Grant Hodges’s review published on Letterboxd:
I mean... this is the perfect movie. I actually feel it's almost pointless writing about it, simply cause it has been talked to death - from its absolutely masterful directing to the groundbreaking special effects and the perfectly complimentary soundtrack. So instead of talking about all that, I wanna talk about something no one else talks about (or possibly even cares about)... 2001: A Space Odyssey's view of humanity.
2001, telling a very unconventional story and lacking a conventional protagonist, sees us viewing the entire history of humanity from an almost god-like distance. In every segment in which humans (or the photo-human apes) encounter a monolith, their evolution is suddenly launched forward. However, of the few human beings we see in this movie, they are all notably non-human - which is to say they are relatively emotionless. In the second segment of the film (which goes unnamed, though one could argue it is a continuation of the "Dawn of Man" given the iconic jump-cut from one weapon to another and the thematic ties between the two), Dr. Heywood Floyd journeys to a lunar base to investigate the discovery of the mysterious monolith. Within this section, we are given a couple short scenes getting to know him - one a friendly conversation with a group of colleagues and the other a phone call to his daughter on her birthday. Now, I can easily see someone arguing these scenes are the worst of the film; meaningless given the fact that Floyd as a character is relatively unimportant. But I disagree. I think these scenes are absolutely necessary in acting as a critique of modern humanity - how we are so caught up in the minutiae of the day-to-day (the charade of congeniality and the celebration of the trivial) that we're not truly alive.
To bring this point home even further, when we skip forward to the next segment ("Jupiter Mission"), we are once again shown a birthday celebration - this one with astronaut Frank Poole. On top of this, neither Poole or Bowman, the humans we spend the majority of movie with, are remarkably emotional. In fact, they're almost entirely emotionless. Of course, the characters' obsession with the trivial is juxtaposed brilliantly with the being that Bowman evolves into in the film's final scenes - one that is much larger than any one issue (exemplified by space baby Bowman's positioning as larger than planet Earth in the film's penultimate shot). What I really want to talk about, however, is not the human characters... but the character that most encapsulates humanity - that being HAL.
Now, HAL is, of course, the villain of the piece. He is introduced keeping a watchful yet menacing eye on the astronauts he is supposed to be looking after. And, soon after (during the interview with Earth) HAL is positioned much larger in frame than his human comrades - exemplifying his power over them. Yet despite his role as both antagonist and robot, he is remarkably human. His entire motivation is simply trying to make sense of the contradictory information his human masters have told him - their lies and secrecy baffling a creation which does not understand such tactics. And the scene in which he is being deactivated by Bowman sees him going from a menacing tone to an emotional one, in which he, quite literally, begs for his life. Given these scenes, as well as the overall design of HAL (a black rectangle with dimensions reminiscent of the monolith - hinting that HAL himself may be a sort of sidestep in the evolution of humanity), I would argue that HAL is more human than anyone else in the film.
Of course, this could all be wrong. I could just be talking out of my ass. But that's the thing, isn't it? This movie is so wildly nuanced, so open to interpretation that, even after fifty plus years, it's still inspiring such discussions. Every time I watch 2001 I find something new to love. And I genuinely don't believe there will ever be another movie quite like it.