2001: The Monolith

In the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the audience experiences three solid levels of evolution and explanation of mankind in the eyes of what may seem as religion to some and science to others.

CURIOUSITY (understanding)

The opening plot scene of the film takes place in prehistoric Africa (4 million year ago) when the monolith enters our solar system near Jupiter. Its’ destination is Earth. It seems as though the monolith was deliberately placed by extraterrestrials in the middle of a tribe of apes (image 1). This era in the film can be described as the dawn of man, about 4.0 million-2.9 million BC. The monolith has not been given a specific meaning or purpose but can be seen as a challenge to be understood. The apes are characterized in this nonverbal scene as having fear, curious, and courage. The ape figures out that bones can be used to fight others and hunt for food. This leads to evolution.

EXPLORATION (discovery)

Man is scientific, civilized, and rational. In space, man loses control of his tools. Without gravity he has to learn how to walk again, eat mushy food, and be toilet trained (like a baby). After being in space for a year and a half, the film presents issues between man and technology. Hal, the computer system, is programmed to be more human like but has a monotone voice and essentially is still just technology. Hal decides to let man die in space without any emotional connection.

EVOLUTION (the mind)

Lastly, we are presented with an infinite reality in a fifth dimension where man has been abandoned and is eating his last meal. His own death brings him to another place, wondering what the point of his life was.


In chapter one of the book, How to Read a Film by James Monaco, we learn about that the nature of art is covered by a wide range of human endeavor and can not be defined exactly. In the rest of the chapter, Monaco discusses the ways to look at art, the modes of discourse, “Rapports de Production”, as well as, film, recordings, and other digital arts.

As it relates to film, this chapter makes the distinction between two types of theater. Both require scene setting on a stage with actors and actresses that work from a script or general outline of what to say and is viewed by an audience directly for entertainment purposes. However, one (playwright) definition tends to be more dramatically done with live acting and the other (cinema) is based on atmospheric lighting, a speaker system, seating, and snacks.


The three frames from the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, are representative of both spiritual and scientific symbolism. In the film, there are references made to the number three in several scenes. It is believed that the monolith represents the trinity in Christian faith: the father (apes), the son (astronauts), and the holy spirit (the 5th dimension). It is also said to represent the scientific evolution of man from the simpleton ape who discovered that bones could be used as weapons to hunt for survival or to kill with intent, the astronauts who have evolved technologically but are still learning the basics of life in a new environment, and the mind or the spirit where man transcends to another dimension, not known to him before certain evolutionary changes.


According to Monaco’s observations about artistic criticism, the film 2001 has a complex application of coded language. In the first frame we see ape surrounding the monolith and all of them are touching it. This shows curiosity, simplicity, and the need for understanding as a group. The second frame is of one astronaut touching the monolith where we see a less curious crowd of people in space and that only one person is curious enough to evolve, learn, and truly explore new things. The last frame shows the establishment of space in a white room with a man lying in the bed. This shows the complexity of visually illustrated heaven or the mind’s eye or even another dimension where man has explored to the point of no return and sure enough, the monolith is there too.

The film 2001 shows a relationship to the other arts in how it is composed. We see the art of dialectic through the way characters in the movie have conversation, the spectrum of abstraction in the raw materials used to create the scenes in space, and even a potential system of discourse between the filmmaker or artist and the audience.

The connection between the way Monaco addresses the technological aspects of putting together a film and the team that worked to put together this film was fascinating. Below is a list of notes from an article that I dissected, The Amazingly Accurate Futurism of 2001: A Space Odyssey:

  • Piers Bizony, science writer and space historian and Arthur C. Clarke, work together to create the film’s futuristic set design
  • “New widescreen format called Cinerama, which used a three-camera system to create an impossibly large, wide picture.”
  • Richard McKenna, artist: created color schemes for space crafts before anyone really knew what they might look like
  • Roy Carnon, illustrator: created a visual system that imagined how sunlight and shadows might fall in space
  • Hans-Kurt Lange, illustrator in NASA’s Future Projects Division: modeled 2001’s space suits using the same horizontal stitching as NASA to maintain a constant volume of air


In the end, Monaco’s chapter one of How to Read a Film, explains how film is not only purposed for entertainment but to be analyzed in the  various ways that it is composed as an art.

About Brittany J. Rosario 48 Articles
Brittany J. Rosario is a Versatile Writer, who isn't afraid of expressing herself through various media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Spotify podcast. She enjoys writing poetry, abstract painting, freestyle dancing and reviewing popular culture, history and iconic moments. Being a content creator gives her a different perspective on life. Her purpose is to maintain a positive and informative environment where people can be their true selves.