Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Third Eva and Beyond (Film Synopsis Part 14)

The Story and Meanings

Note: I decided to not use my previous format of re-telling the story and then go into the meanings. This part of the film is elusive enough where you have to get into the meanings right away because the story is the meaning.

Humankind, represented by David Bowman, has overcome obstacles for 4 million years. The final obstacle was to demonstrate inventiveness and the will to survive against his own tools. We have come to the final chapter of the story. We have now reached Jupiter where lies the ultimate destination of the 4 million year odyssey. The third and final title reads: "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite". We hear the hum of Ligeti's Requiem and we know from past experience, that another monolith has been discovered. There it is, floating amongst the moons of Jupiter. Unlike its predecessors, this monolith is on its side, at least in respect to our viewing angle (in space, there is no up or down).

There is a shot of the Discovery approaching Jupiter with one of its moons to the left. As we have seen many times before, the three bodies form a triangle.

The Discovery moves towards Jupiter and we see the middle pod bay door open. We can assume there is only one working pod left since one was lost during the murder of Frank Poole and another had its door blown off and it's not clear what Bowman did with it. The pod containing Bowman heads toward the monolith which has floated off in alignment with Jupiter and several of its moons.

We have witnessed this scene before as we know to associate alignments in space with the monolith. Also, as before, a human (Bowman) goes out to "touch" the monolith. Also as before, the monolith performs its assigned task shortly after a human makes contact with it.

The first monolith tested early humans and when they proved themselves worthy, were rewarded with the knowledge of the use of tools. This sparked the first odyssey of using the tools to build a civilization that would ultimately lead them to outer space.

The second monolith was a test in that it required humans to have the drive and technology to find it. In proving themselves worthy by finding it, they were led on to a mission to Jupiter, the second odyssey.

The third monolith was also a test in that it had to be found. Humans had to prove themselves more worthy than their own machines. Now that that has happened, it will lead the human race on a new course by taking Bowman on the third odyssey across the universe itself.

As we see the monolith become a rectangular tunnel of light, we should realize we are only experiencing a portion of what is really happening. Witness the periodic flashes to David Bowman. He isn't witnessing a mere light show, he is experiencing something totally shocking to him and he can hardly bear to watch.

Notice the music has segued from Ligeti's Requiem to Atmospheres. This is the music we heard at the beginning of the film and at intermission. It's a further clue that this is the ultimate journey that the prior parts of the film have been leading to.

Suddenly all the doppler shifts in the music make sense as we emerge from the tunnel and into open space. Clusters of gas and nebulae dominate the screen. They seem to be creating stars and even galaxies. The scale of these in terms of space and time is spectacular if one knows much about astronomy. Note that the brief flashes back to Bowman no longer show his shocked face but just one eye.

The scale apparently gets smaller as we are now traveling above streams of purple gas. Ahead are five, make that, seven diamond-shaped objects. Clearly these aren't natural. Many say they are the beings that created the monolith and are who is controlling Bowman's trip. I disagree as I don't believe we are ever supposed to see who is behind all this. Remember, it could be an advanced alien race or it could be God. So perhaps the diamonds are others going through the same experience as Bowman, i.e. they are another race that has passed the three tests.

The scene changes again as we are flying at first under, then over landscapes. The scale seems to have shrunk again as we can recognize mountains, valleys and bodies of water. It's as if we are flying in an airplane. However, the bright, gaseous sky that makes the ground below glow in eerie colored light tells us we are nowhere near Earth. The journey ends as we focus on Bowman's eye again as the colors it reflects segue from red to green to violet to yellow to green to gold and finally to Dave's blue as they would appear in white light.

This whole trip raises many questions as to what this was all about. Explanations can be found in essays, reviews, articles, and from Clarke's novel. Clarke's novel explains the monolith as a stargate that transports one from one part of the universe to another - bypassing laws of relativity. Some have tried to explain the trip as the path a sperm cell takes on its way to the egg. There are some visuals that could support this explanation but I believe Kubrick intended it to be a mystery. Think of scale again. This time, in terms of time and evolution. The force behind the monolith is over 4 million years older than Man. Think of Australopithecus, 4 millions years ago encountering the Internet and trying to comprehend it. This would perhaps be similar to David Bowman or us trying to understand what was just experienced.

The next thing we see is odder, still. The Discovery pod is suddenly in a brightly lit suite. Remembering how white the inside of the spacestation and the Discovery was, we can determine that this is contemporary decor for 2001. (Bright white, sterile appearing rooms was a common perception of the future in the 1960's.) So this room is meant for Bowman and is something Bowman would find familiar.

Bowman's face has aged. He is shaking - apparently from the ordeal he had been going through. It could be an indication of him encountering God, similar to Moses in the Ten Commandments and how he aged after encountering God.

The display panels in the pod say "Non-Function". It is obvious that this suite is in a different part of the universe and all contact with Discovery is gone. Perhaps it is also years later as Bowman's appearance might indicate.

A red space suited Bowman is outside the pod standing in the room. We are seeing this from inside the pod meaning this is the shaking Bowman's point of view. Then the point of view changes to the Bowman outside the pod. He appears even more aged as his hair has greyed and there are more wrinkles. He is no longer shaking and appears calm, yet utterly mystified. As Bowman looks back, the pod is gone. Time seems to have jumped, but during that jump, there was a brief period where there were two Bowmans.

There are strange sounds. The suite which appeared out of nowhere may be floating above the brightly lit planet we saw earlier. The sounds may be the atmosphere surrounding the suite. They also may be from an intelligence that is watching Bowman.

Bowman walks slowly like an old man across the room to the bathroom. Kubrick fans know that a bathroom must be shown somewhere in the movie and we have already witnessed two other references to bathrooms, one by Floyd's daughter saying where Rachel is and secondly, the zero-gravity toilet on board the Aries. Bowman looks in the mirror and seems astonished at his appearance.

We hear a new sound, a tapping sound coming from the other side of the suite. Bowman turns to investigate. He pans around and we see several Renaissance-era paintings and sculptures. This would hardly be a Kubrick film if there wasn't at least one room with paintings. An old man clad in a blue robe with his back turned is eating. He hears the space suited Bowman and turns and rises to investigate. Here we see it is Bowman again. He is even older but calm as though he had been living in the suite for quite some time and is accustomed to the surroundings. He apparently doesn't see anything and resumes eating. Once again, a time jump has occurred, and like the previous one, there was a brief period where there were two Bowmans.

Bowman is eating a meal of meat, vegetables, and bread. This is essentially the same meal Floyd ate on the Aries through a straw and the same meal Poole and Bowman ate in synthetic form on the Discovery. Now the meal is in its "normal" form. Bowman is also drinking wine and a startling sound occurs when he accidentally knocks over the wine glass.

Both the wine glass and the Renaissance motif are clues as to what is happening. Breaking a wine glass after drinking from it is of course, a Jewish tradition in a wedding. A wedding of course, is a transition from one life to another. The artwork suggests a re-birth. It is odd that there is a second wine glass on the table. Perhaps this symbolizes that Bowman knows he is not alone.

Bowman looks up and lying on the bed is a very old man. From what we've already seen, we can guess that this is another time jump. This time, we briefly see both Bowmans in the same shot. Like the other two times, the previous Bowman is soon gone.

As Bowman lies, apparently near death, he lifts his head and points ahead. In front of him is now a monolith. The pointing finger reminds us of Michelangelo's The Creation where Adam has been created by God and is pointing at him. Then it is no longer the dying man Bowman, it is a translucent glowing baby on the bed. Also Sprach Zarathustra is heard for the third time as Man has transitioned to a higher form of life (Overman if you follow Nietzsche). The child passes through the monolith and appears over the Earth. The music climaxes as we realize this is the end of Man and a new beginning. The Blue Danube reprises as the closing credits appear.

Other Notes

It can truly be said that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the story of Man. It begins with Man's predecessor transitioning to Man and ends where Man transitions to something else.

The novel ends with the Starchild detonating an orbiting nuclear device. This symbolizes the Starchild having no use for his tools of old. The film might have ended this way but Kubrick felt it would be too similar an ending to his previous film Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Thinking of the novel's ending though, allows us to speculate what would have happened if Bowman had not defeated Hal. What if Hal was the lone survivor of the Discovery mission and encountered and went through the stargate? Hal would have been transformed in some way and returned to Earth. As the Starchild no longer had a need for his tools, Halchild would have had no further need of humans and probably would have destroyed them. Man's legacy would have been his tool.

In 1967, the moons of Jupiter, including the four large Galilean moons were seen as points of light from the most powerful telescopes. The Voyager missions in the late seventies finally revealed how the moons actually appeared. Therefore, it is uncanny how well the film held up. The bluish moon can easily be Europa and the pockmarked moon shown is very similar to Callisto.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

To the Victor... (Film Synopsis Part 13)

The Story

A fuming David Bowman marches from the emergency airlock to the main airlock, up the ladder and to the central computer room. Dave is now clad in full EVA gear with the front control box, air tank, and helmet. The helmet, which he obviously got from the emergency airlock is green - meaning he is in a color mismatched space suit. All we hear is breathing and the hiss of air flowing - not footsteps. This would indicate that the air has been removed from Discovery and we are only hearing what Dave hears.

As Dave moves through the airlock, Hal demands "Just what do you think you're doing Dave?" Dave ignores Hal as he continues. Considering what he has just been through, his intentions are obvious, he is going to disconnect Hal. His strong breathing and silence indicates he is focused and is not going to listen to Hal try to talk him out of it. Hal continues and tries to reassure Dave that whatever the problem was, it is gone now and everything will be as it was. Dave continues into the "Logic Memory Center", a red-lit chamber where Hal's physical components reside. There is no velcro floor here so Dave floats his way to the area where there are circuit modules that can be pulled out by turning a key.

One by one, Dave systematically turns the keys in the "Memory Terminal" section of the modules. Hal's reasonings turn into pleas. He repeatedly asks "Will you stop, Dave?" and states "I'm afraid." and "My mind is going - I can feel it." Dave continues on with removing modules in the "Logic Terminal". After a few of these have been pulled, Hal becomes dumb and is no longer aware of the situation. He reverts to his early days of training and speaks of his operational date of Jan. 12, 1992 and his first instructor, Mr. Langely. When he asks if he can sing a song, Dave finally breaks his silence and tells Hal to go on. Hal starts to sing "Daisy" as Dave continues to pull out logic modules until Hal's voice becomes slow and monotone, and eventually nothing.

At that point, Dave is startled by a new voice coming from behind him. He turns around and sees Dr. Heywood Floyd on a television screen. It is a pre-recorded message and was meant to play assuming all went well and they were in Jupiter-space and the entire crew had been revived. Floyd reveals that the true purpose of the mission to Jupiter was only fully known by the HAL 9000 computer. Floyd states that 18 months earlier, the first sign of intelligent life beyond Earth was discovered in the Moon's crater Tycho. He states that the object is 4 million years old and sent out an emission of radiation towards Jupiter.

This scene, is the culmination of all the major events prior in the film. A major theme of 2001 is Man's relationship with his tools. In the beginning, Man discovers how to use tools in order to survive. Man successfully develops tools that take him from mere survival to thriving and dominating his environment. Tools allow Man to develop communication skills, live longer and more comfortably, and to explore and begin to understand better, the world and universe in which he lives.

However, as Man's developed more and better tools, he developed a dependence on them. This dependence led Man to take for granted, the struggle for survival. Man became so dependent on tools, he lost much of the inner drive that led him to create civilization and the exploration of space. Man's tools also inevitably become dangerous to Man's survival. Man's relationship with his tools is that of a balance between survival against forces in the universe on one side and survival against the inherent danger of his tools.

The struggle for Man to retain his mastership over his tools was the third test of the Intelligence that placed the monolith on the Earth and Moon. Hal, the tool, seemed to be superior to the human beings on Discovery in every way. Hal had an impeccable brain that could reason and calculate faster and more accurately than any human. Dave Bowman, the last surviving human found a way to expose Hal's one shortcoming. Hal was unable to conceptualize Dave's desperate attempt of re-entering Discovery via the manual airlock sans space helmet. Bowman proved his worthiness by daring this nearly impossible feat. It was this leap over logic that enabled Bowman to eventually defeat Hal. In defeating Hal, David Bowman, as a representative of the human race, passed the test and proved his worthiness to reach the ultimate destination.

We now know the screeching high-pitched sound that came from the monolith was a signal sent to Jupiter. The monolith directed the humans as to where to go next.

It is important to understand that had Dave not survived the conflict with Hal, Hal the tool would have solely reached the ultimate destination. The Discovery mission was ultimately going to have only one survivor - Man or Machine.

What is the ultimate destination? That's to come in the next chapter.

Poor David Bowman! He had to destroy the one companion he had left on the mission. Dave, being millions of miles from Earth, would be alone and isolated like no man before. Did Dave have any reservations about de-activating Hal? Symbolically, the red-green spacesuit he was wearing could indicate an internal conflict since the colors mean stop/go. Dave never responds to Hal's pleadings. Perhaps Dave knew he would have more trouble going through with the disconnection had he done so. However, notice how Dave doesn't turn every key in the memory terminal. He seemed to want to prolong Hal's ability to speak until the very end.

David Bowman leaves some of the modules from Hal's Memory Terminal intact - prolonging Hal's ability to speak during the disconnection sequence.
Hal goes through anger, denial, rationalization, and finally, acceptance of his impending death - making Hal all the more seemingly human.

Hal mentions his own birthday of January 12, 1992, also giving him a more human quality. Interestingly, the novel cites Hal's birthday as January 12, 1997. Why did Kubrick change this?

In the film, humans die abruptly and silently, Hal's death is prolonged and tortuous.

Heywood Floyd puts all the pieces of the puzzle together when he says "...for security reasons of the highest importance, has been known on board during the mission only by your H-A-L 9000 computer." This statement sums up everything that went wrong with the mission. Hal was the only entity on the ship that knew everything - especially that the Discovery mission involved intelligent life off the Earth. Even the hibernating astronauts were not aware of the monolith on the Moon as Floyd discloses that information here. Hal knew, but was unable to reveal this to the humans - thus interfering with his directive of not "distorting" information.

"It's origin and purpose, still a total mystery." These are the last words spoken in the film. It has been said that not only does it describe the monolith, it describes the film as well.

Other Notes

In the novel, Hal had tried to kill Dave by opening the airlock doors while Dave was in the Discovery. Dave barely escapes being exposed to vacuum. Kubrick probably shot the disconnection sequence with the inside of the Discovery in vacuum. This explains why Dave is in full EVA gear.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Computer Malfunction (Film Synopsis Part 12)

The Story

The sound of breathing and the view in space indicates a second EVA. When we see Bowman in the Discovery's command seat, we realize it is Frank Poole that is performing this one. Poole, we know, is out to replace the second AE-35 unit with the original, allegedly defective one. The yellow spacesuited Poole pushes himself out of the pod and floats toward the antenna complex just as Bowman had done earlier. At the point where Poole appears to be halfway between the pod and the antenna, the pod suddenly rotates one hundred and eighty degrees. The arms stretch outward and it begins to move forward. Here, we clearly see for the first time, that there is a red eye of Hal on the front of the pod. The breathing stops abruptly and Poole and the pod are seen spinning off in different directions. Poole frantically tries to re-attach his severed air hose. Seconds later, Poole is no longer moving as he had failed to fix his air supply.

Bowman has rushed to the pod bay. He asks Hal if he has a track on Poole's location. Hal responds affirmatively. Dave then asks Hal about what happened. Hal responds "I'm sorry Dave, I don't have enough information." Now, Dave is in a pod in pursuit of Frank's spinning body. Assuming that Frank was struck by the pod at nearly maximum velocity and considering that there is nothing in outer space to slow Frank's momentum, this will be a long chase. Dave has to use radar to follow Frank since he has drifted so far away, he can't be seen in the pod window. Dave eventually catches up to him and gently grabs him with the mechanical arms of the pod. Now Dave has to take the long trek back to Discovery.

The point of view changes to Hal back in the Discovery. He is focused upon the three men in hibernation and the monitors showing the status of their life support systems. An alarm goes off and we see a message flashing "Computer Malfunction". The life functions of Hunter, Kaminsky, and Kimball start to fail. There is no one on board the ship to do anything about it as we agonizingly watch the three men slowly die. The monitors show different parts of their life support flatlining. Occasionally, the view changes to that of the men. They are still asleep. There is no struggle or any sign of realization of what is happening to them. When they are dead, we see one of them and we realize that visibly, there is no difference between hibernation and death.

Bowman has returned. He does not yet know that he is the only human left alive on the mission. He asks Hal to open the pod bay doors so he can re-enter the Discovery. There is no response from Hal. Dave begins to repeatedly call Hal and there is no response. Finally, after many attempts at communication, Hal responds. Dave repeats his request for Hal to open the pod bay doors. Hal responds "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." Dave asks Hal why and Hal responds that he can't allow Dave to jeopardize the mission. Hal tells Dave that he knew about the plans for disconnection. Dave fakes ignorance by responding "Where the hell did you get that idea, Hal?" but Hal reveals that he read his and Frank's lips earlier when they were together in the pod. Dave, realizing his dire situation, informs Hal that he can still get into the ship via the emergency airlock. Hal sarcastically tells Dave "Without your space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult." Dave can only respond by pleading with Hal one more time to open the door. Hal informs Dave "This conversation can serve no purpose anymore, goodbye."

Dave futilely calls out to Hal but Hal stays true to his word and does not respond, thus, leaving Dave to die in the pod. Dave knows his only chance of survival is to get back to the ship and to do that will require every bit of resourcefulness he can muster. He first releases Frank, realizing it was a useless gesture to try to retrieve him. Dave aligns the pod with a tall, door-like opening of the Discovery. Using the mechanical arms of the pod, Dave opens the emergency airlock door. He systematically goes through the procedure of setting up the pod door, which we see from the wording on a sign, has explosive bolts. Dave has to expose himself to space by hurling himself into the manually-operated airlock and have the wherewithall to find and be able to close the airlock door within the few seconds of consciousness he will have. Dave winces as he moves into position. He pushes the final button to initiate the procedure.

Dave succeeds.


It is odd that Dave was the first man to perform an EVA, but Frank is doing the second one. The novel had Frank perform both EVA's and even stated that although both were capable, Frank Poole was the designated crewmember for extra-vehicular activities. What was the purpose of having Dave Bowman perform the first one? The only answer I can come up with was to show the particularly methodical and careful nature of Dave.

In the earlier article, Discovery (Film Synopsis Part 7), I referred to the Discovery's pods as arms, keeping with the theme of Man's tools acting as replacements for body parts. It can also be argued that the pods serve as eyes. They do look like eyes with a large spherical body and the window appearing much like an iris. We now know that Hal has an eye in each pod, reinforcing this concept.

When Frank's air hose has been cut, we hear the utter silence of space. It's eerie, shocking, and unexpected. Note how this is similar to the death of the man-ape earlier. He too was struck and died without making a sound. Then you have the deaths of the other three men. Again, utter silence except for the hum of the Discovery. All the deaths in this film are quite chilling and the silence has much to do with that.

As mentioned several times before, we know that there is an outside intellligence involved in the story. This intelligence harmonizes with the universe significantly more than Man. One of the ways we know this is we've learned to associate 3-way cosmic alignments with it. Man-made tools don't naturally align. In fact, to even align a tool with just one object in space requires great effort. Witness the long docking process of the Orion and the space station, the Aries and the moonbase, the moonbus and the landing port, and now Dave tracking Frank's body. However, we also witness a scene where the pod appears to be aligned with the floating Frank Poole and the Discovery itself. This is shown just prior to Hal apparently taking control of the pod. Does this mean that Hal is more similar to the outside intelligence than Man?

For the first time, Dave acts rashly. Right after Frank is struck by the pod, Dave rushes to the pod bay and immediately orders Hal to prepare a pod. Contrast this with the careful, meticulous way Dave had acted before. We know that Dave was actually careless enough to not bring his space helmet along. This one mistake nearly cost him his life.

The real question is: Did Hal somehow know or calculate that Dave would forget his helmet? One interesting thought is this scene is much different than that of the novel. In the novel, Dave realizes he can't save Frank and never goes after him. Dave attempts to revive the hibernating crew and during the revival, Hal opens the airlock in an attempt to kill Dave and the hibernating men. Why did Stanley Kubrick change this scene? I believe one reason is he wanted to show another example of how Hal was inside Dave and Frank's heads.

This scene also represents how Hal planned on winning the chess match. With all options gone of convincing Frank and Dave that he was right and Mission Control was wrong, Hal had to kill the humans on the Discovery. This would alleviate the issue of concealing information and yet, the mission would continue as Hal was briefed and could fully carry out the mission functions. All would be okay in Hal's mind because he felt that killing the crew would ensure the best chance of accomplishing the mission.

Other Notes

There is an odd editing error in this sequence. As we see that it is a yellow-spacesuited Frank Poole performing the second EVA, there is a shot inside a pod showing a red spacesuited astronaut from behind wearing gloves and a helmet. Yet the very next shot shows red-suited Dave in the control room of Discovery without gloves or helmet so seemingly, it was not him in the previous shot. This seems like the type of continuity error that is common in films. The type that nobody notices the first time the film is seen. However, many Stanley Kubrick fans refuse to accept that Kubrick would ever let slip so obvious an error. Continuity errors in Kubrick films are often attributed to flash forwards or backwards that hint at a hidden theme or storyline. An example of this are the two earlier shots of the monolith aligning with two eclipsing heavenly bodies. Is this the case here?

When working out the action of this scene, Arthur C. Clarke expressed worry concerning Bowman being exposed to vacuum. It was unknown at the time how a human would react. This worried Kubrick enough to cause him to pose the question to NASA scientists. Kubrick and Clarke were assured that it was possible to survive and stay conscious in space for a long enough time to make the scene plausible.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Intermission (Film Synopsis Part 11)

The Story

The background hum of Discovery resonates as the screen goes to black leaving a cliffhanger for the audience to ponder. They'll have time too as the film goes to intermission. As mentioned in The Film Begins, Stanley Kubrick maintained the general format of a typical MGM movie. Here, he gave us the intermission. Usually, intermission comes a bit past the midway point of the film where all the characters and plot lines are firmly set. This is the case here. Now the audience gets a breather and can take a bathroom break or take the opportunity to get more popcorn. There is also opportunity to digest the events that led up to this point and think about where this is going. For first-time viewers of 2001, very few will make the connections of how the Cold War and concern for security and secrecy are contributing to the drama at hand. However, many may think about what Hal is really up to and how Frank and Dave, having such limited capabilities against such a seemingly omniscient computer, can handle the situation.

An anxious audience waits for the film to continue and reveal how the drama will be played out. The curtains open and again, we get a blank screen. Again, a piece of Ligeti's Atmospheres plays. The drama will have to wait.


Kubrick has a little fun at the expense of the audience here. The conflict between computer and the two humans is by far, the most palpable drama in the entire film and the intermission and return of the black screen and eerie music prolongs the anticipation of the resolution of the drama.

The intermission also reminds us that what we've been emotionally wrapped up in is just a small piece of the big picture. There are many themes at work here involving Man's place in the universe, Man's odyssey through evolution, God and the Intelligence that is driving humans to explore space. Ligeti's Atmospheres and the black screen remind us of the journey - inside and out that we are taking.

Other Notes

This part of the film provides many of the most memorable and quotable scenes since, unlike other parts of the film, it has a conventional narrative. The whole Mission to Jupiter chapter of 2001 is actually a self-contained story. In this regard, it is also the most understandable and easiest part of the film to relate to. Some people fail to connect this with the man-apes, the trip to the Moon, and the part of the story afterwards. This is why some seem to think of 2001 as a collection of stories rather than one large one. Often, people who find the film "boring", actually like this part and hated the rest.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Puzzling (Film Synopsis Part 10)

The Story

In the pod bay, Dave is examining the retrieved AE-35 unit with an electronic circuit tester. Frank and Hal watch. Dave appears to be completely absorbed in his examination. Frank is hunched over and appears to be watching Dave but he noticeably moves his eyes and stares at Hal. The testing goes on and all we hear is the sound of the testing equipment against the hum that is always present on board the Discovery. There is a noticeable sigh and then Dave finally breaks the silence with "Well Hal, I'm damned if I can find anything wrong with it." Hal responds "Yes...It's puzzling...I don't think I've seen anything quite like this before." Hal then suggests putting the unit back to let it fail and diagnose it after that. He then mentions that they could afford to be out of communication for the short while.

In the centrifuge, Frank and Dave are watching a transmission from Mission Control. They agree with Hal's suggestion of putting the original AE-35 unit back in place. Then a bombshell is dropped. The Mission Control man informs Frank and Dave that Hal may have been in error predicting the fault. This assertion is backed up by the findings of a twin 9000 series computer back on Earth.

When the transmission ends, there is a brief but awkward silence that is broken by Hal. "I hope the two of you are not concerned about this?" Dave responds by questioning Hal's explanation for the discrepancy between the two 9000 series computers. Hal responds with it being "human error". Frank then takes over the questioning. He asks for assurance from Hal that there has never been an error in the 9000 series. Hal reminds him that the 9000 series has a perfect operational record. Frank, obviously not satisfied, asks if there has ever been any incidence of the most insignificant computer error. An obviously annoyed Hal responds "None, whatsoever Frank. Quite honestly, I wouldn't worry myself about that." Was this a veiled threat? Frank's expression indicates he took it that way. Dave interjects, knowing that Frank challenging Hal could not possibly solve anything. He assures Hal that everything is fine. He also asks Frank if he can check out a problem he is having with one of the pods.

It is obvious that Dave wants to talk to Frank alone without Hal being able to listen. The two men get into a pod, rotate it, then turn off all the audio switches. When they are satisfied that Hal cannot hear them, they proceed to discuss their situation. Dave seems ambivalent but Frank makes his point clear. He is very uncomfortable about Hal. So uncomfortable in fact that he completely dismisses Dave's acknowledgement of the 9000 series' perfect operational record. Dave reluctantly sees Frank's point of view and reasons that if the AE-35 unit, once put back in place, doesn't fail as Hal predicted, then Hal would have to have his higher brain functions disconnected. Dave openly ponders about what Hal would think about this.

The scene shifts to Hal's point of view where it is apparent that Hal can't hear Frank or Dave, but is able to see them through the pod's window and read their lips. Hal knows what they're up to.


Mission Control has no appreciation for what Frank and Dave are going through. To them, it's a faulty computer, to Frank and Dave, it's more like a sick member of the crew who may have to be terminated. Mission Control just blurts out the possibility that Hal had erred - leaving Frank and Dave in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with Hal who had just been openly accused. The isolation due to distance and non-direct communication created a void between Earth and Discovery.

There is a lot of dishonesty displayed in this part of the film. Hal calls the situation "puzzling" but listen to how he says it. Up until now, everything Hal has said has been with a noticeable confidence. This confidence was even noted by Mr. Raynor, the BBC interviewer. For the first time, Hal is hesitant. We already know that Hal knew the AE-35 unit was functional and Hal had intentionally reported it as faulty. This means his puzzlement is an act. He also says "We can certainly afford to be out of communication for the short time it will take to replace it." With the hesitation in his voice, he sounds like a misbehaving child rationalizing with his parents in order to get his way. If a child "accidentally" broke his parent's car window, he might say "I'm sorry, I guess I won't be able to go to the Doctor today." Of course, losing communication with Earth is exactly what Hal wants.

Also notice Hal's emphasis when saying "human error" - he even repeats it. Hal is right, of course, it is the short-sightedness of humans that created the paradox in Hal's mind. Hal's emphasis on the word "human" indicates a hint of anger. Just as Hal is being accused, Hal is obliquely accusing his accusers.

This scene contains a classic Kubrick three-way conversation with tension.

Dave and Frank attempt to deceive Hal by play-acting the problem with the pod. Frank, like Hal, is a poor actor as his "What sort of trouble have you been having, Dave?" query is hardly convincing. Did it fool Hal at all?

We learn a lot more about Frank and Dave here. Frank is more obvious about his feelings. Frank, from the circuit test onwards, has lost faith in Hal and his facial expressions show this. Frank looks at Dave after Hal attributes the discrepancy to human error. When Dave appears satisfied with the answer, Frank jumps in with his own and much more direct line of questioning. He confronts Hal and tries to get Hal to reveal that he made a mistake. Frank would have to be an extremely intelligent person to have been selected for this mission but he lacks diplomacy skills.

Dave, on the other hand, is a much more complex character. He shows finesse in getting a response out of Hal without accusation. He does a good job of diffusing the building conflict between Frank and Hal. Dave is willing to see both sides and doesn't reveal what he is truly feeling until he has to. He is the only one of the two who considers how Hal might react to being disconnected. We already know that Dave is the mission commander but it is here where we see his leadership qualities.

This whole scenario can be seen as one big chess match (See The Chess Match and EVA). Hal has to solve his dilemma. He can solve it by cutting off communication with Earth by convincing Frank and Dave of a faulty antenna controller. If the antenna wasn't working, then this would be an emergency situation and Hal would have to disclose to Frank and Dave what the mission was all about - thus ending Hal's paradox.

To do this requires a series of steps (or chess moves if you will). Each step Hal takes depends upon how the humans (his opponent) react to his previous move. I already surmised that had Dave reacted differently when Hal was questioning him about the "extremely odd things about the mission", the whole faulty AE-35 scenario may not have taken place. What if Dave had accepted the fact that the AE-35 unit was faulty and didn't bother to test it or if Dave had assumed Hal was right and he had somehow missed finding the fault with his equipment? None of this state of mutual accusation would have occurred and Hal would be nearer to achieving his goal peaceably.

Unfortunately, Frank and Dave were thorough astronauts and came to the conclusion that Hal is a possible danger to them. Unfortunately, neither one of them realizes Hal's motive in suggesting another EVA. Hal's hand has been forced. Hal is staying a step ahead. Hal is winning the chess match.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

EVA (Film Synopsis Part 9)

The Story

"During the past few weeks, I've wondered if you might be having some second thoughts about the mission." Hal informs this to Dave Bowman. Hal goes on to point out there are some "extremely odd things about this mission". Hal gives specific references to rumors about something being dug up on the Moon, the tight security during training, how the other astronauts (Hunter, Kimble, and Kaminski) were trained separately, and how they were placed aboard Discovery already in hibernation. Dave appears thoughtful during all this and concludes that Hal had opened the conversation in order to work on the crew psychology report. Hal admits that was what he was doing. Before he can say much more, he reports to Dave that he detects a fault in the AE-35 unit.

The conversation is forgotten as a faulty AE-35 unit is serious. From the computer displays, we can see it has something to do with the antenna complex that allows communication with Earth. Since the complex is on the exterior of the ship, an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) would have to be performed. Both Frank and Dave go through the preparatory steps for the EVA which includes a brief message from mission control confirming the need for the EVA. The preparation also means leaving the artificial gravity of the centrifuge and working in the weightless parts of the ship including the front control area and the pod bay.

In the pod bay, which also functions as an airlock, a red-space suited Dave has Hal prepare one of the 3 pods. The pod slowly extends away from the Discovery on a platform before Dave takes off making the pod an independent spacecraft. We see two asteroids whiz by - indicating that the Discovery is most likely in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. During all of this, all we hear is Dave breathing and a hissing sound - presumably from an air hose in Dave's suit. The pod slowly approaches the antenna and stops. The rest of the EVA will be a spacewalk as Dave pushes himself outward and floats toward the antenna.

Once at the antenna, Dave retrieves a small black box - the replacement AE-35 unit. He then opens a small hatch and pulls out the defective unit. No more of the EVA is shown but it can be assumed that it went successfully.


Note the meticulousness of the entire EVA, everything is done so carefully. Even a routine repair such as this is taken very seriously. Every procedure must be checked and re-checked.

In Hal's conversation with David Bowman, we learn that the Discovery mission has something to do with the monolith found on the Moon.

When the group of primitive men defeated the rival group at the water hole, it can be assumed that the defeated group quickly figured out the use of the bone-club. Over the millennia, humans learned to keep their secrets and prevent their rivals from obtaining their technology. In the midst of the Cold War, Heywood Floyd makes a solo trip all the way to the Moon with the primary purpose of ensuring a potentially powerful discovery remains a secret. A conference of scientists is held, not to discuss a scientific discovery, but to discuss why its important not to disclose it. To fearful humans, security is that important since no one was sure what the monolith was or what it was capable of doing.

Since the Discovery mission is related to the Moon discovery, the security concerning the mission must have been extreme. Hal mentions how the three other astronauts were trained separately from Dave and Frank. Not only that, the other three astronauts were placed aboard the Discovery already in hibernation. They must have known more about the true nature of the mission than Frank and Dave. Because they are in hibernation, the information could not be leaked - intentionally or accidentally to Frank and Dave. This is important since Frank and Dave are public figures.

This security continues with Hal. Since Hal is in control of all operations on the ship. It was necessary to inform Hal of the purpose of the mission in case the human crew became incapacitated. Hal possesses this information but Frank and Dave do not.

This scenario presents Hal with a paradox. Hal earlier had said "No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error." Hal, by concealing information is in a way, distorting information. The security that he had been told is so vital to the mission is endangering his perfect track record. The longer he continues this deception, the more the risk of his breaking his most sacred priority.

Hal must do something to correct this, but how? If he disclosed the information, that in itself would be an error so he can't go that route. From the earlier chess game, we know that Hal is capable of thinking ahead and is able to predict the behavior of human beings. Hal makes the first move. He probes David Bowman to find out what he knows. Hal attempts to provoke a response by giving him clues. Perhaps Bowman has already guessed the mission's true purpose. If that's true, then Hal can be at ease that he isn't hiding anything.

Notice how Dave reacts when Hal mentions the something dug up on the Moon and the security precautions. We don't know much about Dave yet but as the film proceeds, we will learn that Dave is very careful and shrewd. Dave probably has deduced why he is on a mission to Jupiter. When Hal poses questions about his second thoughts about the mission, Dave is questioning to himself why Hal is asking this. Unfortunately, Dave remains discreet because he wrongfully concludes that Hal is working on the crew psychology report. That being the case, Dave mistakenly believes that Hal is testing him and it would be proper not to reveal anything.

Had Dave said something to the effect of "Hal, I know what you are getting at and Frank and I know what's going on." Everything would have been fine. However, Dave's non- response forces Hal to go to the next step. Hal fudges up a report of a faulty AE-35 unit - the hardware that keeps the antenna complex pointed to Earth.

Hal, in lying, is obviously committing an error. In Hal's mind, it is an error to fix another error and thus, cancels them both out. Hal may have a superior brain but his reasoning is more that of a child.

Why did Hal make up the fault of the AE-35 unit? The answer is in the following chapters.

Other Notes

This is one part of the film where different fans make very different interpretations. Let me go over some of them here.

Many 2001 fans say that David Bowman was too bored or brain-numb to understand what Hal is getting at. I simply don't accept this. Dave (and for that matter, Frank) is too intelligent to not have heard the rumors and not at least considered that it may have something to do with the mission. Dave, in not confirming Hal's suggestions, was being discreet, not stupid.

Many fans argue that Hal made a mistake in predicting the fault in the AE-35 unit. I strongly disagree. Future events support my belief that Hal called it faulty while knowing that it wasn't.

Many also question why David Bowman was able to walk in the pod bay that contains no gravity. They apparently did not notice the velcro walkways. Notice how carefully Dave walks.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Chess Match (Film Synopsis Part 8)

The Story

The Gayane Ballet Suite resumes as the film focuses on Frank Poole. Frank is lying on a table with protective shades, apparently trying to get a tan. Hal announces that a transmission from his parents has been received.

Frank's mother and father appear on the video screen. They briefly talk about finances and other personal stuff. They wish him a happy birthday and quickly sign off. Frank barely stirs through the whole message. He can't respond since, as mentioned before, transmissions take minutes to cross the gulf of space to reach the Discovery and of course, any reply would take just as long.

We next see the end of a chess game between Frank and Hal. After an exchange of moves, Hal points out to Frank that his next move will lead to a checkmate. Frank resigns the game.

We now focus upon Dave Bowman. He is drawing sketches of the three men in hibernation when Hal calls him. Hal wants to look at his drawings. Upon reviewing them, he wants to ask Dave a personal question.

Little does Dave know but another chess game has begun.


It is evident that both Frank and Dave have considerable amounts of free time. It is also apparent that the two men are awake at alternate times and are perhaps together only at the meal. Notice that Frank was wearing a robe while Dave was in uniform at the meal. This would add to the sense of isolation as each man spends most of his time alone. What effect does such isolation have? Note the oddity that Frank is trying to get a tan. What's the point of that?

The message from his parents seems to barely interest Frank. He is more interested in his own personal comfort. Both mother and father ramble on about mundane, earthbound stuff that Frank can't really relate to anymore. Isolation has distanced him from his loved ones beyond that of the physical distance.

The sad Gayane Ballet Suite echoes the sense of isolation.

Note that as in the case with Heywood Floyd, Frank is an American with a relative who speaks with a British accent (his father).

Note also, that as in the video conversation with Floyd, it is somebody's birthday.

There is a lot to the brief chess match. First of all, many of the Frank's pieces are still in their original place so it appears he is on the defensive. Secondly, notice that after Poole moves his rook away from his king, Hal is able to predict the outcome - a checkmate.

The chessboard configuration where Hal made his prediction that Frank would make the losing move of capturing his queen.

In being able to predict what Frank will do next, Hal is demonstrating the heuristics aspect of his brain. A purely algorithmic computer, as we know them, would not be able to use prior behavior to estimate future behavior. Hal obviously can.

If Hal is as adept heuristically as he obviously is algorithmically, his mind would seem to be clearly superior to that of Man's. Has man made a tool that is completely superior to him?

Hal can appraise Dave's artwork. This reveals more of his heuristic ability. One must have experience to judge the quality of art. Note how he remarks that Dave has "improved". How could a computer make this kind of judgment?

Other Notes

The chess game shown is from an actual chess game played in 1913. In How Hal Plays Chess, we learn that Stanley Kubrick, a very good chess player himself, chose this game particularly because it requires a clever sacrifice of the queen to win.