Re: Belated Re: CULTURE/SPACE: Tom Hanks on "2001"

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Wed Feb 21 2001 - 19:34:57 MST wrote:

> I don't agree that the cut from bone to satellite was meant to show them
> as not just tools, but as weapons. Although in the book there was mention
> of orbiting weapons platforms, these really aren't depicted in the movie.
> Going by what we see on the screen, we can't make that connection.

You are, of course, perfectly right that the movie imposes no necessary
interpretation of the purpose of these satellites. In fact, the Bizony book
has a sketch of a cylindrical satellite that's similar, but not identical,
to the the first one that appears after the cut from the bone, with the caption:
"Kubrick ordered many designs for orbiting nuclear weapon platforms from Lange
and Masters. This drawing shows a version that actually made it to the shooting
stage, as one of the first spaceships that appears on the screen [not quite,
though it may have been a sketch that ended up getting worked up into the
model that actually does appear on the screen]. Anxious to avoid
too many associations with _Dr. Strangelove_, however, Kubrick decided not
to make it so obvious in his film that this expensive and delicate artifact
of space was a war machine."

> The real point of the bone-to-spaceship cut... is that the road from one to
> the other was mapped... by the intervention of the monolith...
> So the cut is a flash from one end to the other of the path.


> I appreciated the commentary emphasizing Kubrick's sense of irony...
> The conversation in the lunar bus en route to the monolith is especially forced.
> I think the real explanation is that these people are terrified inside but don't
> want anyone to know. They are covering it up with their hearty conversations about
> ham and chicken, then lining up for pictures like tourists.

Well, that's a generous interpretation of what otherwise seems like dull
unimaginativeness (but then again, only from the **outside** -- from the cosmic
perspective that Kubrick's eye and camera are affording us). On the other
hand, if these guys routinely handle stress with ham and chicken sandwiches,
then there must be some high-tech weight loss technology lurking in the
background that Kubrick and Clarke didn't show us ;->

> The comment that Floyd's speech had really given a boost to morale has
> always bothered me. Floyd's speech can hardly have had that effect. His
> speech was in reality quite chilling.
> Floyd is not only stonewalling, he is in effect threatening them by
> requiring security oaths. As I recall the scene, I had the impression
> that the guy who asked the question was going to tagged as a trouble-
> maker and he'd be in for some hard questioning later. Floyd's pleasant
> chuckle is masking an iron-hard control being enforced by the government.
> His friendly face is a lie, and everyone in that room must have been
> chilled and frightened by his implicit threats. (And the undercurrent
> of fear in the lunar shuttle may have been in part fear of Floyd and
> those he represents.)

Yes, this scene always makes me grind my teeth, too. It's a very
effective portrayal of the smooth, almost casual application of
coercive power by a bureaucrat who's obviously an expert at it.
I've often wondered if I would have the cojones to simply say no
in those circumstances. Of course, the result would be a foregone
conclusion -- fired, shipped back to Earth, stripped of whatever
security clearances you might have, and blackballed from employment
with any high-tech government contractors. And you'd **still** be
subject to arrest if you opened your mouth, regardless of whether
you'd signed the piece of paper.

> Despite the suggestion that Kubrick is being ironic in his long, loving
> shots of the space ships, I think he did mean them to be appreciated
> in a positive way. The use of the Blue Danube waltz, the ballet of
> ship and space station and lunar colony, everything in slow motion and
> choreographed with the music, is one of the most beautiful scenes of
> its type. I think this art is meant to be enjoyed for its own sake,
> and there's no reason to think he is trying to undercut it with an
> ironic message.

Oh absolutely -- this film works on many levels, and the ironic level
by no means undercuts the aesthetic level. I **love** the sequence
in which the Pan Am shuttle docks with the space station to the accompaniment
of the Strauss waltz.

> One final comment. I can't agree with the characterization of Hal as a
> "chatty, fussy genius" or that he is more human than the human characters.
> Hal is consistently calm and unemotional, very limited in his degree
> of expressiveness. It is true that the human astronauts are not much
> different, but my take on this is that Kubrick is showing that the
> astronauts have become like computers. They, in effect, have copied Hal,
> or Hal's designers have copied them. Convergent evolution.

I think the one conversation that manifests what Gilliatt was getting
at is the one where HAL butters up Dave Bowman by asking to see his
sketches of the hibernating astronauts (and flatters him a bit on his
technique), and then proceeds to draw him into a cozy, conspiratorial
conversation about the mission:

HAL: Good evening, Dave.

DAVE BOWMAN: How ya doin', Hal?

HAL: Everything's running smoothly. And you?

BOWMAN: Oh, not too bad.

HAL: Have you been doing some more work?

BOWMAN: Hm, few sketches.

HAL: May I see them?

BOWMAN: Sure. (Sits down in front of one of HAL's
cameras, holding up his sketch pad and turning the pages).

HAL: That's a very nice rendering, Dave. I think you've
improved a great deal. Can you hold it a bit closer?


HAL: That's Dr. Hunter, isn't it?

BOWMAN: Mm hmm.

HAL: By the way, do you mind if I ask you a personal

BOWMAN: 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.

BOWMAN (a little stiffly): 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.

BOWMAN: Well, I don't know, that's a rather difficult question
to answer.

HAL: You don't mind talking about it, do you Dave?

BOWMAN: No, not at all.

HAL: Certainly no one could've 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 Drs. Hunter, Kimball, and
Kaminsky aboard, already in hibernation, after four months of separate
training on their own.

BOWMAN (a bit stiffly, again): You're working up your crew psychology

HAL (slightly embarrassed sounding): 'Course I am. Sorry about this.
I know it's a bit silly.

HAL's use of colloquialisms -- "stories floating around", "something
being dug up on the moon", and even the hint of disrespect toward management --
"the melodramatic touch" should be **extremely** effective psychology
to seduce somebody into a confidential mood, especially somebody who
hasn't been seen to have had much recent casual conversation. Dave isn't having
any of it, though -- he assumes (probably correctly) that HAL is
a management spy (in fact, that would be a pretty good reason for
Dave and Frank being so close-mouthed around each other, knowing their every
word and inflection would be picked up and analyzed by the computer. Not very
healthy mission psychology). Of course, it's entirely possible (an interpretation
certainly encouraged by Clarke's novel and the _2010_ sequel, both book and movie),
that HAL also had a genuine desire to come clean with his human crewmates, even
if his overriding goal, as Dave surmised, was simply to work up his crew
psychology report (HAL's psychosomatic difficulties with the AE-35 unit begin
**immediately** on the heels of this conversation). All victims of Heywood Floyd
and the Agency gang (though _2010_ lets Floyd off the hook and passes the buck to
higher levels).

It would be **really** freaky to have a conversation with an AI as Turing-effective
as HAL is portrayed to be in this conversation -- the social signalling would be an
overwhelming temptation to let down your guard and anthropomorphize the hell out of
the machine. At the same time, there would be tremendous cognitive dissonance
if you had any inside knowledge of the true motivational structure of the AI,
and an expert's appreciation of its alienness (as, no doubt, Dave Bowman would).
Again, a recipe for high stress and a potentially disastrous psychological
environment. I suppose people who profile serial killers for a living have
to live with seeing the **people** around them as potentially alien in this

> The commentators missed what has always struck me as the saddest part of
> the Hal lobotomizing scene: that Hal, while pleading for his life in the
> throes of utter desperation, is unable to put real emotion into his voice.
> "Stop, Dave. Please stop," he says, in the same calm, even tones that
> he has used throughout. His designers have deprived him of the one
> element of humanity which might have saved him in the end, the ability
> to project emotion.

Yes, I find this scene very moving, and rather difficult to watch.
There was an episode of _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ last night with a
female robot in it (created as the perfect lover by a graduate of Sunnyvale
High who's gone on to technical college :->, but which has been abandoned by
its creator because it's too perfect). After a battle, Buffy and the girl
robot sit on adjacent swings in a playground while the robot's battery finally
runs down, and Buffy talks to the dying robot, reassuring it that its
creator will return. Strangely effective, in that offbeat Buffy way.
The robot's voice becomes slower and lower in pitch as it dies, like HAL's
(of course, the metaphor in both cases is a wind-up phonograph running down).

Jim F.

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