A Day in the Life of a Man-Ape (Film Synopsis Part 1)
After a spectacular
opening act, everything briefly goes dark and silent.
We are greeted with a sunrise and an aptly named title “The Dawn
of Man”. This is the first
of three titles in the film. The
titles also announce each part of the film.
We see barren
landscapes. The only sounds
are winds, adding to the whole feel of desolation.
It’s all very eerie and you suddenly realize why.
The images aren’t moving. The
utter stillness even further adds to the whole tone of lifelessness.
From the title, we can gather that we are witnessing
The scene changes and
we see our group slurping from a nearly dry watering hole.
The water supply is as bad as the food.
A rival band of man-apes comes and chases our group away, clearly
before any of them had enough water to drink.
There’s a lot of yelling, but no fighting.
Energy must be conserved in such a harsh environment.
The nocturnal animals are stirring.
Meanwhile, our group of man-apes are gathered in their caves.
They are huddled together to keep warm and to express their fear of
the known and unknown terrors of the night. It will be a near sleepless
night with all the danger about. So
ends another long day in this fight for survival.
The man-apes are the
proto-man or pre-man beings from Nietzsche.
Kubrick intentionally shows how they differ from
There are some
similarities, though. The
primal fear that is a constant motivating force behind them is an obvious
trait that carries on to modern Man. Kubrick
also shows a close-up of one of them.
You can see his (her?) eyes and clearly, these eyes show fear and
wonder which indicates intelligence. Kubrick
was famous for his close-ups on human faces reacting to something. Ironically,
some critics of 2001 thought the “human eyes” in the man-ape were
there because of poor makeup. No,
these are not gorillas (and pleeeease don’t call them monkeys.
Calling an ape a monkey is like calling an elephant a horse) and
they are not supposed to look like gorillas and they don’t.
Notice how the man-apes
are shown to eat, drink, and sleep. This
pattern is somewhat repeated several times in the film.
They are the predominant human activities.
The title “The Dawn
of Man” certainly suggests that this sequence will indicate the arrival
or “dawn” of the human race. Note
that this has not yet occurred. As
I stated above, these are not humans, they are a semi-intelligent race
that is unable to adapt to environmental changes and is therefore, on the
path to extinction.
It has been argued that
the portrayal of man-apes (Australopithecus) is incorrectly done - notably, that the man-apes in such a desert environment would not
be so hairy. Of course,
Anthropology has, itself, evolved significantly since the mid-1960’s.
It can be argued, though, that the very fact that the man-apes look
out of place is precisely what was intended.
It is clear that the landscape had changed and the man-apes once
lived in a more suitable environment.
Kubrick sent photographer
Andrew Birken to
When the original
screenplay and novel were written, current knowledge of that time placed
the earliest ancestors of Man at 3 million years ago.
During filming, Richard Leakey made discoveries placing
Australopithecus at 4 million years ago.
This accounts for a discrepancy between the novel and the film.
The glowing eyes in the leopard are reflections of studio lights. Since this created a desirable effect, the shot was used.