You only need to watch The Shining or 2001: A Spacey Odyssey to know that legendary director Stanley Kubrick was not afraid to make it weird.
He was great at it, and great at making visually stunning movies as he did it. 2001 was perhaps his weirdest movie (In Kubrick's hands Shining was more about insanity than ghosts) and its ending was the cherry on a truly freaky sundae. No one understood it, and it turns out Kubrick only explained what was going on in one known interview.
Here's what you see at the end: An astronaut falls into another dimension. His spacecraft seems to speed through the acid dreams of a thousand hippies until he ends up in a posh antique-filled apartment with lighted floor tiles and a massive (admittedly comfy-looking) bed.
The astronaut, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) then appears to age rapidly, going from relative youth to late middle age to very old in just a few shots. At the very end, he sees some kind of vision and reaches for it—and we are suddenly just above the Earth and a giant, freaky-looking baby in a bubble is smiling down on our home planet like he just let one hell of a cosmic space fart.
No one knew what was up at the time, save that Stanley Kubrick was tripping on some good shit.
He rarely tried to really detail what was happening, but a Reddit user recently unearthed an interview Kubrick gave a Japanese TV personality named Jun'ichi Yaio. Interestingly enough, Kubrick was filming The Shining at the time. This may blow your mind because it's just so straightforward:
I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I’ll try.
The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.
They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure...
Anyway, when they get finished with him, as happens in so many myths of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, transformed and made into some sort of superman. We have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is the pattern of a great deal of mythology, and that is what we were trying to suggest.
It's just a version of the hero's journey. Damn.
There you go. That's the basic story of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
We would still like to know what Stanley Kubrick was tripping on.