Kubrick and Bergson tell us about the evolution of humanity


“2001: A Space Odyssey” goes beyond the mere film, Kubrick gives us an anthropological vision of the whole human evolution: past, present, and future. Bergson, on the other hand, in his most famous work: “Creative evolution”, approaches a metaphysical vision of the world, setting as a universal basis a force he calls “vital energy”, which gives rise to all vital processes up to human intelligence. Both authors, despite their differences, draw what is a unified vision of all human evolution as a species, through time and space.

Kubrick: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey is not just a film

Stanley Kubric was undoubtedly one of the great masters of cinema in the second half of the 20th century, but with his masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the director goes further. It is not a simple film he gives us, but an entire anthropological vision of humanity: past, present, and future flow on the screen, in a succession of scenes in which the viewer can observe the entire evolution of our species from afar. Kubrick does not deal with the history of the individual, or the individual nation, but with the whole of humanity. At the center of the narrative plot is always the artifact, the tool, the object with which through the use of technology we have managed to conquer our place in the world, and then some. The film is divided into four chapters, each of which is an independent story but also an evolutionary chapter in our history. The only common element is always the black monolith, but what does the monolith represent in the film? We will come back to this point later. For our article, what interests us is the importance Kubrick assigns to the tool in each of the first three chapters of the film. In the first part of the film, “Dawn of Man”, the story takes place on the African plains and the protagonists are a family of hominids. The most important scene in this part of the film is the moment when this first form of man comes into contact with the monolith. After contact, he learns to use the tool (an animal bone) for his purposes, turning it into a weapon and starting his evolutionary ascent. The second chapter takes place in the near future in which man has succeeded in conquering the Moon. Through the technique, which is an extension of his arm, the human being has managed to go beyond his planet. In the third chapter, the scene is set in a spaceship en route to Thursday, here the entire ship and crew’s fate is entrusted to the Hall9000 computer, in the story it is said that these calculators have never been wrong. In this part of the film, technology has surpassed man, the human being has submitted to his creation, believing that he has created a perfect being that can guide him beyond all boundaries. The machine proves to be imperfect, turning into a killer and is sabotaged by the last surviving member of the crew. The last chapter of the film, on the other hand, is steeped in-depth, meaning, and symbolism, which given the context and nature of this article is difficult to delve into. We find David Bowman, the last surviving astronaut, being transported through a star-gate, a space-time tunnel, into a neo-classical room. Life and death, space and time, Apollonian and Dionysian, everything is inside this room, the cycle of life itself. The eternal return is represented on the screen. Bowman is now old, and as he lies dying on his bed, waiting for his last breath, the monolith appears in front of him, which will transform him into the star-child, a child looking down on the Earth from space. Now man has surpassed himself, he has overcome the dichotomy that kept him tied to technology, he has fulfilled himself in the absolute.

Bergson and creative evolution as an anthropological vision

Henri Bergson, a French spiritualist philosopher, was the main exponent of a movement that arose in response to positivism, which placed everything in a mechanistic view, leading to the principle that all knowledge was deducible through the scientific method. Bergson did not agree with this cold idea of the world, and within his main work “The Creative Evolution”, he tried to trace a unitary conception of the universe, without divisions between matter and spirit, or consciousness and nature. The French philosopher traces, just like Kubrick, an anthropological vision of the whole of human evolution and beyond. Bergson begins his discourse from far away, hypothesizing a basic force, a constituent of all life in the universe that expands indefinitely and which he calls ‘vital energy. From this energy, according to the philosopher’s metaphysical vision, every single form of life is created. The basic point of diversification between organisms is the way they take nourishment. From this initial difference, following the evolution and also Darwinism, there is always a greater differentiation of life forms and thus the creation of more species. Bergson’s way of seeing the world, if at first, it seems to oppose science, chemistry, biology, in truth it does exactly the opposite. His theory tries to embrace every single discovery, placing itself above them, trying to become transcendent to them. This was a very general view of our philosopher’s work, now let us get to the point that interests us for our article: the creation of intelligence in the human species. Bergson places two basic characteristics within the animal kingdom from the outset: instinct and intelligence. He considers these two factors to be interdependent, but while the first, instinct, is the ability to use and even construct organic tools (an important example of this is bees), intelligence is the completed faculty with which to construct and use inorganic tools. As far as human intelligence is concerned, Bergson argues that it cannot be stressed enough that the invention of the tool, and later of the mechanical instrument, was its main manifestation, and even today, as we all know, our social life gravitates around the manufacture and use of artificial instruments. Kubrick and Bergson, using different means of expression, place the human species in the same condition.

Vital energy and black monolith, two different names for the same thing?

In Kubrick’s entire film, the only ‘character’ we find in every single chapter is the black monolith. An enigmatic figure that even today it is not clear what precisely its symbol refers to. We find the monolith in the first chapter on the African plain, and after its appearance, the group of hominids will begin to use the first tool. We find it in the second chapter on the Moon, almost like a sentinel, as if observing us and watching our progress. In the third part, it is on the edge of Jupiter, and it will be the monolith that will accompany the astronaut Bowman at the end of his journey, into the non-Euclidean room of ‘time’, and when Bowman is on the point of death, it will reappear before him, transforming him into the star-child, thus closing a circle. The monolith is what “gives” man the consciousness of his intelligence, it observes him throughout his evolutionary path which will lead him to the stars, then it will take him beyond the stars, leading him to become part of the cosmos himself, closing a circle, and concluding Kubrick’s entire anthropological vision of the human species. Bergson’s vital energy is different, conceived in other terms, but with points in common. This force that is hypothesized involves the entire universe, the Earth as well as the stars, and it was on Earth a few million years ago that an early species of hominids with little instinct, to survive, had to focus on intelligence, leading to the construction of the first tools, an evolution that creates. Within a relatively short time, the mastery and ability through the intellect to create mechanical objects, the continuation of their limbs, and expansion of themselves, led them to become the dominant species on their planet. Where this vital energy hypothesized by Bergson will lead us in the future, nobody knows yet. One thing is certain, and here Kubrick was right, man has always raised his head and looked to the stars.

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