Stanley Kubrick And The Darkness of Modern Life

                         Many movie directors have mastered a genre or two. Alfred Hitchcock is probably one of the five greatest directors of all time, with thrillers being his primary claim to fame. George Lucas was the  king of science fiction ever since the release of Star Wars. James Cameron and Spielberg are known for their grand film-making techniques and for the wonderful visuals. Anyone, who has the minimum knowledge about movies can probably name some films of these directors. But, not many people, are aware of the genius 'Stanley Kubrick,' who explored human mind and its darkness, in various genres. 

                         Modern History is built by the progress of mankind. Kubrick's interpretation of history explored the darkness of modern life, with regard to the human frailty. The sinister ways of human mind is consistent whether Kubrick is exploring the future("2001: Space Odyssey", 1968), the past("Barry Lyndon", 1975), or the present("Eyes Wide Shut", 1999).

                         Although Kubrick made few films in a career that spanned over 45 years, each of those films had an enduring impact. Kubrick's reputation among film-makers and film enthusiasts has grown to the point where he today occupies a kind of exclusive place, reserved only for the gods of film-making, whomever they may be. So, what made his work compelling and influential for the film-makers and viewers around the world.

                     In his career Kubrick often devoted himself to films about war, such as 'Paths of Glory' (1957),  'Dr.Strangelove' (1964), 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987) ; fables about human nature such as 'Lolita' (1962), 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971), and 'Eyes Wide Shut' (1999) ; and genre films -- crime films such as 'The Killing' (1956), 'horror films such as 'The Shining' (1980), Sci-fi films such as '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), and epics such as 'Spartacus' (1960), and 'Barry Lyndon' (1975). What all these films have in common beyond their ambition, is a focus on the dark side of human nature. To cope with the darkness, Kubrick used humor. In his narrative, loss is certain for a character, spiritual or may be physical. To articulate this loss Kubrick tended to focus on a particular human failing in each of his films. 

Kubrick And Metaphors

              Each of his movie's sequences are a visual metaphor. Perhaps there is no other Kubrick scene as famous as the ape triumphantly throwing his bone weapon into the air, after which the camera cuts into a space station in outer space, continuing the movement from millions of years later.

                   The circular tracking shot of a master sergeant inspecting and humiliating his raw recruits in "Full Metal Jacket." Yet another example of the metaphor is Alex's beating of his male victim to the melodic sound of 'Singing In The Rain'  in the movie "A Clockwork Orange." What is striking in each case is that, the metaphor drips with irony. 

                   In the victorious toss of the bone in "Space Odyssey", the metaphor is all about technology and progress. In 'Full Metal Jacket', the master sergeant is in charge of creating killing machines. This is his stated purpose, and in this scene he begins to find out who will and who will not become killing machines. The metaphor is the difference between the military values and societal values. The last example of "A Clockwork Orange", is very ironic as the music suggests romance and love; however, the visuals are all about aggression and hate. These sequences often pose a moral dilemma, the viewer will tend to feel queasy and uneasy.

                 In the movie 'The Shining' Kubrick articulates the loss of innocence. A writer isolated by his work as the custodian of a closed resort loses his mind, in this movie. In "Eyes Wide Shut", it is the ample culture of narcissism that is under attack. And, notably Kubrick's films are primarily focused on the male characters and the male point of view. 

Was Kubrick A Genius?
                 A genius can be considered to be anyone with exceptional intellectual ability, creativity and/or originality. If we accept this simple definition then Kubrick undoubtedly was a genius, an opinion well supported by the testimonies of many people who worked with him. And even if you only look at the films – which is after all what matters most – it’s possible to see that there was a genius at work.

                 However, Kubrick is by no means universally loved or admired. His films are often criticized for being cold and unemotional. Nevertheless, most of his films have an undeniable iconic power, producing images and sounds that are instantly recognizable.

                      Kubrick also loved science and technology and because of this he strove to depict science accurately, as in the weightlessness and silence of space in 2001, or the remarkably accurate recreation of a B52 cockpit in Dr Stangelove.

Kubrick directs Tom Cruise for 'Eyes Wide Shut.'
                     Kubrick’s films are often unsettling at a deep psychological level. They don’t provide easy answers to questions about the human condition; they are not comforting; they provoke endless debate about their meaning and his intentions; and even after repeated viewings, there will be new things to offer. 
                   Many of us prefer the comforting films where generally everything is nicely resolved at the end. I appreciate the blockbusters and thought provoking films of Spielberg; highly ambitious movies of Cameron, and the clever films of Quentin Tarantino; but for me nobody else comes close to matching Stanley Kubrick’s status as a genius filmmaker. 

Here are the five steps to appreciate the genius of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick - Wikipedia                           


Amb said...

To be true i am not big fan of stanley kubrick as i haven't seen his movies.Once i tried to watch "Clockwork orange and eyes wide shut" bt unable towach it.David flincher is my favr8director rit now for psychological thriller(zodiac and fght club)

Bhavana said...

I love all the directors you choose to present in your blog. Ok, Stanley Kubrick is a favorite--I have watched verey one of his movie. In fact after I accidentally saw one of is movies, I first read his bio and then chronologically watched every single one of them. My fav in terms of impact is actually Paths to Glory--a short, b/w movie--so utterly powerful in its message, in its visuals and yes, acting too. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful director.

Arun Kumar said...

@ambar, Thanks for your comment. David Fincher is my favorite too. Many are unable to watch Stanley's movies, because they are allegorical, not conventional.A director whom you could love his work or hate.

@Bhavana, Thanks for your comment. Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket are my favorites.

Dark Knight said...

Very nice post. Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors. He's directed a variety of unconventional, yet powerful movies.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

brilliant post. As rightly pointed out by you, Kubrick is definitely a director with a purpose behind all his films.

Arun Kumar said...

@Dark knight, Thanks for the comment.

@Haricharan, Thanks for your comment and for visiting the blog.

Unknown said...

//Modern History is built by the progress of mankind. Kubrick's interpretation of history explored the darkness of modern life, with regard to the human frailty// - well said arun.. why don't you write his film techniques as a separate article?..btw ur blog seems interesting.. gonna follow..

Unknown said...

i've seen AI : Artificial intelligence..and the way that movie was made, i could sense now the quality of Stanley's movie making !

loved the post, quite an informative one!!!


Anonymous said...

The variety you bring. Although I do not watch many movies. I enjoy reading the posts.
Shows your passion :)I hope you write a book on comparative film studies.
Would be great! :)

Arun Kumar said...

@Castro Karthi, Thank you for visiting the blog and for your comment. Will definitely do a post separately on Kubrick's film-making techniques.

Arun Kumar said...

@rahul aggarwal, Thanks for your comment.

@Divenita, Thanks for your uplifting comment. To write a book on 'Comparative film studies'? yeah, will definitely try to make a book.

Puru@ShadowsGalore said...

One of my favorite directors. Thanks for such a nice writer on Kubrick :)

Priya said...

What's ironic is that most of his films were based on pretty revolutionary books. It's really a question of how much credit goes to the author for coming up with the idea, and the director for turning it into a film. I found Kubrick's films okay, until I saw the ridiculousness that was The Shining (big Stephen King fan here!) I guess some of us just like our books to stay books.
You did just introduce me to a wide range of great movies I should see, thanks for that!

Arun Kumar said...

@Puru, Thanks for your comment.

@Priya, Thanks for the comment, and for visiting my blog. Yeah, all his movies are based on famous novels. But, i think Kubrick's vision is very unique, the way he conceives each novel.

T F Carthick said...

Interesting article. Kubrick does focus on the darker side of human nature. Another interesting thing is he takes up popular novels - Arthur C Clarke, Stephen King, Anthony Burgess. So the scripts themselves have something in them.

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Well, when one reads a review that's so visceral, exhaustive and yet so concise, what can one say but Arun, the decorated author of Passion for Cinema. Kudos to you for offering such a grand tribute to arguably one of the greatest auteurs of all time. In my personal opinion Kubrick was Anglo-American Cinema's most potent reply to the 'Fellinis', the 'Bunuels', the 'Bergmans', the 'Kurosawas', the 'Rays', and the 'Tarkovskys' of the world. Ubiquitously acclaimed for his idiosyncratic style and inexorable yearning for perfection, Kubrick had held millions of viewers worldwide in a transfixion through his masterful works for well over four decades. Way to go, Arun!!!

Jagadeesh Jakku said...

Shining is one of my favorite films . kubrik films are metaphoric u can get something for each viewing. His films are so compelling and thought provoking. Kubrik has special position in cinematic era because of his vision.