Month: May 2015

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on Mise-En-Scene

  2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

                Production Co: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM),

                Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

                Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick Arthur C. Clarke


                Dr. Dave Bowman – Keir Dullea

                Dr. Frank Poole – Gary Lockwood

                Dr. Heywood R. Floyd – William Sylvester

                HAL 9000 (voice) – Douglas Rain


In this blog I will explore mise-en-scene from the aspect of visual themes in a sequence of events. I have considered shots separately in order to examine the contribution each one makes…as they unfold on the screen in space and time, fulfilling separate functions.” (Film Art: An Introduction, Pp 146, Bordwell)


Act 1 – An ape discovers the tool in the form of a bone.

“You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression.” (The Film Director as Superstar, Kubrick) The entire fist act is without dialogue and leaves the audience to “fill in” the visual experience themselves.

The “Origin of the species” by Charles Darwin 1859, explains a means of natural selection produced the next progression in evolution. However in Kubrick’s 2001, an out-of-place artifact, (the monolith) sets in motion a progression of higher intelligence. The audiences awareness or “collective consciousness” could have related the sequence of images to the book “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Daniken 1968, published in the same year Kubrick’s 2001 was screened. It also explains “artifacts were produced either by extraterrestrial visitors or by humans who learned the necessary knowledge from them.”(Chariots of the Gods, Daniken)


Act 2 – The red room and hard drive of HAL 9000

The internal brain of HAL poses questions of artificial intelligence through the personification of language used by the machine. The Interviewer questions the astronaut, Dr. Poole; Do you believe HAL has genuine emotions? In response “Well he acts like he has genuine emotions…” (2001: A Space Odyssey, Interviewer and Dr. Poole) Hal appears to become increasingly devious throughout the second act. In the scene above to protect human life on board Dr. Dave Bowman needs to disconnect HAL.

As he floats into the hard drive of HAL the audience is encompassed with the colour red. Red possibly projects a physiological response from the audience of danger. Red was associated with danger when women realized red berries are poisonous. “color preferences are wired into the human visual system as weightings on cone-opponent neural responses that arose from evolutionary selection” (An ecological valence theory of human color preference. Palmer & Schloss)


Act 3: The monolith in the sterile room surrounded by 18th century décor.

Dave’s placed in a “hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being…and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny.” (The Film Director as Superstar, Kubrick) Kubrick projects a sense of leaping through space time using montage transitions during Dr. Bowman death and rebirth. The monolith makes its 4th and last appearance, returning to the theme of an evolutionary leap. The score “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (Richard Strauss, 1869) reinforces the relationship between the first and last scenes, providing a tempo and creating suspense and tension for the audience.

Kubrick’s expression in mis-en-scene strengthens the themes of evolution and poses questions on intelligence. The lack of dialogue and the expanse of imagery and score encourages the audience to think about what the shots represent. The audience is given space to draw upon their own experiences and interpret the film for themselves.


Film Art: An Introduction, 1979, David Bordwell, McGraw Hill Higher Education, London

The Film Director as Superstar, 1970, Joseph Gelmis, Doubleday and Company: Garden City, New York

Origin of the Species, 1859, Charles Darwin, John Murray, United Kingdom

Chariots of the Gods, 1968, Erich von Daniken, Econ-Verlag (Germany), Putnam (USA)

2001: Space Odyssey, 1968, Stanley Kubrick, DVD, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (, Online article, An ecological valence theory of human color preference, 2010, Palmer S & Schloss K Edited* by Paul Kay, University of California, United States

Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1869, Richard Strauss, Music, Vanguard Records, Germany

IMDB, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Web,

Image References