>>3693>The focus on astronauts downtime
What people seem to forget about 2001 is that it was made in 1968. That was a full year before man walked on the moon, and was the year the space race was at its height. It was a time of great excitement and even greater uncertainty. There was a sense that by the end of the century mankind would be living among the stars (hence the title). But the general public, being aware that the space age was dawning, still did not fully grasp what was involved or what that meant.
People in 1968 weren't even sure what the Earth looked like from space. In the film Earth is depicted as a blue planet with clouds, but the continents are not visible. It was a best-guess by scientists at the time, that Kubrick used.
Previous to 2001 space in film was hokey. It was depicted in trashy sci-fi B-films in a laughable manner: men would walk on Mars without space suits and find native plants and animals to use for food, luxury space ships would boldy go where no man had gone before at several times the speed of light and encounter sexy green aliens. 2001 showed the public the reality of space (at least how it was thought by scientists and people involved at the time), and that must have been immensely entertaining at the time. To see for the first time how the mundane would change, that food would be eaten from packets, that the toilets would come with lengthy instructions, that people would walk on the ceiling held down by velcro, that gravity had to be fought by the craft rotating and the crew exercising, and also to see the start of the space age, the colonisation of the moon and exploration of the outer planets.
We now fully live in the space age, men have explored other worlds, we have sent probes to the deepest corners of the solar system, and we maintain a continuous human presence in space thanks to the ISS. To us what happens in 2001 is routine because we grew up with it. To us it's "downtime", but to a 1968 audience it was a mind-blowing glimpse into the future of the species.
>combined with a score often consisting of ear-hurting single tones before ending with a heavily debatable ending
Kubrick saw in the dawn of the space age and the immense challenges that it brought with it the hand of evolution, and he structured the film around that.
It has an ambitious scope as a consequence, built around key moments of advancement and change in the species and the universe. Originally in the cinema it opened with several minutes of a blank screen and silence before the opening sequence suddenly came on where light emerges and illuminates the heavenly bodies. It's the dawn of the time so to speak, in simple cinematic terms. Then Kubrick takes us to the dawn of man, and he connects that to the dawn of the space age with technology, the bone tool thrown in the air is matched with a spacecraft.
The main part of the movie then shows the space age for the audience, but Kubrick had to go forward beyond even that for the structure he had set up at the beginning to find form. But of course the future beyond the future is completely and totally speculative, so Kubrick intentionally kept it speculative to give the audience the chance to wonder. You're not really supposed to make sense of the ending beyond realising that its representative of a further step, and the 'starchild' is symbolic of that step.