‘The Awful Power’: John Updike’s Use of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in Rabbit Redux

In the following essay, DeBellis asserts that John Up­dike's references to 2001: A Space Odyssey in Rabbit Redux underline the major thematic concerns in the novel.

In the following essay, De Bellis asserts that John Up­dike’s references to 2001 in Rabbit Redux underline the major thematic concerns in the novel.

by Jack De Bellis

“The power of the cinema, the awful power of it.”
—John Updike1

John Updike’s dozens of references to films and allusions to screen actors and actresses reveal not just a passing knowledge of an important aspect of American popular culture but offer verisimilitude and nostalgia, while providing a clever disclosure of character and support for theme. So adept is Updike at using every element of film that even titles on marquees foreshadow and counterpoint his themes. Individual films reveal ironic relations to his images, plots and characters, most suggestively in the use of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in Rabbit Redux, where parallels focus attention on the growth of Rabbit’s wife, Janice Springer, and the significance of the black messiah, Skeeter.

Certainly the idea of so consummate a literary stylist as Updike showing a passion for movies must strike some as an amusing irony, yet Updike’s enthusiasm for film is well documented. He early intended to work as a Disney animator. but when he saw that his career lay in writing he became anxious to adopt film techniques to fiction, though he eventually became disillusioned with the nouvelle ro­man’s employment of the nouvelle vague’s devices. Yet from his earliest work, Updike has filled his works with references to films and film personalities in his fiction, poetry and essays. They record nostalgia for the past that modulates into symbolic and psychological revelations. Updike early found in movies a “moral ideal,” and a model of “debonair grace.” Film contained such “awful power” to captivate and hypnotize that he attributed to “Being There” the answer to his personal question. “Why am I here?”2

Dilvo Ristoff has called for a change in the direction of Updike commentary to focus upon scene (the enclosing context of historical fact which suggests psychosocial determinants in character) and away from the concept of the “hero.” Perhaps the best novel for such an approach. Rab­bit Redux encloses the simple story of a wife’s desertion with great events in American life in 1969—the moon landing, the civil rights/black power movements, the Vietnam War, and the sexual revolution. At the same time, Marshall McLuhan prophesied the evolution in human response from the “Gutenberg media” (emphasizing linear thinking) to the “post-Gutenberg media” relying on non­linear thinking (television and film). Updike explores this opposition in Harry and Janice Angstrom. In so far as both media gather information, they are the conduits for the facts enclosing the context of action. Since 2001: A Space Odyssey posits a parallel between the evolution of man through technology and violence, the film provides a suggestive background from which to evaluate the development of the Angstroms’ quest for love and quest for self.

To appreciate how thoroughly Updike uses film in this way. consider how marquee film titles underline the action and publicize a character’s private attitude. In Rabbit Redux this device objectifies Rabbit’s fear of social exposure in cohabiting with a hippie and a black militant. Perhaps such a device, akin to the “gimmick” of using imaginary headlines as ways of revealing Rabbit’s sense of himself as a social outcast, exemplify how Updike can “convert the gimmick into fine art” in Rabbit Redux.3 For example, placement on the marquee of 10 with other films permits a multileveled pun that radiates throughout Rabbit Is Rich: “The four features at the mall cinema are BREAKING AWAY STARTING OVER RUNNING AND 10.” Harry thinks. “He’d like to see 10, he knows from the ads this Swedish-looking girl has her hair in corn rows like a black chick out of Zaire” (Rabbit Is Rich 347). As Rabbit. Run has shown. Rabbit ran from his family because he no longer felt “first-rate,” no longer a “ten.” This image of Bo Derek blends with Rabbit’s continual fantasies of sex, including curiosity about black women, stirred since he ogled a black waitress in Rabbit, Run. This attraction may announce an unconscious resistance to bigotry, as much as marriage, by “running.” The marquee’s running pun, “STARTING OVER RUNNING ” predicts that Rabbit’s son Nelson will desert his wife and child in Rabbit Redux‘s sequel Rabbit Is Rich as Rabbit had in Rabbit. Run.

In fact, another series of marquee titles ironically comment on Nelson’s emulation of his father: “ALIEN MOONRAKER MAIN EVENT ESCAPE FROM ALC­ATRAZ” (Rabbit Is Rich 35). Nelson has alienated his father, and the focus of their strain. Nelson’s marriage, is the main event of the novel; like the film the marriage features a fight between the lovers, though the film treats the matter comically. Nelson escapes the prison wife, child and parents, ironically interrupting Rabbit’s retreat to a Caribbean isle where Harry and Janice seek a sexual escape in wife-swapping.

Updike’s use of film titles as thematic motifs expands our appreciation of structure while widening our understanding of the implied narrator’s view of the characters. Up­dike also manipulates tone by using film to reveal ironic parallels undercutting his characters. We recognize, while Rabbit does not, that his spouse-sharing in the Caribbean replicates the pornographic cliche he detests in the Rialto’s Babes in Swapland. His disgust with the decay such films represent contrasts sharply to his own lack of self­recognition. for his priggish attitude is undercut by his own sexual fantasies. Perhaps he fears being robbed of them by having his eroticism made public. Harry is also undercut when he fails to recognize that the “Satanism” cursing the family of Amityville Horror, which his son Nelson excitedly relates, reflects upon Rabbit’s ten-year alienation over the death of his baby (Rabbit Is Rich 161 ).4

Turning to films themselves, in Rabbit. Run two films counterpoint the seriousness of the action. The Shaggy Dog reduces Harry’s romantic quest for first-ratedness, while Bell, Book and Candle affirms the magical power of love. Harry poises uncomfortably on both the need for self-identity and the need for love. By alluding to the Hollywood fantasy versions of happiness. Rabbit’s predicament is shown to be all the more poignant, partly because such fantasies have fed his notions of “first-ratedness.”

The Shaggy Dog underlines the opposition of dog/rabbit images in Rabbit. Run. Rabbit Angstrom (a “rabbit”) has married Janice Springer (a “dog”) and the contrast reverberates throughout the novel. This discontent turns comic in The Shaggy Dog, a film Rabbit and his mistress Ruth enjoy during their six-week aft’air. Though Rabbit does not reflect upon this contrast, the reader becomes aware of a parallel between Ham’s situation with his estranged wife and the film’s antagonist Mr. Wilson Daniels who tears and hates dogs and imagines shooting an invading shaggy dog who becomes the hero. Meanwhile. Rabbit’s in-laws try to transform his son into a Springer.5

The Shaggy Dog parodies Rabbit’s hero’s quest, his spiritual groping for the “it” that could make him first-rate again. The dog saves a missile site, rescues a girl from drowning and a baby from a fire. But Harry cannot rescue his drowning baby in Rabbit. Run—the image haunts him throughout the sequel—nor in Rabbit Redux can he save Jill from burning nor direct the moon rocket Apollo 11 away from the moon, the “big nothing.” Only Disney makes modem heroes.

The other film supplying counterpoint, Bell, Book and Candle, injects a gothic element into Rabbit, Run. When Jimmy Stewart is bewitched by the New York witch Kim Novak, he renounces his fiancee for her, as Ruth bewitches Harry into giving up his family. Unlike Stewart. Rabbit breaks the hold of all the witches and escapes. Other parallels emerge. When the dark pasts of Novak and Ruth are discovered, their lovers flee. As Novak pursues Stewart to her undoing, so Ruth’s love of Rabbit weakens the prostitute’s protective defenses. Only when Novak’s dark past is discovered does Stewart lose interest. Though we may applaud their return to customary human behavior, both women are more unhappy in their rejection of the unconventional path they had chosen.

Updike uses these films in Rabbit. Run to comment on specific aspects of the action. In Rabbit Redux, however, Updike traces how the two appearances of Stanley Ku­brick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey act as enclosures for the quest theme, with key images which reflect upon the inner worlds of Harry and Janice. The film brackets Janice’s infidelity and Harry’s exposure to ideas which challenge his comfortable passivity. The arrival of the film and the lunar landing complement each other, creating maximum interest in space flight as a fact and as imaginative stimulation, but they mean very different things to Rabbit and Janice.6 The Angstroms ostensibly do not seem affected; in fact, Greiner asserts that 2001 is “beyond the comprehension of Janice and Harry, who wonder if the first thirty minutes will bore them.”7 Janice’s lover. Charlie Stavros, dislikes it because he does not find technology sexy, but he underestimates the power of the film’s imagery to arouse Janice’s re-awakened sexual temper. The film can also be seen as a criticism of technology, for the ultimate in computers. HAL, jeopardizes the mission. Only when HAL is “lobotomized” by surviving astronaut David Bowman does Bowman discover the life beyond technology and an end to the union of technology and violence, which Kubrick secs as ineluctably united throughout human history.

The Angstroms select the film as numerous families like them did, to placate their son’s enthusiasm for the violence of the apes. Though Janice describes it to her lover as a “silly” movie, divining his objections, the film’s imagery provides symbols of her newfound sexuality, which she idly absorbs, essentially, the film describes Janice’s confrontation with the daughter she accidentally drowned, in the image of the film’s “star-child,” the final development of Bowman’s hero’s journey. The Apollo 11 moon flight, like Bowman’s space flights, underline Janice’s running from her family in Rabbit Redux. The flights in 2001 provide an objective visualization of her unconscious need for inner journey as well as outer flight. No wonder her affair makes the rest of life, “a kind of movie, flat and even rather funny” (Rabbit Redux 53). 2001 stirs Janice deeply because her erotic experience with Charlie has enabled her to embark on her own odyssey, which “makes you think about everything anew'” (Rabbit Redux 53).

But 2001 makes as little impact upon Harry as the moon landing had, with its ambiguous images filled with static. He could make no personal connection to the event, for unlike Columbus, Harry reasons, the Apollo astronauts knew where they were going, yet in the moon landing found nothing. He might have seen 2001 the same way. since the astronauts are apparently rebutted in their effort to discover why the monolith lured men from the moon to Jupiter, all but one of whom died. Still, he does allude to “best parts” of the picture, so one cannot easily assume he was unaffected by the film.

Stanley Kubrick titled the first segment of 2001: A Space Odyssey “The Dawn of Man,” since it depicted the sudden evolution of ape-men through knowledge transmitted by the black monolith. That knowledge links a murder weapon (a bone) to man’s rise, and thus intimately equates technological progress with violence. The famous cut Kubrick makes at the end of this sequence from the bone tossed in ecstasy into the air to a spacecraft routinely plying its way through airless space on its way to the moon telescopes human history as the progress of violence. Modern man is more subtle at repressing the link between technology and violence. As Markle notes, the scene “symbolizes the industrial revolution in general, the rise of technology leading to space flight.”8

As the apes lived in a kind of F.den before the appearance of the monolith provided them with weapons and hence culture, Janice and Harry have lived a virtually sexless life after the death of their baby, in a “pre-sexual” paradise. Janice’s dark lover, Charlie Stavros, her “cave bear,” provides her with sexual confidence and a mission of self- discovery. When, after stealing kisses with her lover, Jan­ice arrives late at the Rialto during the “Dawn of Man” section, she discovers Harry and Nelson have become alien, the film has set their hair “on fire” and made their ears “translucent red” from the “great exploding screen.” These “sparse planets of her life” have already been left behind. The film then validates her intuition.

Janice’s journey had begun tragically with the image of her drowned baby in Rabbit, Run. The space voyage in 2001 ends with images of the “Star-Child,” as A C. Clarke named it. In the decade between Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux the baby has loomed large between Janice and Harry. At dinner with Stavros before seeing 2001, Harry could be so casually cruel as to remark to his son. “Your mother’s the girl that’s good at death.” Janice’s rejoinder fits the blame: “Tell him who refused to have another child” (Rabbit Redux 48). The Star-Child symbolically shows her that Becky is not dead, and the huge image seems to absolve her, in contrast to the accusing baby who seemed to divine that Janice would mishandle her, “this big moon face looking cross at me” (Rabbit, Run 203). Beyond the moon, the Star-Child notifies Janice that she may discard guilt and the past and is free to live in the here and now. Recalling her remark to Rabbit about why they went to the movies, we appreciate a retrospective irony: “The movie isn’t just for Nelson, it’s for me” (Rabbit Redux 34).

While Harry sleeps, Janice reflects on her lover and the image of the space station while she masturbates, the “great wheel’’ becoming associated with her feminine sexual symbol and sending her the moon’s message: come. She does, though Janice feels she has betrayed her lover by “coming without him” (Rabbit Redux 57). Afterward, she lies “awake like the moon,” while Harry, like one of the hibernating space scientists of 2001, sleeps “under the covers with just the top of his head showing.”

Though Janice’s response to the film’s images reflects her sense of a positive personal voyage, images associated with Harry show him to be an impediment to her flight from slavery into love. The last image in Rabbit’s mind before sleep at one point suggests connections to his negative odyssey: “he thinks of feathering the linotype keys, of work tomorrow, and is already there.” While Janice has learned to live in the here and now, Harry is so stuck in mechanical time that even asleep he prefers work, for the typesetting machine reduces him to a baby: it “stands tall and warm above him mothering” (Rabbit Redux 29-30). He has withdrawn grotesquely to his Oedipal phase, and his regression parodies his roles of child, parent, and husband. Harry ‘s image derives from the antique technology w hose obsolescence puts him out of a job. Janice is linked to the space station of the future and is bound to sexuality and intuition.

The first appearance of 2001: A Space Odyssey draw’s the Angstrom family together for the last time before Janice’s defection. They are reunited near Halloween when 2001 returns, “BACK BY REQST.”9 Bracketed by the film. Harry has been exposed to black and white realities through the runaway Jill and the black militant Skeeter. They also function as symbolic emblems of the materials of the linotype which govern his life—white paper and black type, which in turn reflect upon his “linear mode” of stereotyping typical of Gutenberg man. Unlike the lino­type. they test his fidelity and offer a fresh start on his quest.

A “moon child,” as Rabbit calls her, Jill corrects Rabbit’s mistaken impression that the moon is a “big nothing.” for in making love to her as an “earthman” he is able to fight his ow n war in which sex and death are linked, and humble himself to her. Speaking to Harry and Nelson about the cosmos, she insists it is selfish to deny the possibility of life to other heavenly bodies. Harry merely parrots what he’d read in the Sunday supplements about life existing on Jupiter (unconsciously directed to it by having seen 20012) but Jill is concerned with an attitude toward life, not stale scientific theorizing (Rabbit Redux 160-61).

Jill’s gravest challenge is her “personal” dark monolith, Skeeter, who plies her with heroin so she will provide him with drug-provoked visions of God. Through her, he gains entrance into Harry’s impassive life. Like the monolith. Skeeter imports critical ambiguities to the novel. Part of the ambiguity of Kubrick’s monolith results from the unknown motives which have governed the monolith makers. since they appeal to man’s violent tendencies and set in motion a civilization based on fear. As Jill tells Harry after he has abused her: “People’ve run on fear long enough. Let’s try love for a change” (Rabbit Redux 170). Yet Jill’s fears force her to fail in her mission, enslave her to Skeeter and hasten her death. Though Harry feels some responsibility for Jill, his skepticism about Jill’s openness to perceptions of God and his resistance to her love reveal the depths of Harry’s inability to discover fresh images that might liberate him from his self-imposed paralysis. Unresponsive to the moon, he is enthralled, however, by the monolith.

Like the enigmatic dark monolith. Skeetcr raises more questions than he answers, and many of them focus on Harry’s capacity to extricate himself from his negative quest. Skeeter’s appearances have the same dramatic timing as the monolith in 2001. He appears first at “Jimbo’s Friendly Lounge” offering mysterious Biblically inverted comments about the “oofay” Harry, upon whom the blacks subtly rid themselves of Jill. At his second appearance, Harry finds Skeeter has moved in. Taunted obscenely, Harry beats him, but, strangely fascinated, he allows Skeeter to stay. A didactic contrast to Kubrick’s laconic monolith, Skeeter lectures Harry on past and modem history. showing how economic and technological forces united to enslave blacks, and how Vietnam, a kind of cosmic “black hole.” has brought about apocalypse and placed him in the role of the black messiah. His god-like posture and his cosmic association parallel the monolith emphatically10 Skeeter draws Harry to new realizations, and he forces him to confront his own anger, thus bringing together Harry’s violence and his new sense of history. Skeeter’s third appearance occurs when he hides in Har­ry’s car. fearing arrest for Jill’s death. Harry allows him to escape, recalling the escape of Bow’man into the birth of the Star-Child. When Skeeter leaves him with a mock blessing by spitting in Harry’s hand, he seems to have accepted Ham as a disciple. On the cosmic scale, the third alignment of sun. moon and earth accompany the third appearance of the monolith. The celestial images are rendered obscene when Skeeter refers to his testicles as the sun and moon, yet the cosmic imagery reminds us of Jan­ice’s masturbatory images and yokes sexuality and the cosmos, as they are blended in the key image of the Star-Child.

In 2001 the monolith appears three times: first on earth, then the moon, then near Jupiter, each time responding to the level of technology man had attained—tool-making, lunar exploration, and space travel. Like the monolith, Skeeter has brought a kind of knowledge at the time when it might be best received. Skeeter offers Harry three illuminations concerning dishonesty in human relations (his pretended indifference to Janice and Jill), indifference to history’ (his ignorance of his role in continuing a history of oppression), and defensive jingoism (his assumption of American superiority).

Skeeter’s own philosophy has developed through similar illuminations: honest response to “sacred texts” like The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, apocalyptic historical awareness of Vietnam, and intellectual conviction that he can unite humanity as the new messiah. As monolith, then, he offers possibilities of discovery akin to the monolith’s appearances in 2001. Jill also tries to educate Harry’ about himself and history by forcing him to confront his hypocritical capitalist values, as when he beats her for panhandling. Together. Skeeter and Jill show how their own lives are examples of their commitment to a unified theory which the fragmented Harry’ cannot accept. To him they are aliens, and he refuses to step off the security of his firmament and voyage with them. The irresistible effect of the monolith has met its match in the immovable Harry.11

Conspicuous by their absence in 2001 are blacks, the source of Updike’s parallels with the monolith. Like the monolith, blacks have been “buried” a long time before making an impact, emerging when humanity’s dead-end direction requires fresh inspiration. Harry, like the apes, needs a fresh direction, especially one uniting his own sense of powerlessness to his former vitality. The self- satisfied person “in a sense dies,” Updike has remarked, and such a person becomes an “unfallen Adam … an ape . . . not a person at all—just an animal with clothes on.”12 Harry ‘s response to Babe’s singing at Jimbo’s Friendly Lounge shows that, despite his outward appearance of smug indifference, at some level he may be ready to respond to Skeeter-as-monolith.13

Even incidental details seem to have correspondences—from the monolith’s dark color, to the sounds it omits, and its magnetism. Like the man-ape. Harry needs to touch the strange new force (untypically. he beats the unresisting Skeeter) and get acquainted with its magic. The scientists in 2001 think the monolith has been made by an advanced society, and Skeeter has come fresh from Vietnam. To him Vietnam is the leading edge of humanity’s next stage, a black hole through which God means to communicate and appoint his “black messiah.” Bowman’s last meeting with the monolith apparently brings him a mysterious image of the union of death and birth, though only a reading of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel. 2001: A Space Odyssey, developed from his story “The Sentinel” and primarily written as the film was produced, makes this point clear. Similarly, Harry is left with the enigma of Skeeter, who may have precipitated Jill’s death or who may be guiltless. Harry’ has been extricated from his ape state and carried to personal discovery in Jimbo’s, but in the destruction of his house (his symbolic death) he is left in the Safe Haven Motel, possibly an ironic reflection on the Louis XVI room in which Bowman dies/is reborn. Like Kubrick, Updike leaves interpretation to us, with a conclusion as strange as the end of 2001. “O.K.?”14

Rabbit’s inability to be changed by the black ideologist or the erotic/mystic hippie suggests that he has stepped back toward the apes. Even Jill’s mother calls him a “monster.” as Tothero had in Rabbit, Run. His answer may be close to home, though. Wary of abstractions, he “docks” with Jan­ice at the end of Rabbit Redux. Janice has become a Nietzschean “superman” so potent that her sexual energy- threatened her lover’s life sufficiently to end their affair, but it also brought Charlie back from the dead as she staved off his heart attack. In contrast. Rabbit’s sexual escapade with Margaret Fosnacht helps to cause Jill’s death. Rabbit’s emotional struggles with Skeeter and Jill parallel his inability to find “sense” in Kubrick’s film, but Janice’s absorption in her passionate affair is an analogue to her openness to the imagery of 2001. Perhaps from her Harry might absorb her capacity to respond to 2001 the next time it comes around. Harry could not have understood what he was suggesting when he urged her to, “See that space movie again, you slept through the best parts” (Rabbit Redux 77). What were the best parts to him? The next time he sees 2001 he may be led further back to rehabilitation.

2001 provides a metaphor for Janice’s ascension to Ni­etzsche’s superman stage through Harry’s figurative death. The conflict between the astronaut and HAL the super computer parallels the conflict between Janice and her husband. HAL, like Rabbit, fears losing control to the su­perforce (symbolized by the monolith) and evidently murders five of the crew to protect them, but the commander. David Bowman, in an epic confrontation of hero and beast, outwits HAL and removes his higher reasoning powers. HAL is a hyperbolic reflection of Harry: he has become a machine in order to protect Janice from the awful power of love which leads to death. But Janice, fearing his paralytic guilt might destroy her. outmaneuvers Harry and rediscovers her sexuality. Her life wish overcomes Harry’s death wish.

Skeeter had called blacks “technology’s nightmare” for having been left out of the Industrial Revolution—Kubrick’s cave men who hadn’t been affected by the monolith. That same cultural development costs Harry his job at Verity Press by making it obsolete: thus progress toward superman status has left Harry at the middle stage. He has been forcibly removed from the ape stage to the middle world where man is a “rope hung across the chasm” between ape and superman, as Nietzsche remarks. The appearances of Skeeter-as-monolith have not substantially altered his life, for, as Vargo comments, “He needs new rites to lead him out of the darkness of his existence, but he does not search for it.”15 Janice’s life may change if. like the HAL computer, Harry symbolically dies to aid Janice’s liberation.16

Janice’s flight has been a struggle for her own “it,” a force which lures her to test the unknown within her, just as the astronauts tire lured to challenge the unknown at the heart of the universe. Rabbit had also looked to the sky for answers in Rabbit. Run. figuring his children as the sun and moon in order to cope with his baby’s death. In 2001 the space probe seeks final answers by flying to Jupiter. The film ends with the quester become an embryo, complementing Harry’s evolution from baby at the mothering li­notype machine to a child asleep with his mother when reunited with Janice at the Safe Haven Motel, like the hibernating astronauts aboard the spacecraft. Harry has not been reborn, but he has been led away from his mechanical self, and healing has begun. Janice, after a brief encounter with a higher but more dangerous form of existence. has returned to the boundary of ordinary humanity. If neither are astronauts nor supermen, neither are they apes.

Perhaps for Harry the “best pan” of 2001 was the image of the Star-Child looking ambiguously toward earth, and thus Janice and Harry. For a decade he had harbored a self-destructive guilt for his part in his baby’s death. Ruth had called him Mr. Death for his part in it. and she threatened to abort their child. Now the repressed child has emerged in an image reminiscent of the way in The Scarlet Letter Dimmesdale’s adulterous guilt confronted him as a meteor scarring the night with a lurid red “A.” Has he denied it, as the minister did? Or does his quest for his daughter in Rabbit Is Rich suggest that he has been affected? We cannot say for certain, anymore than we can settle the meaning of the image which Kubrick left intentionally ambiguous. At the motel Harry is neutral, like “the blank marquees of the deserted movie palaces” (Rabbit Redux 397).

Kubrick has carefully employed references to Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra to emphasize the stages represented by the film’s action, from ape to modern man to superman. He has underscored this structure by accompanying each of the monolith’s three appearances with the first three ascending notes from Richard Strauss’s tone-poem “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” a triad developed by Strauss specifically to echo Nietzsche’s three stages. Though Harry cannot make the ascent, he carries with him a respect for cosmic messages, as his conversations with Jill about cosmology show, that may lead him upward. Apparently Harry had not yet perceived that the theme of 2001, according to Kubrick, was the search for God.17 Conceivably, God may speak through such films about cosmic destiny, speak with “awful power.” But if Harry didn’t comprehend this the night he saw 2001, he might feel comforted by Kubrick’s remark: “If this film can be completely understood, then we will have failed.”18

A decade later, in Rabbit Is Rich, Harry inspects photos of Jupiter, the astronauts’ destination in 2001, and finds assurance that, “The planets keep their courses no matter what we do,” blending fatalism to a sense of his place in the cosmic design (Rabbit Is Rich 463). He now shows an interest in “that movie about Encounters of the Third Kind the way the truck with Richard Dreyfuss in it begins to shake all over and the headlights behind rise up in the air instead of pulling off to one side” (Rabbit Is Rich 204). In Rabbit Redux Harry has had his own “close encounter” which has left him shaken but still unlevitated. Perhaps Close Encounters of the Third Kind is “that space movie” that will lead him to get more deeply in touch with himself. His father had found movie-going a prescription for depression: “forget your troubles . . . go off to a motion picture” (Rabbit Redux 354). It might work, especially if the film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose achievement Kubrick characterized this way: “If 2001 has stirred your emotions, your subconscious, your mythological yearnings, then it has succeeded.”19 Since film had contributed to Janice’s self-discovery and Harry had shown himself deeply receptive to it. he may yet feel its “awful power.”


1. Charles Samuels, “The Art of Fiction XLIII,’ Review 45 (Winter 1968): 110.

2. John Updike. Hugging The Shore (New York: Knopf. 1983) 843. Citations to Updike works after this will be given in parentheses after the quote.

3. Robert Detweiler, John Updike, revised edition (Boston: G.K. Hall. 1984) 134.

4. As Newman notes, Nelson’s interest in the theme of the devil in the house in The Amityville Horror, as well as the idea of free fall in Moonraker, are each realized at Slim’s party. Judie Newman, John Updike (New York: St. Martin’s. 1988) 69. Newman is particularly insightful in her treatment of Marshall McLuhan in relation to Rabbit Redux. Much of my argument is indebted to hers, though I consider film as an “electronic medium” (see Newman 40-62).

5. The images may be seen as comic relief to the domestic tragedy (see Detweiler 56-57). For a critique of the dog/rabbit opposition, see Jack De Bellis. “The ‘Extra Dimension’: Character Names in Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ Trilogy.” Names 36 (March-June 1988): 29- 42.

6. Each section of the novel is prefaced by epigraphs from the American-Soviet flights to the Moon. The first epigraph, “I’ve lost you for a while, but now I have you,” is Updike’s witty announcement of his reunion with his “old friend,” as he called him. The last epigraph describes a coupling of Soviet and American crafts: both Rabbit, Ran and Rabbit Redux—as well as the Angstroms who had lied in each book—passed through a test and returned to one another with closer communication and renewal. But it may also refer to the rerun of 2001 at the end of Rabbit Redux. With droll irony Updike describes the “docking procedure” of the exhausted, reunited Angstroms. The novel also “docks” with its predecessor Rabbit, Ran. A film that Harry sees being made in Brewer may well be the film of Rabbit, Ran (Rabbit Redux 184).

7. Donald J. Greiner, John Updike’s Novels (Athens: The U of Ohio P. 1984) 68.

8. Joyce B. Markle. Fighters and Lovers: Theme in the Novels of John Updike (New York: New York UP, 1973) 150.

9. The return of the film supports Vargo’s insight locating the source of the unusual word “redux” in Dryden’s “Astrae Redux,” return of the star. See Edward P. Vargo. Rainstorms and Fire: Ritual in the Novels of John Updike (Port Washington: Kennikat. 1973) 150.

10. Regarding Skeeter’s assertion that he is Christ, Up­dike remarked that Skeeter: “says he is. I think probably he might be. And if that’s so. then people ought to be very nice to him.” John Updike. Picked-up Pieces (New York: Knopf, 1975) 510.

11. Detweiler’s view is that, “Harry Angstrom undergoes a quest, a seduction, a conversion, and an education,” but it also seems that Harry resists attempts at education (see Detweiler 132).

12. Samuels 101.

13. Perhaps Babe’s singing of the “tunes that Broadway forgot” finds a complement in the “colossal sacred din of chanting” the monolith emits as the apes approach it. See Penelope Gilliatt, “After Man,” The New Yorker 44 (13 April 1968): 150. Since Updike has published reviews, stories, articles and poems in The New Yorker since 1953, he may have read Gil­lian’s review.

14. See the provoking remarks by Margaret Stackhouse. Kubrick called these speculations, “perhaps the most intelligent that I’ve read anywhere.” Jerome Agel, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (New York: Signet, 1970) 201-05.

15. Vargo 154.

16. The name “HAL” is popularly believed to have been invented by Arthur C. Clarke as single-letter alphabetical reductions of “IBM.” Fortuitously, the names “Harry” and “Hal” originate in “Harold,” the covert link suggesting an odd similarity between HAL and Harry Angstrom. The HAL computer was originally called “Athena,” another connection to the Apollo 11. Perhaps one of Updike’s many inside-jokes, he gives Harry’s computer the model number “2001” in Rabbit Is Rich 25. Perhaps in his death (if he does die) in Rabbit at Rest, Harry at last liberates Janice.

17. Agel 330.

18. Jeremy Bernstein, “Out of the Ego Chamber,” The New Yorker 45 (9 Aug. 1969): 60.

19. Agel 161 (unnumbered).

Works Cited

Agel, Jerome. The Making of Kubrick’s 2001. New York: Signet, 1970.

Bernstein, Jeremy. “Out of the Ego Chamber.” The New Yorker 45 (9 Aug. 1969): 40-42, 44. 46. 51-52, 54-56. 58- 65.

Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey. New York: Sig­net, 1968.

Detweiler, Robert. John Updike. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1984.

Gillian, Penelope. “After Man.” The New Yorker 44 (13 April 1968): 150-52.

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SOURCE: ‘“The Awful Power’: John Updike’s Use of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in Rabbit Redux in Literature/Film Quarterly. Vol. 21. No. 3, 1993. pp. 209-17.


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