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Kubrick's "2001": A Triple Allegory [Hardcover]

Leonard F. Wheat
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Book Description

21 Jun 2000
Acclaimed in an international critics poll as one of the ten best films ever made, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey has nonetheless baffled critics and filmgoers alike. Its reputation rests largely on its awesome special effects, yet the plot has been considered unfathomable. Critical consensus has been that Kubrick himself probably didn't know the answers. Leonard Wheat's Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory reveals that Kubrick did know the answers. Far from being what it seems to be-a chilling story about space travel-2001 is actually an allegory, hidden by symbols. It is, in fact, a triple allegory, something unprecedented in film or literature. Three allegories-an Odysseus (Homer) allegory, a man-machine symbiosis (Arthur Clarke) allegory, and a Zarathustra (Nietzsche) allegory-are simultaneously concealed and revealed by well over 200 highly imaginative and sometimes devilishly clever symbols. Wheat "decodes" each allegory in rich detail, revealing the symbolism in numerous characters, sequences, and scenes. In bringing Kubrick's secrets to light, Wheat builds a powerful case for his assertion that 2001 is the "grandest motion picture ever filmed."

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Scarecrow Press (21 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081083796X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810837966
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 14.5 x 22.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,929,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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...his conclusions...ought to be pondered by everyone with a serious interest in the film...Indeed, part of the fun of reading his book is deciding whether, detail by detail, one agrees or disagrees with Wheat's specific reading...Wheat's readings of the Nietzschean allegory are perhaps even more compelling...a valuable contribution to our understanding of the best science fiction film ever. Science Fiction Studies All of Wheat's correlations are well worth pondering. His writing is immediately accessible; he even directly addresses the reader, inviting forethought and additional speculation. Extrapolation

About the Author

Leonard F. Wheat was an economist with the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce before retiring in 1997. He is the author or (in one case) co-author of four previous books, including one philosophical study and three economic studies. He is also author of two book-length government studies and several journal articles and is an associate editor of the Journal of Regional Science.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Over 30 years after the release of 2001:A Space Odyssey, the film remains at the top of many people's list of all time great films. 2001 is a landmark in cinema history not just because of the special effects, assiduous attention to detail or Stanley Kubrick's stunning photography but one of the few examples of cinema as a true art form, rather than the mechanical recording of a stage play set on location as many films are. The film doesn't rely on dialogue or narration for explanation of the storyline, all of the narration and much of the dialogue was ripped out of the original screenplay. Instead the story is told through images, stunning beautiful images that leave the viewer to absorb the work and assimilate the essence of the film, and herein lays the problem with the film for many people.
If you've ever seen 2001 and asked "What does it all mean?" "Why did a computer kill the crew?" "The haunting final scene in the hotel room - what is that all about?" "What are those black monoliths for?" This book might just help you enjoy the film on a new level.
Arguments rage in internet forums about whether 2001 is an allegory of Homer's Odyssey (as hinted in the title) or Friedrich Nietzsche's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (alluded to by the opening music of Richard Strauss' work based on the German philosophers book), or a modern allegory of man-machine assimilation devised by Arthur C. Clarke - the co-author of the screenplay.
In his book Leonard Wheat argues that the film is cleverly an allegory of all three, and he provides painstaking evidence taken from the film and other sources to prove that 2001 is a work of film genius that is following three concurrent allegories in addition to the over story.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars But he would think of something. 16 April 2001
By Barry Pearl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest, wondrous movies ever made. Part of its attraction is in its visuals: It advancing the story without taking the time to explain it. Many people left confused, others were dumbfounded.
Leonard's Wheat's, Kubrick's 2001 A Triple Allegory attempts to explain Kubrick masterpiece by suggesting that it really three allegories, three stories that are based on other stories: Homer's The Odyssey The Man Machine Symbiosis Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra
By its title and its music, it first seems clear that Mr. Wheat has a point. Comparing the Voyage of the crewman on Discovery to Jupiter to the Odyssey, or comparing Dave Bowman name Odysseus (who was an archer) is not new. But Mr. Wheat brought in new insight. He compares Hal, to the Cyclops who also had just one eye. He then points out that when moon Watcher kills with the first made weapon and throws it into the sky, the next shot is of an orbiting bomb, a point I never realized.
But then Mr. Wheat loses me. He contents that the monolith, known as TMA-One is a version of the Trojan House. Fine. But his reasoning is a stretch. He claims this is true because if you mix up the letters to TMA-One it comes out to "NO MEAT" a reference to the Trojan Horse being made out of wood. (Can't you see Mr. Kubrick and Mr. Clark staying up nights mixing up these letters.)? Of course when you mix up the letters to TMA ONE you can get No MATE, which may mean the Monolith represented Ernest Borg nine in the movie "Marty," or you can get NO TEAM which could represent Brooklyn after the Dodgers left.
Mr. Wheat contends that Kubrick put the three bombs in orbit to represent Aphrodite, Hear and Athena. That a bomb represents the goddess of Love is interesting, but out of place. And it goes on.
Reading the book is similar to taking a quiz. Mr. Wheat asks you, by leaving vague clues, to figure out conclusions before he gets to them. The anagram of TMA-1 is one of them. He mentions David Bowman's name is allegoric and doesn't get back to telling us why for a couple of chapters. Mr. Wheat often turns to and then turns away from what Arthur C. Clarke has said and written about 2001.
2001: A Space Odyssey should be a dated movie by now, but it is not. It is thought provoking, open ended and it remains a great visual experience, far different to any other movie made. Mr. Wheat's book brings up and explains many different and interesting ideas, but it also goes so far off into outer space ....
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Any good reviews of this confused mess were certainly planted by Wheat himself 18 Oct 2008
By Faye Kane Homeless Brain - Published on Amazon.com
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
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Loving and terribly misguided 11 Jun 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Wheat clearly adores _2001_. His rapture at the complexities and nuances of the film are manifest.
But his analyses are a very unfortunate combination of the inaccurate, the simplistic and the unsupportable.
He claims that "chapter 21 in _The Odyssey_ is titled 'The Great Bow." The Odyssey doesn't have chapters or titles above them. He bases his conclusion that the octahedrons floating in the stargate are alien life forms (a reasonable claim, to be sure) on an interview of Steven Wolfram by David Stork. Stork says "Actually, the octahedra were Kubrick and Clarke's extraterrestials - sort of escorts bringing Dave through the stargate." Wheat, then writes "The crucial point here is that Stork refers to the aliens as _escorts_. Here we have the plural of the very word Homer put in Odysseus's mouth when Odysseus said to the Phaeacians, 'I have secured your _escort_." Last I checked, Homer wrote in archaic Greek. Wheat bases his interpretation on the choices of the translator rather than the text of the ostensible allegorical source.
He writes, "We see, then, that 'the infinite' is God. And 'beyond the infinite' means beyond God - after God, after God's death. Kubrick is alluding to the death of God. And who is it that has just died? Hal. Conclusion: Hal... is God."
He writes, "it is indeed plausible that HEYWOOD R. FLOYD encodes Helen as HE, wooden worse as WOOD, and Troy as OY. But what about that Y between HE and WOOD. And what about the R, F, L, and D? Consider these answers. Y is Spanish for 'and.' R, F, and L, in turn, are in ReFLect. And D could stand for downfall, demise, death, doom, or destruction, of which the first - downfall - best fits 'the fall of Troy.' When you put all the pieces together, Heywood R. Floyd inflates to Helen and Wooden Horse Reflect Troy's Downfall."
Wheat has undeniable insights into Kubrick's film, but they are overwhelmed by the unconvincing character of his argumentation. One of the best sections in the book is a detailed dismantling of a psychoanalytic reading by Geduld. Wheat does his most interesting and complicated work here, and for those pages alone I would reccomend this book.
Of the three allegories that Wheat finds in the narrative, there is considerable and very interesting work on at least two, _The Odyssey_ and Zarathustra, that Wheat seems unfamiliar with. Admittedly, I have not seen them delved into in such detail, but much of that detail weakens rather than strengthens the correspondences simply because Wheat seems to throw in every scrap of comment or anagram that he thinks of or finds.
Overall, this should not be your first book on Kubrick. That honour needs to belong either to Michel Ciment's book _Kubrick_ or to Nelson's _Inside a Film Artist's Maze_. Nevertheless, the ground churned over by Wheat is not at rest, and the allegories he discovers remain a realm for further inquiry.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind Boggling Detail 28 Aug 2001
By J. Hagerty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an astounding work. Mr. Wheat has been, by his own admission, obsessed by this film since it opened, and it shows. Having just completed a rather intensive study of this film myself (but strictly from the hardware side) I was extremly curious to see what the latest existential thinking was. I was not dissapointed.
The mind boggling detail with which Mr. Wheat turns over every stone in the search for alligorical meaning is almost overwhelming. He creates a strong logical argument for his premise that the film is actually telling an unprecidented four stories (the surface story, plus three alligorical stories) simultaneously.
My only problem with the book (which kept me from giving it a full five stars) is that sometimes the arguments get divided too finely. Having some knowledge myself of the turbulent and volitile manner in which the film was made, I really have trouble believing that Kubrick had everything wrapped that tightly with that sort of intricacy for the entire film. Example: Wheat says that the bug-like appearance of the moon bus, with its multiple pontoon feet, symbolizes a millipede, or "thousand feet" in latin. This, he says, represents Menelaus's "fleet of a thousand ships" with which he left to rescue Helen in Troy. I know that the Moon Bus design underwent significant evolution during production (the feet were originally catipillar-like belts)and it only became the version we see on the screen very late in pre-production.
That said, this is still an astounding work. My frustration comes in that I do not posess Mr. Wheat's powers of analysis and observation. Everything fits into his logical framework, and when I come across something, like my example above, that seems like he's gone too far, I can't dispute it logically. I would highly reccomend this book for anyone still curious as to "what it all means."
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Triple Allegory? Well...Not exactly 25 Jan 2005
By Robert E Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"2001: A Space Odyssey" is a truly astounding motion picture. After experiencing it numerous times over the past 32 years, I find myself still uncovering its mysteries. I love discussing the film and in doing so, I've discovered one of the most fascinating aspects is that everyone who sees it, interprets its many themes and symbols differently.

Leonard Wheat's "Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory" is a discussion of Mr. Wheat's interpretations of this film. He obviously has deeply scrutinized the film and has drawn many conclusions about what it all means. His primary focus in this book is that he feels that the film allegorizes three different works. These works are Homer's "The Odyssey", Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" and Clarke's man-machine symbiosis. The author goes into point by point detail of how he interprets various parts of the film and how they apply to his allegorical assertions.

For the most part, his observations are unique and make sense and quite honestly, opened my mind to ideas about the film I hadn't thought about before. This is a good thing as now I have more food for thought and an even better understanding about director Stanley Kubrick's motivations in this deceivingly complex film.

However, I do have some points of contention. My biggest problem is the tone of the writing. Mr. Wheat writes this as though he is the supreme authority of 2001. Most of his assertions are written as though they are indisputable facts, as if he knew exactly what Kubrick was intending. He even goes as far as to criticize other people's opinions and state point by point, why he is right and they are wrong. If all of this were written in the tone of it being his opinion, that would be fine, but I could not help but feel that the author was feeling superior (overman?) in his discussions of other people's opinions. There are several points he makes where I personally disagree and I believe I can come up with convincing arguments of why I'm right. I, at least realize, I am expressing an opinion.

Keeping in the spirit of opinionated interpretation, let me say that I disagree with the author about 2001 being a triple allegory. Mr. Wheat splendidly shows the allegorical ties to Homer and Nietzsche, but I just don't see how 2001 is allegorical of Clarke.

First of all, 2001 was co-written by Arthur C. Clarke so how can he allegorize himself? The author states in the book that Clarke wrote the novel after the film was released. This is outrightly incorrect. The novel was written at the same time as the screenplay. Both were written by both Clarke and Kubrick. They had mutually agreed that Clarke would get credit for the novel and Kubrick would get credit for the screenplay (read "The Lost Worlds of 2001" or "Arthur C. Clarke the Authorized Biography"). The author states that prior Clarke works incorporate his man and machine symbiosis. That is, that Clarke holds a strong belief that in the future, human and machine will combine to form a "better human". I'd like to know what works Mr. Wheat is referring to as I don't recall any other novel or short story that makes use of this theme to any degree. I've read a great deal of Mr. Clarke's novels and short stories and the only work I know of that carries out this theme is "2001: A Space Odyssey" and to a lesser degree, the sequels to it. The author has a whole section devoted to this theme and I agree that it's a fascinating theme, I just don't believe it is allegorical to anything, it's part of the actual story of 2001.

Maybe it should be titled "Kubrick's 2001: A Double Allegory" but that's just my opinion.
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