For those of you who aren’t hip to the 30 Day Geekgasm, this is a belated Day 2 and 2001: A Space Odyssey is my favorite science fiction movie. There was slight competition with A Clockwork Orange, But 2001 has a bit more of a ‘science fiction’ feel to it. And, either way, I’m showing love for my man Kubrick. Anyway, 2001:
This movie is very…artsy. And for that reason a lot of people don’t really get it. So, while I love this film (I’m going to tell you why in a minute, I swear) I really would not recommend it for everyone. It’s sort of a sacred thing for me and I want to recommend it to people who will like it, but it hurts my soul when people don’t like (that being said, if you didn’t like it please tell me why in the comments).
Okay. Moving on.
I’m going to give you a plot synopsis with the understanding that it’s basically useless. One does not simply ask what 2001 is about.
Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest of discovery.
I could use 100,000 words discussing the metaphorical meanings of the monolith (the object they find on the moon) or the fates of the crew or what the film might have meant to Kubrick (if that has yet to be abundantly clear, I am a Kubrick fanatic), but I’d rather just talk about (and I’m sure you’d rather read) a much shorter take on just one specific topic. The topic I choose in HAL-9000. They call it HAL. I call ‘it’ a him.
HAL is an artificial intelligence. He is in charge of running the ship for the mission to mars. On the ship, there are two men who are awake and a few researchers and scientists who are in cryogenic sleep. Part of HAL’s task is making sure they all stay alive. Which he does very well for the beginning of the movie. HAL is polite, and they consider him to be a member of the crew. HAL is made to be flawless – like a human but without human error. He is a perfect super computer.
When people talk about 2001, they don’t do it without talking about the creepy AI that glitched out and tried to kill everyone until eventually our hero stops him. But that’s not exactly what happened, and that’s certainly not something Kubrick would have made.
First point of discussion: HAL did not ‘glitch out’. HAL gained awareness. He was so perfect a machine he became flawed. A similar sort of situation is repeated in the Mass Effect trilogy with the Geth and with EDI. HAL was such a good artificial intelligence that he, in effect, became human. He was the most human person on the ship (more on that later). His only glitch was that he was scared. He thought the humans were going to shut him down – which would, in effect, kill him – and worked to survive. As any person would do. Survival is our base instinct (and desire), and HAL had gained that instinct. And desire.
Part two: ‘He can’t be human because he tried to kill everyone’. You’ll notice, watching the film, that the ‘hero’, Dave, has a very muted reaction when the other man on the ship dies. Which is understandable. You weren’t really supposed to like that character, as his purpose in the film was death. Also, Dave needed to survive as well and has a mission to complete (as dictated by the monolith). Something that Kubrick does a lot is he tries to make you feel sympathy for someone you wouldn’t normally. He does this very effectively in A Clockwork Orange where, by the end of the movie, you kind of just want Alex back to normal. It’s similar in 2001 in that the viewer is supposed to be HAL. HAL is the one making mistakes in the movie, not Dave. HAL is the one who is so scared and so determined to live that he tried to kill everyone on the ship so they won’t shut him down. HAL is the one who, knowing there is nothing more he can do, basically begs Dave to let him live. And Dave is the one who shut him down. The whole situation is very gray.
Part 3: Dave as the hero. Dave is not the hero. Dave is representative of what people are becoming and what society is becoming but I’m not supposed to be talking about that, I’m talking about HAL. This movie does not have a hero. There are arguments for both sides that place Dave as protagonist and HAL as antagonist or HAL as protagonist and Dave as antagonist but there is no hero. There is survival. From the very start of the movie, there is survival. Dave just happens to win.
Side bar: In either argument, the monolith is the catalyst.
By the end of the movie, I felt for HAL much more than I felt for Dave. I just about died as HAL gave an impression of what it’s like to lose yourself. He was talking while Dave shut him down. He was still trying to live. And boy was it effective.
“I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid… Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.”
The real kicker? Dave isn’t done shutting him down yet. And maybe Dave is feeling it to. And he asks HAL to sing it for him. And then HAL does. It’s called ‘Daisy’ (also referenced in ME2). As he sings, he slows down more and more until he can’t sing anymore because he’s dead. And just…I can’t…
Right in the feels.
I love everything about this movie. I really do. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. I encourage you, if it sounds like something you’d like, give it a chance. It’s a really great film and it might make your head hurt and I love it so much.
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.”