" of man. What exactly does the monolith do? It does two things. It teaches tool use, essential for evolution to be sure. The monolith also teaches aggression and violence which may be a questionable trait in an evolutionary sense. They both have a purpose. The origin for violence and aggression in religious myth is always with the "Devil" or a Satanic figure of some kind. The monolith is now more than God it is also the Devil. It brings the Garden of Eden into existence and also brings sin in the form of murder.
The first murder in the Bible is Cain killing Abel his brother. And one of the first things that the pre-humans do with their new talents is to take over the Garden of Eden, symbolized by the watering hole. In this act they kill another pre-human. And just like "original sin" all of the pre-humans take part by striking the doomed creature. This can also be seen as an allusion to the murder of Caesar where many hands struck the blows.
Innocence is lost.
Jump ahead to the present, or in this case 2001. We meet Heywood Floyd ( can you also say Pink Floyd) who is on his way to the moon in a commercial space plane.
Heywood Floyd is the keeper of secrets. He goes to the moon to investigate a discovery and to make sure that it is kept secret. This is straight from the Brookings Report on the possibility of discovery of aliens or alien artifacts and the impact it might have on Earth culture and psychology. The report famously argued for secrecy to "protect" people from the culture shock.
Heywood is sent to make sure that recommendation is adhered to.
Of course they have discovered the monolith, buried on the moon, 40 feet under the soil. It has a huge magnetic signature that lead the people to find it. It was buried on purpose, and meant to be dug up. A cover story is concocted to keep people from going to Clavius Moon Base and finding out the truth. Floyd is in charge of this cover up. He subtly passes on the "rumor" himself to some Russians he meets en route to the Moon.
Floyd's Clavius Moon Base ID number is 355, which adds up to 13. He is the unlucky one, because it is he that brings doom to the future mission to Jupiter.
The monolith is thought to be 4 million years buried. Which would seem to make the monlith's interdiction on Earth to be about the same time frame.
Ardipithicus Ramidus was supposedly around about then.
Very ape like, showing Kubrick to be right again.
The monolith is uncovered and when the Sun hits it emits a signal to Jupiter.
On to the mission to Jupiter. Jupiter is the chief of the gods in old myth, and the largest of the planets in the Solar System. It's a voyage of discovery and the ship is called Discovery One.
Enter the last three characters in the drama. Dave Bowman (the "Beloved Archer") and Frank Poole the crew of the ship and HAL 9000 the sentient computer that runs the ship and knows the score.
The remainder of the scientific team is in hibernation in mummy like capsules inside of see through sarcophagi. They are the scientists. They know the score. The only ones out of the loop are Dave and Frank.
It should be noted that the ship has 13 sections, 3 antennae, and 3 docking bay doors.
This is another use of numerical symbolism. Like Floyd who's ID number adds up to 13, the ship's sections add up to 13. Both are doomed. Heywood in old English or Welsh is a fenced in area of land, usually something that nobility reserve for themselves, like the "King's lands". There is an element of exclusion and secrecy. Floyd means "grey beard" which implies age as well as wisdom. One could say that Heywood is the "wise man of the King's lands". Being in the position he is in, a high official in NACA, a similar organization to NASA, he would have to be intelligent and wise. That trait is lessened or muted in this story by his unlucky 13 designation.
HAL is the only member of the awake crew that knows the entire mission and he also knows that Dave and Frank are not to know of it until they reach Jupiter and the scientists are revived. HAL is a 9000 series computer, which boasts error free operation. 9 is the cube of 3. In the Kabbalah the number 9 denotes anger and strife, as well as energy. 3 is the number of Jupiter.
HAL is a stand-in for God and the authorities. Dave and Frank represent humanity, in the dark, unknowing.
HAL is in a bind, caused by the secrecy. He tests Bowman's knowledge of, and commitment to, the mission. I believe this is an attempt on the part of HAL to both impart knowledge as well as to find out if Bowman knows anything. There might have been a breakthrough for HAL had the conversation with Bowman continued. The "beloved archer" gives HAL a way to escape back into the shell of secrecy which completes his psychotic break.
HAL's red eye is ever present, he sees all, knows all. It is quite clear that HAL is a stand-in for God. He is the pinnacle of man's intellect. Much like God is the creation of man, according to some.
When the conversation between HAL and Bowman is ended with Bowman giving HAL a way back into his realm of secrecy it produces the psychotic break. HAL announces the fault in the AE35 unit.
It is agreed that the unit should be replaced. So they EVA in a pod that looks like an egg, and wear helmets, which when viewed from above look like lizard heads.
When the AE35 is analyzed it is found to be without fault. HAL has been found out. Though Frank and Dave take pains to have a discussion free from HAL eavesdropping HAL nonetheless reads their lips while they discuss the possibility of his malfunctioning. It should be noted here that Frank is the one with the most misgivings about HAL And just as his name implies Frank is "free" with his opinions.
HAL chooses the only option left to him at this point and that is to kill all of the humans and complete the mission himself. Frank goes EVA to put the original AE35 back to see if it fails. HAL kills Frank. Dave leaves in a pod, without his space helmet, to retrieve Franks body. While Dave is gone HAL murders the hibernating astronauts. There is no going back now.
Dave is denied re-entry onto the ship by HAL. It is at this point that Dave has to take a leap of faith and figuratively cross the threshold of death, or the crossing of the Abyss in occult ritual. He crosses space into the airlock of the ship.
At this point he disconnects all of HAL's higher functions and takes control of the ship. Bowman, the "beloved archer" kills God and takes command of his life and the rest of humanity by extension. Bowman reaches Jupiter and completes the mission. The "beloved archer" penetrates the monolith like an arrow and is transported through the wonders of the universe and is deposited into what appears to be an elegantly appointed suite, with paintings and antique furniture as well as statuary. This place represents he concepts of art and creativity. The right brain. Whereas HAL and the technological God represented pure reason or left brain. It is now that the movie and the cycle reaches fruition. Bowman lives his whole life in a brief span of time and is reborn as an infant Godling. In the end he is looking upon the Earth with wide eyes.
As you can see this movie has many subtexts. Not the least of which is a championing of the idea that humans were helped along in their evolution by outside agencies. The alien intervention theory.
Technology is shown in the end to be subject to the same faults as the humans that make it. HAL goes mad because of the way he was programmed and the secrecy that he must maintain. It is about the evolution of man, the end of technology, the leap forward to Godhood. One is left wondering in the end if it is man himself that once transformed goes back into the past to spur the development of his ancestors.
I do see some parallels with 9/11 as well. The two monoliths, the year 2001, the secrecy of the real story, the cover up, and the failure of technology.
There is a strong occult and religious subtext in this movie. It is story driven and uses scant imagery to portray the significance of it.
We can learn much from this film and the works of Kubrick in general because there is always more to the film than meets the eye. One thing that should be clear and that is that secrecy almost always leads to loss and sacrifice. There is also a path to spiritual evolution open to humanity, according to Kubrick, which involves the death of God and the assumption of Godhood by man, through the limits of technology, a traversal across the abyss and a reconnection with the creativity of the right brain.