This nOde last updated May 17th, 2003 and is permanently morphing...
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1.A large block of stone, especially one used in architecture or sculpture.
2.Something, such as a column or monument, made from one large block of stone.
3.Something suggestive of a large block of stone, as in immovability, massiveness, or uniformity.
[French monolithe, from Greek monolithos, consisting of a single stone : mono-, mono- + lithos, stone.]
track _Monolith_ by Delerium off of _Spheres_
samples from the film _2001: A Space Odyssey_ DVD:
large black monolith
for worshipping crowd
The sun and the crescent moon aligned with each other was a symbol of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion that predated Buddhism and Christianity and was based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra). This particular alignment symbolized the eternal struggle between light and darkness.
Monolith comes from the Greek Mon and Lith. "Mon" means 'one' and "lith" means 'stone'. So the monolith is a direct reference to 'one stone'. This film then, is about the one stone, or the single stone. And in this case, Stanley Kubrick has made sure that the stone is black. In alchemy all things that exist come from the black stone, or the 'prima materia'. The black stone is the stone of transformation, and even more important to this argument the stone of projection. This is the Philosopher's Stone. This is the object that can change, or transmute mankind, according to alchemical lore. It is rare and, when it makes an appearance, it transforms the seeker. There is little doubt that the black monolith in _2001_ is the Philosopher's Stone.
What is it that the Philosopher's Stone promises? The two main gifts of the stone are total gnosis, or knowledge of the seeker and the immortality of the soul. Does the monolith deliver on these great promises? We shall see that it completes both promises before the film finally ends. In fact the two promises of the Philosopher's Stone are what is actually accomplished by the monolith through the course of the movie. There is also little doubt that Kubrick knew this all the time and it isn't accidental in anyway. This is a movie about the black stone, the prima materia, and the power of projection.
The stone has given Bowman the gifts that the Philosopher's Stone has always promised. Bowman has achieved complete gnosis, or knowledge, and now he has become immortal by overcoming physical death and being reborn. In that moment, he passes through the monolith one last time. The earth is ahead of him now and he will be reborn on that planet. Bowman will be a new human, just as different from Homo Sapiens as Homo Sapiens are different from that apeman who picked up that bone all that time ago. Nietzche's ape to man to superman theme, from his _Thus Spoke Zarathustra_ essays, is mirrored perfectly by Strauss' music and Kubrick's movie. Kubrick has evoked the spiritual and physical evolution of our race as it has been transformed by this magical black stone.
Stanley Kubrick uses alchemical allegories through out the film. The obvious analogies are the celestial alignments that proceed each of the alchemical transmutations in the film. The second main allegory is that it is a black stone that initiates these transmutations. Again this mirrors the alchemical lore about the black stone causing the transmutation of the alchemist.
Finally we get to Kubrick's ultimate trick. He proves that he knows exactly what he is doing with this trick. His secret is in plain sight. First one must remember that everytime the monolith, the magical stone, appears in the film there is a strange beautiful celestial alignment occurring. And one must remember that every celestial alignment in the film is followed by a monolith, that is, except for one. That would be the lunar eclipse that occurs at the very beginning of the film. So the question arises - if we are to stay within the rules that are prescribed in the rest of the film - where is the monolith that is supposed to follow that first alignment? The monolith itself doesn't show up in the film for ten more minutes after that first celestial alignment, so what gives here? Is Kubrick just showing off his incredible special effects? Is it just there to impress the viewer from the beginning? These things may very well also be true, but the ultimate trick of Kubrick's is embedded in the idea that the monolith must appear after every one of these magical alignments. Once again, the secret of the film is completely revealed from the beginning. There is a monolith that appears right after the opening sequence with the magical, lunar eclipse. But where is it? It is right in front of the viewer's eyes! The film is the monolith. In a secret that seems to never have been seen by anyone - the monolith in the film has the same exact dimensions as the Cinerama movie screen on which 2001 was projected in 1968. This can only be seen if one sees the film in it's wide-screen format. Completely hidden, from critic and fan alike, is the fact that Kubrick consciously designed his film to be the monolith, the stone that transforms. Like the monolith, the film projects images into our heads that make us consider wider possibilities and ideas. Like the monolith, the film ultimately presents an initiation, not just of the actor on the screen, but also of the audience viewing the film. That is Kubrick's ultimate trick. He slyly shows here that he knows what he is doing at every step in theprocess. The monolith and the movie are the same thing.
- _Alchemical Kubrick
- 2001: The Great Work On Film_ by Jay Weidner