Study Guide

2001: A Space Odyssey Man & the Natural World

Man & the Natural World

Consider where you're reading these words right now. Most likely you're sitting down looking at a computer screen in a room with a heater or air conditioning. It might be raining, snowing, windy or a balmy 100 degrees outside, but chances are you're in a place that's more-or-less constantly comfortable. All right, time to un-meta ourselves.

Point is, technology has allowed us to create a lovely little bubble between ourselves and our natural environment, and 2001: A Space Odyssey enjoys pushing this boundary. The film starts with the first steps to this technological divide, represented by a bone club wielded by our ancestor in the inhospitable, no-Starbucks-for-days Africa of prehistory. That bubble expands and evolves with humanity until it's capable of assisting Dr. Floyd in traveling to the moon, a natural landscape that makes prehistory look welcoming by comparison. But 2001 is not content to merely explore this bubble; it gives it a little pop in the form of one HAL 9000.

Questions About Man & the Natural World

  1. What similarities do you see between outer space and the African savanna? How do these heighten your understanding of the natural world as depicted in the film?
  2. How does space-age technology try to mimic the natural world? Why does it do this?
  3. How do you see the character of HAL fitting into this theme?
  4. How do you feel the Star Child's relationship to the natural world has been altered? Why do you suppose it returns to Earth?

Chew on This

Despite our great advances in technology, the space-age humans in the film are shown to be just as frail and mortal as their early ancestors. Technology hasn't fundamentally altered humans, only their relationship with the natural world.

The idea that man has distanced himself from the natural world is made all the more ironic by the fact that the African savanna scenes were shot in a studio using the front projection technique.

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