Damn Dirty Apes
This is another entry in the Close-Up Blog-A-Thon over at The House Next Door. Be sure to check out the hub for some great writing. Also, I would like to apologize for my computer refusing to take an adequate screenshot. Unfortunately, there will be no pictures to supplement my arguments. Sorry about that.
The first close-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey seems out of place. On the African plains, night is falling. We see a leopard, and its roars dominate the soundtrack for the rest of the scene. We watch a group of apes huddling for safety among a group of rocks. We see Moonwatcher, the leader of this group, watching over the others alone. Two apes hold each other closely, the first real sign of affection among the apes. And then the close-up.
An ape's face dominates the screen, its eyes wide and constantly moving. This is the first time we have seen an ape's eyes up close, and we see the fear the leopard inspires. This sort of emotion is something we've yet to see so far, and it's something we won't see again until we're introduced to HAL. This is an ape that has human qualities, and it turns out to be more human than David Bowman or Frank Poole. This sort of revelation can be shocking.
In fact, David doesn't truly show emotion until he has already gone to Jupiter and through the monolith. HAL, often described as killing the crew members with ruthless efficiency, acts out of fear. In the infamous scene where HAL reads David and Frank's lips as they talk about shutting him down, most people see HAL as uncaring and calculating. I see it as a creature learning about a threat. Is HAL really supposed to just sit idly while Frank and David turn off all his mental capabilities? No, like any sentient being, HAL needs to fight back. His actions are motivated by the fear of being shut down, and his protest to Dave explicitly tells the audience that this is a being capable of emotion. Dave has never shown fear. He reacts to every situation with pure logic, yet we align ourselves with him because he has become a representative of our species. But the humans here are less human than HAL, and they are less human than the apes we saw before. Dave needs something extraordinary to happen for him to become human.
That something happens when he passes through the monolith. First he is literally transported, but then he is mentally transported. Once we see the first extreme close-up of Dave's eyeball, I believe we see things shown in his mind. By passing through the monolith, his mind is being altered just as the apes' minds were altered. Dave is learning about the origins of the universe, and so are we. This, I think, explains his state when his ship finally comes to rest in the bedroom. His mind simply isn't ready to process the information that has been given to him. Then we return to a normal close-up of Dave. He is finally frightened. He must become human to surpass humanity. It is only at the end of his body's life that his mind is truly ready to move to the next level. Once he is beyond the state of being human, he does not need to have fear. This is reflected by the close-up of the Starchild. The Starchild is calm, for he is beyond a human state.
The close-up is used in 2001: A Space Odyssey to show the emotion that is so rare in this film. Apes are scared. HAL is scared. Dave is not until his mind is altered. The Starchild is peaceful, maybe even happy. The first glimpse of happiness in the film comes from a being that is beyond human. What does that say about us?