If You Ever Wanted Stanley Kubrick’s Explanation of the End of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ Here It Is
The following post contains SPOILERS for 2001: A Spacey Odyssey, which is a movie that came out 50 years ago and also has an extremely ambiguous ending that is open to myriad interpretations.
This is quite a find. According to the YouTube page of the video the excerpt above is taken from it is the “raw footage” shot for an “unaired Japanese paranormal TV documentary” featuring Jun’ichi Yaoi, known in Japan as a filmmaker and TV star with an expertise in UFOs. Apparently a ufologist got his hands on the master VHS tape, which according to Cinephilia & Beyond wound up auctioned on eBay in 2016 and just now made its way online.
If you want to watch all 90 minutes of raw footage you’ll see Jun’ichi Yaoi’s tour of EMI Elstree Studios, and a lengthy meeting with Vivian Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick’s collaborator and daughter. The main purpose of Yaoi’s visit was to “investigate reports of paranormal activity on the set of The Shining.” But the part in the excerpt above is from a phone interview with Stanley Kubrick himself (who was either away from his office that day or simply didn’t want to appear on camera and agreed to an interview on the phone instead). He’s asked to explain the meaning of the end of 2001 and... Kubrick actually does it. Here is what he says:
I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I'll try.
The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.
They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with animals to try to give them what they think is their natural environment.
Anyway, when they get finished with him, as happens in so many myths of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, transformed and made some kind of superman. We have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is the pattern of a great deal of mythology, and that is what we were trying to suggest.
It’s worth noting this description is not very different from the events of the 2001 novel by Arthur C. Clarke (which was made at the same time as Kubrick’s film, and which the two collaborated on). It’s also worth noting that just because this is one explanation, even an important one given its source, you are still free to interpret the ending however you wish. And finally, it’s also also worth noting that the unrestored 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey is still playing in select theaters and it’s a borderline religious experience. Go see it and believe whatever you want to believe about the ending.
Gallery - The Best Science Fiction Movie Posters of All Time: