“Kubrick: and beyond the cinema frame”

An in-depth analysis of


Text copyright © by Rob Ager 2008

(last updates added 2015)



In relation to what HAL actually is I’ve already offered a few indicators such as the blatant IBM references and other visual clues suggesting that HALs internal structure represents a human social hierarchy. But there are yet more clues that HAL is no mere machine. As already suggested in this review there is the exploding red and yellow shot in the stargate, which featured a faint pulsing light. This was very likely a metaphor for a living human heart and may have also represented HAL’s red and yellow eye as an organic explosion. The final shot of the rebirth sequence shows a single star appearing within a dark spherical area, surrounded by a faint smog. This could be HAL’s eye replaced by Bowman’s enlightened eye.

In their tv interview the two crew members talk of HAL as being like a sixth crew member and the surface narrative features several suggestions that HAL may actually have real emotions such as pride or frustration. His fear of being shut down is another clue, as is his illogical decision to answer Dave’s radio contact after locking him out of the Discovery. When Dave asks him “what’s the problem” about not opening the pod bay doors HAL replies “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do”. This refusal to verbally acknowledge the obvious is definitely a trait of organic thinking. These artificial emotion concepts may be indicators that HALs decisions are those of a real human being instead of an artificial life form. Some shots even show HALs eye superimposed over crew members.

When HAL is being shut down he repeats a line of dialogue that no computer should ever logically speak … “I can feel it". This not only supports the idea that HAL represents a real person, but it may even be a link to the physical act of touching the monolith. Heywood Floyd touches the monolith in the excavation site, but just before he does this we find a curious reference to HAL. After descending from the ramp Floyd begins to circle the monolith and as he does so a single bright light shines down from the rim of the excavation wall in the back ground. As the shot strafes left this single light, with a circular lens flare, moves directly behind the monolith.

Now if you look at the other shots in this scene you will find that this single light is missing from the set. This is a visual association to HALs rectangular framed eye, which in the main computer display of the Discovery is surrounded by a grey haze as if lit from behind.

HALs interior is also shaped like the interior of a monolith and a sign on the entrance to his brain features the words “logic memory center” positioned inside a horizontal white monolith.

If HAL does represent a person then that person is most likely Heywood Floyd. Did you ever notice that HALs calm and polite mannerisms are eerily similar to the way Floyd conducts himself? Well, there are more parallels. HAL and Frank Poole are seen playing chess aboard the Discovery. HAL lies to him about the game and later debates with Bowman about the rumours of something being dug up on the moon. On the Torus station the simian-looking man who quizzes Floyd is named Smyslov, which was (and still is) the name of a famous Russian world chess champion. Floyd lies to him about the rumours of something being found on the moon. This conversation appears to mimic the interractions between HAL and the crew aboard the Discovery, with Floyd standing in as the personification of HAL.

Aboard the Pan Am ship Floyd sits in front of a tv screen that shows a futuristic vehicle then two people talking to each other side on. This could be a reference to HALs surveillance and lip reading of Poole and Bowman’s conversation inside the space pod.

In the council meeting room Floyd’s colleague is named Dr (Hal)vorsen and Dr Floyd delivers a greeting from a curiously named Dr Howell (HAL?). Floyd, sitting down, also has his head framed by the white monolith shaped presentation stand and In another scene he wishes his daughter happy birthday just as HAL wishes Frank happy birthday. When HALs higher brain functions are shut down the computer responds by displaying a video of Floyd … and last but not least the cutting of HALs higher brain functions is paralleled by the headaches experienced by Floyd and his colleagues in the excavation crater, brought on by the rectangular alignment of the flood light and lens flare … which as we know is not a radio emission.

So if HAL is personified by Floyd and his two closest colleagues in the first half of the story then what exactly is Kubrick trying to communicate? Once again we are presented with a concept that implies a drastically different story to the surface narrative.