“This ironic inversion of man and machine, by diminishing the distance between the two and suggesting that they are therefore perhaps equally viable as evolutionary alternatives, is one of the two essential links between the satiric element of the film and the mythic”
–”Mode and Meaning in 2001” by David Boyd
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that explores the tension between technology and humanity. The opening sequence shows a pre-man creature learning to use tools, and thus beginning the ongoing dialogue between man and machine, which still occurs today, and is occurring at this very moment as I type these words.
In a way that aligns with Donna Haraway’s “The Cyborg Manifesto”, and Boyd’s quote which prefaces this response, Kubrick presents images and dialogue that positions man as being eclipsed by machines. This recurring image literally shows Bowman’s vision filtered by the lights of a computer:
This is to say that Kubrick’s film explores how humanity, and its progression alongside technology, is a changing and increasingly more rote entity. In other words, the movie shows humanity as less human. This is supported by HAL being the only character to express emotion, saying “I’m afraid”, in contrast to the humans who generally eat alone out of carefully sectioned trays and have utterly mechanic conversations. Boyd agrees with this notion of cyborg-like humans: “The human characters have been reduced to machines… Their conversations, whether unconvincingly hearty or coldly professional, are parodies of human communication.”
The scene that most reinforces the idea of humanity becoming a merely mechanic entity is the one where the 3 astronauts in hibernation die due to a “malfunction”. The sequence is simply a static image of a screen with vital functions being tracked on it. This image is so ominous because of how it reduces life. In this image, life is merely data. It shows a humans as merely a function of “cardio vascular”, “metabolic levels”, “central nerv. system”, “pulmonary function”, “systems integration”, and “locomoter system”.
In this formulation, there is absolutely nothing human about this being– there is no indication of whether this human has a family, friends, or aspirations. In this sense, it is hard to feel any remorse when this person dies, as signified by “LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED” flashing on the screen. This film, and particularly this sequence can be read as a warning to the increasing encroachment of technology in humanity, which, ultimately, leads to inhumanity.