Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey is not a political film. A quarter- century after its release in April 1968 (its public debut took place on the day before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr), 2001 is usually remembered for its images, for the music, and for its groundbreaking special effects - all of which are widely and routinely cited in the general culture. The mysterious monolith turns up in New Yorker cartoons ('it's a black thing, you wouldn't understand'), 'Thus Spake Zarathustra' becomes a staple of Sesame Street phonetics lessons, the balletic representations of space flight provide material for a Lenny Kravitz video and an episode of The Simpsons. Much of the movie's audience might hesitate to ascribe a 'plot' to 2001 at all - much less a 'plot' in the 'political' sense; the movie's initial reviews tended to center on the monolith and on HAL, and rereading those reviews today chiefly affords one the spectacle of watching dozens of puzzled film critics circle curiously around this large, black slab in their midst.
To be sure, the scenes aboard the spaceship Discovery, which culminate in the famous breakdown of HAL and his murder of four astronauts, suggest that Kubrick's concern with humans and machines did not end with Dr Strangelove, and most of the film's commentators have appropriately reached the conclusion that, as Alexander Walker has put it, ' 2001 is nothing less than an epic-sized essay on the nature of intelligence'. 1 So it's not as though the movie is entirely nonnarrative or nonpropositional, even if its director considers it 'essentially a nonverbal experience'. 2 All the same, my sense is that most people would think it takes a strange critical mind to see the movie as a commentary on the Cold War and the rise of the national security state. What's involved in this reading is a principle that's routine to most working critics and alien to most 'amateur' readers: the principle that a text can be read for its 'silences', its omissions, its latent or repressed subtexts. The psychoanalytic version of this principle is both