Study Guide

2001: A Space Odyssey Screens and Windows

Screens and Windows

Screens and windows are everywhere in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yeah, we hear you say, of course there are screens everywhere; it's a movie about space flight. True, but when we say everywhere, we mean everywhere. Kubrick stuffs so many screens into his shots that even a Verizon store floor planner would think it's a tad overkill.

But unlike the floor planner, the film has a reason for displaying all those screens and windows beyond merely numbing our senses long enough to partake in some good old-fashioned buyer's remorse.

As we discuss in the "Themes" section, 2001 explores our reliance on technology to survive. The near constant presence of screens and windows expands upon this theme. Here, not only do we rely on technology to survive, but our reliance on technology has shaped how we view the world.

Consider the scene where the lunar shuttle lands on the moon. The pilots have a view of the lunar surface, but equally important, perhaps more important, to the safety of their descent is the targeting screen between them that changes when they're lined up with the landing pad.

A similar scene occurs when Bowman takes the EVA pod to rescue Poole. Like the shuttle pilots, Bowman has a tiny window, but he navigates space through the information provided by his many screens. In the straight-on shots, the screens reflect their information across Bowman's eyes and face, reinforcing the idea that technology interprets the way we view the world.

Also, let's not forget that HAL views the world exclusively through lenses and screens. As a character, he can only interpret the world through the means of technology. This results in a worldview that is distorted from a human's perspective, represented by the use of a fish-eyed lens used for HAL's point-of-view shots.

POV Shot

Of course, the follow-up question is how we should feel about the fact that technology regulates our worldview. And the answer will depend on you as a viewer.

For example, John Calley, a former Warner Bros. executive, had this to say on the subject:

As a species, we've started spending all of our time looking at screens. We don't look at each other. You go to the family home for dinner, the boy has a Blackberry, the girl has a Blackberry, the little kid is doing his homework on a computer, the husband is watching a hockey game, and the wife is watching Oprah. We've become parallelists. We don't look at each other; we look together at screens. (Source)

For Calley, our reliance on screens is a new phenomenon and represents a shift in how people now see the world. Before, we experienced the world together; now we experience it separately.

On the other hand, Carolyn Geduld said, "[…] Kubrick likes to show us the universe through the framing devices of windows, screens, helmet visors, doorways, and, in the last shows an embryonic sac, giving us the sense of in utero—protections from the experience that as an audience we may be too delicate to withstand." (Source)

In this interpretation, the human mind can only accept so much reality. Our screens provide a technological buffer that filters that reality into something more manageable for us. We like that interpretation because…oh, 'scuse us for a sec, we've got a text…

Through the Looking Glass

Finally, we should point out that Bowman's transformation into the Star Child has him shedding these screens from his world.

After his mind-expanding trip through the Star Gate—where we see Bowman mostly through shots of his eyes—Bowman and his EVA pod appear in the hotel room. The first thing to disappear is the EVA pod with its screens of information. The next thing to disappear is his spacesuit with the glass helmet that reflected so much of his experience to the viewer.

Only in shedding his human view, as represented by windows and screens, can Bowman make the transition to the Star Child, a being that will look on the world in an entirely different way.