Thursday, February 05, 2015

Thus Spake Zarathustra

No, it wasn't an accident that I chose that picture for a previous post.  For some reason the nickel finally dropped, and I realized what a profoundly disturbing and depressing film "2001" was.

It's a Kubrick film, so you can't expect an uplifting lesson about the progress of Man, or some such.  But the opening sequence ends with the apes, progenitors to man, discovering the effectiveness of violence.  They can kill a tapir; they can kill the other tribe; and of course it's no accident the bone hurled into the heavens in triumph becomes a satellite orbiting the earth; a satellite bristling with missiles.

The second sequence ends with the madness of HAL-9000.  Except HAL is not mad; HAL has become sentient, has become intelligent.  Just as the apes learned intelligence, and found it linked to violence, the effective violence of self-preservation (which made the bone become a military satellite), so HAL learns intelligence and tries to turn effective violence to self-preservation (Why?  Because HAL has been exposed to knowledge of the slab, a knowledge which sparks HAL's all-too human (?) intelligence).  HAL's only problem is he's up against an intelligent ape who understands self-preservation even better than HAL does, and who effectively "kills" HAL in order to prove it.

The third sequence, then, also ends with incipient violence.  Now Dave Bowman has been exposed to the slab, too; and the Star-Child orbits the earth, where we last saw the whirling, unfinished space station.  He folds his hands together, fingertips just touching, gazing open eyed at the blue marble before him.  If I remember correctly, Arthur C. Clarke ended the novelization of the movie story with the Star-Child first extinguishing the military satellites orbiting the planet.  Nothing like that happens in Kubrick's version, but it is clear the Star-Child is the supreme power on the planet now; that it has learned a new intelligence.  What is not clear is whether this new intelligence precludes the lesson that intelligence=a more effective violence.  But given that the former human being is now an embryonic Star-Child, there's no reason to believe (or hope) the indifference to suffering of others by human infants won't be replicated in this infant.

And if that is evolution, or progress, or any kind of improvement at all, I'm hard pressed to see it.  All we are really spared in the movie's ending is the series of nuclear explosions that concluded "Dr. Strangelove."  But then, it wouldn't have been funny a second time around; and there's nothing to indicate in this vision of humanity that we'll all meet again, anywhere, ever.  And while I have problems with the film's version of "human intelligence," it is also of a piece with the reasoning of the secular world.

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