HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)

the-intellegent-robot-hal-9000 The story of HAL 9000 is very much cautionary tale in the mode of Frankenstein. HAL (short for Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer) is a hyper-intelligent computer created by years of research and experimentation. However, he may indeed be too human, and for this reason he must be destroyed. Nature is the only force allowed to create life in our cultural consciousness, so any human attempt must necessarily fail; here, HAL illustrates the role of the monster as the protector of social norms. What is ultimately disturbing about HAL’s demise is that when he dies, he speaks of his parents, creating (just as Frankenstein’s monster does) an uneasy sympathetic relationship with the audience. This is another thesis of Cohen’s; monsters exist in liminal spaces, such as the space between human and robot. The horror of 2001 is also very much a classic example of paranoid horror. The threat comes from within the ship, within the “home” of the crew, and it comes from the technology that has invaded and fused itself with the home. Notice the characteristics of insecure horror present here: the destruction of traditionally reliable authorities such as HAL and the scientists who created him; failure on the part of his human progenitors; a terrifying lack of boundaries between man and machine. The fact that the movie/book was released in 1968, well into the post-war paranoid horror era, further supports the link to this hypothesis. HAL is a terrifying reminder that while technology can improve the future, it can also destroy the present, annihilating our safe social constructions from the inside out. Bibliography:

  1. Junell, Joseph S. “Intelligence Without Morality.” The Phi Delta Kappan 49.1 (1967): 42-46. Print.
  1. Kuberski, Philip. “Kubrick’s Odyssey: Myth, Technology, Gnosis.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 64.3 (2008): 51-73. Web.
  1. Lewis, Tyson, and Daniel Cho. “Home Is Where the Neurosis Is: A Topography of the Spatial Unconscious.” Cultural Critique 64 (2006): 69-91. Web.
  1. McConnell, Frank. “Rough Beast Slouching: A Note on Horror Movies.” The Kenyon Review 32.1 (1970): 109-20. Web.
  1. Shatnoff, Judith. “A Gorilla to Remember.” Rev. of Planet of the Apes by Franklin J. Schaffner; Arthur P. Jacobs; 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. Film Quarterly 22.1 (1968): n. pag. Print.
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4 responses to “HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)

  1. I enjoyed this post as it relates to my recitation’s section on monstrous settings. The idea of the “home” often came up in our section discussion. In A Space Odyssey, the home is emphasized as both a comfort to the crew and a frightening confinement. I found these characteristics of place in my monstrous setting as well. I also noticed a parallel between this post and mine regarding technology. In A Space Odyssey and in my chosen movie, Dawn of the Dead, the use of technology and societal advancement serves as a reminder to be weary of its presence. “HAL is a terrifying reminder that while technology can improve the future, it can also destroy the present, annihilating our safe social constructions from the inside out.”

  2. In many ways HAL exists in between human robot. HAL’s memory (which is automatic and unending) is terrifyingly monstrous in that it stretches far beyond human capacity. HAL is also frighteningly human. It greatly fears death–it fears the unknown because it has never experienced “off.” HAL resists death in every way possible

  3. This is a very interesting and deep analysis of HAL. You connection to paranoid horror is astute; HAL is not just an artificial intelligence, he represents the environment in which the crew lives, serving as their protector. He was created by man, and seems on par with mankind in intelligence. He does having a living quality, because he possesses a level of cognition beyond that which was given to him by his creator/parents. HAL truly is a monstrous being, and you made a very strong case for each trait that “he” has that makes him more than just another robot.

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