This week is the final installment in my blog spotlight on great movie villains. The last one in my spotlight isn’t a serial killer, an atomic age creature, a vampire, or a zombie. In fact all we know of this villain is its cold, calculating voice. I am of course speaking of the HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Hal may not foam at the mouth or wield an axe. But that doesn’t make him (or it?) any less terrifying. For the uninitiated, Hal 9000 is the Artificial Intelligence device that controls the spaceship Discovery, which is on a mission to Jupiter. At the beginning HAL seems benevolent, playing chess with the astronauts and interacting with them like a 1960s version of Siri. Harmless, right? Well…not so much. Eventually HAL turns on the astronauts. This happens after a series of instances where HAL appears to be malfunctioning and the astronauts make plans to shut the computer down. The astronauts make it impossible for HAL to hear their plans, but HAL can read lips. Knowing their plans, HAL sets out to kill them.
We live in the age of smart phones and all other kinds of advanced technology. What happens when the technology your life depends on turns against you? Stanley Kubrick all the way back in 1968. The director was a man ahead of his time.
So what is it that makes HAL 9000 a great movie villain? It isn’t just that HAL represents our fear of technology run amok. There’s also the fact that the tone of HAL’s voice never changes. It’s this cold, disembodied, computerized voice watching your every move and making decisions that could save or take your life. HAL is smart, but he’s also completely emotionless. Few things are scarier than a killer that is completely unaffected by the mayhem they’re causing. That’s what gives HAL an extra scary quality.
HAL has unlimited power over the astronauts since it’s responsible for all the life support aboard the ship. 2001 raises a lot of questions. But one of the most relevant in today’s world is what happens when we become too dependent on technology and what if it evolves faster than us? That’s one of the pressing philosophical debates of our time.
After watching 2001: A Space Odyssey I’m not sure many completely understood it. Heck, I still don’t understand the whole thing. And I’ve watched it multiple times. But one thing that keeps bringing me back to it is that it makes me think. And of course it’s always interesting to watch the rise and fall of HAL. Who knew that one of the scariest movie villains was a spaceship computer? It sure gives you pause for interacting with Siri.
That’s it for my spotlight on great movie villains! Hope you enjoyed it.