The ‘Dawn of Man’ introduces primitive hominins, modern humans and a third protagonist – an inscrutable black monolith. In the original ‘2001’ screenplay, the monolith was a crystal cube that mesmerized and somehow transferred knowledge to the apes.
Thankfully, Kubrick left us with a far more mysterious object, which appears on cue at key points in the narrative. But it is never more than a mirror, one that reflects the state of evolution of its beholder. Whatever apes and humans become after encountering the monolith, they ‘already had it in them’; their evolution is the realization of their innate potentials, not a gift from the gods.
Kubrick also introduces here a little-noticed theme that runs right through to the closing scenes: eating. Whether its wild berries, tapir burgers, airline meals or fake-cheese sandwiches – the characters are constantly consuming food, just fuelling the body between birth and death.