In his behind-the-scenes account “The Lost Worlds of 2001,” Clarke detailed his experience working with Kubrick on the screenplay and bouncing ideas for the novel from him. But the author also reveals that when the director first approached him, he explained that he wanted to make a sci-fi movie that would “elicit emotions of wonder, awe…even, if need be, of terror”. I think we can all agree that the viewer feels overwhelmed throughout the film, and especially at the end.
That’s why it’s interesting to find that Kubrick may have been looking to mirror his own reactions to the prospects of extraterrestrial life. Dust off a New York Times article from 1966 and you’ll find Kubrick in his own words detailing his “Eureka!” moment:
“Somewhere in my wandering reading I came across statistics from the Rand Corporation on the probability of life in space. The ABCs of these statistics is that our galaxy is made up of about a hundred billion stars, that each of these stars is made up of the same chemical substance as our own sun, and therefore planetary systems also number in the billions. The latest thought about the probability of life in the universe says that, given a planet stable somewhere between fire and ice – planets like Jupiter are too cold and those like Mercury are too hot – it is likely that life would arise spontaneously The Rand Corporation has estimated that there are 640,000 Earth-like planets in our own galaxy – planets so similar to our own that you could step out of a space vehicle, take a deep breath of oxygenated air and stare at blue skies. other scientists interested in the whole question are firmly convinced that the universe is teeming with life; much of it, since the numbers are so staggering, equal to us in intelligence, or superior, simply because human intelligence has been around for a relatively short time.”
It’s a cold but strangely exciting realization: the overwhelming size of the cosmos and the imperceptibly large likelihood that it harbors life other than our own. Kubrick got an idea of that when he read those numbers from The Rand Corporation, the same way I will the next time I fall down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos or Wikipedia links dealing with anything related to aliens. Whether or not humans come into contact with life outside our solar system is another matter entirely, but clearly the mere imagination of what that contact would look like, what it would mean for our world, had a effect on Kubrick.
But that wasn’t the only sign for the director that a movie like “2001: A Space Odyssey” needed to be made. During one of his encounters with Clarke, something quite strange happened in the sky above them.