Against blood and horror: some thoughts on Peter Hyams’s 2010

Life on the moon of Europa

If the reader cannot surmise from the above title, the following contains spoilers regarding the happenings depicted in the film 2010.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, though directed, produced, and written by Peter Hyams. Like 2001, it is based on a science-fiction novel written by Arthur C. Clarke. It features an exploration-mission carried out by the crew of the Leonov, a spacecraft designed by the Stalinist regime ruling over what was once rather erroneously called the Soviet Union, or the U.S.S.R. (United Soviet Socialist Republic),1 who are assigned to investigate the fate of the U.S.S. Discovery—lost, as depicted in 2001, under mysterious circumstances as it approached Io and Europa, two of Jupiter’s various moons. In hibernation on the Russian spaceship are three U.S. scientists familiar with the Discovery and its on-board computer system, the infamous HAL-9000 (a machine that in 2001 ‘malfunctioned’ and caused the death of all the scientists on board except David Bowman, whose present status is unknown). The film has the Russian and U.S. scientists working together to reach the Discovery, learn of its fate together with that of its crew, and escape the explosion that transforms Jupiter into a new-born star. This last event, seemingly instigated by what was once David Bowman, leads the actors referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “principal architects of policy” of the U.S. and Soviet Union2 to abort the war-preparations in which they had been engaging within the context of sharply detiorating relations, provoked by U.S. threats of aggression against the state of Honduras. It also brings with it a communiqué in which ‘Bowman’ pleads for the life-process that has emerged on the moon of Europa to be allowed to evolve free from humanity’s influence.

Before examining the value of 2010, it is worth noting some of the various reactionary aspects of the film. To begin with, 2010 may in fact ultimately represent something of an endorsement of the ruling class, as reason is shown in the end to prevail in both the White House and the Kremlin when both decide to halt the war-preparations they had been engaging in during much of the film’s course and thus avoid the nuclear annihilation that would likely result from war between the two. This legitimational resolution to the film’s plot is surely far removed from the direly desperate and radically activist perspectives advanced by Ronald Aronson, Jonathan Schell, and Günther Anders in their treatments of the question of war and the specter of nuclear annihilation in the late twentieth century.3 Moreover, Dr. Heywood Floyd, the film’s main character, expresses fairly patriarchal attitudes toward his wife and son throughout the film; from the few scenes in which the audience sees him interacting with his family-members, it seems clear that the dynamic in his family is traditional in its male-dominance. Furthermore, Floyd may in fact be advancing bourgeois-dominative ideology when he, at film’s end, explains that humans are to be considered “tenants” of the Earth, and that there exists some “landlord” who has, in warning its tenants of the dangers that follow from the extant political system, given them “a new lease.” These perspectives notwithstanding, it is nonetheless surely important that Floyd’s closing comments show him as recognizing the necessity for humanity to have a “second chace,” amidst the threats to its survival as prosecuted by existing hegemons—that it exercise natality, in Hannah Arendt’s conception.4

Indeed, many of the perspectives advanced in 2010 are surely valuable and of import. Amidst the tensions on board the Leonov that stem from the deterioration in relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. on Earth, Floyd quite reasonably observes that “just because our governments are behaving like asses doesn’t mean we have to.” In addition, the film explicitly refers to the occupant of the film’s White House as a “reactionary,” a moniker that would clearly also fit Reagan, the U.S. president at the time of the film’s production; the U.S. executive’s thoughtless, destructive approach to the state of Honduras in 2010 is surely a reference to the support provided by Reagan to murderous authoritarian groups in Central America during the 1980’s. It is precisely the president’s policy on Honduras—the threat to blockade the country using the U.S. Navy, as was practiced by the U.S. following the installation in 1962 of missiles in Cuba and against Nicaragua’s ports under Reagan’s direction—that provokes a sharp deterioration in relations between the world’s two superpowers, a deterioration that in fact threatens the outbreak of war and the concomitant collective suicide that would probably result.

Against such negations the film holds out the prospect of international cooperation, as for example practiced between Russian and U.S. scientists on board the Leonov—especially as they embrace each other in celebration as they learn that war between their respective governments on Earth has been avoided. Moreover, the communiqué that the being formerly known as Dave Bowman orders HAL-9000 to send to Earth before the Discovery’s incineration in the explosion that transforms Jupiter into a new star—a message that in the estimation of ‘Bowman’ is the “most important” message HAL-9000 “has ever sent”—is important; its first part reads as follows:






With reference to the now two stars found in the solar system of which Earth is a part, the communiqué ends with the following imperative:



Such declarations are both regressive and progressive in meaning. In demanding that Europa be a sanctuary free from interference from humanity, the message explicitly repudiates the seemingly “boundless imperialism” practiced by humanity,5 or at least advanced by its dominant groups. Its plea that humans abolish war and behave cooperately among themselves is surely a critical one. However good it may be, though, the message’s challenge to humanity is nonetheless a limited one: while it requests that humans promote a transition to a global society marked by cooperative and peaceful social relations in observation of the gift of a new star, it also endorses humanity’s domination of nature: “all these worlds” belong to humanity, on this account, and they are to be “use[d]” by their owners (rather like the dolphins kept by Floyd’s character in a small indoor pool). In this sense, the existence of the bodies other than Europa comes to be instrumentalized for human ends, as such extra-terrestrial space is not to be left to itself but instead be subjected to treatment not dissimilar from that visited on the non-human world since the emergence of humanity. Naturally, such claims are rather removed from the perspectives of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Murray Bookchin, and Herbert Marcuse, all of whom demand that humanity cease its domination of nature altogether.6

In sum, then, while rebellious, reasonable perspectives are advanced at points in 2010, the film does not deal centrally with the necessity of a rebellion-emergency, as faced by contemporary humanity. Star Wars (1976-1983), The Matrix (1999, 2003, and 2005) and Sunshine (2007) seem to examine such questions more directly. Nonetheless, 2010 stresses the critical need for a radical transformation of existing society, however imperfect the resolution presented by the God-like ex-Bowman at the film’s close may be—that is, that humanity work “together” and “in peace,” but that it “use” nature. Furthermore, 2010 does not help in imagining how a transition to a global society characterized by cooperative, non-violent social relations might be realized, as the visionary appendix of David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope (“Edilia, or make of it what you will”) could be said to. The film’s concluding message importance and relevance to the lived-experience of the contemporary world should be clearly acknowledged, however, for it presents a demand that history as overseen by extant power-groups be radically interrupted toward the establishment of what Walter Benjamin calls a “civilization that has abandoned blood and horror.”7 If the prospect for realizing this end is in actual fact to be taken as a conceivable possibility within the world of 2010 CE and beyond, it is likely the case that any prescriptive political program for the present, be it product of human or extra-terrestrial origin, at least include the following concise demands8:



Any such program should also surely promote perspectives congruent with the political project of an ‘Earth democracy’ (democracia de la tierrra).9


1Erroneous, I say, because in nearly none of the time between 1917 and 1989 were soviets allowed any decision-making power.

2Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket, 2010)

3For Aronson, cf. The Dialectics of Disaster: A Preface to Hope (London: Verso, 1983); for Schell, cf. The Fate of the Earth (Knopf, 1982) and The Abolition (Knopf, 1984), for Anders, cf. inter alia Hiroshima ist uberall (Hiroshima ist überall (Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 1982)

4Cf. The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957)

5Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), p. 108

6Cf. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002 [1947]); Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom (Oakland, California: AK Press, 2005 [1982]), Toward an Ecological Society (Montreal: Black Rose, 1980), Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose, 1989); Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), Counter-revolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972)

7Illuminations (New York: Harcourt, 1968), p. 38

8Slogans promoted by French Situationists in 1968, as elsewhere

9Red Italiana para la Justicia Ambiental y Social, “Towards Cancún: change the system, not the climate,” 2 July 2010

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