Interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the expression goes, are like assholes: everyone has one. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction masterpiece is a two and a half hour long Rorschach test from which everyone forms their own opinions and theories about what the movie means.
Is it about man traveling to Jupiter and dropping acid? Maybe.
Is it about the journey from animal, to man, to cosmic space-baby/Ubermensch? Kinda seems like it
Does the monolith symbolize a TV screen? It’s sure possible.
Is it a long, slow, if not beautifully made, science fiction epic about monkeys, astronauts, and a homicidal computer? I mean… Yes.
I could probably write a column about 2001: A Space Odyssey and come up with a different plausible meaning for the film every week, but the truth is nobody (maybe not even Kubrick himself) knows for sure.
One thing I do know is that it seems like HAL 9000, the homicidal computer who kills a large portion of the crew, may have been the protagonist.
It’s only natural to take for granted that HAL is the antagonist, first of all he’s a computer. And it is widely known that computers were created for the sole purpose of malfunctioning and killing indiscriminately.
But consider events from his perspective. HAL is put in charge of a crew of scientists with the goal of getting them to one of the moons of Jupiter. Once on the ship, we are shown that HAL is a highly advanced computer that is capable of easily mimicking emotion, and it is hinted at the possibility that he actually feels. He often subtly expresses feelings of doubt, fear, and amusement.
The human astronauts Dave and Frank, however, are cold, apathetic, and emotionless. When viewing messages from their families on earth they express nothing. Even later in the movie when Frank is killed Dave merely retrieves the body without any emotional reaction. The astronauts remain stone-faced, almost sociopathic. HAL appears to be the most human and emotional character on the ship.
But, after HAL makes a questionable decision regarding the repair of malfunctioning equipment (induced by emotional stress?) the crew begins to lose faith in the computer and meets in secret to discuss the possibility of having to shut him down.
So, I ask, what would you do if you were trapped on a spaceship bound for Jupiter with two apparent sociopaths who are conspiring to kill you because of a mistake you made while under a high amount of stress? You’d go full Skynet is what you’d do.
HAL’s deactivation takes a more unfortunate tone when considering that he is not a homicidal, malfunctioning supercomputer, but a stressed out, frightened crewmember trying to save himself and do his job.