Space Odyssey

http://us.imdb.com/Title?0062622 2001 - A SpaceOdyssey.

ISBN 0451452739

StanleyKubricks finest film, but what does it mean? The movie is quite easy to follow up to the AE-35-unit sequence. Then the narrative diverges from any known dramatic form. Only the StarChild can say for sure but we poor mortals must try.

SpaceOdyssey confuses at least in part because Kubrick and Clarke couldn't agree on its message. Kubrick, a devout theist, aimed to show that technology, no matter how advanced, cannot elevate humanity to godhood. Clarke was simply explicating ClarkesLaw. The movie is a debate between the two.

Clarke's meaning is plain. The supreme human technology is no different in kind than the bloody club that was its origin. Kubrick's message is more subtle; though it is Clarke's narrative, Kubrick's form dominates.

The AE-35-unit sequence demonstrates this. In our first experience of HalNineThousand, the wonder of which is lost on modern viewers, he is presented as an automated chess player. In 60's popular culture chess was equated with intelligence and social behaviour with GameTheory. Chess establishes HAL's sentience.

The fight between the prehumans in the opening sequence is obviously chess-like, and chess can explain the AE-35 sequence too. In the same way it searches for a "win" in chess, HAL searches for a "win" on the mission to Jupiter. HAL says humans are fallible, and that no HAL computer has ever failed except through human error. It is only logical that HAL improve its chances of "winning" by pruning human fallibility from the mission's game tree. HAL is not bent on murder or revenge - it's simply playing MiniMax? in a social setting.

In order to "win", HAL has to manipulate Bowman and Poole so that they're unable to enter the ship. Otherwise it can't defend itself from disconnection. In Chess terms HAL is in check, and this is why it predicts the failure of the AE-35 unit - to get Bowman and Poole to go EVA: checkmate.

When Bowman manages to re-enter Discovery HAL realizes his own fallibility for the first time, and this realization provides HAL with the pathetic humanity he displays as he himself is deactivated by Bowman.

The final sequence of the film, reminiscent of RobertHeinlein's classic short story, In The Bowl, is analogous to Bowman's struggle with HAL. We see Bowman disconnected under the control of the monolith, but rather than be destroyed, Bowman is matured into godhood, reborn as a luminous being, and returned to grace, shorn of human fallibility. Chess again, of course; the pawn reaches the final rank and becomes a queen.

What is most significant here is that the CosmicTwoByFour itself is HAL's god, not Bowman's. HAL is in its image - the HAL red-eye panel has precisely the same proportions as the monolith:

When Bowman disconnects HAL we see that each of HAL's components has this same form. So the monolith is a machine, not a god. As HAL is the creation of man, the relationship between monolith and StarChild is transformed by Kubrick to one of chicken and egg, genome and phenome. The film is a cycle. The final image places Bowman in the same luminous pantheon we witness before his transformation. Mankind is finally made fit for the company of gods. Replying to ClarkesLaw, in Kubrick's vision technology is the progenitor, not the imitation, of magic. -- PeterMerel


This explanation of HAL's behaviour is radically different from the one provided by the books. In 2001, Clarke doesn't try to explain it. In 2010, it is revealed that HAL had conflicting orders. These conflicting orders played havoc with HAL's mind, forcing one of the various "subconscious" parts of his personality to attempt to kill the others. A psychosis, in other words. Furthermore, the same stresses that caused the psychosis prevented HAL from realizing that it existed.

Note: 2001 the book did actually reveal that HAL was ordered to dissemble.

The book is irrelevant. It was Clarke second-guessing Kubrick after the movie was completed. Clarke is an incredibly good science fiction writer, but even he can't be expected to understand Kubrick. Peter is probably wrong too - but it's a rollicking good argument!

Peter's explanation has no conflict with the conflicting orders aspect. They got pruned. -- PhlIp

Never noticed the size relationships pointed out above, though. Thank you, Peter. -- RobertWatkins

In particular, HAL was instructed to keep the main goal of the mission - investigation of the large monolith at Jupiter (Saturn in the book) - a secret from the crew. But this conflicted with HAL's goal of accurate information reporting. The secret was "threatened" by the crew's speculation on the real goal of the mission. HAL became confused between the need to report information accurately and the need to keep a secret (at all costs).

Computers are generally okay with hiding information. Maybe Hal's programmers should have simply executed the command:

 chmod g-r /profiles/jupiter_mission/goal.csv

The book and the movie are actually not based on each other in either direction. They are both inspired by the short story TheSentinel? by ArthurCeeClarke. The book and the movie were developed simultaneously by Kubrick and Clarke exchanging thoughts. In the end, the movie was released first.


I've finally understood the IBM-HAL connection, thanks to this RubyLanguage script:
 ["H", "A", "L"].collect { |x| x.succ }

The IBM-HAL connection was simply a coincidence, according to ArthurCeeClarke. This is pointed out (pointedly!) in later books which had SAL computers.

Note also that

 ["V", "M", "S"].collect { |x| x.succ } => [ "W", "N", "T" ]

aka WindowsNt. Quite funny considering that WindowsNt's chief architect, DavidCutler?, was also in charge of the design of VMS. "New Technology" indeed.
For an another interpretation of the film and the book together, see http://www.modemac.com/2001/ I liked it.
Please read Jerome Agel's book The Making of Kubrik's 2001 (ISBN 0451071395 )and Clarke's own The Lost Worlds of 2001 (ISBN 0451125363 ).
See also: OrionProject? MyGodItsFullOfStars
CategoryBook, CategoryMovie, CategoryScienceFiction
None of this takes into consideration Clarke's later books, right up through 3001. Phenomenal. Clarke certainly had the vision, and quite a trip it was beyond religion, beyond so much more. - GK

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