I wrote a long, detailed review of this book, but it was rejected by Amazon, presumably for being too negative. Now, three years later, I'll retry with a shorter, nicer one.
Okay, first of all, due to the nature of my criticism of Wheat, I want you to understand that I know what I'm talking about. I have studied this film for just short of a lifetime. I have a first-printing of the novel signed by Clarke, as well as two letters of correspondence with him from Sri Lanka, and I stopped counting theater viewings at my 52nd screening in 1977.
In an attempt to understand Kubrick's masterpiece, I have read The Odyssey, Nietzsche's Zarathustra (which is *extremely* relevant), and literally, every analysis ever published, including not just on the web, but also printed analyses not on the web which were exceedingly difficult to find. I also watched the entire stargate sequence one frame at a time (which took all day), captured dozens of them, and deconvoluted them with an image processor.
BTW, if you are interested in 2001, you MUST read Kubrick's interview with Playboy. There he explains that there are several deep, DEEP levels of meaning and metaphor, and they're designed to "disturb you at a subconscious level, like a dream".
Clarke said that "MGM doesn't know it, but they just made the first 12 million-dollar religious movie". For me, the film does indeed represent what in other people is called "religion". But Wheat is having none of that.
I write the following seriously. I do not intend to ridicule Wheat, and I'm trying hard to avoid appearing that I am. Wheat obviously cares as much as I do about the meaning of this film and has watched it many times.
Other than repeating the already well-known, such as that 2001 mirrors events in Homer's Odyssey and Nietzsche's Zarathustra (two of his three "allegories"), none of which Wheat describes, Wheat picked up NONE of Kubrick's subtle metaphors. Instead, he came up with his own bizarre ones.
Heavily into numerology, Wheat insists that the number of years it took to make the film has deliberate symbolic meaning, as if Kubrick said "Well, I finished the film, but I'm going to delay the release and waste several million dollars on busy work for another year so people can find the hidden meaning in how long it took me to create it".
I didn't make that up. Wheat asserted it, and quite vehemently.
He also sees complex symbolism in the number of letters in the characters' names, and he ardently insists that one of them is named "Heywood" because of a mystical quality he believes is in wood, the building material.
Like the excited, disheveled guy on the bus, his Profound Revelations are very important to him, and he thinks it's urgent that he tell everyone.
Which he has.
What's even more bizarre: these are not his most ridiculous beliefs about the film, just the shortest, least convoluted ones I can present here.
One remarkable thing I noticed is all the symbolism that Wheat doesn't. Kubrick said that 2001 needs to be experienced like one does a dream. Yes, there is LOTS of metaphor in 2001 (or "allegory" as Wheat repeatedly and irritatingly calls it). There is meaning in for example, inexplicably disturbing patterns which keep recurring For example, the strange, peculiar shape repeated endlessly in the metal plate walls of the monolith-pit are identical to the shape of all the Aries interior doors. He (Kubrick) said "there isn't a single item in any frame that wasn't put there deliberately".
As with people I talked to while living in a homeless shelter, NO belief is too ridiculous for Wheat to be deadly serious about, and NO evidence or obvious explanations will change his mind.
For example, Wheat wants to believe that the correspondence between the letters H, A, L and I, B, M has meaning. Well, that would be plausible... if Clarke hadn't said loud and often that it's a coincidence. He even said that once to me directly, in our correspondence when I was a geeky little girl and asked him myself.
But to a certain kind of person--the schizophrenic--there ARE no coincidences! So how does Wheat explain Clarke's denials? He says "Clarke may be forgiven for forgetting the origin of HAL's name, because he was so very busy in the years following the film's release."
That's right, Wheat graciously "forgives" Clarke for not agreeing with him about a book Clarke himself wrote.
That really is mighty nice of him, and an indication of the astounding arrogance with which this book was written. Wheat nobly deigns to descend from his mountain like Zarathustra and explain this film, not just to Clarke, but to all of us, the unworthy commonry. His rude, offhanded dismissal of everyone else's opinions in the introduction and the conceited, grandiose way he repeatedly insults us in what follows is a tip-off that the man is, unfortunately, and for lack of a better word, crazy--literally.
If you want to read "real" analyses of 2001, there are many on the web, including my own. Interestingly, they're all DIFFERENT interpretations--something Kubrick is proud of. And like everyone else obsessed and possessed by this excellent film (including Wheat), I believe passionately that mine is the one that Kubrick intended.
But Wheat never writes about the poignant meaning in, for example, safe things being round (like the centrifuge, the station, the pod, the discovery, and Earth) and "dangerous" things being orthogonal (the monolith, Hal's memory room, Hal's memory modules, the chain of Jupiter moons against the orbiting monolith, every single object in the briefing room, and more. Kubrick did this deliberately, but Wheat dismisses it all in favor of his crackpot numerology.
He must not have read the early draft of 2001 in which Kubrick is vague about objects' details, but specifies the shape of Hal's memory modules in three dimensions to the quarter-inch. They're little monoliths. How could you possibly have missed that, Wheat? It, then, is no surprise that Wheat hasn't a clue as to what all these monoliths represent. "Allegorically."
Wheat seems to have been at the candy counter for much of the film, since he doesn't tell us that in each of the scenes where one of the five astronaut dies, breath stops while the person is still alive, and THEN he dies. Nope, right over his head.
For someone writing about meaning in 2001, it is remarkable that Wheat doesn't notice that as the film progresses, panels of white light completely cover the ceiling, then the walls, and finally, the floor. Leonard, didn't it seem strange that they would put the briefing room lights in the WALLS where they're in everyone's eyes, instead of the ceiling? Don't you think that might be related to the lights in the final scene being in THE FLOOR? I won't go into the meaning of this since this is not an analysis of 2001, but a (psycho) analysis of Wheat's book. However, Wheat DID write an analysis of 2001, and he left out even the most obvious symbols in the film.
For example, it escapes his notice that there is exactly ONE rectangular door in the movie (the briefing room), and that all of the 23 others--every single one--is curved. Surprisingly, he even misses the monolith formed by the negative space between the two faces of that single rectangular door. He also missed the monolith formed by the pink and blue half-rectangles in the Aries landing display, too (they represent male and female finding each other, BTW. Look what happens when they meet).
He also didn't pick up on the theme of circles lining up to form a line perpendicular to another line, which is all over the movie and always represents the same thing (which sadly, is too complex for a review of Wheat's 152-page mistake).
Nor did Wheat notice the eternal recurrence of the colors red and yellow. For example, there are exactly two women at Floyd's briefing. The rest are men. One has red hair, and never moves. The other has yellow hair and ants in her pants. She continually touches herself and flirts with the man to her left via pretty blatant body language. At one point, from the camera's angle, she appears to be doing something obscene to the man. This relates to, among other things, red-suit Bowman's slow walk in the centrifuge and passive consumption of bland-colored food, and yellow-suit Frank's enthusiastic running and enjoyment of his multicolored feast.
There are many, many such subconscious appeals in 2001. But Wheat even misses the centrifuge jogging, in which Frank (along with the camera) switches clockwise/counterclockwise directions. The Frank jog even includes a part in which the film is mirror-reversed. This happens for the same reason that Bowman's drawing is mirror-reversed, and the phase of the moon flips back and forth behind Aries, and the phase of Earth flips at the excavation pit.
What does this all mean? Something poignant, touching, and beautiful.
I have no room to tell you here, but don't ask Wheat; God knows he hasn't a clue.
If Wheat HAD noticed any of this, it is pretty clear that he wouldn't have understood how important it is to understanding the film. He's too busy counting the number of years 2001 took to film, the number of letters in the characters' names, and rearranging those letters into the irrelevant words he finds so much meaning in. Wheat couldn't possibly be more superficial, shallow, and wrong. Worse, he distracts you from the message Kubrick sends--a message both triumphant and sad, about what we really are.
I believe that 2001 is about puberty. It lies buried in us as children, waiting to awake and seize control when the dawn arrives. The buried monolith represents what drives evolution: sexual reproduction. Discovery is any man, and Hal's guilty secret is that we are really animals that exist only to mate and die. Floyd is the shocked, disoriented, intelligent part of the smart kid who wants to deny and hide this new discovery from himself. Hal is Floyd's agent in the consciousness trying desperately to suppress the knowledge that there is more to this mission of life than curiosity and discovery. The monolith on the moon is first erection, a dangerous and wondrous secret to be marveled at. The radio blast when it's touched is first orgasm during masturbation. The blast is aimed at Jupiter which, as was noted 30 years ago, represents the curvy female.
Poole is the wrong way to deal with all of this: he rejects everything involving evolution, life, and death; like his parents and his birthday. He is fooled by Hal, and concedes the chess game when he could have won. He's perfectly happy running in circles, getting nowhere. He dies as he lived, in endless rotating circles, never to connect with anything or anyone else, ever.
Bowman is the right way for a thoughtful smart kid to deal with his sexuality: you have to defeat the intellectual part which wants to deny it all and keep you innocent. In the mid-seventies, it was pointed out in a book that the interior of the airlock looks like the interior of the female sex organ. You must, as Nietzsche said in Zarathustra, disconnect control of your body from your mind, release intelligence's death-grip on your consciousness, surrender your being to the chaotic madness, and become a mindless animal body... again, as has happened so many millions of times through the ages.
Jupiter is a female, sliding through the stargate is first sex, and the white explosion in the stargate is both orgasm and conception. Then, a new universe--a new life--begins another cycle.
Kubrick shows us that while there IS no God really, because of the relentless, seemingly goal-directed drive of evolution, there might as well be. The drive to mate is certainly relentless and goal-directed! The monoliths collectively are whatever mysterious force drives us to create and evolve, be it God, natural selection, or aliens and monoliths. When this force is done using us to make improved copies of ourselves, it laughs at us (which Kubrick said the electronic voices in the room were doing), wrinkles and crumples us up like used paper towels, throws us away, and turns its attention to doing the very same thing to our children ...all over again. Like the circular moons forming a line, we are circular links in the infinite, linear chain of life--it's origin and purpose, still, a total mystery.
So you see, I, like everyone else, have my own bizarre, obviously-wrong interpretation which differs from all the others. Wheat's however, is more than merely bizarre and obviously wrong. Frankly, it's the unstructured, furious scribbling of a schizophrenic.
And I'm deeply sorry to have to say that, because, first of all, Wheat writes very well (which is undoubtedly how he pulled off the Jedi mind trick of getting his ball of confusion past an editor), but also because the world NEEDS a book like the one Wheat thought he was writing.
Unfortunately, he didn't write it. And what he did write isn't worth reading except by the doctor I sincerely hope is treating the unfortunate man.
-- Faye Kane,
The sexiest astrophysicist you'll ever see naked