When the American Film Institute revealed their list of the top heroes and villains in American cinema in 2003, HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey ranked as the 13th greatest (or worst) villain. While I understand the knee-jerk response of categorizing HAL as a villain, especially as he is portrayed in the film, I must protest this placement. I’ve actually not read the book 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, but I understand in the book HAL’s reason for acting the way he does is revealed. I have, however, seen Peter Hyams’s sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact (which is also based on a Clarke novel). In it, HAL’s reasons are explained. He was given an order that conflicted with his main directive. Essentially, he is programmed to relay all information accurately, but then he is told in order for their current mission he must withhold information from his crew. HAL was not designed for dealing with such a moral conflict, he’s a damn computer! So he did the only thing he could do in order to not lie to his crew-mates: he killed them. This way he would not be lying to them. I guess that does kind of make him a villain. But one that you can sympathize with. Or, at least, one I can sympathize with. I think HAL’s plight is one of the great condemnations of government duplicity ever created. Every time I watch this film I can’t help but weep for HAL and all that he represents.
I wanted to embed the part in 2001 where HAL sings Daisy Bell, but the only version I could find had embedding disabled. Watch here and cry with me. Here are the lyrics:
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
I’m half crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage –
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’d look sweet on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.
2001: A Space Odyssey premiered 44 years ago today in Washington D.C.