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2001: a Space Odyssey vs Planet of the Apes
A dichotomy of vision - by Jack Heart
- Annotated Edition -

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece: “2001: a space odyssey” has been described as the quintessential science fiction epic. The film was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The screenplay was written by science fiction great, Arthur C. Clarke (with Kubrick) and was partially inspired by Clarke's short story "The Sentinel". The film’s plot revolves around the discovery of a mysterious, apparently extra-terrestrial black monolith affecting human evolution.

Beginning in a Paleolithic African desert, a tribe of man-apes is driven from their water hole by a rival tribe. They wake to find a featureless black monolith has appeared before them. One adventurous man-ape… “Moon Watcher” approaches the monolith and upon touching it, realizes how to use a bone as a tool and/or a weapon. The newly intelligence infused tribe subsequently kills the leader of their rivals and reclaims the water hole.

Fast Forward: A Pan Am space shuttle carries Dr. Heywood R. Floyd to a space station orbiting Earth for a layover on his trip to a U.S. outpost on the moon. His mission is to investigate a recently found artifact buried four million years ago. The artifact is identical to the one encountered by the man-apes. As Floyd examines the lunar dig-site, sunlight strikes the monolith… it emits a mysterious high-pitched signal. Eighteen months later, the U.S. spacecraft Discovery One is bound for Jupiter. Onboard the Jupiter is Astronauts David Bowman, Frank Poole and the infamous sentient computer… Hal.

Psychedelic misadventures follow. The film deals with the themes of existentialism, human evolution, emerging technology, artificial intelligence and extraterrestrial intervention.

Also released in 1968 was Franklin J. Schaffner’s film: The Planet of the Apes. The script was originally written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. The film tells the story of an astronaut crew who crash-land on a strange planet in the distant future. Although the planet appears desolate at first, the surviving crew members stumble upon a society in which apes have evolved into creatures with human-like intelligence and speech. The apes have assumed the role of the apex or top predator and humans are mute, primitive prey creatures.

Much has been speculated about these two films. Many conspiracy theories… especially pertaining to Kubrick’s “odyssey” continue to circulate on-line. False Flag… Faked Moon LandingIlluminati influence… you name it. Additionally, the two films share mysterious similarities. For example, both films depicted extra-terrestrial landscapes shot on location around the Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Is this a covert acknowledgment of a larger conspiracy?

Chris Knowles, curator of “The Secret Sun” weblog (who is featured in another article in our Annotated series) posted a particularly interesting narrative on the possible synchromystic and otherwise esoteric interpretations of 2001: a space odyssey, entitled: “Stanley Kubrick and the Reality Stargate: Secret Space.”

The coincidence… or more likely the synchronicity… of these two film's prophetic depictions of the future... both being released in 1968… point to a deeper, generational choice of mythologies. The late nineteen sixties were arguably the apex of American Culture. The baby boom of the 1950's, following the Allied victory of WWII, floated the American Experience to its high-water mark. The Kennedy & King assassinations, the Vietnam War and other, more nefarious indicators, such as MKULTRA had not yet lowered America’s expectations. The long slide down the back-side of the American Dream had not picked up any momentum yet… At that time, there appeared to be nowhere to go, but up.

The space race with Russia, then the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was seen as a pathway to a shining future, rather than a proxy war… by most Americans. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had been established in 1958 by Ike Eisenhower and was broadly considered a exploratory agency, rather than an off-world arm of the Pentagon.

Add to this most critical juncture, these two motion pictures. Science Fiction has always been a genre of “cautionary tale.” The release of both 2001: a space odyssey and the Planet of the Apes in 1968… presented America and the world with a crossroads of vision. Here the road forked…

Overtly, Kubrick offered a vision of what we now label: technological singularity and a Star-Child evolution. Something wondrous (My God, it’s full of stars!), this way comes. That the term “technological singularity” would not be commonly used until the 1990’s, is a testament to Kubrick’s vision (collusion?). Schaffner’s film offered a vision of de-evolution of American Exceptionalism. His darker vision of the ramifications of nuclear proliferation was more akin to the brilliant short story by Kurt Vonnegut, also published in 1968… “Welcome to the Monkey House.”

These two great films presented us with dueling ideologies… diverging mythologies. The question becomes, which fork in the road did we choose? Are we still making the choice? Institutions of belief, such as Religion and Science provide a shaping structure in which to manifest the mythology. Not popularly considered a religion, science blindly follows its own cannon and dogma. Strangely enough, Pop-culture has provided humanity with its newest sci fi religion: The Cult of StarWars… but I digress.

The two films released in 1968, represented a dichotomy in vision of the future. It was as if the two films artistically embodied, for all of humanity, a threshold or choice at the mythological crossroads. In classic mythology, the crossroads represent a location "between the worlds" … a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represent “liminality.”

In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. So too did we stand at the crossroads between the industrial age and the information age, poised to strike a bargain. The so-called space age represented the choice itself. The space race… became the ritual.

Meanwhile, back at the crossroads, one path would lead to a future of technological marvel and limitless possibilities… the other toward an increasingly dystopian world, driven by the survival of the fittest. Humanity will have to decide which future to pursue. The cynics among us would suggest that the outcome was obvious… but I am not so sure.

Depending on the day, the events of our modern world demonstrate consequences of both visions. At times, the possibility of Kubrick’s Star-Child seems to be just beyond the horizon. On other days, it feels like we are all living on the Planet of the Apes. At the end of the (proverbial) day, we continue to manifest our future. The scenarios are still being played out. The deepest, most profound element at this or any crossroads is the essential quality of being human… that we have the choice. Free will is our trump-card. Planet of the Apes, or Space Odyssey? Or is there a third way?

Stay vigilant intrepid space cadets... for, given the crazy world in which we live... given the ramifications of the crossroads at which we stand... our choices will have profound consequences in the years ahead.

- Jack Heart





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