To this day, the iconic 2001 film: An Odyssey in Space continues to surprise, captivating spectators. It is incredible to think that this magic dates back to 1968. A film that has nothing, absolutely nothing, has to envy current science fiction. Masterful from beginning to end, for many it is the best film that cinema has given us. Evolution and intelligence, machines and men, HAL 9000 and Bowman … and a final that continues to leave us speechless make up one of the greatest works of cinema.
Few films survive so well over time, few movies of the 60 have effects that, currently, still surprise. 2001: An odyssey in space gives us the greatest temporal ellipsis ever seen: from the launch of a bone to a spaceship, thus Stanley Kubrick sums up human evolution.
The film hardly has dialogue, it is a purely visual experience, accompanied by a soundtrack that could not have been chosen better. Without needing to speak, it speaks for itself, and it puts before us the main reflections of humanity. It manages to unite science with the mystical, skepticism with spirituality, puts into question the technological advances and our own intelligence. They appear inventions that were still unthinkable at the time and even presents a character who, without being a man, is very human: HAL 9000.
It is impossible to summarize in a few words what it means in 2001: An odyssey in space, not only for its great contribution to the cinema, but also for the experience itself. Therefore, we will focus our attention on the iconic HAL 9000 intelligent computer. Not before reviewing, briefly, the plot (or plots) of the film.
2001: An odyssey in space, the experience
We can not pretend that 2001 is a work of evasion, of pure distraction; It is a totally innovative film that generates an experience in the viewer. The script was the work of Kubrick and the writer Arthur C. Clarke, and was developed in parallel to his novel of the same name. Visually spectacular, we should not leave aside its soundtrack that, far from being an emotional complement, becomes a fundamental component that endows the film with a formidable philosophical base.
The film rests on philosophical, scientific and evolutionary issues that have always accompanied the human being. The chosen soundtrack is, for the most part, the work of Richard Strauss. It is not by chance the choice of composition So spoke Zarathustra (Strauss, 1896), a symphonic poem inspired by the homonymous work of Friedrich Nietzsche in which he exhibits, among other arguments, his idea of Übermensch or Superman. That idea of the Superman, as well as that of the eternal return are going to be two fundamental pillars on which the film is built.
We talk a lot about evolution, but little about the future. When we think about evolution, immediately, we associate the concept with the idea of ”we come from the monkey”, but, rarely, we think about the future of our own evolution. However, when we see 2001, we can not avoid thinking: what if we still have a lot to evolve? What if we are only one step until, at last, reach the Nietzschean superman?
In turn, what the Kubrick film proposes to us goes beyond the purely skeptical, uniting the idea of evolution with that of a higher intelligence, more developed and, ultimately, alien. Parallel to the main plot, another plot is developed linked to the HAL 9000 computer, which induces us to think about the nature of our own advances and leads us to doubt the very idea that we have of what is human.
The main plot
It is linked to evolution. At first, we observed a group of primates that, thanks to the appearance of a monolith, manage to develop the creation of tools. We attended the birth of the first men. Suddenly, a temporary ellipsis leads us to the moment when man has managed to conquer space. The second monolith appears symbolizing that man is already prepared to evolve but, for that, he must destroy his own creation to avoid being overcome by it: HAL 9000. Next, the following monolith moves us to a new spatial and temporal dimension, to reflection on human life and the passage of time. Finally, the last monolith appears in a scene that has been related to The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. And it is that what we see is the death of man and, in turn, the rebirth in a new being that will be returned to the earth: the eternal return and the superman.
The creation of man, perfection made machine that rebels against its creator. Is it a metaphor for humanity itself? HAL is surprisingly human, not even its creators can know if it has feelings; and, without a doubt, he has them. So, what is it that makes us human?
The nature of HAL 9000
HAL 9000 is the fundamental piece of the mission to Jupiter in the Discovery ship. The Discovery astronauts are unaware of the true purpose of their mission. HAL has been designed to never make any mistake, it is simply perfect. It is programmed with a single objective: carry out the mission and not disclose to the occupants of the ship the nature of it.
Everything seems to run with the usual monotony in the Discovery until, after a conversation between HAL and Bowman, HAL reports a failure to Bowman that, finally, turns out to be wrong. How is it possible that a perfect computer unable to make mistakes is wrong? This makes the astronauts distrust HAL and plan to disconnect it. HAL can not hear them, but he is able to read lips and, upon discovering the astronauts’ plans, experiences a very human feeling: fear.
What exactly happened? HAL is programmed not to fail, but in turn, not to reveal the nature of the mission. Bowman’s answer awakens in HAL some uncertainty, some fear that the mission will not reach its goal. Therefore, HAL must decide between telling the truth to Bowman not to jeopardize the mission or keep the secret, something that could lead to a failed mission. At this point, HAL is faced with a dilemma that is difficult to escape and goes to something totally human: the lie.
In this way, HAL 9000 ceases to be only a machine, obsesses with the mission and behaves irrationally as a result of its suffering. HAL owns his thoughts, his feelings and is aware of his own existence. Upon learning that they want to disconnect him, the most human fear of all appears in him: the fear of the end of his own existence. Kubrick has just advanced one of the dangers of our contemporaneity: the moment in which machines overcome and dominate the human being.
“Some parallels have been seen between 2001 and Homer’s Odyssey, since the word “odyssey” appears in the title of the film. But the interesting thing we see in the character of HAL 9000 and its similarity with the Cyclops Polyphemus. Cyclopes have only one eye, something that visually reminds us of the red “eye” of HAL.”
Polyphemus was attacking and murdering Ulysses’ companions and, finally, it was Ulysses who defeated Polyphemus; and it made him drunk, stunned. HAL rebels and ends the life of the astronauts. Finally, Bowman manages to disconnect HAL who, little by little, loses consciousness until he dies. Bowman is the only one who manages to survive, he will become the superman.
Ultimately, what it raises is a deep reflection about human nature, about intelligence. The tape and, especially, its end is quite an experience, a journey to the depths of humanity. Without much words, Kubrick managed to capture a film that delves into a myriad of philosophical questions and gave us a character like HAL 9000. A character who, without having human form, is extraordinarily human.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can not”.