The Mouse Ran Up The Clock
By Allan Eastman
The Best Film Edit of All Time
Have you seen Stanley Kubrick’s great cinema masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Released in 1968, a year before the first Moon landing, this imaginative vision of the Human Race’s distant past, near future and ultimate evolution featured a narrative that covered millions of years and offered nothing less than a voyage across the Universe.
The film was a sensation in its initial theatrical run, partly because its “Stargate Sequence” was perceived as a truly psychedelic experience by the younger generation of that time – and it was pretty cool - but mostly because of its bold and scientific depiction of the Human exploration of Space some 33 years in its own future. The movie baffled many people because of what was thought to be its ambiguous philosophical underpinnings but no one could deny the genius of the filmmaking.
The film’s computer main character, the HAL 9000, became a cult symbol of the onrushing technological age which was gathering pace in the 60s.
As a teenager, I saw 2001 at least half a dozen times in the movie theatre, thrilled to finally have a Science Fiction film that seemed real to its subject. It became one of the great inspirations for me becoming a filmmaker. The motion picture itself survives in revivals and on DVD, still regularly featured in critics’ Ten Best All Time Movie lists and is still both powerful and relevant, curiously fresh and modern after all this time.
The reason I bring this up is because the film contains what I believe to be the greatest film edit in the History of the Movies and this particular edit deals directly with the main themes of this month’s article on the timeanddate.com newsletter.
The first part of 2001: A Space Odyssey transports us a million years or more into the past to focus on a group of pre human Hominids scratching out a perilous subsistence from the harsh African savannah. They survive on roots and grubs, unable to harvest the meat protein on the hoof around them. They are themselves prey for the wild beasts in their environment, huddling apprehensively together under a cliff face through the long nights. They are driven off their water hole by a more aggressive group of proto-Humans.
Then one Dawn, the great mysterious symbol of the movie, the looming black Monolith – Kubrick and Clarke’s metaphor for God or some larger Intelligence in the Universe – suddenly sits in front of them. They are in terror and in awe but the alpha male of the group, significantly called Moon Watcher, eventually summons the courage to touch it.
Later, sitting in the dust, Moon Watcher picks up the long thigh bone from an animal skeleton on the ground. The planets align above the black Monolith. Moon Watcher has the first mental connection, the first conscious thought – a vision of one of the miniature cattle like animals around them crashing to the ground after being struck by the bone. Next, his tribe is dining on fresh meat.
Armed with bone clubs, Moon Watcher and his group attack the tribe that had driven them away from their water. When their leader challenges him, Moon Watcher clubs him to the ground and beats him to death.
And then comes the greatest cut in the History of the Movies – in exhilaration, Moon Watcher flings his bone-club into the air in triumph. The camera follows the bone up into the sky and as it pauses at its height, Kubrick cuts to a bone shaped satellite wheeling in orbit around the Earth in 2001.
This one cut implies millions of years of Human evolution and connects the first tool and the first thought to the highest point of our technological and scientific thought and progress.
OK. All very interesting, you say but what’s your point?
Just this. The movie and this astounding edit illustrates one of the key elements in the Human Race’s evolution from the earliest pre Human past to our own present – Man as Toolmaker and as Tool User. Many Anthropologists have suggested that Human Beings’ near unique capacity to make and use tools was decisive in our development as a species. Tool use aided in the growth of conceptualization and hence, more neuron connections in the brain, resulting in more advanced intelligence. That is a direct line to language and abstract thought. Similarly, there must have been a genetic selection for more opposable thumbs and more dextrous fingers that eventually raised the skill level of early technology. Tool use separated Humans from the rest of the Animal World.
In our previous articles, we discussed the philosophical and scientific ideas of what Time actually is or may be, as well as the various conceptions for defining and measuring Time that human civilizations have come up with through the Ages. Where we must go now is to connect our legacy as Toolmakers with our Human ideas of Time.