50 years ago today ‘Something wonderful’ happened. A film was released that would split the sci-fi world in two. You either loved it or hated it.
Most fans have their own theory about the meaning behind the plot and indeed the plot itself. Many of these theories overlap. Here’s my interpretation.
4 million years ago, a group of apes lived in Africa, fighting over food and water with another tribes of apes. One night, an Alien artifact, a large black monolith, suddenly appears, near this tribe. This black slab represents a challenge for the apes as they were naturally fearful but also curious creatures. Their curiosity eventually won and led Moonwatcher, the leader of the tribe to touch the Monolith. This touch sparked the next stage in evolution and led the apes to create the first tool which was then used as the first weapon.
Skipping forward 4 million years to the year 2001 we see the Earth, surround by a variety of space stations and nuclear weapons platforms. Humans have evolved, are rational and still curious but lacking the fear the apes had. There is no gravity space space so humans need to learn to walk again and be toilet trained and eats baby-style food. In essence, they are babies again.
The tools have evolved too, in many cases becoming more human-like. In space, humans can easily lose control of their tools.
Another large monolith is discovered beneath the surface near the crater, Tycho. A group of humans visit the now-uncovered monolith. As this new contact is made, a high-pitched transmission is beamed from the slab and out towards Jupiter (Saturn in the first novel). This monolith is acting as some kind of sentry- letting its creators know that humans have now evolved to a stage that is taking them out into space- a possible potential threat??
18 months later, the Discovery One ship, under the command of Dr Dave Bowman and Dr Frank Poole is approaching Jupiter where another Monolith has been detected. On board Discovery, along with Dave, Frank and three crew in cryo-sleep is HAL- HAL is the name of the ship’s on-board HAL9000 computer, the brains and nervous system of the whole ship. HAL sees Dave, Frank and the other humans as mere maintenance men, just there to look after and service him. To HAL, humans have gone as far as they can go and he is the next stage in evolution. HAL believes he is a living, sentient being. Superior to humans in every way.
HAL detects an error in the AE-35 unit. This eventually turns out to be a mistake, causing Dave and Frank to attempt to deactivate HAL. However, HAL is one tool that man has lost control of. He doesn’t need air to breathe or food for fuel. HAL was also given conflicting orders, preserve the mission above all other orders as well as take care of the crew- this in turn also added to his downfall. A battle between man and tool begins and leads HAL to cause the death of Frank Poole as well as the other 3 crew members in cryo-sleep and leaving Dave Bowman stranded in an EV-Pod outside of the ship.
HAL didn’t figure on Dave’s human, ape-like ingenuity kicking in and Dave is able to get back on to the Discovery and shut-down HAL with the simplest tool of all. A screwdriver.
Dave now finds himself alone and facing certain death. His crew are dead as is his ship.
Dave decides to go and investigate the Monolith and heads out in one of the EV-Pods. On arrival, he is instantly transported through a star-gate to another dimension where he sees himself as an old man facing humanities final challenge- death. Like the broken wine glass and spilt wine, he understands that the human body is just a vessel for the human spirit.
Human evolution had relied so much on the tools it created that it the end it was the tools (HAL) that almost killed him. This realisation shows that man is ready for the next evolutionary leap and thus the star-child is born.