Thursday, March 22, 2012

2001 analysis - part 33: Tarantino: Bowman's 'trip' through the stargate


Top left: Bowman's view at the beginning of the stargate sequence. The image looks similar to psychedelic art (see below). Top right: Bowman's face at the beginning of the sequence. Above left: Later in the sequence, Bowman doesn't look so good. One way to interpret this is that he is experiencing a bad trip, like the kind a person might have due to use of a hallucinogenic drug such as LSD. Above right: Still later - Bowman's view, again reminiscent of psychedelic art.

Above: Two examples of psychedelic art. [Images from the Wikipedia 'Psychedelic art' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.] Psychedelic art is any kind of visual artwork inspired by psychedelic experiences induced by drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin. The word "psychedelic" (coined by British psychologist Humphry Osmond) means "mind manifesting." By that definition all artistic efforts to depict the inner world of the psyche may be considered "psychedelic." In common parlance "Psychedelic Art" refers above all to the art movement of the 1960s counterculture. Psychedelic visual arts were a counterpart to psychedelic rock music. Concert posters, album covers, lightshows, murals, comic books, underground newspapers and more reflected not only the kaleidoscopically swirling patterns of LSD hallucinations, but also revolutionary political, social and spiritual sentiments inspired by insights derived from these psychedelic states of consciousness.[a]

A bad trip (or psychedelic crisis) is a disturbing experience sometimes associated with use of a psychedelic drug such as LSD, Salvinorin A, DXM, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT and sometimes even other drugs including cannabis, alcohol and MDMA. The manifestations can range from feelings of vague anxiety and alienation to profoundly disturbing states of unrelieved terror, ultimate entrapment, or cosmic annihilation. Bad trips can be exacerbated by the inexperience or irresponsibility of the user or the lack of proper preparation and environment for the trip, and are reflective of unresolved psychological tensions triggered during the course of the experience.

Potential causes of bad trips
According to Timothy Leary, a crisis can be a result of wrong set and setting. Leary advised that users of psychedelics be sure that they are comfortable before taking the drugs.

Alternatively, psychiatrist R. D. Laing held that psychedelic crises and other such extreme experiences, drug-induced or not, were not necessarily artificial terrors to be suppressed but rather signs of internal conflict and opportunities for self-healing.

Likewise, Stanislav Grof suggested that painful and difficult experiences during a trip could be a result of the mind reliving experiences associated with birth, and that experiences of imprisonment, eschatological terror, or suffering far beyond anything imaginable in a normal state, if seen through to conclusion, often resolve into emotional, intellectual and spiritual breakthroughs. From this perspective, interrupting a bad trip, while initially seen as beneficial, can trap the tripper in unresolved psychological states. Grof also suggests that many cathartic experiences within psychedelic states, while not necessarily crises, may be the effects of consciousness entering a perinatal space.[b] According to, the World English Dictionary defines perinatal as "of, relating to, or occurring in the period from about three months before to one month after birth." Recall that Bowman is reborn at the end of 2001.

Top left: In Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (center, in white blouse) has just inhaled cocaine (a stimulant) in the restroom of club and restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim's. Top right: Later, back at her apartment, Mia mistakenly inhales heroin, an opioid, thinking that it is cocaine. Above left: Mia is near death after having inhaled the heroin. The white fluid is a recently-consumed milkshake being ejected from her mouth. Above right: At one point in the stargate, Bowman sees this 'milky-white' pattern.

Top left: Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega prepares his heroin for use. As mentioned above, heroin is an opioid. Top right: Vincent injects the prepared heroin. Note the blood flowing into the syringe. Above left: At one point during the stargate sequence, Bowman sees this red fluid-like 'blob'; this looks not unlike the blood in Vincent's syringe. Above right: Vincent's facial expression while experiencing the high from the heroin, is similar to Bowman's expression at the beginning of the stargate (as shown in the right-hand screencap at the top of this post).

Kubrick was making a statement about 1960s counterculture in 2001. Recall that Kubrick's film was released in 1968, which was a peak year in the counterculture period, during which LSD and heroin use were fairly common among the participants in the youth movement. Since David Bowman experiences a bad trip, Kubrick's statement about the '60s counterculture was a negative one, i.e., Kubrick was expressing the idea that the counterculture was in some way, a destructive force against society. The damaging effect on Bowman of the brain injury he received, upon striking his head on one of Discovery One's steel walls, when he re-entered the ship from space, is, within a certain context, a metaphor for the 'impact' of brain damage caused by drug use, on many of the members of the generation that grew up in the '60s. In a more general sense, it represents the 'shock' effect of the counterculture period on society; the long-term effects of this shock extend up to current day.

a. Wikipedia, 'Psychedelic Art'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Bad trip'. Web, n.d. URL =


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