Study Guide

2001: A Space Odyssey Summary

2001: A Space Odyssey Summary

Not Your Toto's Africa

The movie opens four million years ago, give or take a few, where a group of early hominids lives on the African veldt. They exist in a simpler, technology-free time where scrounging for food, being hunted by leopards, and fighting over muddy water holes is all in an honest day's work.

One day a mysterious black monolith appears before the hominids—because reasons—and soon afterward they begin to develop tools in the form of bone clubs. The clubs allow the hominids to hunt for meat and fight off rival tribes, giving them a distinct advantage in the survival of the fittest.

Fly Me to the Moon

Flash forward four million years, again give or take, and we find Dr. Heywood Floyd flying to a space station for a layover on his way to the moon. There, he bumps into a group of Russian scientists who want to pick Floyd's brain about rumors they've heard surrounding an epidemic at the Clavius moon base. Dr. Floyd says he's not at liberty to discuss the matter.

At Clavius base, Floyd thanks the resident scientists for their cooperation in the coverup story, saying it's necessary because the public might not be ready to learn about their discovery. Floyd goes to see the discovery himself, and it turns out to be a black monolith identical to the one we saw in Africa. Well, that the apes saw in Africa. When sunlight touches the monolith, it emits an ear-splitting radio signal.

Jupiter Ascending (Only Better)

Eighteen months later, we pick up the story aboard the Discovery One, a spaceship bound for Jupiter. Aboard are Drs. Dave Bowman and Frank Poole as well as three other astronauts in hibernated cryosleep. The ship is run by a HAL 9000 computer that utilizes artificial intelligence; that feature was part of the sales pitch, at least. They call him "HAL." He's got a soothing "voice"—calm and measured—but a bit creepy if you ask us.

One day, HAL detects that the antenna's AE-35 unit is about to go kaput. Bowman performs a spacewalk to retrieve the unit, but once aboard the ship, Poole and Bowman find nothing wrong with it. Worse, mission control reports back that its twin 9000 computer says the unit's just fine and HAL is wrong. Like that kid who argues with the teacher about everything, HAL chalks it up to human error.

Houston, they've got a problem.

Poole and Bowman use an excuse to go into the EVA pod, and they secretly discuss what to do with HAL. They decide to replace the antenna unit, and if it doesn't fail, they'll have to shut down HAL's higher "brain" functions. HAL discovers their plan by reading their lips and does what he has to do to protect the mission from these incompetent humans.

When Poole goes to replace the antenna unit, HAL takes control of the EVA pod and cuts his oxygen line. Poole drifts into the cold reaches of space, and Bowman takes another pod out to retrieve him. While the Bowman's away, the HAL will play. He shuts off the life support systems, killing the hibernating scientists aboard the ship.

Bowman returns with Poole, but HAL refuses to let him back into the ship. Bowman uses the emergency airlock to sneak aboard, but in doing so, he has to let go of Dr. Poole's body. Inside the ship, HAL tries to convince Bowman that everything's okay now, he was just having a bad day, worried about the mission, etc. Bowman, not to be persuaded, shuts down HAL's memory circuits one by one, effectively killing him—turning him back into an ordinary machine. It's a dramatic slow death scene as HAL tries to reason with Bowman. He says, "Stop, Dave. I'm afraid." Maybe we can get Siri to say that.

At the moment of HAL's death, a video message comes on the monitor. On it, Dr. Floyd reveals the true purpose of the mission, previously only known to HAL. He tells the crew about the moon's monolith and the signal it's sending. The signal suggests the existence of extraterrestrial life and it's pointed directly at Jupiter.

It's a Boy!…We Guess

In Part Four, Bowman reaches Jupiter and locates a third monolith. The monolith opens a Star Gate and Bowman travels through vast distances of kaleidoscopic space-time. On the other side of the psychedelic trip, Bowman finds himself in a classy, neoclassical hotel room. As he explores the room, Bowman ages considerably until he becomes an old man on his death bed.

At the moment of his death, the monolith appears to him and transforms him into a creature that looks like an angelic fetus. No, seriously, that happens. The newly born Star Child travels through space in a futuristic amniotic bubble without the need of a spaceship and returns to Earth.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We open with the sun, earth, and moon aligned in a pattern looking suspiciously like the sun and crescent moon of Zoroastrianism. Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra plays triumphantly as the title credits roll. We think, oh, so that's where that music is from.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • The film cuts to a rosy dawn over the African veldt. A title card informs us that this is the Dawn of Man. We get several shots of a beautiful yet desolate landscape. There are a couple skeletons thrown in to really drive home the harsh vibe.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Some early hominids are sitting around eating and grooming themselves. Some tapirs hang out nearby much to their annoyance. A leopard leaps down and noshes on one of the hominids.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • The hominids are hanging out at their neighborhood watering hole when a group of rival hominids appear for a prehistory turf war. The rivals win access to the watering hole.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • The defeated hominids find shelter, listening to the sounds of predators hunting in the night. When they awake, they discover a mysterious, featureless black monolith nearby. Initially, they're afraid to touch it, but they eventually approach it with an air of… reverence?
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • One of the hominids is messing around near some bones, just passing the time. Looking at the monolith, he seems to have an epiphany and begins hammering one bone against the others. He's invented humanity's first tool. Naturally it's a weapon. That night, the hominids dine on some unsuspecting tapirs.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • The hominids return to their water hole and try out this newfangled thing called revenge. Equipped with bone bludgeons, the hominids kill one of their rivals, scaring off the rest.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Excelsior! One of the hominids triumphantly throws his bone into the air. A match cut sends us millions of years into the future, replacing the bone with a similarly shaped satellite. Satellites and space stations whirl gracefully through space. In this future, a man sleeps on a commercial space flight docking at one of these stations.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • The man meets a Mr. Miller of station security and heads through customs. Here, we learn he's Dr. Heywood Floyd and his destination is the moon.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Mr. Miller heads to the restaurant while Dr. Floyd makes a phone call home. He talks with his daughter and tells her he won't be able to make it for her birthday because of his business trip. He says he'll get her a special present, and she asks for a bush baby—cuteness for all the days.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • Dr. Floyd runs into a Soviet colleague having a drink with some friends. They ask him about the mysterious goings on on Clavius Base on the moon. The base has been out of communication for ten days and one of their rockets was denied emergency landing rights. They mention intelligence that suggests an epidemic has broken out on the base, but Dr. Floyd goes into full tease mode, saying he isn't at liberty to discuss it.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • Dr. Floyd is moonward bound. The Blue Danube Waltz plays in the background as we see several shots depicting commercial space travel, detailing everything from how meals are eaten to how stewardesses get around in space. There's even a zero-g toilet that comes with a whopping ten steps worth of instructions. No thanks; we'll wait.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • Dr. Floyd talks with the Clavius Base personnel. He thanks them for their sacrifices and congratulates them on their discovery, which "may well prove to be among the most significant in the history of science." Hint: it's not a mushroom forest brimming with baffled French scientists.
    • Floyd also reinforces the need for the epidemic cover story to preserve secrecy, because the public needs to be properly prepared for the implications of their discovery. Without it, shock, panic, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. He informs them he's there to prepare a report for the council on how the news should be announced.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • Dr. Floyd flies out to the site with two staffers from the Clavius base. They brief him on their discovery. Initially they thought it might be a magnetic rock, but nothing they know of could have created a magnetic field like it. Also, the evidence suggests it wasn't naturally covered but deliberately buried there 4 million years ago.
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    • The discovery is revealed to be a black monolith identical to the one found by the hominids way back when. The men prepare to take a picture with it, but when sunlight strikes the artifact, it sends out a high-pitched signal, and the crew covers their ears in pain.
  • Scene 16

    Scene 16

    • 18 months later, the U.S. spacecraft Discovery One is heading to Jupiter as part of the boringly named Jupiter Mission. Mission commander Dr. Dave Bowman and Deputy Dr. Frank Poole watch their interview with the BBC. Three other members of the ship's crew are in a state of hibernated sleep.
    • The ship's operating system is run by a computer with a sophisticated artificial intelligence OS, called the HAL 9000. HAL tells the BBC interviewer that no 9000 computer has ever made a mistake. Ever. Dr. Bowman says HAL acts like he has genuine emotions but notes that no one knows whether or not these emotions are real.
  • Scene 17

    Scene 17

    • HAL shows Frank a message from his parents. His parents wish him a happy birthday and tell him about the happenings from home. They let him know he's a real hero back there. HAL wishes Frank a happy birthday as well. And…scene?
  • Scene 18

    Scene 18

    • Poole and HAL play a game of chess. HAL corners him and Poole resigns. Later, Dave sketches the hibernating crew and HAL asks to see the drawings. He tells Bowman that his drawing is quite improved. HAL asks Dave if he's having second thoughts about the mission, while admitting it's had suspicions about the strange stories coming from the moon and all the secrecy during preparations for the mission. Dave doesn't answer; he tells HAL he's probably working on his crew psychology report. Suddenly, HAL reports failure of an antenna control device in 72 hours.
  • Scene 19

    Scene 19

    • Mission Control says they'll double-check the data in their mission simulator but approves the crew's plan to retrieve the antenna's control device before it junks out. Because no HAL 9000 has ever made a mistake. Dave takes an EVA pod out for a spacewalk and retrieves the device.
  • Scene 20

    Scene 20

    • Dave and Frank check the antenna control device, but Dave can't find anything wrong with it. HAL agrees, saying it's puzzling and it's never seen anything quite like it before. It recommends replacing the unit to let it fail and then repairing it.
  • Scene 21

    Scene 21

    • Dave and Frank contact Mission Control and are told that their on-board HAL 9000 was in error in predicting the malfunction in the antenna—results based on their twin 9000 computer. Dave asks HAL to explain the discrepancy. HAL says it must be attributed to human error. HAL restates that the 9000 series has a perfect, error-free operation record.
  • Scene 22

    Scene 22

    • Frank and Dave go into one of the EVA pods under the pretense of checking its transmitter. Inside, where HAL can't hear them, they discuss whether HAL is malfunctioning. They decide to put the unit back and see if it fails. Poole says if HAL's wrong then they'll have to disconnect him. Bowman agrees, though he isn't sure what HAL will think about such a procedure.
    • Outside, HAL is reading Bowman and Poole's lips. Excuse us a sec while we go put our cell phone in the other room.
  • Scene 23

    Scene 23

    • Poole goes out in the EVA pod to replace the antenna unit. During his spacewalk, HAL takes control of the EVA and cuts his oxygen line. Poole tumbles into the dark vastness of space. He dead.
  • Scene 24

    Scene 24

    • Bowman rushes to the EVA pod room. HAL says he has a good signal on him but doesn't have enough information to know what happened. So, lies aren't considered errors, eh Hal buddy?
  • Scene 25

    Scene 25

    • Bowman uses the EVA pod to retrieve Poole. Back on the ship, HAL cuts the life support for the three hibernating crew members, killing them. Paging Elon Musk.
  • Scene 26

    Scene 26

    • Bowman returns to the Discovery One with Poole's body. Hal won't let him in, claiming the mission's too important for him to let Bowman muck it up. He reveals he read their lips during the conversation in the pod. Bowman says he'll go in through the emergency airlock. HAL notes that without his space helmet—which Bowman left behind in his hurry—he'll find that very difficult. HAL has the best lines in the film, by a long shot.
  • Scene 27

    Scene 27

    • Unable to open the airlock without the EVA pod's arms, Bowman lets go of Poole's body and watches it drift into the darkness. He manually opens the airlock doors and blasts his way inside and manages to survive. To HAL's credit, it was right; that did look difficult without a space helmet.
  • Scene 28

    Scene 28

    • Bowman walks through the ship in full spacesuit gear and heads for HAL's processor core. Along the way, HAL tries to assure him that everything is better now and it's okay. When Bowman enters the processor room, HAL begins pleading for his life.
  • Scene 29

    Scene 29

    • Bowman begins disconnecting cards from HAL's memory terminal. HAL says he can feel his mind going. HAL's mind reverts back to his earliest memory, the day he was turned on. He sings the song "Daisy Bell" as he slowly deactivates. Or is that as he slowly dies?
  • Scene 30

    Scene 30

    • A TV monitor turns on at the moment of HAL's death. The pre-recorded briefing—which was meant to be played when the crew arrived at Jupiter—depicts Floyd telling the crew about the monolith and its radio signal. The signal was directed at Jupiter. The monolith's purpose remains a mystery. Only HAL was aware of the reason for the Jupiter Mission.
  • Scene 31

    Scene 31

    • After what we're guessing was a very long, very lonely trip, Bowman reaches Jupiter and discovers a monolith in its orbit. Bowman goes to collect the monolith with an EVA pod and is pulled into a vortex or wormhole or… something.
  • Scene 32

    Scene 32

    • Bowman travels the vast distances of space and time in a vortex of 60s acid-laced light. He also witnesses vast alien landscapes, or at the very least, earthly landscapes with alien color filters. Trippy for days.
  • Scene 33

    Scene 33

    • At the end of his trip, and we mean that in both senses of the word, Bowman stares out the EVA's window to see a room decorated in a pristine neoclassic motif. It looks like the aliens' home decorator nicked the home furnishings from a museum and set them on a disco floor.
  • Scene 34

    Scene 34

    • Bowman sees himself standing outside the EVA, only he's significantly older. From this Bowman's perspective, the EVA has disappeared. Bowman explores the swanky pad only to find an even older him eating dinner.
  • Scene 35

    Scene 35

    • Old man Bowman checks the bathroom to discover nothing there. He returns to his meal and knocks over the wine, shattering the glass on the floor. After observing the breakage, he looks up to see an even older Bowman lying in bed, dying. Deathbed Bowman looks up to see a black monolith standing before him like some geometric death.
  • Scene 36

    Scene 36

    • Bowman transforms into a creature that looks like a celestial fetus. The camera pans into the black monolith and we are taken back to Earth. Bowman's new form, called the Star Child, stares at the Earth while the music swells to its conclusion. The end. What, really?!