Author of "Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory"
and "Misconceptions about 2001"


My book Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory was published in 2000. Since completing the book, I have come up with additional insights into 2001's symbolism. Some of these insights are my own; others have come from three readers: Jim Gaites, of Arlington, VA; Derek Heatly, of Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Todd Ford, of Bismarck, ND. This article's main purpose is to present these new insights. A secondary purpose is to refute the opinions of three reviewers who have challenged the basic premise behind one of the new insights: the premise (developed in the book) that TMA-1 NOTE 1, the moon monolith, symbolizes the Trojan Horse.

To follow the discussion, you should be familiar with the material in my companion article "Misconceptions About 2001" which has been posted on the Underview website since 2001. The "Misconceptions" article explains, in more detail than I will repeat here, that 2001 is a multiple allegory. An allegory is a visible story (the surface story) that symbolically tells an invisible story (the hidden story). In 2001, three allegorically told stories depict (1) Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, (2) Arthur Clarke's theory, expanded by Kubrick into a spoofy narrative, that man and machine will one day merge into a symbiotic entity, a humanoid machine, and (3) Friedrich Nietzsche's best-known work, Thus Spake Zarathustra.

The first of the fresh insights involves new evidence that the moon monolith's name, TMA-1, is a disguised anagram that says "No Meat." By "disguised" I mean that TMA-1 must be respelled TMA-ONE to get the necessary letters for NO MEAT. This anagram alludes to the meatless (wooden) Trojan Horse. To appreciate the new insights you must first recognize that the moon monolith does indeed symbolize the Trojan Horse. I'll therefore begin with a review of background evidence establishing that the monolith symbolizes the Trojan Horse. This background evidence is in my book but seems to have been overlooked by the three reviewers, who assume that the anagram is my "proof" of the Trojan Horse's identity. The apparent reason for their assumption is that I discuss the anagram before discussing the moon monolith scene. In the book I discuss the anagram first because, in the movie, the TMA-1 dialogue takes place on the moon bus, before Heywood Floyd arrives at Tycho to inspect the monolith. Overlooked by the reviewers is this sentence: "In the next scene (not yet discussed), the moon monolith scene, it becomes evident that TMA-1 symbolizes the Trojan Horse." For emphasis, I later repeat the statement: "The next scene, the moon monolith scene, leaves no doubt that the monolith (TMA-1) is the wooden horse." In other words, I am using the soon-to-be-established fact that the monolith symbolizes the Trojan Horse to support my finding that the name TMA-1 is an anagram. I am not, as the reviewers have suggested, doing the opposite: using the anagram to prove that the monolith symbolizes the Trojan Horse. (The anagram does, however, constitute minor supplemental evidence of what the monolith symbolizes).

Most symbolism is based on analogical relationships (similarities) between the symbol and the thing being symbolized. For example, Dave Bowman's last name uses a spelling analogy (actually a near identity) between the spelling of the name Bowman and the spelling of bowman (i.e., bow-man), where bowman describes Odysseus's skill with a bow and his role as master of the Great Bow. (Odysseus uses his Great Bow to slay his wife's nasty suitors near the end of The Odyssey.) One good analogy is all it takes to create a good symbol. But in 2001 we have not one but sixteen analogies relating the moon monolith to the Trojan Horse. Five analogies directly bear on the Trojan Horse symbolism; eleven more establish that the Trojan Horse symbolism agrees with the sequence of events from The Odyssey. In my opinion, the analogical evidence that the monolith symbolizes the Trojan Horse is powerful enough to remove all reasonable doubt. This evidence falls under two headings: (1) evidence from the Tycho scene, where Heywood Floyd inspects the monolith, and (2) evidence from the sequence-of-events context in which the Tycho scene appears. Beyond this evidence, we also need to look at (3) some internet chatter in which the anagram is questioned on grounds that the Trojan Horse is not in The Odyssey, hence could not be symbolized in an allegory depicting The Odyssey.

Evidence from the Tycho Scene

In Homer's The Odyssey, the besieged city of Troy falls to the attacking Greeks immediately before Odysseus, one of the Greek leaders, begins his homeward voyage - the title voyage of The Odyssey. The Greeks pretend to quit; they withdraw. They leave behind, in front of the gates of Troy, an enormous wooden horse. It is hollow. Odysseus and some other Greeks are hidden inside. The Greeks also leave behind a make-believe deserter, who tells a tale designed to trick the Trojans (residents of Troy) into dragging the horse inside the gates. The ruse works: the Trojans drag the horse inside the walls. Then they stand around and curiously inspect the object. Then, after dark, something comes out of the horse. Greek warriors sneak out and open the gates of Troy. The Greek army, which has stealthily returned, rushes in. The dying Trojans reel in pain. Troy falls, and Odysseus begins his homeward journey. Now, let's examine the analogies.

(1)   The moon monolith scene takes place at the moon crater Tycho. Kubrick evidently scoured the list of moon crater names - Tycho is a real crater name - and chose Tycho, the name that most nearly resembled Troy. Both names are short, both begin with T, and both contain the additional letters o and y. Tycho symbolizes Troy.
(2)   The moon monolith is inside the walls of a pit. The pit's walls are the walls of Troy.
(3)   The astronauts in the pit, symbolizing the Trojans, curiously inspect the object that stands within the walls.
(4)   Something comes out of the monolith - a powerful signal beamed at Jupiter.
(5)   The symbolized Trojans reel in pain. The surface story has no need for them to reel in pain, no need for the signal to be painful or even audible. Kubrick had the astronauts fall back in pain because he wanted to symbolize the pain of the dying Trojan warriors.

Evidence from the Sequence of Events

Further evidence that the moon monolith symbolizes the Trojan Horse comes from the sequence of events. Immediately after Troy's fall, Odysseus (1) starts his journey back to his home island of Ithaca. In the first of many episodes on this odyssey, he attacks the city of Ismarus, home of the Cicones. During this episode, his crew (2) runs through the streets and (3) fights the Cicones. Then Odysseus (4) loots the city, after which he (5) gets burned - figuratively speaking - in a counterattack that costs him the lives of six men from each of his 12 ships.

In 2001 we find these events symbolized in quick succession immediately after the symbolized fall of Troy - immediately after the moon monolith scene. The symbolic analogies are as follows:

1   Dave Bowman, symbolizing Odysseus, starts his journey. The spaceship Discovery (Odysseus' ship) comes into view, cruising toward Jupiter.
2   Bowman's crew runs. Bowman has a one-man active crew, Frank Poole. In the first scene inside the spaceship, Poole runs along the centrifuge track (the streets of Ismarus).
3   Poole symbolically fights. He shadowboxes (fights the Cicones) as he runs.
4   In the next scene, Bowman loots the food dispensing machine (Odysseus loots Ismarus).
5   Bowman then gets burned - he shakes his fingers in pain - by the hot food. (Odysseus gets burned in the counterattack).
Collectively, these five analogies describe the first things that happen in The Odyssey after the fall of Troy. If Kubrick got his sequence of events right, and he did, the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy should immediately precede the analogical attack on Ismarus. And they do. The symbolized Trojan Horse and the symbolized fall of Troy immediately precede the start of Bowman's journey and the symbolized attack on Ismarus. The moon monolith analogies thus fit the prescribed time sequence perfectly.

This finding is just the beginning of a much wider time sequence fit. The second episode of Odysseus' journey is a visit to the land of the Lotus-eaters. After leaving Ismarus, Odysseus encounters a gale that drives his ships to the land of the Lotus-eaters. There he (6) sends three men inland to (7) survey the situation. The survey team members meet the Lotus-eaters, eat lotus, and lose the desire to return home. Odysseus goes after the three crewmen, drags them back to the ships, and puts them in irons. The three are thus (8) disabled and unable to act. So if the monolith is the Trojan Horse and the pain of the astronauts is the pain of the dying Trojans, we should consecutively see (a) the Trojan Horse symbolism, (b) the Ismarus episode symbolism, and (c) some Lotus episode symbolism.

Events a and b certainly fit the pattern. Does the next event on the space voyage also fit the pattern? It does. As Bowman and Poole sit down to eat, a pre-recorded BBC television interview of Bowman and Hal comes on. The first item in the interview is a description of the three crewmen in hibernation. We learn this:

6   Bowman has three men in hibernation, the same number that Odysseus had in chains.
7   Bowman says the three men "represent the survey team"; they have the same general function as the three men that Odysseus sent inland.
8   Because the three are hibernating, they are disabled and unable to act - just like the three intoxicated-by-lotus, restrained-by-irons men are in The Odyssey.
Now let us back up and look at the two events that immediately precede the fall of Troy (excluding siege details, which are not symbolized). Menelaus, king of Sparta, returns home from a voyage to Crete and is (9) briefed on an urgent matter: his wife, Helen, has been seduced by Paris, a prince of Troy, and taken to Troy. Angered, Menelaus gathers an army and a fleet of (10) a thousand ships and (11) sails to Troy. (Helen becomes known as Helen of Troy and as "the face that launched a thousand ships.") Do events symbolizing these three developments immediately precede the moon monolith scene? They do.

9   Heywood Floyd, symbolizing Menelaus, arrives at the moon base at the crater Clavius and is briefed on an urgent matter: a mysterious object has been uncovered at Tycho.
10   Floyd gets on a moon bus that has bug-eye front windows and many landing feet. The eyes and feet allow the moon bus to symbolize a millipede, a "thousand-footed" crawler. The figurative thousand feet, in turn, symbolize the thousand ships.
11   Floyd (Menelaus) sails to Tycho (Troy) on the moon bus. The symbolized fall of Troy immediately follows.
Looking at the full sequence of events, we find that they occur in this order: First, Menelaus is briefed on his wife's abduction. Second, Menelaus launches a thousand ships and sails for Troy. Third, the Trojan Horse brings about the fall of Troy. Fourth, Odysseus attacks and loots Ismarus, then gets burned in a counterattack. Fifth, Odysseus visits the country of the Lotus-eaters, where his three-man survey team becomes disabled. The symbolism in 2001 covering these events proceeds in the same order. The time-sequence context fully supports interpreting the moon monolith, TMA-1, as the Trojan Horse.

Is the Fall of Troy Covered in the Odyssey?

At a couple of websites I have seen the Trojan Horse interpretation questioned on grounds that The Odyssey does not cover events that preceded the return voyage of Odysseus and thus could not be symbolized in 2001. This objection fails on two counts. First, The Odyssey does mention the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy. In the E. V. Rieu translation (New York: Penguin Books, 1946) that I used, the account is in chapter 8 ("The Phaeacian Games"). There the Trojan Horse action and certain other adventures are presented as flashbacks. Excerpt: "The renowned Odysseus and his party were already sitting in the place of assembly, concealed within the Horse, which the Trojans had themselves dragged into the citadel. There stood the horse, with the Trojans sitting round it. . . . (Later) the Achaean (Greek) warriors, deserting their hollow ambuscade, poured out from the Horse to ravage Troy" (p. 136). Second, I point out in my book that "the events symbolized in 2001 cover a broader period (broader than the return voyage) that includes events leading up to the fall of Troy." I add that "these earlier events, compiled from several ancient sources, are chronicled in Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heros" (p. 44).

The new, post-publication insights include two that relate to the Odysseus allegory.One deals with the TMA-ONE anagram; the other relates to another name, AE 35 NOTE 2.

The TMA-1 Anagram

As mentioned earlier, when TMA-1 is respelled TMA-ONE, the letters can be rearranged to form the anagram NO MEAT. This phrase alludes to the meatless Trojan Horse: a wooden horse has no flesh, no muscle, no meat. Skeptics have argued that other anagrams - No Mate, No Team, and Man Toe - can be formed from the same six letters. But the other anagrams lack any rational basis; they do not describe the Trojan Horse. There is no analogy between either No Mate or No Team and the Trojan Horse, and Man Toe is pure gibberish. NO MEAT, on the other hand, is rational. It facetiously describes what, as determined from the sixteen analogies, the TMA-1 monolith actually represents.

As evidence that TMA-1 is a deliberate anagram, I noted three things:

1.   Although the anagram itself could be accidental, its being a fitting description of the Trojan Horse could not be accidental. That's too much of a coincidence.
2.   There is only one TMA object, hence no need to number it. Without a TMA-2, the 1 in TMA-1 is pointless. Kubrick added the number for a reason: to support his anagram.
3.   In the conversation that surrounds the viewing of the TMA-1 charts on the moon bus, Halvorsen asks, "Got any HAM." Michaels paws through the sandwiches saying, "HAM, HAM, HAM, HAM." Kubrick is hinting that we should think of meat.
Regarding point 3 above, it turns out that I overlooked two-thirds of the hints about meat, including the cleverest one. Both Derek Heatly and Todd Ford contacted me and pointed out two other references to meat. Before the HAM references, Floyd asks, "What's that, CHICKEN?" And after the "HAM, HAM, HAM, HAM" remark, Halvorsen says, "Well, that was an excellent speech you gave us, Heywood." Michaels chimes in, "It certainly was." Halvorsen then continues: "I'm sure it BEEFed up morale a helluva lot." There you have it: references to chicken, ham, and beef, all occurring in the context of a discussion of TMA-1. Kubrick was surely hinting that the name TMA-1 had something to do with meat.

The allusions to meat don't end there. Responding to Floyd's question about chicken, Michaels replies: "Something like that. Tastes the same anyway." That amounts to saying the sandwich contains artificial meat, not real meat. Todd Ford comments: "They might as well be saying: 'I don't know what is in them, but I'm sure there's NO MEAT in there.'"

The AE 35 Symbolism

The movie has two other objects bearing names consisting of letters and numbers: the HAL 9000 NOTE 3 computer and the AE 35 unit. I have no new insights about Hal's name (but see "Misconceptions About 2001" for information about the number 9000). I do, however, have fresh insight into the name AE 35. The AE 35 unit, a small "black box," is part of Discovery's external antennae system. Hal incorrectly predicts that the AE 35 unit is going to fail NOTE 4. Things go downhill from there: the AE 35 unit is a source of trouble.

In The Odyssey, the minor god Aeolus, King of the Winds, is also - here is one analogy - a source of trouble. Odysseus drops in on him at the island of Aeolia on the way home. When Odysseus departs, Aeolus gives him a gift, a leather bag holding the energy of winds. Soon the ships are within sight of Odysseus' home island, Ithaca. But Odysseus goes to sleep at the wrong time. Unscrupulous crewmen open the bag, expecting to find gold and silver. Out come the winds. They blow the ships far off course, lengthen the odyssey by seven or eight years, and in doing so indirectly cause the death of everyone except Odysseus.

When writing the book, I suspected that the designation AE 35 was symbolic. The letter combination AE immediately brought to mind the first two letters of Aeolus. At the same time, I knew that most of the other names in the movie embodied symbolism. The list of symbolic names includes Heywood R. Floyd, Elena, TMA-1, Tycho, Dave Bowman, Frank Poole, and HAL 9000. I also saw the analogical connection: both Aeolus and the AE 35 unit were sources of trouble. But I couldn't find any symbolism in the number 35, and without that I considered the argument for symbolism too weak. So I gave up and wrote: "The Odyssey has far too many episodes for Kubrick to symbolize them all. He skips Aeolus and the bag of winds" (p. 54). Still, I wondered if that was really true.

Last year I took another stab at the number 35, trying to find a link between 35 and wind. Mulling over such words as gale, tornado, and hurricane, I thought of the British World War II fighter plane, the Hawker Hurricane. That sounded promising: a hurricane is the epitome of wind. Then I remembered something in Piers Bizony's book 2001: Filming the Future. Bizony writes, "The British Hawker Siddeley aircraft company produced pod interiors and instrument layouts... (that included) communications systems, voice, video, radar, navigation and control systems, attitude and orbit, remote manipulators and so on" (p. 98). So, Kubrick had dealings with Hawker Siddeley Ltd., the successor to Hawker Aircraft, which designed the Hawker Hurricane. Mightn't Kubrick have decided to give the company a subtle plug in his movie?

But is there a connection between the Hawker Hurricane and the number 35? Yes, there are three such connections. The Hurricane was first test flown in November 1935. The prototype was designated F.36/34, which averages out to 35. And the improved Mk.IIA model, which entered production in 1940, had a ceiling of 35,000 feet. (The Mk.I had a ceiling of 36,000, probably because it had a lighter, less powerful engine.) These connections convinced me. AE 35 symbolizes AEolus (AE) and his winds (35). (References: David Donald, ed. Fighters of World War II (New York: Metrobooks, 1998), pp. 30, 34, 36; U.S. Airforce Museum website,, "Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIA," p. 2.).

Contextual evidence lends further support to this interpretation. In The Odyssey, the winds from the leather bag blow Odysseus and his fleet to the land of the Laestrygonians. Eleven of his ships anchor in a harbor surrounded by cliffs, but Odysseus' ship anchors outside the harbor. The Laestrygonians are muscular and hostile. From the cliffs they hurl huge rocks down upon the ships. The ships splinter; the crewmen die. Odysseus, outside the harbor, barely escapes under a rain of rocks. 2001 honors this sequence of events. Right after the dialog about the AE 35 unit and immediately before Bowman goes out to replace the "defective" unit, we witness a brief outdoor adventure. Two meteoroids come hurtling past Discovery (Odysseus' ship) and in toward the audience. We have just witnessed Odysseus's escape from the Laestrygonians. As it should be, this escape is the next episode after the Aeolus episode.

The fresh insights relating to the Zarathustra allegory concern (1) the evolutionary worm, (2) Hal's mistakes, (3) an overlooked step in the sexual conception of God, and (4) birthdays.

The Evolutionary Worm

Influenced by Darwin's theory of evolution, Nietzsche presented in Thus Spake Zarathustra an expanded theory of evolution. Neitzschian evolution goes one step beyond man to overman (übermensch). Nietzsche divided evolutionary progress into five stages: (1) worm, an arbitrary representative of everything before ape, (2) ape, (3) lower man, the believer who "creates" (imagines the existence of) God, (4) higher man, the nonbeliever who "kills" God by ceasing to believe, and (5) overman, an intellectually and morally superior being. Kubrick symbolizes these stages twice (omitting worm in the first instance), not counting a third instance in which he symbolizes just the last three stages. In the first instance - no worm here - we get (2) ape, symbolized by the apes in Africa, (3) lower man, symbolized by Heywood Floyd, who creates Hal-Discovery, Kubrick's God symbol, (4) higher man, symbolized by Dave Bowman (Zarathustra), who kills God, and (5) overman, symbolized by the star-child.

The second set of evolutionary symbols is crammed into the hotel room sequence: (1) Bowman in the space pod symbolizes human chromosomes in a sperm cell (the pod) that has been ejaculated from a phallus (Discovery), has traveled up a cosmic fallopian tube (the tunnel of lights), and has entered the larger ovum (alien planet). The threadlike chromosomes, in turn, symbolize the worm, the beginning of evolution. (2) Bowman in his space suit, exploring outside the pod, symbolizes the ape. (3) Bowman in black (the universal symbol of evil), seated at the dinner table, symbolizes lower man - specifically, the shepherd from Nietzsche's shepherd-and-serpent parable, in which a black serpent dangles from the mouth of a lowly shepherd, writhing on the ground (hence low = lower man). (4) Bowman in white (the universal symbol of goodness), lying in bed, symbolizes higher man, which lower man becomes when he "breaks" the serpent by biting off its head (the falling and breaking of the wine glass - Kubrick's version of The Fall, this time God's fall from man's grace). (5) The star-child again symbolizes overman.

These points are explained in considerably more detail in my book. But in explaining the worm symbolism (Bowman in the pod), I overlooked some significant supplemental evidence supporting my interpretation. I did describe the Star Gate as "a metaphorical door to an opening in space - a 'wormhole' in Star Trek terminology'" (p. 32). And in a footnote, I mentioned Arthur Clarke's use of "wormholes in space" to describe "shortcuts across the universe" ( p. 40). But I was oblivious to the symbolic implications of the pod-sperm's going through the wormhole. Who goes through wormholes? Worms! Bowman's passage through the wormhole verifies my inference that Bowman in the pod indirectly represents the worm by directly representing chromosomes, which resemble worms in their threadlike structure.

Arthur Clarke refers in his novel to the concept of wormholes (paperback ed., p. 172), and Kubrick worked with Clarke in simultaneously developing the novel and the screenplay; so we can be sure that Kubrick was familiar with the concept of wormholes. Hence we can infer that he was using the Star Gate and the tunnel of lights to strengthen his worm symbolism.

Hal's Mistakes

In my book I argue that Hal's inaccurate prediction that the AE 35 unit was going to fail did not result from a "breakdown," the explanation found in Clarke's novel. In the movie, we see nothing resembling a breakdown. On the contrary, Hal simply makes a mistake. Kubrick goes to great lengths to give his God symbol - the spaceship Discovery and its computer brain Hal - human characteristics, because the Nietzschian version of God is created by man in his (man's) own image. My favorite example of Hal-Discovery's essential humanity is his opening his mouth (pod bay door), sticking out his tongue (pod launching ramp), blowing a bubble (spherical space pod), and watching it rise over his head. Mistake-making is another of those human characteristics Kubrick has given to Hal: "To err is human."

I also mention that Hal made a second mistake (note 6, p. 39). Hal tells Bowman that the title of the song he is about to sing is "Daisy." The song actually has three titles, none of which is "Daisy." The titles are "Daisy, Daisy," "Daisy Bell," and "Bicycle Built for Two." Whether this mistake by Hal is accidental or was deliberately inserted by Kubrick, I do not know.

Not mentioned in the book but noticed by a number of commentators is Hal's mistake in chess notation. He incorrectly describes his winning move as queen to bishop 3 when the light that lights up on the chess board clearly shows that the move is (from Hal's perspective) queen to bishop 6. Referring to this mistake in my "Misconceptions about 2001" article, I said that I was inclined to think the mistake was Kubrick's but that "I wouldn't be surprised if Kubrick deliberately inserted the chess mistake as an ever-so-subtle clue that Hal was capable of error." NOTE 5

Since writing the book and the article, I have noticed still another mistake by Hal, a mistake that makes me more inclined to view the chess mistake as deliberate symbolism. The newest mistake is of a different sort - a mistake in judgment. After Bowman and Poole test the supposedly defective AE 35 unit and find nothing wrong with it, Hal suggests that they put it back in place and wait for it to fail. "I would recommend that we put the unit back in operation and let it fail. It should then be a simple matter to track down the cause." Little does Hal realize that Bowman and Poole will decide to shut Hal down - essentially kill him - if the unit does not fail, that is, if it turns out that Hal was mistaken. Later, in the lip-reading scene, Hal learns that his life is in jeopardy, but by then the situation has spun out of control: Hal belatedly realizes that nothing is wrong with the AE 35 unit, that it will not fail, and that he will consequently be killed - unless he can kill the astronauts first. Hal has made a grievous error in judgment.

The Sexual Conception of God

A part of the process of making God the image of man is giving God a sexual origin. To do this, Kubrick designed a seven-step sexual conception, gestation, and birth sequence: (1) the elongated, phallic earth shuttle, Orion, approaches the eager, rotating space station, (2) Orion, responding to the romantic strains of "The Blue Danube," penetrates the slot in the female space station,(3) something - the new insight - happens that I missed, (4) the spherical moon lander, Aries, which symbolizes a sperm cell, travels to the moon, a larger sphere symbolizing the ovum, (5) the hangar doors on the moon's surface open, allowing the sperm to enter and fertilize the ovum, (6) an eighteen-month gestation period - alluded to in part 2's title, "Jupiter Mission: 18 Months Later" - follows, and (7) God, symbolized in this scene by the spaceship Discovery, is born - slowly, horizontally, headfirst, in usual human fashion - from offscreen into the starry black universe.

In the book I describe only six of the seven steps. I miss step 3. But two readers - Jim Gaites and Todd Ford - noticed what I failed to perceive. Inside the space station, after penetration and before the sperm travels to the ovum, ejaculation occurs. Kubrick uses Heywood Floyd's phone call to earth to provide the ejaculation symbolism. Floyd talks to his daughter, Squirt. "Squirt" has a double meaning. Overtly it refers to Floyd's daughter. Covertly (symbolically) it refers to the squirt of semen that follows penetration. Gaites comments, "I'm still laughing at this one - it's completely mad humor!" Ford too is amused: "I found it the funniest part of the sequence." Gaites and Ford both observe that the symbolism is reinforced by the fact that the girl who plays the part of Squirt is Kubrick's daughter, in Ford's words "the product of one of Kubrick's own ejaculations."

The obvious tendency for Kubrick's humor to get raunchy allows the "Squirt" symbolism to bolster two other interpretations found in my book. In detailing the human characteristics exhibited by Discovery's skeletal frame, I call attention to the spaceship's rear end. There, below the base of the spine (i.e., in the right place), we find three pairs of rocket nozzles. Each pair lies within a hexagon. The rocket nozzles symbolize Discovery's excretory orifices. Ordinary human beings have just one pair of excretory orifices, but Discovery is an extraordinary being: he has three mouths (pod bay doors). Hence he needs three pairs of excretory orifices - one pair for each mouth. And how about those hexagons? What are they doing there? Rocket nozzles aren't ordinarily enclosed. Well, from around 1900 until shortly after World War II, bathroom floors were often finished with small, white, hexagon-shaped bathroom tiles measuring one inch from side to side. Discovery's hexagons symbolize bathroom tiles and, more broadly, bathrooms. Being civilized and urbane, God uses bathrooms when he goes to the bathroom.

The Many Birthdays

Nietzsche included in Thus Spake Zarathustra his doctrine of eternal return. This is the notion that time is a circle. History - every event, every person, every situation - repeats itself over and over in never-ending cycles. The present and future have already occurred in innumerable previous histories and will occur again and again, eternally.

In Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory I show how Kubrick symbolizes eternal return in four ways and even in a possible fifth way. For example, when a man walks straight ahead inside the rim of one of the wheels of the space station, he returns to where he began (the present). The same thing happens when Frank Poole jogs around the centrifuge in Discovery's bulbous head. And when the earth is viewed through the phone bay window from inside the rotating space station, an optical illusion makes it appear that the earth is moving in a circle, constantly coming back to where it was many times before. What I overlooked, though, is that there is still another set of eternal return symbols.

This additional set of symbols was called to my attention by Jim Gaites. He points out that the movie keeps returning to birthdays. Heywood Floyd first makes an extra-long distance phone call from the space station to earth, where his daughter, Squirt, is having a birthday. Not long thereafter, following the elaborately symbolized sexual conception and gestation sequence, God (Hal-Discovery) is born into the starry black universe. Then, inside the spaceship, Frank Poole has a birthday: he receives a birthday phone call from his parents. Finally, in a virtual reenactment of Hal-Discovery's birth, the star-child is slowly born: the camera moves gradually from the bed into the black monolith, which slowly fills the screen and becomes the same starry black universe into which Hal-Discovery was previously born. You might even want to count the day when Moonwatcher learns to use a bone as a weapon - a tool - as the birthday of man. And you definitely should count the day Bowman slays Hal as the birthday of higher man: higher man is born when he "kills" God by ceasing to believe. We "eternally" return to birthdays.

Derek Heatly has two more observations involving things I didn't notice. The first concerns the number eight. Carolyn Geduld, in Filmguide to 2001, offers a Freudian-Jungian interpretation of 2001 with which I strongly disagree. One aspect of her argument is that "Kubrick seems to be fascinated by the number four" (p. 34). Through somewhat contrived counting - she treats the three-dimensional, six-sided monoliths as being four-sided, for example - she counts 7 fours in the movie. To illustrate the absurdity of her argument, I show that 2001 has at least 30 threes, 21 sixes, and 17 eights. Heatly raises the count of eights to 18 by observing that the elevator doors on the moon lander Aries have eight transparent panels arranged in two columns of four. Meanwhile, I am raising the count to 19 by noticing that the food trays used by Bowman and Poole have a combined total of eight food wells.

Heatly also observes that, at Clavius (where the briefing takes place), Heywood Floyd has an ID badge bearing the number 355. That number could be symbolic. I thought it might be the number of pages in one of the translations of either The Odyssey or Thus Spake Zarathustra. In checking listings of used books for sale on the web, I found that Walter Shewring's Oxford University Press translation of The Odyssey has 349 pages. But I couldn't find a translation of either book that has 355 pages. If anybody knows of another edition of either book that has 355 pages, or if anyone can think of any other association between 355 and something in one of the allegories, I'd like to hear from that person.

I'd also like to find out what the symbolism is - I'm sure it's there - in the scene where the moon lander, Aries, is coming in to land while three space-suited astronauts on the moon's surface move about in the foreground. Because Aries' entering the moon (the fertilization scene) precedes the birth of God (Hal-Discovery), I thought this scene might symbolize the biblical scene in which the three wise men see the star that anticipates the birth of God. (Jesus was God incarnate according to John 1:14.) The "wise men from the East" (Matthew 2:1) have come to be regarded as magi, Zoroastrian priests from Persia (east of Judea), so the "three wise men" idea does tie in with the Zoroastrian overtones of the allegory. (The name Zoroaster is a Greek corruption of Zarathustra, the name of the Persian prophet who founded Zoroastrianism.) But Aries, which is descending, doesn't make a good star symbol: it isn't stationary, and it doesn't shine down. So I rejected the hypothesis. I am now waiting to hear from someone who has figured out what the real symbolism is.

I am confident that my book reveals close to 90 percent of the symbolism in 2001, but it certainly misses some things. And in at least one instance, the TMA-1 anagram, it fails to present the arguments supporting the symbolism as clearly as I wished. In this article, and with help from three perceptive readers, I clean up some of these loose ends. The article's chief points and conclusions are the following:

1.   The book's conclusion that the moon monolith is a symbol for the Trojan Horse does not depend on the TMA-ONE = NO MEAT anagram. The reverse is true: the anagram's validity depends on the conclusion that the monolith symbolizes the Trojan Horse. Five direct analogies from the monolith scene plus eleven more that correctly place the monolith scene in the middle event of a 5-event sequence establish the symbolism.
2.   The NO MEAT anagram is not accidental. Kubrick's deliberate intent to create the anagram is shown by (a) the anagram's being an apt description of the Trojan Horse, known to be symbolized by the monolith, (b) Kubrick's otherwise pointless decision to give TMA-1 a number - the letters from ONE are needed for anagram - despite the absence of a second TMA object named TMA-2, (c) the dialogue's repeated references to meat - chicken, ham, and especially "it BEEFed up morale" - and (d) the related hint that the sandwiches contain no meat ("What's that, chicken?" "Something like that. Tastes the same anyway.")
3.   The AE 35 unit symbolizes the minor god Aeolus and his winds. AE stands for AEolus, and 35 symbolizes hurricanes. The hurricane symbolism comes from World War II's Hawker Hurricane, which (a) was first test flown in 1935, was initially designated F.36/34 (the numbers average 35), and had a ceiling of 35,000 feet and (b) was produced by Hawker-Siddeley Ltd., which produced for Kubrick the pod interiors and instrument panels used in 2001.
4.   The previously recognized worm symbolism (from the worm - ape - lower man - higher man - overman evolutionary sequence) is reinforced by the pod's going through a "wormhole" in space, a shortcut to another part of the universe. The wormhole is the Star Gate and the tunnel of lights. Bowman in the pod (sperm cell) directly symbolizes threadlike human chromosomes. These, in turn, symbolize threadlike worms.
5.   Hal made another mistake, previously unrecognized. This mistake was an error in judgment: he recommended that the defective AE 35 unit be put back in operation. In doing so, he failed to recognize that, if the unit did not fail, Bowman and Poole might lose faith in him and shut him down - in effect, kill him.
6.   The steps in the sexual conception, gestation, and birth of God - the sexually produced God that man creates in his own image - include a previously unrecognized step: ejaculation. This step is symbolized in Heywood Floyd's phone call to his daughter on her birthday. He calls her Squirt, a name that alludes to a squirt of semen. The "squirt" occurs within the female space station that was penetrated a few moments earlier by the phallic earth shuttle.
7.   Eternal return, Nietzsche's idea that time is a circle and that the present and future have already occurred in many previous histories, has an additional symbol, previously unrecognized. The movie "eternally" returns to birthdays - man's (lower man's), Squirt's, God's, Frank Poole's, higher man's, and overman's.
More 2001 symbolism waits to be discovered. Again, I'd like to hear from anyone who recognizes any symbolism not covered in my book or in this article. If you have any insights or theories, contact me at

"Fresh Insights into 2001: A Space Odyssey"
Copyright © 2002 by Leonard F. Wheat

"Misconceptions about 2001"
Copyright © 2001 by Leonard F. Wheat

"Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory"
Copyright © 2000 by Leonard F. Wheat
Hard cover, 181 pages including chapter endnotes, bibliography, index and author biog.
Scarecrow Press, Inc., Maryland -

In his novel "2001: A Space Odyssey", Clarke consistently refers to the "Tycho Magnetic Anomaly - 1" in "fully abbreviated" mode - T.M.A.-1. For the sake of textual clarity, the shorter abbreviation "TMA-1" is used throughout this article.

Again with regard to Clarke's consistency, his precise name for that troublesome unit is "AE 35" (space, no hyphen), as used in this article. He gives no expansion of "AE", other than naming it in "Technish", the jargon language of communication between home base and Discovery, as "Alpha Echo three five".

And again, in this article the author follows Clarke's convention in referring to the computer as either "HAL 9000", in effect the model designation, or "Hal", the conversational name used by Dave, Frank and other characters. Nowhere does Clarke refer to simply "HAL".

As a point of interest, we never discover in the film whether Hal's fault prediction is correct or not. The evidence against Hal is circumstantial - the unit passes all of Dave's and Frank's tests and Hal's twin back home disagrees with Hal's prediction - but as Frank appears to be killed before replacing the unit, which is therefore lost to space, we never know for sure whether Hal was genuinely on to something (a quick look at the book indicates that Frank's death occurs between him extracting the replacement AE 35 and inserting the original, the mission proceeding without one at all - somebody might like to check the accuracy of that statement).

Given that 2001: A Space Odyssey is a work of fiction, and evaluating it as though it described reality is a purely intellectual exercise, one possibility that does not seem to have been discussed anywhere (and it does not really belong here, but it may be of interest) is that there was indeed a fault as Hal predicted, but the cause lay not in the AE 35 itself but in the communication path between it and Hal's CPU. Given the Discovery's layout, this path could have been convoluted, and in practice it is not uncommon for errors of this type to occur - certainly more common than faults in the hardware itself.

That scenario would have made the failure to confirm Hal's prediction quite reasonable, although you would expect it to be high on the list of things to check on the technical support script.

The main thrust of an analysis proposed in "The Underview on 2001" web site speculated that all of Hal's actions were planned and deliberate, that Hal's nature and construction made it meaningless to apply any human concept of "mistake" - which of course is at odds with many of Len's propositions. Len does suggest above that making mistakes is a human characteristic given to Hal by Kubrick, but the Underview analysis is still unique in proposing that, short of an unlikely botch in construction, Hal was being wholly precise (of course!), and not in any sense of the words "proud" or "conceited", in claiming to be "incapable of error".

This analysis of Hal is not currently available online.

This subject has been discussed in some detail in The Underview 2001 web site, partly in the context of the true errors that Kubrick made, such as the exploding (disappearing!) spacepod hatch. For more information, see the page "Viewpoints on Hal".

Len's suggestion: "I wouldn't be surprised if Kubrick deliberately inserted the chess mistake as an ever-so-subtle clue that Hal was capable of error", echoes the conclusion in The Underview: that the slip in the chess game "was a plain old error... Emotionally, though, the idea of Kubrick slipping in that oh-so-subtle hint of things to come is wonderful".

This paper is an original imprint of The Underview.
Extracts are subject to accepted "fair use" practices.
Quotes must be attributed to this source.
The permission of both the author and the editor is required
for any commercial use,
including reproduction in any commercial publication or medium.

Copyright © 2002; Revised 2008; The Underview

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