A few years ago I decided to write a short, spontaneous essay on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I’m not part of the crowd pursuing for every possible bit of information there is to find about the director himself. It was just that 2001 had intrigued me for years, drawn into its persisting mystery.
I had two ideas in specific that I wanted to explore and put down in words. I would settle for one of them, as I tried out the most interesting option for the essay I aimed to turn into a forum post to some online community.
I decided to theme the free-form interpretation around chess, knowing about the director’s passion for the game; I used the game of chess as a means for an interpretation, aiming to describe the episodes in the film, as well as the grander overall themes, through an analysing lens themed on the game.
While browsing online, I came across a forum thread in which someone pointed out that during a certain moment during the ending sequence, the shot makes the fluorescent squares across the floor make up eight times eight, like on a chessboard.
It intrigued me that this was a detail very factually pointing to the game of chess.
The details of the actual game of chess that is played in the film are easily found online, since the moves of the game are being clearly announced, with a chessboard set-up visible mise-en-scène.
I started comparing the moves from this actual game of chess (comprising of the few last moves of a game prior to a checkmate) with the abstract hotel room end sequence. I was intrigued to find a chess piece being captured in the first of the moves from the game: as Dave Bowman’s spacepod disappears from the hotel room (by way of a cut) it could, I thought, function as a symbol of the captured piece.
I went through a few more of the moves in the game, pondering about possible correlations while skipping back and forth across the ending sequence.
The aim had been to be abstractly toying with a general idea of the ending sequence as a game of chess, perhaps presenting this idea in my brief and free-form interpretation of the film.
Suddenly I startled while doing this. As Dave-Bowman-as-an-old-man walks across the room of the end sequence – in the shot turning those fluorescent squares into an abstract chessboard – he walks in an absolutely straight line across the room, and then turns sideways.
I looked at the moves of the chess game: the last move is that of a knight – the piece moving in a straight line, and then one square sideways – being moved at the centre of the board. Old Dave Bowman’s solitary and robotic-like walk across the room – succeeding the encounter having taken place – was in quite startling unison with that last move of the game.
I was quite startled, since this was yet an occurrence of the hotel room sequence that actually matched the moves of the chess game.
I was astounded and intrigued, and began focusing on the other moves of the game, thoroughly investigating each move.
As I learned more about chess, studying the strategic implications of each move of the game being played in the film, more and more connections between the moves in that game of chess and the hotel room ending became discernible.
There were gaps in the connection that left me hanging – but the trail that I had stumbled upon now made my project shift from the small spontaneous essay into a larger project.
I decided to add an image into this section of the essay, displaying the set-up of the chessboard of the game, enabling the reader to follow the position of the pieces.
The clues I had in a correlation between the chess moves and the end sequence had made a consecutive, move-by-move connection discernible. Still there were gaps in the correlation, seemingly making the connection to be briefly cut. It left me perplexed, as I tried to figure out the connections.
At a certain occasion, while watching the film I noticed something that, quite frankly, made me turn a little bit uneasy. During the ’Jupiter Mission’ episode, one of the crew members (hero Dave Bowman, nonetheless) does that peculiar walk, like the old Dave Bowman does in the ending sequence; walking in a straight line and then turning sideways.
There was, quite naturally, nothing odd or strange at all about any of this: Dave Bowman, on board spaceship Discovery, walks along the narrow aisle of the gravity wheel until he reaches the spacemen’s food machine and then approaches the machine.
That’s it. No mystery.
There was nothing strange about this at all – yet I couldn’t let go of the thought of there being a deliberate correlation here, between old Bowman in the hotel room and his younger self walking along the gravity wheel. The link would be that last move of the knight, the chess piece moving ’in a straight line’ before turning one square to the side.
The thought was just plain silly: this particular scene would have connections to the moves of the chess game, as well. To contemplate the possibility of that scenario, I thought, was just too spectacular and too astray from any sensible approach of the film whatsoever. It wasn’t going to be the least fruitful to even begin contemplating this utterly unrealistic scenario.
I started investigating if there were several successive connections between the ending sequence and this particular scene.
Eventually I started looking at the possibility of there being successive connections between the end sequence and other individual scenes in the film. I rewrote and revised my work yet again, investigating this possibility.
Comparing the end sequence with individual scenes did, ultimately and fragmentarily, visualize a coherent and recurring visual structure inherent within the scenes in the film. The architecture of this coherent visual structure was defined by – yes – each single move from the game of chess between HAL and Frank Poole.
This all sounds rather bonkers, doesn’t it?
It’s either that – or what I’m telling you here is the most marvellous amazing cinematic discovery you’ll ever know.
The scope of the connections widened by the day.
Eventually I made the decision to scrap nearly all of my free-form interpretation – the aim of my work had changed, and I decided to exclude almost anything not grounded in steadfast empirical proof and observation.
The discovery of this hidden visual architecture eventually gave the final answers to the link between the moves of the chess game and the events of the hotel room ending sequence.
There are segments in the film that are linked to each consecutive move of the mise-en-scène chess game. The way to make the connection, is to compare these segments with the end sequence of the film.
And now: the entire film is constructed from an unbroken chain of these segments, recurring over and over, connecting each single scene in the film to the actual moves in the mise-en-scène chess game.
But I wasn’t aware of any of this from the outset.
What I had set out to do was to catalogue correlations, systematically, between the end sequence and individual scenes, until there were no more to be found.
These correlations also cross-aligned between all scenes in the film.
Eventually I took a year off from work, focussing on finishing what I had started, the aim being to present a discovery devoid of any loose ends whatsoever. (In the meantime also completing two less exhaustive projects, on Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut.)
As I was about to publicise my work online, the strategy for reaching an audience was to send off a segment – the introducing description of the link between the chess game and the end sequence – to a handful Kubrick-oriented public profiles.
(And part of the story here is, this initially being my only strategy.)
I was dead sure that as soon as the emails had been received and read, it would all just snowball from there.
Apart from making a few friendly connections, the response was either that of silence or indifference.
Wanting to stick to the deadline I had set, I instead installed any free-to-use video editor into my laptop. I put the pages of my work detailing the link between the ending sequence and the chess moves straight into a video, aimed to become the vehicle of attention for the discoveries presented in my work.
The video itself stirred some minor interest, receiving positive comments on social media posts. There was no extended interest, at all – none, nothing – for my exposé of further discoveries, presented in the work in which the contents of the video formed a backbone.
Beyond of soon diminishing social media posts, the response I received was nothing but silence or shrugs of indifference.
Understanding that no one wants to spend time on an obscure PDF attracting no attention from anyone whatsoever, I went on making a few more videos promoting my work – only that there’s no way to make a short video that even begins penetrating the fractured and multifaceted tree of connections discovered and described throughout the pages.
The videos are all just images; and nothing else, lacking the skeleton, the spine, of explanations that runs through the pages of the work; in which those same images are part of a coherent, unified and logical whole.
In that sense, the videos are all examples rendered shallow, showing only one side of a coin: displaying an outcome but not a reason.
Imagine you have a completed jigsaw puzzle in front of you: that would be an abstract image of my work on 2001. Someone points to a piece, saying, ’How can you claim this piece fits in place exactly here?’
If you display the solitary jigsaw puzzle piece, and nothing else, it says nothing. The only way to ’explain’ the jigsaw puzzle piece would be to present its placement in a logic, unified and structured whole.
As a side note. To tell me that my work is ’interesting’ – that is, implying that all of those pages are nothing but adventurous interpretation, a Rorschach test – leads to a certain conclusion.
If my work wouldn’t be solid, if it’s merely ’interesting’, it would imply that my stance towards Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would be – considering the scope of my work – that of a seriously deranged Alzheimer patient spewing out whatever comes into his mind.
(There would also be the question of me having created a detailed, logic, coherently recurring visual structure, spanning across the length of the film and being empirically grounded in evidence, all on my own and out of nothing.)
My work on 2001 is nothing but the exposure of a trail I’ve followed, discovered and followed within the boundaries of the film itself.
I’d propose that the scope of this discovery is on a scale more sensational, than were the lost reels of von Stroheim’s Greed to resurface (my part in the analogy being that of the guy who happened to stumble on the boxes).
And that’s that.
You’re welcome to explore the full extent of the revelations. You’d be raising the curtain on the cinematic discovery of the century.