An Odyssey in Bits: The Computer Wore Carpet Slippers

2001’s intermission plays for several seconds with just the hushed mechanical hum/sussuration of the Discovery (and probably HAL’s cooling system), continuing over from the HAL POV shot Part 1 ended on. This feels quite avant-garde.

A nice, ominous Ligeti drone carries us through the entr’acte, and then we’re abruptly in an extra-vehicular wide shot with astronaut Poole leaving the Discovery in his repair pod. Kubrick doesn’t try to reorient us. As often in this film, he jumps ahead as far as he can and lets us catch up through our own thought processes.And HAL goes murderous, using Poole’s own pod to snip his air-tube. Great use of sudden silence as Kubes jumps in, straight down the line to the pod, showing HAL’s cyclopean sunset of an eye staring out of it. Astute visual storytelling. The abrupt enlarging cuts (about four of them, I think?) remind me of the bomb that’s about to explode in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE.Poole’s rapid movements as he asphyxiates are all the scarier for occurring in the eerie silence of space. ASTONISHING that other space movies don’t use the lack of sound as a positive effect.

Watch Keir Dullea’s movements as he goes to the rescue, and we can tell he’s meant to be in zero-G with grips shoes for traction. So that settles it: only the big rotating hamster wheel in the Discovery’s frontal globe has gravity.

In his haste, he forgets his space helmet. What would HAL have done if he’d brought it along? Apart from the pods and maybe the airlocks, he’s helpless, a brain in a box. But right now, he seems to have his opponent in check.

Also, a rule that is never explained but seems to be important: though HAL can take over a pod while it’s unoccupied, he can’t override the pilot’s manual control. So Dullea-as-Bowman is able to retrieve Poole’s corpse. Which allows the next stuff to happen.Meanwhile, very quietly, without any fuss, HAL kills the sleeping crewmembers. VERY funny conversation between Bowman and HAL. HAL periodically adopts the snooty tone of a teacher scolding a recalcitrant child. “I think we both know what the problem is.” The dialogue is blackly comic, and enhanced by the shots, which show a small round spacecraft talking to — negotiating with — a big long one.I love the projections on Keir Dullea’s chiselled features, especially this one. No REAL reason why they should happen, file under “visual interest,” but they pass by our defenses without a struggle. The monitors and lights in the pod MIGHT have that effect.

Funny how HAL’s closeup is always exactly the same shot. Kubrick must have shot a whole reel of it. Knowing him, probably two reels. You COULD vary it for “visual interest” and to make HAL seem alive, give him moods. But HAL is not alive, and Kubrick does not want to anthropomorphize him unduly. Which is why he cast a Canadian, I guess. (I’m kidding!)“Without your space helmet, Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.”

What Bowman does now may not be exactly possible/scientifically accurate. Kubrick has been ridiculously careful to set up the EXPLOSIVE BOLTS that can open the back of the pod all at once. So that’s fine. The air rushing from the pod cannons Bowman into the Discovery airlock. But he doesn’t explode like the guys in OUTPOST. Douglas Adams produces a “fact” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about how long a human can survive in the vacuum of space, but in reality I believe the amount of time you can survive is none time. Now, since Bowman is wearing a space suit sans helmet round his body, maybe he’s protected from having his lungs explode. And only his head will freeze. But look: Keir Dullea is holding his breath. His little cheeks are puffed out. Well, I think either he’d be forced to exhale or else those cheeks would pop like soap bubbles.But he might be able to survive a few seconds of airless, empty lungs and a freezing head as the airlock closes and repressurizes. And it’s a gripping, convincing sequence. The tension is such that you can’t call 2001 an unemotional film.

Always interesting when the control freak director goes wobbly and handheld, though I’m posi-sure he’s operating the camera himself. (US union rules might have forbade this, but in the UK things were looser in this one respect.) Dave, now helmeted (a dissolve disposes of the question of whether HAL has voided the ship’s atmosphere) goes in for the kill.

HAL’s brain is composed of numerous perspex slabs — like mini see-thru monoliths — which haven’t dated at all because who knows how they work? Whereas earlier, HAL had popped a punch card out a slot, which seems a little embarrassing now.

Characters who sing touching songs in Kubrick films: Christiane Kubrick at the end of PATHS OF GLORY; HAL here; any more?MEMORY TERMINAL

Poor HAL! I remember as a kid finding his slurring voice hilarious, and I still do, but as one gets less callous with age, I also get a big charge of pathos from the scene. “My mind is going. I can feel it. There can be no question about it.” And he reverts to childhood: the song was part of a demonstration he gave shortly after activation.

Interesting choice by Dullea — and I want to give him credit for it BEING a choice, not just his sculpted inexpressiveness. He plays the scene tense, and there’s an undercurrent of anger, but then the anger goes away. He doesn’t perform sympathy for us, like he feels sorry for HAL, but the removal of the anger tells us that he does. A bit.

EXTREMELY bold use of repetition. Very few human characters in films have had their death scenes lingered on so lovingly.

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a…fraid.”

I had a friend whose Mac would say “My mind is going,” in Douglas Rain’s voice whenever he powered it down.Then Dr. Heywood Floyd pops onto a screen for plot reasons. No obvious reason why it happens now — no reason why HAL’s termination should activate the autoplay function, since mission control never anticipated that HAL *would* be deactivated. 2001 only appears rational and precise: Kubrick and Clarke play fast and loose whenever it suits their purposes.

Clarke always felt it was a shame that the film never made clear why HAL went crazy: it’s all mission control’s fault. Not because they didn’t program him with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, but because they told him to lie. This would appear to be the moment when Kubrick expects us to figure that out, but all we’re told is that only HAL knew the purpose of the mission. All this to keep the Russkies from knowing about the Jupiter signal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot afford a Monolith Gap.”

But Floyd’s appearance does add a weird blast of mental energy to the plot, despite his trademark laid-back manner. It’s a big AH-HAH! for the audience since for the first time it’s confirmed that the Jupiter mission does have some connection with the previous part of the film. Remember, we know the ape-man and Clavius sequences had a narrative link because the monolith was in both. But for its entire duration until now, the Discovery mission has been some random astronauts and their fun-loving onboard computer off on a spree. We didn’t know the whining noise on the Moon was a message, a beacon, pointing to Jupiter. We do now. What next?


21 Responses to “An Odyssey in Bits: The Computer Wore Carpet Slippers”

  1. I guess it depends upon how you define ‘touching songs,’ but there’s Malcolm McDowell belting out “Singing in the Rain” in Clockwork Orange, and the guys at the end of “Full Metal Jacket” marching along to the Mickey Mouse Club theme song…

  2. The mickey Mouse Club bit is like a slap in the face to Paths of Glory.

    One aspect of Singin’ in the rain’s use is a real tribute to the MGM musical: McDowell said the key was to stop thinking of it as a violent scene and start thinking about it as a scene where a man is really, really enjoying himself. And Singin’ in the Rain, he said, was THE image of joy that cam eto his mind.

    But I wouldn’t call it touching…

  3. Grant Skene Says:

    There is so much procreation and birth imagery in this segment. The explosive bolts scene is like an ejaculation into the mother ship. Yet, it is also a birth image. Even the trailing “umbilical” of the dying Frank is like a sperm tail that failed in its mission. The whole film keeps bringing up birthdays, in fact.

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:

  5. Grant, you’re right… Squirt and Poole and HAL all have birthdays of a kind, and the Dawn of Man is a kind of birth I guess.

  6. On the lack of sound:

    In “The Last Jedi”, there’s a single shot of one huge starship slashing through another without music or sound of any kind. Reportedly several cinemas had to put out signs alerting viewers that there was a moment without sound and it wasn’t a technical glitch.

    In 1974 there was fact-based TV movie titled “The Execution of Private Slovik”. The makers fought the network to have no music under the closing titles; just the slight breeze heard is the final scene. Near-silence made somebody nervous, and the breeze was amplified to hurricane levels.

    A possible technical explanation: Monty Python wanted to do a sketch where volume levels grew softer and softer, causing viewers to turn the volume on their sets way up. Then they’d blast out something really loud. BBC vetoed it Their engineers said this would cause physical damage to countless television sets.

    A storytelling one: If a movie goes truly silent for any length of time, you focus on ambient sounds around you: audience fidgeting, air conditioning, projector whrr. It’s like turning on houselights so people are noticing the architecture of the theater surrounding the screen. “The Artist” got away with it because the true silences were brief and pointed. Also, being set in a cluttered real world, ambient real-world sounds didn’t violate the illusion.

  7. I find those experimental movies that have no soundtrack a bit hard to watch in a cinema because of the ambient sound /audience noise problem. In particular I become self-conscious that everyone can hear my stomach rumble.

    2001 always seemed fine, though: the silences are quite brief and they have the effect of making you freeze, attentatively.

    The Force Awakens gag was undoubtedly taken from Akira.

  8. I’ll add: the Star Wars instance occurs in a film full of sound effects that happen in space. In 2001, things are more consistent: we only hear subjective sound from space suits, and the rest of the wide shots are always silent or just with non-diegetic music.

  9. Grant Skene Says:

    The sound of breathing is a brilliant choice. Ominous, suspenseful, but also emphasizes the alien environment. Every breath is a triumph of human engineering, and every breath may be your last. Again, ask Frank Poole. Not that I remember, but it also makes me think of the womb.

  10. A student was saying it’s unfortunate Poole has such an exposed and vulnerable air-tub, and it’s true, since the helmets don’t turn, there’s no reason they couldn’t be more securely attached to the oxygen tank. If they were, Hal could still kill Poole by pincering his helmet until it pops, which would be nasty.

    BUT — we agreed that the specific vulnerabiliy of going EVA is your air supply — or drifting off, which also happens — and so the film is dramatically correct to play on this anxiety.

    Babies don’t breath in the womb, but the amplified bodily noises still evoke the sense of a pre-natal environment.

  11. Grant Skene Says:

    Now that I think of it, it is actually the final sequence that makes me think of the womb. All those echoing and muffled voices as Bowman sees out his existence. I know it also could be because he is in an alien zoo, but it is also the coming birth of the Star Child.

  12. It probably was Kubrick manning the handheld camera; he definitely did for the handheld shots when the group of astronauts goes to visit The Monolith in the pit on the moon.

    The attack of the pod on Poole is a Kuleshov-inspired choice that Kubrick used as far back as Fear and Desire, where you see someone (or here, something) start a violent action and then you cut to the result of the violent action, but you never actually get a shot of the violent impact. The murder of the Cat Lady in A Clockwork Orange plays somewhat similarly, though inserts shots of a grotesque painting at the point of impact. (In the case of F&D, there’s certainly a budget consideration as well.)

  13. No way would Kubes trust anyone else with handheld. No video monitors, probably, at this stage.

    On Barry Lyndon union rules dictated there had to be an operator, but Kubrick operated on every shot except the candlelight ones, which involved a weird apparatus he couldn’t master. So Robin Vidgeon sat in a trailer for months doing the crossword, stirring occasionally when the call went out, “Candlelight shot!”

  14. “Take a Deep Breath”
    – is the story A Clarke based the airlock idea on. No, OUTLAND was stupidly wrong. Yes, you can survive in vacuum for as long as we see here. You want to close your eyes (Bowman did) and you DO want to exhale or it’ll happen for you (he didn’t, O well), and if you had any intestinal gas you messily don’t now. Ecchh. But yes, you’d live for a minute or more w/ no ill effects. See “Titan AE” for another treatment of this idea, where wisely they do exhale.

  15. Cool, thanks! Hitchhiker’s Guide also suggests thirty seconds as a viable survival time. Should’ve know Adams would get the details right.

  16. Baron Waste Says:

    Yes, excuse me, a half minute is more accurate. Oh, and the “Daisy” business was a shout-out to a real event.

    h t t p s : / / y o u t u . b e / 4 1 U 7 8 Q P 8 n Bk?t=63

    First computer to sing – Daisy Bell

    A Clarke was astounding. In 1960 the transistor was invented. Two years later Telstar, the first experimental comsat, was launched. Two years after that, in his 1964 novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” we first see Dr Floyd aboard a Space Shuttle surfing news websites on his laptop. NO JOKE. (That’s what the astronauts are watching the BBC interview on, why they each have one in front of him.) Sir Arthur didn’t foresee viruses or spam or Facebook, but he extrapolated from technology barely yet extant.

  17. Baron Waste Says:

    Two final (?) points: Your post title made me think you knew this but I don’t see it – S Kubrick had D Rains record his lines whilst sitting in an easy chair with his feet up. True! That’s why even in the midst of murder & mutiny &c. he sounds so _relaxed_.

    Plus, Poole’s (and Bowman’s) air hose: The silver suits worn by Dr Floyd & Co. at Clavius don’t have it. Not necessary to the story!

    Trivial Pursuit®…

  18. Rains’s slippers got mentioned in a previous episode (I’m going to write one post that links to all of them, don’t worry).

    Great observation on the air hoses: they only exist to give the pincers of murderous pods something to cut, and if there’s no pod about, why have a hose?

  19. Kubrick, when Clarke’s name was mentioned: “But isn’t he a crazy recluse?” I think he added “Living up a tree in Sri Lanka.”

    Yes, the tablet devices are amazingly prescient. I never felt that the job of science fiction was to predict the future, but Clarke was one of the few to make that seem like a possibility.


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