2001 and Beyond the Infinite

Commentary and Criticism

April 1997

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Date: Wed, 2 Apr 1997 01:16:26 -0500 (EST)
From: VICTAR377@aol.com

I agree with most of your explanations. I do have a different idea about
Hal's breakdown and eventual betrayal. I believe Hal malfunctioned because he
was overwhelmed by the weight of the information he received. He attempted to
aleviate his "fears" by initiating a discussion with Dave about it. But as
you pointed out, Dave was so desensetized and bored that he didn't catch on.
The point at which Hal tells Dave that he would like to ask him a "personal
question" is the point at which he actually crosses some sort of a line. He
has experienced concern and possibly fear. He has achieved a state of nearly
human consciousness, yet he is denied the one outlet which might bring him
relief, discussion with another human being. 

When he fails to incite concern, or even interest in Dave, he can no longer
bear the pressure of the situation and he commits a fatal error: he makes a
mistake, another human characteristic. 

I don't believe that Hal deliberately reported false information to lure Dave
and Frank from the safety of the ship. It was only after he committed the
error and learned of their plans to disconnect (or kill him) that he
retalliated (like the apes in the beginning). Here he has acquired yet
another human characteristic: the desire/need to kill another human being in
 this case, in self-defense. 

Finally, in the end, he pleads for his life. As an adolescent viewing this
film back in the 70's on T.V. I didn't understand the film, nor did I really
understand Hal's appeal. Upon viewing it again recently, I found Hal to be
the ultimate sympathetic character. The humans in power (who have become
machine like and unfeeling) are the cause of his eventual psychosis. They
have created a machine which is approaching a level of evolution near human
consciousness, yet they fail to consider what effect the information they
give him may have on the health of his psyche. When Hal responds to the
difficulty of the situation by making a mistake, another sign of his evolving
consciousness, again, no consideration is given for his "feelings." He is not
allowed this human response. Dave and Frank don't know about the information
Hal has, but the scientists on earth do. 

Hal was destroyed because he became too human. He couldn't stand the pressure
and he made a mistake. This is the final irony. People have become dull and
unfeeling like machines, while one of their machines has acquired "human"
emotions. Perhaps this is why the Aliens were once again interested in the
situation, to see which mode of being would prevail. If this is the case, who
is the Starchild? Which mode of being has he/she acquired? The final message
could be somewhat less optomistic than the one you present...though this
reading, like your's, is just a guess.

Date: Sun, 06 Apr 1997 17:16:47 -0700
From: david [david@ou.edu]

Perhaps the large scale involvement of the aliens occurred because man 
had proven his ability to act independantly.  After all, in 2001 David 
Bowman was provided for until his death and was totally dependant on the 
aliens for a time.  Possibly the aliens involvement was an effort to 
quickly change and prepare the earth and its civilization for the arrival 
of the star child who awaits intelligently in the "heavens".  Maybe the 
starchild, the reincarnate of the Dave who had evolved from 
machine-dependance is to be a guide for the rest of the race to move on 
to the next level of evolution.


Date: Fri, 18 Apr 1997 21:52:03 -0400
From: Sandy Lomm []

I enjoyed your essay.  It was very well done and covored all the bases. 
I do disagree with you on one point though.  When you say at the end of
your essay, "And if there was anthing beyond THAT, then its name could
only be God."  I assume you've read all the Odyssey books including
3001.  With that in mind I would like to call your attention to Clarkes'
acknoledgements section at the end of 3001.  He mentions hints several
times in this section that the existince of a GOD is highly unlikely. 
"Faith is believing in something you know doesn not exist."  I'k like to
refer you to the final paragraph's in the afterword for an excellent
example of Clarke's view on God and religion.  Anyway, my point is that
I'm not sure we'll find god after we've evolved to our peek.  It would
be nice but, don't count on it.  Clarke's four novels are excellent
commentaries on the evolution and potetinal of man, and also serve, if
nothing else, as interesting glimpses at the identity of GOD.  Please
email me back, I'm interested in your ideas.  email me at
kopnicki@wam.umd.edu not at the return address.

Date: Mon, 21 Apr 1997 00:54:48 -0500 (CDT)
From: yyz@mail.utexas.edu (Jason Andrew Wilber)

  Hello.  Yours is an enlightening essay on 2001, and the web page is
commendable.  It is a joy to read so many interpretations; a movie about
eating indeed!  In any case, this movie makes people think!  Surely that is
its point.
  On 2010:  I agree with the general majority in that 2010 in itself is not
a bad flick, but when put forth as a continuation of 2001, it's an
abomination.  I realize that this is not entirely Peter Hyams' fault, but he
definitely contributed.  After all, I do feel that Kubrick's 2001 effort is
superior to Clarke's novel (no disrespect intended toward Clarke, a
stupendous author), and so nothing was stopping Hyams from doing the same
with his installment.
  That aside, my main point in writing is a minor one.  In your essay you
asked why Jupiter's transformation into a star wouldn't affect Earth's
orbit.  Tim Smith from Tulane Law School wrote you in August 1996 and
explained that it wouldn't because "gravity is a function of mass, not
density."  He then said that if the powers behind the Monolith had "used
interstellar dumptrucks to move additional hydrogen to Jupiter, then the
Earth's orbit would be affected."  You then defended your position (that
Earth's orbit would alter) by stating that Jupiter's mass was indeed
increased - by the presence of millions of Monoliths.  I submit that the
"truth" (I don't claim access to this) lies somewhere in between your
  First of all, Jupiter as we know it has about 50 times too little mass to
be a star.  It simply doesn't have the temperature and pressure requirements
at its core for fusion to begin.  Thus, the Monoliths *must* have been
dumping hydrogen - a hell of a lot of it - onto Jupiter.  (It wasn't the
Monoliths' mass that fueled fusion, I assume, because they seem to be inert.) 
  So, I am suggesting that increasing Jupiter's mass 50 fold to begin fusion
would indeed change Earth's orbit - quite a bit.  Now, I am by no means a
physicist, so if anyone with the appropriate credentials (and hopefully
knowledge) cares to calulate this, I would be interested in the result.  If
this suggestion is correct, then this point is merely an oversight on
Clarke's part.  (Although I don't recall him stating explicitly that Earth's
orbit didn't change after Lucifer's birth, I also don't remember him saying
that it did.)  Anyway, I am not up nights fretting over this error, but I
find it an interesting curiosity.
  Please feel free to put this letter on your web page, and I would
appreciate it if you inform me of your doing so.    

J Andrew Wilber

Date: Mon, 21 Apr 1997 23:05:32 -0700
From: Reg Chan [chanr@sd28.bc.ca]

I have to disagree with your assessment that Hal actually had a
breakdown, knew about it, and decided to "rebel" when Dave missed his
clues about the mission.  The way I see it, Hal was convinced that the
mission was so important that he felt that he had to test Dave and Frank
to see how they would react in a crisis and whether or not they could be
trusted to deal with the situation and carry on with the mission.  From
Hal's perspective, Dave and Frank were just two more tools in the
running of the ship, and from what he saw so far, fairly unimportant
ones at that.  So like everything else on the ship, Hal tested them to
see if they were in proper working order.
  Also, I think that when the AE-35 thing was denounced by Mission
Control as a computer error, Hal's reply that it was "human error" was
not an egotistical statement, but a subtle warning like his earlier
conversation with Dave.  Hal was implying that Dave and Frank were wrong
to mistrust him and to just let it go and carry on.  He said so himself
when he said, "Honestly, I wouldn't worry myself about it."  But instead
they ignored him again and went on to do something worse; they excused
themselves to check up on a "malfunction" in one of the pods.  It was no
coincidence that when Dave and Frank left the room, the camera focused
on their reflection in a close-up of Hal's eye.  It meant that Hal knew
that they were lying, that they didn't trust him to bring up their own
doubts about him to his face.  So Hal let them go about their deception
and carry a secret conversation about him inside the pod, without
letting him know that he could read their lips.  And as far as Hal was
concerned, they didn't need to know that, because Dave and Frank didn't
want Hal to know about their conversation first.  After all, what could
be more reasonable than lying to someone who lied to you first?
  Note when Hal takes remote control of the empty pod to kill Frank
outside the Discovery. The camera has an intense closeup of the little
red eye on the front, the same kind of red eye as Hal's.  That meant
that Hal knew all along that the pod Dave and Frank were in was not
"malfunctioning", because like everything else on the ship, Hal had
complete control of all of the systems and was well aware of whether or
not they were in working order.
  So there you have it.  Hal was fully functional and incapable of error
all along.  At least, he was by his own standards.  Human beings,
however, had this one-dimensional idea that computers never make a
mistake, and judge their performance on that level of thinking.  Hal
never believed that he ever made a mistake, because he had no such
limitations imposed upon him by his programmers to carry out the
mission.  But since he operated on a completely different level of
thinking than human beings, they couldn't understand his behavior and
responded badly, by deciding to disconnect him, therefore jeopardizing
the mission.  Hence, Hal did not have a breakdown, lie about it, and
rebel against the crew.
                                                        Dave C.

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 22:51:09 -0500 (CDT)
From: Jason Pollock [buzlityr@camelot.bradley.edu]


        I just visited your site regarding 2001: A Space Odyssey. Let me say 
that I am a fan of the movie as well. For years, I have tried to figure 
out what the monolith was all about. I thought your conclusions were very 
sound. I did have one thought though as to the "fate" of Dave Bowman. I've 
always thought that Bowman was transported through time, not space. The images
we see of stellar bodies seem to start with the big bang, expansion of the galaxy and formation of 
celestial bodies, and then the birth of the earth in its prehistoric 
state. Then Bowman is taken to a "room" which represents the cradle of 
the earth. His aging is representative of mankind comming of age and the 
monolith is the final instrument that transends man into a higher state 
of conciousness. Does this sound like a fair assumption to you? 
        Also, after reading your idea that Bowman was transported to a 
distant galaxy, it made me think of 2010 a little. In that movie, Max is 
"blown" away from the Monolith in a massive explosive force. Do you think 
this is what also happened to Bowman, but just seen from a different 
point of view. It seems that Max was "rejected" by the monolith for lack 
of a better explanation. I am wondering what your view on the topic is. 
        Otherwise, your website was quite informative and well 
constructed. I look forward to your response.



Date: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 16:31:24 -0500 (CDT)
From: Geri Brennan [gbrennan@delphi.bsd.uchicago.edu]

I read your essay on 2001 and wanted to give you some of my own thoughts
and ask your opinion on a few things. First let me start by saying that I
have just seen the film for very the first time and have never read the
book.  Since seeing it I have been struggling to come up with the
meaning(s) behind the film and am  seeking input from everywhere. (I have
never been so preoccupied by film in my life!)

I would have to say that I agree with your insight, more than that of
others' I read, on most issues.  One that I am still unsure of though is
the reason that HAL started to "malfunction" in the first place.  I too
felt that the conversation between Dave and HAL regarding HAL's suspicions
of the mission was one of the most important in the film.  It was very
strange.  Why would this computer be posing questions in the way that he
was -- using the term "mellow-dramatic" when referring to the manner in
which the other crew members were put into hybernation.  That conversation
was certainly meant to catch the attention of the audience and I felt was
KEY to the events that unfolded.  You had suggested that HAL was attempting
to make Dave begin questioning the true meaning of the mission.  I agree.
But I am not sure that you answer the question of why HAL would want Dave
to figure this out.  You assert that HAL deliberately saught to maintain
control over the ship and in that sense over man and his tools - and its
seems that you  suggest it's HAL's fault that everyone dies - man against
tool etc.  It is quite possible that this is the case, but if this
exploitation is used there is still a missing link.  If HAL was attempting
to take control what pushed him to that point?  Don't you think something
did?  Why would HAL reach that point?  What is it that made him seek the
control of the ship?  If you attempt to answer these questiona, then the
man and tool discussion could take on a new meaning.

One theory I've read on why HAL takes control is interesting -- please let
me know what you think of it. 

HAL was programmed, above all else as  you state, to complete the mission.
He was also programmed (as you also state) to lie to both Dave and Frank
about the true purpose of the mission.  The theory I have run across
asserts that these two sets of instruction, interestingly enough programmed
into HAL by man, contradicted each other.  It was this contradiction that
caused HAL to take the series of steps that he did -- (all was done in an
effort to eliminate the contradictory programming).  HAL felt that the
crew's knowledge of the mission was important to its success.  The
contradiction existed because he was programmed against letting them know
about the mission.  The only way to eliminate the contradiction, and ensure
success was to try to get Dave and Frank to learn about the mission on
their own.  You have alluded to HAL's attempt to get them to figure this
out, but I don't think you give an explanation as to why he's trying to do
this -- this would be that explanation.  

I am also not sure that HAL made a mistake.  I think it was important that
so much emphasis was put on the fact that the 9000 series has never, ever,
ever made a mistake.  I think HAL felt that by purposing planting a
"mistake" he would cause Dave and Frank to begin questioning things. In
other words, HAL knew that the piece of equipment he'd identified was not
going to malfunction - he was purposing trying to raise question - hoping
that the initial questions would prompt Dave and Frank to look further
until they learned the truth.  These events would ultimately free him of
the burden he carried -- the two contradictory sets of instruction.  

In support of this theory, I think its significant that HAL reports the
malfunctioning component to Dave in the midst of the same conversation in
which he was trying to stir things up in Dave's mind.  It ties those two
events together very strongly.  Between the lines of HAL's overall dialog
with Dave HAL is always urging Dave to figure things out.  It as though the
dialog between Dave and HAL throughout the series of events that take place
went as follows -- "Aren't you curious about this mission Dave (start
thinking, start thinking) --- hey there's a malfunction in one of the
machines --- oops I made a mistake isn't that CURIOUS!  (Start thinking
Dave, start thinking - put this together.)" 

Also significant is HAL's reference to the strong possibility of human
error causing his "mistake."  (In HAL's opinion it was human error that
caused this to happen - the contradictory instructions programmed into
him.)  At this point he was attempting, in a voice that was monotone (but
also exhibited a sense of urging or prodding), that mistakes like this have
ALWAYS been traced backed to human error.  Again urging them to think of
the possibility of human error.  HAL wanted them to find the error -- the
error in programming him with the contradictory sets of instruction.
Unfortunately his plan backfired because Frank became too suspicious.  

When HAL found out that they were planning to disconnect him (if the
failure test proved that he did make a mistake - which it would have) he
was left with no options.  His program forced him to complete the mission -
above all else.  In order to complete the mission he needed to eliminate
the forces that would disconnect him.

I want to go back quickly though to the human error question.  I do not
think the film was about man against tool or controlling tool (clearly Man
DOES control its tools - for good or for bad).  I think it was about the
way in which man uses tools.  The fault never lies with the tool itself.
It can be used to help sustain life and to help end life, in either case
man is (and must be) the "programmer".  And man, as was the case with HAL,
can make mistakes when using or programming tools.  In the end man does
control his tools -- in every aspect.  It was not the bone's fault - or, as
you pointed out, the Monolith's fault that Moonwatcher kills the opposing
Ape-man (i.e. uses tools for destruction) it is clearly Moonwatcher's own
choice to do so.  It was not HAL's fault that he made the choices he did,
he was programmed to do so, by man.  

If I stand by this theory though,  I still need to figure out why the
Monolith decided that this was the time to move to the next level of
thinking for humanity.  (I have not read or seen 2010 perhaps I can
determine this connection by learning how the story is continued.)  Perhaps
it was that man had conquered the first levels of space travel?

I would like to know your thoughts on this interpretation.  In your reply
to this don't reference 2010 if possible.  I will try to read or see it

(By the by -- great web page.)

Geri brennan

Date: Mon, 28 Apr 1997 04:27:10 -0700
From: Jon Ericson [jericson@ucla.edu]

        2001: A Space Odyssey is clearly one of the greatest movies of all
time (behind Citizen Kane, ahead of Apocalypse Now), but I agree with the
criticism that it is too slow.  The trouble is partly, as someone in the
commentary section already said, that space travel, video phones, and
computers that can beat a human in chess fail to fascinate as they did in
1968.  Today we are intrigued by the internet, but by 2027 the internet will
be old hat.  (I think Haywood Floyd would be bored by his own part in the
movie.)  The other problem is the way Kubrick deals with the huge time span
in the movie.  The opening scenes (dozens of different savannah shots)
simulate the time the monolith waited for someone like Moon-Watcher to
evolve.  The final sequence signifies the unspecified time for Dave to
travel to the "zoo" and become the star child.  The last problem is that
Arthur C. Clarke wrote the screenplay.  
        I enjoy Mr. Clarke's books, but they are thin in the area of plot.
The story is there so that we will read his ideas and technical
explanations.  Compare his novels to Frank Herbert's, Issac Asimov's or
Robert Heinlein's, which are stories with science fiction elements woven in
to support the story.  The plot of 2001 cannot be separated from the ideas.
In Frank Herbert's Dune series the plot cannot be separated from the
characters.  With a little work the story of Dune could be set in the West
with Paul Maud'Dib as a city slicker who becomes the leader of a gang of
bank robbers.  The main characters of 2001 are things like: space, humanity
and intelligence.  You could easily tell the story with a different human
characters.  If you substitute the monoliths for huge cylindrical
spacecraft, the story becomes Rama (another of Clarke's novels) with a few
different ideas about what aliens might be like.  This is not to say that
2001 is bad or boring, but it is not the same as a conventional novel or
movie.  The very elements that make it so slow are also the elements that
make it great.
        The discussion about allusions in the film to various authors and
ideas missed the most important reference.  2001 is subtitled "A Space
Odyssey."  Homer's Odyssey was the story of Odysseus's journey home after
the famous battle at Troy.  Clearly 2001 is also a travel story, because
Floyd goes to the moon and Bowman, Poole, Hal and the others travel toward
Jupiter.  However, Odysseus is trying to get home and Bowman travels as far
away from home as possible (actually a little farther).  To really make
sense of the allusion we must remember that the main characters are really
Humanity, Intelligence and the Monoliths.  Humanity is on its long journey
home.  Dave Bowman, as a representative of Humanity, arrived at home when he
became the star child.  Homer envisioned the gods conspiring to either help
or hinder Odysseus return to Ithaca, but the Monoliths appear to hurry
Humanity on its way to the final evolutionary goal.  Hal represents one of
the obstacles Humanity must over come, and therefore serves a similar role
as the Cyclopes (who also had one eye) did in the Odyssey.
        There are problably a number of other connections, but I have not
thought about this for very long.  One possible connection is between the
battle at the water hole and the battle of Troy, which is actually in the
Illiad.  If I am not mistaken, the idea to use the Trojan horse came from
the gods.  Moon-Watcher's secret weapon came from the monolith and began
Humanity's long journey home.  Most of this would be a real stretch if it
were not for the subtitle.  Biblical refences, especially the Old Testement,
are probably valid as well because the storys are somewhat common knowledge.
As for more obscure allusions, I would need some other evidence to support
                More later perhaps,
                Jon Ericson

Date: Wed, 30 Apr 1997 17:06:53 -0400
From: Frank Byron Gibson [fbg1@cornell.edu]

Wonderful essay!  

Here is another possibility for the meaning of the ending scenes in
which Dave Bowman sees himself as an old man, then becomes the old man
and sees himself dying.  Perhaps Kubrick was simply saying that time was
no longer a barrier to human consciousness, and that Bowman now exists
throughout the dimension of time as easily as humans currently exist in
the 3 dimensions of space.  Concepts to back this:  Bowman encounters
himself twice from a version of himself that exists at a different time
than version he sees.  The entities who created the Monolith were able
to move through time as easily as through space b/c the Monolith
technology is the same 400million years ago as it is at the moon and at
Jupiter (major assumption, but bear with me).  Most important, we see
from Dave's victory over Hal that the creation of tools has not only
enabled man to survive, but to evolve.  Whereas the man-apes needed
tools to survive, Bowman has demonstrated that man has developed the
resourcefulness to survive on his own.  The monolith is simply another
tool, and when Bowman uses it, he evolves into an entity that no longer
exists linearly with time but simultaeously in every instance.
Byron Gibson                   www.tc.cornell.edu/~fgibson
All that is human must retrograde if it do not advance.  
-Edward Gibbon; *The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire*