After having HAL open the pod door (in the rear of the pod, facing HAL's eye) and then entering the pod with Poole, Bowman tells HAL to rotate the pod, which of course makes him and Poole visible to HAL through the window, allowing HAL to read their lips.

I can't figure out why he would take that extra step. Obviously he doesn't know HAL can read lips, so if the window were already facing HAL, that would be one thing. But he has to go to the trouble of issuing that extra command.

The only answer I could come up with is that he wanted to minimize any impression of secrecy; he didn't want to arouse suspicion by being invisible in his confab with Poole. That seems dumb, though; surely the best ploy would be to appear completely oblivious to the very concept of secrecy.

(Altogether, Bowman has shown no savvy about the ruse to this point: his initial "Hey, check out this problem" to Poole is pretty stilted and comes too immediately after the HAL-made-an-error scene, and then he and Poole keep glancing pointedly back at HAL during their extended conversation in the pod... I guess there's no reason to think HAL would see red flags in those cues, but he is supposed to be super-savvy about human interaction. That said, I think the badness of the ruse has more to do with how the scene comes off on film rather than anything intentional on Kubrick's part.)

  • He issued that voice command to show the audience explicitly (remember the close-up on "gripshoes" as a hint how explicit one can get) that HAL could hear them before tampering with the circuits. Rotating the pod that way that HAL could see them later on was either bad jugdement on Bowmans part or just a way to keep to plot moving on.
    – Ghanima
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 22:05
  • I suspect that rotating the pod brings it to it's launch-ready state, disconnecting the hard-wire connections to the ship. But I have no evidence to support this idea. The scene isn't in the book, BTW.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 0:16
  • 2
    The rotation of the pod serves a number of purposes advantageous to HAL and illusorily advantageous to Bowman. 1) By rotating, Bowman know that the pod is physically separated from the spaceship, so voices won't carry from the pod to the spaceship. 2) By rotating unquestioningly, HAL gives the illusion of being obedient and unknowing of the crew's suspicions. 3) By rotating the pod 180º fully away from the dock, HAL gives Bowman (who is unaware of HAL's lipreading ability) a maximum illusion of privacy, while putting HAL in the best possible position to actually invade it (by lipreading) Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 4:43

3 Answers 3


When they enter the pod for the first time, Dave tests to see if HAL can hear him by issuing a simple, non-suspicious command such as rotating the pod. When he shuts down the communications, Dave tests things again using that same command. That way, he is sure that HAL cannot not hear them.

This might seem foolish because HAL could fake that he cannot hear them because of his being paranoid, but Dave and Frank do not know that HAL has become a crazy paranoid creature.

Who would suspect that a machine could come up with such advanced tactics?

  • 1
    I like this explanation a lot.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:57
  • 5
    "Who would suspect that a machine could come up with such advance tactics ?" Evidently they didn't have the Terminator movies in-universe. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 20:49
  • "Who would suspect that a machine could come up with such advanced tactics?" Well, HAL is pretty advanced!
    – Déjà vu
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 10:53

Dave gave the order to HAL to rotate the pod so that it faced HAL's "eye" as an attempt to bluff HAL that nothing out of the ordinary was going on, as they gave HAL the excuse that they were working on the pod to correct a (non-existent) problem with the comm system, as well as testing as to whether or not HAL could still hear them once the pod door was shut and the radio link was shut off.

After the radio switches are shut off (if they were really working on it, it would be plausible for the radio to cut out as they swap out boards or whatever), Dave and Frank both give the order several times to rotate the pod again, but nothing happens, so they assume HAL can't hear them and thus commence to discussing whether HAL is malfunctioning and if so, will they have to disconnect him.

HAL essentially played dumb and didn't rotate the pod to trick the two men into thinking he wasn't spying on them, but in reality he was reading their lips and thus learning that Dave and Frank were going to disconnect him. HAL even mentions to Dave when he (famously) refuses to open the pod bay doors after calling Dave out on the fact that the two astronauts were plotting against him and Dave tries to bluff HAL again, "Dave, even though you took very thorough precautions against my hearing you in the pod, I could see your lips move."

HAL basically is saying at this point, "Played you like a fiddle the whole time, sucker."

  • Can you provide a source for your answer? Some quotations or an interview?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 8:33

This is something that has troubled me for years. I mean isn't it possible that you did NOT need to rotate the window to face HAL?

That you both enter the pod where he cannot see you, shut down all switches, ask to be rotated. You are not rotated, confirming he cannot hear you, THEN carry on a conversation.

If HAL asked later why he did not rotate the pod into the standard position, simply say: "Sorry HAL, human error. I forgot. But we worked out the difficulty anyways."

And go from there. No, I see the rotation to face HAL as an ugly evidence of forced plot. I don't like it, I never have. It was an obvious bait to continue a plot that should've been considerably more subtle.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. This doesn't answer the question why Bowman did command HAL to rotate the pod. Maybe it wasn't a good call on Bowman's part, but it's what he did, so please explain why. If you have a question of your own, you can ask it, but it shouldn't be posted as an answer.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 3:17

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