Thursday, June 14, 2012

2001 analysis - part 61: Kubrick on luck and one's attitude in life


The rack set-up for a game of blackball. Note the pattern of reds and yellows (colors can be reversed). [Image from the Wikipedia 'Blackball (pool)' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

Continuing with our discussion from the previous part of this analysis, concerning references to the game of billiards in 2001, we note that when the balls are first racked up in the British-style game of pool known as blackball, the red and yellow balls are placed in the alternating pattern shown in the above screencap. Presumably, this is designed the way it is so that there is no greater chance of pocketing a yellow ball on the break than there is a red one. Recall that the sequence of events beginning with HAL's attack on Poole (via the EVA pod, which represents a cue-ball), up through the moment that Bowman is 'shot' into the airlock (billiards table pocket), represents the balls being knocked around in a game of blackball (with Bowman wearing a red spacesuit and Poole a yellow one). Also, note that the game of pool is governed by the universal 'action-reaction' laws of physics, i.e., when a ball is struck with a certain speed at a certain angle, it moves away with a certain resultant speed and angle. What Kubrick is saying is that there is some kind of universal law whereby the respective fates of Bowman and Poole are due to some kind of deterministic process, that is, which man would live and which would die during the sequence of events surrounding replacement of the AE-35 unit, was in some sense pre-determined by universal forces.

Poole admits defeat in his chess match with HAL, without correctly verifying that he has been checkmated.

Recalling the earlier discussion of the Indian Upanishad, in which it is suggested that a man's attitude and deeds determine his destiny, and in consideration of the fact that Poole has a worse 'attitude' toward life than does Bowman (he gives up in the chess game with HAL without sufficiently verifying that he has been checkmated, he sounds somewhat 'negative' during the discussion with Bowman in the pod, and he essentially 'blows off' the birthday greeting from his parents), one might think that Kubrick's message is that each astronaut's 'destiny' was determined by his attitude: Poole went careening off into space and presumably died (or at least, he did so after Bowman let him go), whereas Bowman lived at least long enough to re-enter the ship and disconnect HAL. However, what is actually the case is that Bowman's 'ejection' into the airlock is being depicted as some kind of random process, one which resulted in his hitting his bare head on an unpadded portion of the airlock wall; thus, his brain injury and eventual death (the alien/Bowman 'combination' at the end of the movie consists of the alien life force occupying Bowman's dead body). Thus, what Kubrick is ultimately saying is that although a man's course of life is determined to a large extent by his attitude and deeds (Bowman did a good deed in trying to save Poole), in the end, the outcome of his life is determined by random processes - it cannot be guaranteed that either a good or an evil man will get his 'just rewards'.

The topic of random fortune and destiny appears in the bible, in Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 [Revised Standard Version]:

11. Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. 12. For man does not know his time. Like fish which are taken in an evil net, and like birds which are caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

Recall that the alien influenced Bowman's mind so that he forgot to put on his space helmet, before leaving Discovery One to retrieve Poole. Since a large part of the reason Bowman injured his head, is because he was not wearing a helmet when he entered the airlock, the evil alien played a very significant part in influencing his destiny.

When Bowman is 'ejected' from his EVA pod into one end of Discovery One's emergency airlock, he hits his bare head on the closed doorway on the other end, instead of hitting it on one of the padded portions of the wall.

What Lynch is doing in Mulholland Drive is telling us that Diane has a bad attitude toward life and suffers the consequences, but the fact that she was abused as a child no doubt contributed to her having the negative attitude; and since this abuse was a factor beyond her control, i.e., it is 'random' that she was born into an abusive family, Lynch is ultimately saying that random forces can affect one's life attitude itself, and thus can, to a large extent, determine the outcome of one's life. What Tarantino is trying to get across in Pulp Fiction is the idea that a random happenstance can alter even an evil man's fundamental attitude to life, and even change the very course of his life: When hit men Jules and Vincent are completely missed by several gunshots fired at them point-blank, Jules thinks it over and decides that it is a miracle (in the religious sense), and as a result, he decides to quit being a hit man and to instead wander the Earth.


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