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Written by Timothy Sexton
HAL 9000 (Voice only)
This will not be the first place nor the last place in which you read that the most “human” character in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the supercomputer known as the HAL 9000. HAL may be nothing more than wire, lights and circuitry projecting a seemingly infinite amount of programmed knowledge, but he is most certainly and beyond a shadow of a doubt that most fascinating speaking character in the film. This was not by accident as Kubrick not only cast particularly bland actors to play the human beings in his film, but the characters they play are also quite bland to instill a proper sense of the dehumanizing effects of technological progress. Originally, HAL was going to be known as ATHENA and feature an appropriately gendered voice. Nigel Davenport and Martin Balsam were both on the verge of taking over the job of bringing the malevolent computer to life using only their vocal talents before Douglas Rain demonstrated to director Stanley Kubrick that perhaps no other actor on the planet was better suited to meet the vision he held for HAL. Rain’s extraordinary ability to project—or, more aptly, subconsciously suggest—a range of emotional states within a ceaselessly monotone reading of lines makes his performance truly one of the greatest in the history of cinema.
Etiquette indicates that astronaut David Bowman be introduced as Dr. Bowman. To suggest that Bowman is highly educated and filled with enough creative spirit to utilize his doctorates in the pursuit of elevating man to a higher sphere goes without saying. Indeed, it must go without saying because there is little in Dullea’s performance that is suggestive of such a unique level of creativity. At least, not until the mind-blowing end when all bets are off the table anyway. Kubrick cast Dullea because he looked like he could be an astronaut capable of engaging in heroic behavior while not looking like one of the space travelers from previous low-budget science fiction films whose job was mainly to act heroically.
The ill-fated astronaut Frank Poole is also a doctor. Of course, it really does not matter one whit what his doctoral degree is in because—like Dave—he is merely a pawn in a much larger game of much higher stakes than the mere livelihood of one insignificant little human taking the species’ first baby steps away from Mother Earth. Poole must have appeared slightly less capable of being a hero under extreme conditions than Dullea because his character meets what might well be termed the extreme opposite destiny to that awaiting David Bowman.
Dr. Heywood Floyd
William Sylvester’s acting resume stretches from the late 1940s to the early 1980s ranging from multiple characters on the TV show Green Acres to no less than three films that would eventually be riffed to shreds on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Beyond question is the fact that no other performance in Sylvester’s career is anywhere near as memorable as his all-too-brief appearance in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dr. Heywood Floyd is, arguably, the most interesting human character in the film…if only because of that fleeting but no less iconic moment showing Floyd reading the directions on how to use a toilet in zero gravity conditions.
When you approach the film from the perspective of Stanley Kubrick, it only makes sense that the two most interesting characters in the film are pre-human and post-human; progenitor and successor to the human species; ape and machine. HAL is fascinating precisely due to his lack of emotions whereas Moon-Watcher is fascinating because for most of the time he is on screen, he appears to be all emotion. Only when the monolith arrives and imparts intellectual knowledge to the simian forebear of the film’s many holds of doctoral degrees does Moon-Watcher become not just one of the many apes populating the film’s extended and wordless Dawn of Man sequence, but the key figure in the transformation that, in the blink of an eye, will take civilization from the Stone Age to the age of interstellar exploration.
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2001: A Space Odyssey (Film) essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Film) directed by Stanley Kubrick.