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The Evolution of the Viewer Through Time Lapses: An In Depth Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Evolution of the Viewer Through Time Lapses
The visual manifestation of what has never been has been a hallmark of film since the days George Mèlies took A Voyage to the Moon (1902).
- You are walking down a street in Chicago now, in 1923 but I force you to bow to the late Comrade Volodarsky, who is walking along a street in Petrograd in 1918 and who responds to you in a bow. (…)…I am the Cine-Eye. I construct things. I have planted you, who were created by me, in a most remarkable room that never existed before and that I also created. -Dziga Vertov
The Kino Eye is King
Not long after Dziga Vertov emphasized the necessity to use editing to not only manipulate the viewer’s perception of what they are seeing, but also to create a world in which the meaning comes directly from the auteur. By expanding on editing’s capabilities he suggested (or yelled in his manifestos) that what the viewer sees on the screen has little to do with the film footage taken and entirely with the way the film is cut and put back together. In a sense, the director creates their own world from the existing world and gives that world its own sets of boundaries within time and space.
Vertov features these concepts in his documentary film Man With a Movie Camera (1929). The creation of his Russia is cut and pasted together from separate moments in time. He then infuses the cameraman (Vertov's brother Mikhail Kaufman)into shots as well as showing us the woman (Vertov's wife Yelizaveta Svilova) editing the shots behind the scenes. For Vertov, film is about each shot and using montage to put them together to create something of meaning.
Man With a Movie Camera
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick uses editing to produce new boundaries in time and space. These two unique ways create distinct lapses in time and positioning within the films already establish boundaries. Kubrick takes Vertov's ideas of a filmic perspective and expands on it. Let’s break the two examples down.
The Ape Man and the Spaceship
The first example occurs during the break between the ape man killing then tossing a large bone high to the sky, following up then down into a second shot of a long spaceship surrounded by stars. The two scenes have no real connection other than the bone and spaceship being similarly shaped. The cut itself is rather jarring since the backgrounds and sounds that accompany the two shots are fairly different. Their fluidity comes from the motion of objects within the shot and little else. The film takes the viewer over several tens of thousands of years in a matter of seconds with no explanation. For some, the effect was baffling; for others the leap through time signaled the beginning of the movie which takes place about an hour after the opening credits. Not many directors can get away with starting the plot of a film an entire hour after the film begins.
Bone to Spaceship
Quote taken from this book by Annette Kuhn
- Indeed, the most obvious difference between science fiction as literature and science fiction as film lies in the latter’s mobilization of the visible, the spectacle. If cinema is one among a number of narrative media, it also has its own language, its own codes, through which it makes meaning and tells stories. These codes derive from cinema’s capacity to show the fictional worlds of narratives it creates, literally putting them on display for spectators to look at.
Linking Two Scenes
This code that Kuhn describes creates the reasoning for Kubrick’s approach for the significant lapse in time between the first two parts of 2001. Unlike literature, he doesn’t need to explain to the viewer there’s more than a bone and spaceship connecting the two sections together. The Dawn of Man portion detailed (without dialogue) man’s introduction to violence, an unknown monolith and in essence, the evolution of a beast into something that can be considered our ancestor.
The second part of the film reintroduces the monolith; only this time violence is sparked by a computer and the viewer is left to question this computer’s, Hal, evolution from a thing to a sentient being. It doesn’t matter that when the scenes were linked, the reasoning wasn’t clear. Kubrick created a language in which the spectator would eventually understand the means of placing two things (with no apparent link) together in a way which they would eventually become coherent.
Fast Forwarding Life
In the second example, Kubrick uses editing to displace time in the conventional sense (in the Jupiter sequence) where shot after shot show Dave slowly aging then dying in an antiquated room that seemingly appeared from nowhere. How do you show something that has never been seen?
In his attempt to recreate life, Kubrick dismantles life in a way that visualizes concepts that have only been theorized. There are shots of colorful psychedelic space to a shot of Dave’s eyes seeing those colors to a shot of inside Dave’s space-pod looking to the antiquated room with disco floors. Kubrick places the space-pod inside the room as Dave trembles from the experience of his travel through space and/or time. The next set of shots has Dave walking through this space, each time spying himself in an older state. He becomes that older him he sees and continues on until his death.
I think Vertov would applaud Kubrick’s use of editing to link a person to their future without the pair ever speaking or connecting on a physical level. This is not only a space of Kubrick’s making, it is an actual time of Kubrick’s making entirely outside any concept that the viewer exists.
The Antiquated Room
With the lapses in time in 2001, Kubrick can alienate his audience because the codes used are often unspoken and the worlds created are often so unfamiliar that the narrative can become difficult to follow. This can be said of Dave’s aging process.
When I first saw this film long ago I thought, “What the hell am I watching?” The same can be said of the bone sequence where I initially felt the movie began after The Dawn of Man and ended before The Jupiter Sequence. The two parts with little dialogue had narrative progression, but not in any standard way. I was young then and as I now consider the totality of the movie, the lapses reflect a jump within the film which not only harkens back to what the viewer has just seen since the beginning of the film, it emphasizes what might have gone over our heads the first time: evolution of a being throughout time and within the complex area we call space. There are three evolutions taking place within 2001: A Space Odyssey: man, technology (Hal) and the viewers.