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Chess in 2001: A Space Odyssey

February 9, 2013

In an earlier post, I pointed out that chess plays an interesting role in Blade Runner. It’s worth noting that it’s hardly absent from this week’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey either.

chess 2001 has an analysis of the endgame which Frank and HAL work through in the film. As it so happens, Frank and HAL are repeating a famous match between Roesch and Schlage, which they played in Hamburg in 1910. The larger question, I suppose, is how to understand chess in the larger context of film and the philosophical issues it raises.

One possibility is that playing chess is a metaphor for reasoning. HAL can play chess, so HAL can reason. But only a person can reason, so HAL is a person. So goes the argument. But there’s still something important missing. HAL says “Thank you for a very enjoyable game” in more or less the same way he tells Dave that he can’t open the pod bay doors. So goes the counter argument.

Another possibility is that there is a larger game of chess being played in which HAL, Dave, and the human race as a whole are the pieces. Even the monolith ends up looking like a piece on a chess board.


One pawn, Dave, is finally maneuvered to the very end of the board, where he is transformed into something which has far more freedom than he had, even if it does not transcend the game itself. The question here would not so much be whether HAL is a person but whether the Star Child is something more.

Many more interpretations are possible, of course.


From → AI, Chess, Consciousness

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