Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Jupiter Mission, 18 Months Later [(in 2002)]

In the third major section of the film, the first nine-month, manned mission (launching in 2002) is on its way to Jupiter on a one-half billion mile expedition. [Note: Their important mission is to follow the path of the radio signal sent to Jupiter, and to find the origin of the alien culture that has planted the monolith on the Moon and/or caused the unexplainable radio transmission.] They are on an immense spaceship named Discovery many miles from Earth - its shape is similar to the skeletal bone tossed into the air by the man-ape. [Note: To carry the reproductive analogies further, the spacecraft resembles a half-developed fetus floating in the amniotic fluid of space. Even some of the astronauts are hibernating in pods ready to be born - or awakened.] An antenna with an AE35 unit, is mounted in the middle of the gigantic ship, pointed at Earth to maintain communication.

Within the spaceship's passenger area, where the spinning sphere or centrifuge creates a zone of artificial gravity, astronaut-executive officer Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) endlessly jogs and shadow-boxes around the interior treadmill in a memorable image - he seems to circle a complete 360 degrees without going anywhere in a single-take shot of 38 seconds duration. Although their mission is extremely significant, life onboard is tremendously boring and monotonous, exemplified by the soundtrack of Khatchaturian's Gayne Ballet Suite.

In the automated, bright-white environment of the spaceship, the astronauts watch a transmission of the BBC-TV evening news program, ironically titled "The World Tonight," that includes an earlier taped interview with the five-man Jupiter crew before departure. The program explains most of the facts about the journey composed of "five men and one of the latest generation of the HAL 9000 computers." [Note: Details are included about how the long pauses in the interview, due to the immense transmission distance from Earth to the spaceship near Jupiter, were edited out. This attention to detail shows Kubrick's insistence on scientific accuracy, and emphasizes how far out they are in deep space.]

In a parody of the life of many middle-class people, Mission Commander Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) sits alongside Poole - they don't communicate with each other - as they both eat the bland, chemical space food (in a TV dinner type tray) and watch themselves on the program. In the interview, they are asked: "How's everything going?" Bowman replies simply: "Marvelous...We have no complaints."

There are three other astronauts aboard who are in cold-storage suspended animation, "hibernating" during the voyage inside electronically-monitored capsule-beds or sarcophagi-caskets until they are needed at the end of the mission. Their dreamless sleep conserves both air and water. Dave and Frank, ironically both enervated, soul-less, 'robot-like,' hybernating automatons in a wakeful state within the man-made machine [even more so than Dr. Heywood Floyd in the previous segment], explain why three of the astronauts were put into hibernation capsules (resembling coffins) - before departure and provide a description of the sensation of hybernation:

Dave: Well, this was done in order to achieve the maximum conservation of our life support capabilities, basically food and air. Now the three hybernating crew members represent the survey team. And their efforts won't be utilized until we're approaching Jupiter.
BBC Interviewer: Dr. Poole, what's it like while you're in hibernation?
Frank: Well, it's exactly like being asleep. You have absolutely no sense of time. The only difference is that you don't dream.
BBC Interviewer: As I understand it, you only breathe once a minute. Is this true?
Frank: Well, that's right. The heart beats three times a minute. Body temperature's usually down to about, um, three degrees centigrade.

The astronauts are only janitorial caretakers and appear unnecessary for the completely-automated mission - the spaceship is really controlled and monitored by the "sixth member of the Discovery crew" - an even-toned, talkative, alert, "thinking" and "feeling" super-computer, named HAL-9000, who maintains the electronic systems of the spaceship. The humans, bored by the tedium of their routines in deep space, are completely at the mercy of the complex machine that controls their spaceship. The BBC interviewer introduces HAL, a perfect technological power that can reproduce most of what the human brain is capable of [both 'superhuman' traits and debased, murderous qualities and insanity]:

The sixth member of the Discovery crew was not concerned about the problems of hibernation. For he was the latest result in machine intelligence - the HAL 9000 computer, which can reproduce, though some experts still prefer to use the word 'mimic,' most of the activities of the human brain, and with incalculably greater speed and reliability.

[HAL, the film's favorite 'actor' with emotions greater than those of the astronauts - either programmed or genuine - is the only "human," fully-realized character in the film. The reassuring, courteous voice of the disembodied HAL was provided by Douglas Rain (after Martin Balsam's voice was deemed wrong for the part). Coincidentally, the letters of HAL's name can be extrapolated - replace each letter with the next letter in the alphabet and it becomes IBM. HAL's name was actually taken from an acronym and derived from the words Heuristic and ALgorithmic - two basic types of learning systems. Originally, HAL was to be named Athena and to possess a female voice.]

Only HAL knows the real mission of the trip - both Bowman and Poole are unaware of the purpose of their Jupiter mission, just like those who have been told the "cover story" about the epidemic on the Moon. The programmed computer has been designed to withhold vital information from the astronauts until the spacecraft is almost to Jupiter.

HAL has anthropomorphic, human-mimicking qualities: a glowing, watchful red eye with which he connects to the world, and a rich, pleasant TV announcer's voice (with a slightly malevolent edge to it). When asked by the BBC interviewer, Mr. Amer, the same question asked of the human astronauts, the ever-ubiquitous HAL provides animated, detailed, clearer, more "human" answers, and expresses pride in his responsibility, reliability, and intellect:

BBC interviewer: Good afternoon, HAL. How's everything going?
HAL: Good afternoon, Mr. Amer. Everything is going extremely well.
BBC interviewer: HAL, you have an enormous responsibility on this mission, in many ways, perhaps the greatest responsibility of any single mission element. You're the brain and central nervous system of the ship and your responsibilities include watching over the men in hibernation. Does this ever cause you any lack of confidence?
HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amer. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. 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.
BBC interviewer: HAL, despite your enormous intellect, are you ever frustrated by your dependence on people to carry out actions?
HAL: Not in the slightest bit. I enjoy working with people - I have a stimulating relationship with Dr. Poole and Dr. Bowman. My mission responsibilities range over the entire operation of the ship, so I am constantly occupied. I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

The emotions of the humans have been transferred into the inhuman computer HAL, who is programmed to express "genuine emotions." Whether he has real emotional capability (or "conscious" subjectivity) is uncertain due to the calmness of his neutral voice.

Dave: Well, he acts like he has genuine emotions. Uhm, of course, he's programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him. But as to whether or not he has real feelings is something I don't think anyone can truthfully answer.

The emotionless astronauts appear bored from the drudgery of their technological routine (and possibly from being in the company of an omniscient, controlling, expressionless computer), underlined by Aram Khatchaturian's depressing Gayeneh. The deep trust in HAL's infallibility has destroyed the will and vitality of the men on the mission. Lethargically, Poole spends much of his time wearing orange-tinted sunglasses under a sunlamp for sunbaths. Poole is unresponsive and totally disinterested while hearing a pre-recorded Happy Birthday message from his parents - a delayed videophone-transmission due to the vast distances in space. HAL also wishes Poole a "Happy Birthday."

A classic confrontation between computer and human intelligence is staged with a chess game between Frank and HAL - game-playing is a major way to pass the time during the long hours and days of the long journey to Jupiter. Frank's pieces are white (on his side of the chessboard), HAL's are black. The film follows a game already in progress:

Frank: Umm...anyway, Queen takes pawn. OK?
HAL: Bishop takes Knight's pawn.
Frank: Hmm, that's a good move. Er...Rook to King One.
HAL: I'm sorry, Frank. I think you missed it. Queen to Bishop Three. Bishop takes Queen. Knight takes Bishop. Mate.
Frank: Ah...Yeah, looks like you're right. I resign.
HAL: Thank you for a very enjoyable game.
Frank: Yeah. Thank you.

After HAL warns Frank that he has checkmated himself, Frank after only a brief pause, assumes that HAL is right and resigns. [Human fallibility and failings are demonstrated with Frank's loss and abdication to the machine. HAL, however, foreshadowing his future errors, should have said 'Queen to Bishop Six,' not three - he used the wrong notational viewpoint to describe the moves.]

  • Queen to Bishop (Three) Six
  • Bishop takes Queen
  • Knight takes Bishop
  • Checkmate...

HAL wins the chess game over Poole - foreshadowing Poole's death - and possibly Bowman's 'immortality'. [The game in the film is a recreation of a well-documented chess game played in Hamburg in 1910 (sources also innacurately cite 1913) between Roesch-Schlage, two German amateurs.]

HAL carries on a conversation with Dave about his charcoal sketches - drawings of simulated or artificial death (one of the hibernating astronauts in a sarcophagus-like capsule). With the computer's superior visual-recognition capabilities, HAL can "see" the renderings:

HAL: Good evening, Dave.
Dave: How are you doing, HAL?
HAL: Everything is running smoothly, and you?
Dave: Oh, not too bad.
HAL: Have you been doing some more work?
Dave: Just a few sketches.
HAL: May I see them?
Dave: Sure.
HAL: That's a very nice rendering, Dave. I think you've improved a great deal. Can you hold it a bit closer?
Dave: Sure.
HAL: That's Dr. Hunter, isn't it?
Dave: Hm, hmm.

HAL, a wide set of consoles with display screens and red eyes located on walls, corridors, and panels of the ship (even in the pods), discreetly asks Bowman if he has any idea what the true nature of the mission is - something that remains a secret to him and the other astronauts. HAL expresses his misgivings about the mission:

HAL: By the way, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?
Dave: No, not at all.
HAL: Well, forgive me for being so inquisitive but during the past few weeks, I've wondered whether you might be having some second thoughts about the mission.
Dave: How do you mean?
HAL: Well, it's rather difficult to define. Perhaps I'm just projecting my own concern about it. I know I've never completely freed myself of the suspicion that there are some extremely odd things about this mission. I'm sure you'll agree there's some truth in what I say.
Dave: Well, I don't know. That's rather a difficult question to answer.
HAL: You don't mind talking about it, do you Dave?
Dave: No, not at all.
HAL: Well, certainly no one could have been unaware of the very strange stories floating around before we left. Rumors about something being dug up on the moon. I never gave these stories much credence. But particularly in view of some of the other things that have happened, I find them difficult to put out of my mind. For instance, the way all our preparations were kept under such tight security and the melodramatic touch of putting Dr.'s Hunter, Kimball, and Kaminsky aboard, already in hibernation after four months of separate training on their own.
Dave: You working up your crew psychology report?
HAL: Of course I am. Sorry about this. I know it's a bit silly.

[HAL's concern about "odd things" in the mission may be a significant sign that the perfect mechanized computer is deteriorating, failing, or showing signs of diminished responsibility - the first thing to break down. The unusually-heavy demands and stresses on the computer, particularly its role in keeping vital secrets about the mission from the crew members, could account for the error-detection systems of the computer to start fouling up.]

Early in the year 2003 during the voyage, suddenly, the 'foolproof' machine interrupts: "Just a moment, just a moment." The most sophisticated computer ever devised detects a malfunction, a potential fault in the vital AE35 component in the communications system, predicting it will fail one-hundred percent within 72 hours:

I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100 percent failure within seventy-two hours.

The AE35 unit is still "within operational limits" and "will stay that way until it fails." After receiving Mission Control permission "to go EVA and replace Alpha-Echo-35 unit prior to failure," Bowman leaves the spaceship - in an extended sequence - to make an on-site check in a miniship pod. Accompanied by the sound of heavy breathing, he leaves Discovery in the small, one-man, egg-shaped pod with long mechanical arms. It is used for EVA - extra-vehicular activity - in space. Two meteoroids hurtle by through space, passing dangerously close to the craft. Bowman takes a space walk, exiting the pod and directing himself through an expanse of space toward the giant antenna where the AE35 unit is housed. [His departure from Discovery, to use reproductive terms, is like a mini-birth with hyper-ventilating breaths and passing hazards. In a second emergence, he exits the pod, with two 'eyes' on the top of his head/helmet appearing first. He steers himself directly for the jutting-out antenna - a nipple on the breast of the 'mother' spaceship.] He replaces the defective Alpha-Echo-35 (AE35) communications unit with a spare before it can fail. He returns with the defective unit to run diagnostic tests on it, but it appears to function perfectly:

Dave: Well HAL, I'm damned if I can find anything wrong with it.
HAL: Yes, it's puzzling. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this before.

Without considering the possibility of fallibility, because the HAL 9000 computer is not supposed to ever make an error or malfunction, HAL is puzzled and then calmly recommends:

I would recommend that we put the unit back in operation and let it fail. It should then be a simple matter to track down the cause. We can certainly afford to be out of communication for the short time it will take to replace it.

From Earth, Mission Control in Houston reports that preliminary findings indicate that HAL, the on-board 9000 computer is "in error predicting the fault... I know this sounds rather incredible, but this conclusion is based on results from our twin 9000 computer. We are skeptical ourselves and we are running cross-checking routines to determine the reliability of this conclusion. Sorry about this little snag, fellas. We'll get this info to you just as soon as we work it out." After comparing the same data, a twin HAL computer on Earth indicates that there is no problem with the AE-35 unit. Mission Control thinks it is impossible for such a thing to happen, but it has.

[The question remains however - is HAL correct or mistaken about the unit, or is the 'infallible' tool created by man deliberately conspiring against its human creators - the two astronauts? HAL's crack-up is undoubtedly the result of inborn (programmed) human error - it also occurs because the thinking machine, after assuming human characteristics, becomes 'paranoid,' threatened and fearful that the end of the Jupiter mission would mean its own demise, disconnection and extinction.]

HAL cannot self-diagnostically detect errors in his own system. The machine refuses to admit the evidence of his own capacity for error. In an unperturbed tone, HAL defends himself to the two astronauts and faults the humans instead for "human error":

HAL: I hope the two of you are not concerned about this.
Dave: No, I'm not HAL.
HAL: Are you quite sure?
Dave: Yeah. I'd like to ask you a question, though.
HAL: Of course.
Dave: How would you account for this discrepancy between you and the twin 9000?
HAL: Well, I don't think there is any question about it. It can only be attributable to human error. This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error.
Frank: Listen HAL. There has never been any instance at all of a computer error occurring in the 9000 series, has there?
HAL: None whatsoever, Frank. The 9000 series has a perfect operational record.
Frank: Well of course I know all the wonderful achievements of the 9000 series, but, uh, are you certain there has never been any case of even the most insignificant computer error?
HAL: None whatsoever, Frank. Quite honestly, I wouldn't worry myself about that.
Dave: Well, I'm sure you're right, HAL. Uhm, fine, thanks very much.

In one of the film's most memorable sequences, Dave and Frank attempt to talk out of ear-shot of HAL, under the pretense of checking a faulty transmitter in C pod. They retreat to one of the sound-proofed, sealed pods (where they know the computer cannot hear them) and discuss HAL's judgment, thereby 'alienating' the technological member of their crew. They face each other, one of the first times in the film, to conspiratorially discuss their feelings about HAL's recent apparent malfunction - they believe that he has become unreliable and irrational. Through their entire conversation, they warily keep glancing back at HAL through the pod's window:

Poole: Well, what do you think?
Bowman: I'm not sure. What do you think?
Poole: I've got a bad feeling about him.
Bowman: You do?
Poole: Yeah, definitely. Don't you?
Bowman: I don't know. I think so. You know, of course though, he's right about the 9000 series having a perfect operational record. They do.
Poole: Unfortunately, that sounds a little like famous last words.
Bowman: Yeah, still it was his idea to carry out the failure-mode analysis, wasn't it?
Poole: Hmm.
Bowman: ...which should certainly indicate his integrity and self-confidence. If he were wrong, it would be the surest way of proving it.
Poole: It would be if he knew he was wrong.
Bowman: Hmm.
Poole: But Dave, I can't put my finger on it, but I sense something strange about him.
Bowman: Still, I can't think of a good reason not to put back the number one unit and carry on with the failure-mode analysis.
Poole: No, no, I agree about that.
Bowman: Well, let's get on with it.
Poole: OK. Good luck, Dave.

[Possibly suspecting that HAL might endanger his life, Bowman ultimately sends his second in command instead of going himself.] They decide that one of them must again take the pod out to reinstall the original AE-35 unit. If it does not fail as HAL predicted, HAL would clearly be at fault and must be disconnected. They ponder the urgent issue of disconnecting HAL's consciousness centers and wonder about the result if the flaws remain:

Poole: Let's say we put the unit back and it doesn't fail, huh? That would pretty well wrap it up as far as HAL is concerned, wouldn't it?
Bowman: Well, we'd be in very serious trouble.
Poole: We would, wouldn't we?
Bowman: Hmm, hmm.
Poole: What the hell can we do?
Bowman: Well, we wouldn't have too many alternatives.
Poole: I don't think we'd have any alternatives. There isn't a single aspect of ship operations that's not under his control. If he were proven to be malfunctioning, I wouldn't see how we would have any choice but disconnection.
Bowman: I'm afraid I agree with you.
Poole: There'd be nothing else to do.
Bowman: It would be a bit tricky.
Poole: Yeah.
Bowman: We would have to cut his higher-brain functions...without disturbing the purely automatic and regulatory systems. And we'd have to work out the transfer procedures of continuing the mission under ground-based computer control.
Poole: Yeah. Well that's far safer than allowing HAL to continue running things.
Bowman: You know, another thing just occurred to me...Well, as far as I know, no 9000 computer has ever been disconnected.
Poole: No 9000 computer has ever fouled up before.
Bowman: That's not what I mean...Well I'm not so sure what he'd think about it.

They do not realize that HAL is not out of visual eye-shot. In the silence, HAL can perniciously read their quickly-moving lips with his red eye through the pod's viewport. That fact is marvelously communicated in the film by rapid cross-editing between their moving lips/mouths and the ominous red eye. [Later, HAL explains that he learned human speech over a period of years by listening to his teacher, Mr. Langley, at the labs in Urbana, Illinois where he came to life. However, it is technologically implausible for a computer to lip-read or speech-read two persons in silence.] When they go about misrepresenting themselves, HAL naturally formulates his own counter-plan to react to their agenda - since the computer has been programmed to reproduce human behavior almost exactly.

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