There's just something special about the number 3. Kubrick certainly seemed to think so. His films seem to all have 3 parts and are often centered around 3 characters. He particularly seemed to like 3-way conversations that involved tension and conflict. Here's a few examples from some of his films.

  • Lolita: Love triangle of Humbert, Quilty, and Lolita
  • Dr. Stangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: 3 simultaneous situations - the war room, the Air Force base, and the airplane.
  • A Clockwork Orange: Continual tension between Alex, Georgie, and Dim
  • Barry Lyndon: Family tension between Barry, Lord Bullington, and Lady Lyndon
  • The Shining: Another family dynamic of father, mother, and son
  • Full Metal Jacket: Tensions between Joker, Pyle, and Hartman
  • Eyes Wide Shut: Another 3 member family, this time with a daughter instead of a son.

Now, when it comes to 2001, Kubrick really seemed to show his obsession with the number 3. Here's the one's I've found. I'm sure there's more.


  • 3 Titles for each chapter of the film ("The Dawn of Man", "Mission to Jupiter (18 Months Later)", and "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite")
  • 3 states of Man (man-ape, human being, Starchild)
  • 2+0+0+1 = 3
  • 3 times "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is played (Beginning, Man discovers tools, Man becomes Starchild)
  • 3 times "Atmospheres" is played (Overture, Intermission, Through the stargate)
  • 3 times "Requiem' is played (Monolith appearances on Earth, Moon, and Jupiter space)


  • 3-way alignment of Moon, Earth, and Sun (this alignment of 3 objects happens at key points in the film.)
  • 3 lead in notes in the "Also Sprach Zarathustra" music
  • 3 opening credit titles ("MGM Presents", "A Stanley Kubrick Production", "2001: A Space Odyssey")

The Dawn of Man

  • 3 activities of the man-apes are first shown (eating, drinking, sleeping)
  • Each of the 3 activities are interrupted by something (leopard, other man-ape tribe, monolith)
  • 3-way alignment of monolith, Moon, and Sun

Earth to Moon

  • Orion spacecraft, spacestation, and the Moon or the Earth (but never both) form a triangle. They are never shown in alignment (that's for another discussion)
  • 3 rows of "voice print identification" terminals, each with 3 screens
  • 3 adjacent windows in spacestation as Floyd and Miller walk
  • 3-way conversation in spacestation between Floyd, Smythslov, and Elena (a common Kubrick technique for another discussion)
  • 3 glasses on table in front of scientists
  • 3 chairs along the walls inside space station
  • Aries Spacecraft, Sun, and Earth (not in alignment)
  • 3 astronauts on lunar surface as Aries lands
  • 3 martial arts performers on video screen in Aries
  • 3 crewmembers in cockpit of Aries spacecraft
  • Aries, Moon, and Earth triangle
  • 3 people speak at the briefing (Floyd, Halvorson, and Michaels)
  • 3-way conversation in Moon bus between Floyd, Halvorson, and Michaels.
  • 3-way alignment of monolith, Earth, and Sun
  • 3 vessels take Floyd to his destination (Orion, Aries, Moon shuttle)

Mission to Jupiter

  • 3 divisions of the viewport in front of Discovery
  • 3 pod bay doors on Discovery
  • 3 antenna dishes on Discovery
  • 3 sets of 2 engines on Discovery
  • 3 pods on Discovery
  • 3 conscious personnel on Discovery (Bowman, Poole, and HAL)
  • 3 hibernating personnel on Discovery
  • Poole is shown jogging around centrifuge 3 times
  • 3-way conversation between reporter, Bowman, and Poole
  • 3-way conversation between HAL, Bowman, and Poole
  • 3 spacesuits in Discovery's pod bay
  • Dave pushes 3 buttons to initiate the explosive bolts sequence
  • 3 Eva's are performed

Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite

  • 3-way alignment of Jupiter, large moon, and monolith (yes, there are other moons but there are 3 main objects)
  • Bowman ages 3 times before becoming the Star-Child
  • Bowman, like the man-apes, eats, drinks, and sleeps before encountering the monolith.
  • Bowman, like the man-apes, has each activity interrupted (by spacesuited Bowman, breaking glass, monolith)
  • 3-way alignment of Moon, Star-Child, and Earth


Anonymous said…
This film is so incredible. Thank you for an amazing blog!

Another 3-thing; All waltzes (including An der schönen blauen Donau as used in the film) have a triple-meter (3-pulses). Just thought I'd add that in.

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