Worst to Best
Ah, Stanley. The man whose greatest directorial work – or at least, most paradigm-influencing – is yet to be granted formal recognition. But enough about the Moon landings. Kubrick has been analysed like no other, both for his unparalleled martialling of cinematic language and for the seemingly endless variations of esoteric nutrition his work conceals. What he was saying does not, necessarily, present a unified vision, however.
Express (and hidden) intent, perhaps, but at some point – it seems during the decade following his Apollo 11 mission – he recanted the dark side and became a White Hat, on whatever level of purity of intent you may wish to interpret such a shift. The immediate result of this would appear to be The Shining, then (and might explain why Napoleon doesn’t appear to have been planned as an exposé of the real Napoleon. Leave that to Sir Ridders, I guess…) In the end, this course redirection would get him bumped off, his final grand reveal of method mutilated by the now-deceased Spielberg into the bargain.
There’s a whole lot to be discovered and rediscovered, questioned, doubted and questioned again in Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre, basically, and clues aplenty, sprinkled liberally along the way, whether he was batting for the Dark Forces at the point in question or attempting to rehabilitate himself. So here we are, Kubrick’s features, worst to best.
Fear and Desire
(1953) Stanley virtually disowned his entry point into features (he’d made several documentaries prior to this). It’s one that, despite its limitations, evidences later key notes such as his keen attention to character & psychology and an abiding interest in the dynamics of warfare. No, Fear and Desire couldn’t be called a success – although it does have its stalwart defenders, just as Hitchcock’s silents do – but for a “bumbling amateur… exercise” (his words), it retains its points of interest.
The cast are patchy, the philosophical ruminations tend towards the pseudishly banal, and the attempts at World War II veracity flounder hopelessly, but the sequence in which the increasingly antic Sidney (Paul Mazursky, latterly a successful director himself) menaces/ professes love for captive peasant Virginia Leith attains a palpable tension that lifts it far above the slightly home movie-ish quality of the remainder of the picture. What there is of a plot concerns four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines – in a nondescript Californian forest – attempting to get home, but Fear and Desire is mostly a cue for Malick-esque existential posing.
(1955) Kubrick adjusted focus quite rapidly, reducing the arty emphasis and upping the outright conflict. Sophomore effort Killer’s Kiss finds him replacing woods with the urban jungle, as a dispirited boxer rescues a damsel in distress from her abuser boss. This is another brief Kubrick feature (closer to sixty minutes than eighty), which nevertheless fails to rescue it from a rather sluggish start. Once Davey (the boxer) and Gloria (the damsel) decide they’re outta there, though, and Vinnie (the boss) has something to say about it, the picture shifts into gear.
This is Kubrick finding his fallen world of choice, one of relative values. Davey’s the hero, but he watches Gloria changing clothes in the apartment opposite; he’s a voyeur and a fantasist (his uncle’s letter, as recited in his head, is very different from the one on the page). Gloria nurses a background of guilt and implied abuse (by her father, who at minimum was preying on her sister); her “career” as a taxi dancer carrying with it a suggestion of masochistic penance.
Killer’s Kiss was bought by United Artists, so Fear and Desire’s failure to recoup avoided landing on his /his financier’s shoulders this time. The studio demanded a happy ending. Kubrick’s wasn’t keen, but since funding for The Killing was part of the deal, he did as he was asked.
(1960) When you’ve directed four movies and none of them have been hits, it’s entirely understandable that you should opt for a sure thing toplined by a major star rapist, even if it means there’s a retrospectively anomalous blot on your oeuvre. Kirk missed out on Ben-Hur, devised this in a fit of pique, fired Anthony Mann after a week and concluded his replacement was a “talented shit”. Spartacus was, as that summary may suggest, a turbulent shoot.
The title character is something of a fizzle, yielding little in the way of depth from interrogation and much in the way of unmodulated, strategic success, leadership and decent chap-ness (Kubrick opined that Spartacus had no faults or idiosyncrasies, and he was right). He’s a stalwart lover man too (to Jean Simmons). Fortunately, we have top-quality conniving Romans in the form of Peter Ustinov as the owner of the gladiator training school, Charles Laughton’s senator and Sir Larry, all oysters and snails with young buck slave Tony Curtis.
One might find the director’s nascent fascination with Elite influence here, as deviation from sexual norms – or, if you prefer, majorities based on biological imperatives – would be deemed a prerequisite of the ultimate trajectory, the Luciferian/transhumanist frontier (where sexual delineation is a foreign country). There are compensations too with the gladiator school passages of the first half, as the one-on-one clashes elicit visceral engagement largely absent from the travelogue/battles that follow. And from the rather ripe death scene. There’s also a surprisingly glaring divide between sound stage and location, of an order one wouldn’t countenance from Kubrick’s subsequent career (except, as per A Clockwork Orange, when it is expressly intended). An epic, certainly, but when it comes to showcasing such epic-ness, Spartacus frequently falls victim to the stodginess that makes the genre quite resistible in retrospect.
But Kubrick had no say in the script or cast, no final cut, and he wasn’t the producer, so this was – at 32 – an educational experience that would inform the rest of his career. He would subsequently command the total control he so prized, but at what cost? Working for the Dark Cult (overtly) for a couple of decades and growing increasingly uneasy as he was pressed to deliver Elite-prescribed paedophilia, nuke lies*, space lies (including Moon landings), transhumanist/Luciferian visions of ascendency, and the workings of the mind-control programme designed to manipulate us all.
Pauline Kael suggested Spartacus was “the best placed and most slyly entertaining of all the decadent-ancient-Rome spectacular films”, but the competition isn’t exactly fierce. There’s too much going on here to dismiss it out of hand, but also too little for the film to break free from its genre trappings and transform itself into something more individual and distinguished. You can read into the screenplay – courtesy of blacklisted Donald Trumbo – commentary on communist witch hunts, on race and slavery vis-à-vis American history, both of which identify it as a perhaps less-obvious programming force in seeding the decade to come, a programme announcing freedom and liberation as organic movements, promoting the possibility of new horizons, only to puncture that bubble with the utmost rudeness. All part of the plan. Whether Kubrick was apprised at this stage is questionable, if for no other reason than that level of confidentiality would likely have seen him also demanding a level of control he simply didn’t have (aside from the meticulous attention to detail, a cause of conflict with his star, cinematographer and screenwriter).
Ustinov won a (well-earned) Oscar, and Kubrick’s name was on a huge hit (while full numbers are patchy, and unavailable for The Shining, it would appear only 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange took more in their lifetimes, adjusted for inflation). The best thing you can say about Spartacus is that it boasts scintillating supporting characters. The worst, that you wouldn’t particularly think this was a Kubrick film, were you not privy going in.
(1962) Along with A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s most overtly provocative choice of source material. Of course, given the period, his depiction of Nabakov’s novel, in which a pederast preys upon his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, is somewhat “lightened” by aging the latter up to 14/15-year-old Sue Lyon; in turn, the advertising flaunted the picture as forbidden fruits, rather than outright perversion.
As Juli Kearns notes “In the movie, we have Lolita being played by a young woman who is of an age that Hum would have found repulsive in the book”. Ironically the “more faithful” Adrian Lyne remake would cast an actress older than Lyon was (only a little older, mind), as if underlining that it simply doesn’t do to be too audible about Hollywood’s favourite predilection (Hearn provides a potted history of the movies’ flirtation with “appropriate” minor/adult relationships, and takes in such celebrity players as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page and George Roy Hill).
There’s never any doubt that Kubrick isn’t endorsing Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and his behaviour, but such is the way of the cruel satire, it softens the chilling kernel beneath light comedy (Peter Sellers), a debonair pro/antagonist, and his “beard” union: the coarse grotesque that is Lolita’s mother (Shelley Winters). The title character is, by dint, refracted through the narrator’s telling (Lyon is very good… until she very isn’t, unfairly required to play older in a manner neither she nor the prop department can oblige).
This is the director fully expanding himself into his epoch, enabled to make what he wishes and (largely) meet with success at the same. However, one has to wonder at his recognition going in that he wasn’t going to be reflecting what was on the page, and thus consider what he was attempting to achieve. And note that he went from working with an author who wrote about a paedophile, on several occasions, to one who was one, a few short years later. Kearns has it that Kubrick is pointing a vaguely inflammatory finger at Nabakov himself when Quilty is putting Humbert on the spot, possibly just for kicks.
Kearns also identifies the picture’s genre leanings (“partly a parody of both the comedic jailbait (or near it) and dramatic society-won’t-accept-our-love tropes, as well as a parody of the old style tear-jerker romances”) but has understandable issues with Kubrick’s recorded comments vs Lolita’s content, whereby he expects the audience to see Humbert as a creep, but then come to realise he actually does love her and “that things aren’t quite as simple as they seemed, and they won’t be so ready to pass moral judgments”: “The problem is that comparing Kubrick’s remarks to what he depicts in the film is like trying to bang a square peg through a round hole. The square peg will not fit”. As she suggests, it’s questionable that the film is presenting Humbert as someone who really loves her (irrespective of Kubrick’s remarks about moral judgements).
Lolita is often painfully sharp in its observational flair, but it’s also lacking due to its subjective narrative. You don’t get to know these characters, or in Quilty’s case, caricatures; Kubrick indulges Sellers, who takes on more roles than he did in Dr. Strangelove, and his German psychiatrist is especially cartoonish (“Camp Climax” and a “cavity filled by Uncle Ivor” are the stuff of later slapstick juvenilia found in A Clockwork Orange. There are occasions with Kubrick where you wonder if he might not have enjoyed helming a Carry On film). Scenes such as Humbert taking komedy callers in the tub, or forced to set up a cot in a hotel, or reading Charlotte’s letter, are excruciating and/ or very funny, but they serve to emphasise that the queasy underbelly is being masked by cavalier comedy.
Which is surely at least partly intentional. While Kubrick said, had he known how difficult it would be, he wouldn’t have gone ahead with the project, the “restraint” placed on him allows other parts of the picture, which may also have been intentional on his part, to come into focus. The whole business with John and Jean at the party (“In fact, John and I… we’re… both… broad… minded”), parents very happy to let their child get up to all sorts, have seen some suggest a subtext linking closely with later Kubrick efforts. Of MKUltra mind-control training and sex slavery. You might scoff at such a notion, but there are (Monarch) butterflies on Lolita’s wall, and the picture’s entire remit is what is going on beneath the surface of apparently respectable society. After all, one only has to consider the production’s background…
Links have been made to George Hodel (suspect in the Black Dahlia murders) and his daughter Tamara (who alleged her father, pals with director and Hollywood titan terrible John Huston, was an incestuous sexual abuser), an MKUltra victim who’s sphere of influence included Michelle Phillips and Lyon; Phillips was initially most liked for the title role, until Kubrick picked Lyon. And producer James B Harris then picked her himself, in the manner of Humbert Humbert (she was subsequently married off to Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher). The picture has been mooted as a test case in occult power (that ad campaign with the heart-shaped glasses), a reading that puts Kubrick squarely in the frame as engineering Hollywood’s occult-Elite social terraforming.
One might also note elements that link into occulted transhumanism, of the androgyne as interpreted by Kearns (as embodied by Vivian and Quilty; the former is female in the film, but represents Vivian Darkbloom, the anagrammatic alter ego of Nabakov). Kearns also attempts to address the ad for cigarettes featuring Quilty: “I can write without a pen, but not without a DROME” (Drome cigarettes). My immediate response was that drome rhymes with chrome. And A Clockwork Orange, of course, features Drencrom. Quilty preys on kids and likes “Drome” (which infuses him with vitality, or at least creativity). No? Reaching? Maybe, but the nature of Kubrick is that, the more you look, the more you seem to find.
(1956) The narration guiding us through The Killing’s events was at Kubrick’s protestation, but it undeniably lends the picture an air of docu-drama verisimilitude that tends to underline the taut, unvarnished proceedings. It’s a relatively minor drawback that it also instantly demands comparison to Woody Allen’s later, similarly adorned spoof Take the Money and Run.
Sterling Hayden’s just-out-of-the-joint Johnny assembles his team for a can’t-fail racetrack heist. Surprisingly, it doesn’t, given he ignores harbingers that would have any sensible criminal calling the whole thing off. It’s only in the aftermath that things go south, and even then, he’d have been okay, had he only splashed out on an expensive suitcase. Or even two less pricey smaller ones.
In terms of subversion, even something as unfussily genre-focussed as The Killing has its foibles, most notably Johnny’s older pal Marvin (Jay C Flippen), who appears to confess his undying love for Johnny and tries to persuade him against heading off with a dame (“Wouldn’t it be great if we could just go away, the two of us…”) There’s a remorseless, unrelenting quality to the way Kubrick unspools his characters’ fates, such that Johnny’s final “…what’s the difference?” could be taken as a statement of the loaded deck anyone entering an Elite-controlled paradigm can expect. This is most acutely explored with loser doormat George (Elisha Cook Jr), devoted to unfeeling, cuckolding wife Sherry (Marie Windsor), such that he relents and tells her what she wants to know, bringing down bloody judgement on all concerned. That directorial detachment is the most Kubrickian trait here, but The Killing is otherwise less redolent of his later capacity for densely composed arcana.
(1975) Perhaps the most appropriate way to see Barry Lyndon is as other than the film Kubrick wanted to make. He’d been planning Napoleon, and it seemed all set until the failure of Waterloo scuppered the studio’s confidence in such an expensive project. Then he considered Thackery’s Vanity Fair, but the BBC had just mounted a production, so he settled on another of the author’s works. Kubrick evidently had an itch for the past, albeit any point within a seventy-year span seemed just fine with him.
Wiki will tell you he was able to use research for Napoleon, but Barry Lyndon ends around about the point Boney reached adulthood, so only broadly in terms of period, one would think. He first put a Napoleon screenplay together in 1961, and the language he used to describe the battles – “like vast lethal ballets” – is interesting, as a contrast to his generally unforgiving presentation of war (in Barry Lyndon, a skirmish is rudely abrupt and insanely ordered, as Captain Grogan will observe, terminally). Common to both projects is the theme of the upstart attempting to join the Elite (and ultimately failing), and this may be the key underlining point of the director making this project at this point (his Napoleon script gives rein to upper-stratum sexual peccadilloes too, but it has been suggested, on the page at least, that it allows the epic canvas to run away with itself).
Visually, Barry Lyndon resides second only to 2001: A Space Odyssey for magnificence, with its extraordinary, painterly, romanticist vistas and employment of natural light – as much as possible – to transportive effect. The interiors, meanwhile, register compositions based on Hogarth. Kubrick adopts a precise, hypnotic approach to his unfolding tale, confidently chaperoned by Michael Hordern’s ironic narration (often repositioning lines from the novel); this is the picture’s sliver of humour, in contrast to the novel and its unreliable narrator (Barry himself).
Barry has been cited as literature’s first antihero, which may be significant in itself – if it’s an accurate assessment – given its timing. Kubrick didn’t think it appropriate to deliver Barry Lyndon as a comedy, but the opposite extreme, in part through casting Ryan O’Neal, is a dubious one (O’Neal came, effectively, at the studio’s insistence; the picture had to be fronted by a Top 10 box-office star and Redford had turned the role down). Outright fans of the picture embrace the decision, seeing the bland and inert O’Neal, with his absence of interior life, as emphasising themes of fate and freewill that are intrinsic to Kubrick’s work. He is simply a pawn of destiny. That’s fine, to an extent, but it’s antithetical and perverse to argue an inferior performer as an asset, along “It was meant to be shit” lines.
Redford might have been too expressive for the effect Kubrick wished to achieve, but no one is claiming Gary Lockwood wasn’t up to snuff in 2001: A Space Odyssey. O’Neal was, per daughter Tatum, considerably more impactful in the charisma stakes when it came to Kubrick’s twelve-year-old-daughter Vivienne. Not that Tatum suggests he was a Humbert Humbert, but that he indulged the flirtation; as she tells it, her dad nixed O’Neal as narrator when he found out (that part does seems a tad unlikely). The knock on is that Barry Lyndon requires its supporting cast to provide periodic momentum and perk up the proceedings (the likes of Patrick Magee, Leonard Rossiter, even Leon Vitali as quivering, loathsome stepson Bullingdon). Which is a prelude to saying that I admire the picture, in many respects more than A Clockwork Orange or Full Metal Jacket, which were, comparatively, swinging for easier targets, but I find it resistant to a more enthusiastic response.
While there are intimations elsewhere in his work – or at very least, artefacts that might point in that direction – Barry Lyndon, through its setting, represents the most amenable Kubrick film to the notion he may have been aware of a significant reset or event in recent history, the theory being this took place circa 1700. Napoleon suggests he wasn’t set on making a picture post-aftermath, however (since it was taking place up to forty years earlier than Barry Lyndon). Was this a way of his getting back at the Elite, his plans snubbed? If so, it takes rather tentative form, since disdained upper echelons were also in Napoleon, and rude decadence is hardly revelatory in itself. One might posit that this description from a post on the Stolen History forum – “Lyndon is somehow able to navigate all the chaos to find his way into elite circles, where his luck runs out and he is discovered to be a fraud” – could be loosely applied to Napoleon too.
Kubrick uses many broadly era-appropriate locations – in as much as the dates we are told are correct – such as Powerscourt Estate, Castle Howard, Petworth House, Stourhead estate, Wilton House, Ludwigsburg Palace, Blenheim Palace and New Palace at Potsdam. He populates these places with “the elites, languid and dissolute inheritors of the new world, which is obviously too big for their britches”.
Notable within this scenario is the spectre of conflict. Barry volunteers for the Seven Years War, which would have begun approximately thirty years after the Event; continued hostilities represent an ideal way to keep the serfs distracted and their concerns ephemeral. He attempts to get shot of it before finding himself back in, fighting for the same team but under a different country’s uniform.
The narration is obtuse, almost disdainful about the wherewithal of the conflict, language taken directly from Thackery, such that, “About this time, the United Kingdom was in a state of great excitement, from the threat, generally accredited to the French invasion”. And “It would require a great philosopher and historian to explain the causes of the famous Seven Years’ War in which Europe was engaged, and in which Barry’s regiment was now on its way to take part. Take it suffice to say that England and Prussia were allies, and at war against the French, the Swedes, the Russians and the Austrians”. It’s almost as if Thackeray has no illusions this is all nonsense, superficially engineered from above at the expense of the poor fools walking sacrificially into a salvo of gunfire.
Amid such fakery is the artifice of Barry’s life: he flees thanks to a fake duel (Rossiter’s Captain Quin isn’t killed; it’s but a ruse to marry Barry’s not-so-intended); Barry assumes a fake persona, is found out and makes friends with another fake persona (Patrick Magee’s Chevalier). The only genuine thing here is the “breeding” Barry lacks, which guarantees his fate. Is this Kubrick’s overriding lesson, having insight into the guiding hand that makes any pretence at the freewill impulse void?
Juli Kearns draws attention to a panoply of points in her shot-by-shot analysis, but a couple of areas are worth highlighting, particularly in respect of Kubrick’s treatment of sexuality. Barry is fifteen in the novel – approximately Alex’s age in the A Clockwork Orange novel – and embarking on an affair with 23-year-old Nora; as with other texts (Lolita, A Clockwork Orange), Kubrick has aged up his protagonists. Barry kisses Grogan as he dies, later stealing the identity of a gay man bathing in a river with his lover (Kubrick has earlier alluded to a gay subtext between Johnny and Marvin in The Killing). Most curious is the card game attended by Lady Lyndon and Reverend Runt (who, if not gay, is stereotypically camp in the Williams and Hawtrey tradition). Also playing is a man in drag; this is Kearns assessment, and she appears correct. She perceives a “kind of hermaphroditic expression” here, and one wonders at its relationship to the Elite ladder, since Bill is witness to not dissimilar invocations and allusions on his way to Eyes Wide Shut’s party.
Of which, I wasn’t aware of the titbit that Cruises’s/ Bill’s mask – flat-out denied by some, with the evidence to prove it – in Eyes Wide Shut is based on O’Neal’s mug. What would it imply if it were? Well, most obviously, Barry is a liar attempting to infiltrate Elite society, and so is Bill (and Barry loses his son… and Bill? See the end of the film). Also worth noting is Barry Lyndon’s use of lens, as a means to achieve the desired lighting; they were developed by Zeis for the Apollo Moon landings, “which Kubrick had discovered” (per Wiki). I think that says it all.
Full Metal Jacket
(1987) One has to question the absolute need for Stanley to feel he had to go there with Full Metal Jacket. After all, he’d dealt with the horror of war before (Paths of Glory), and he’d explored systematic dehumanisation and brainwashing (A Clockwork Orange). Did he have anything left to say on these subjects? Aside from attempting to convince audiences that London’s docklands could double for Hué (no small feat), I’m unsure he did. And it remains the case that, while the first half of Full Metal Jacket is superbly taut, a riveting assault on the sense of self, it subsequently rather flounders, almost to the point of feeling inessential (but never less than engaging), in the second.
Stanley had been mulling a film about the Holocaust, it seems – he’d mull one again, more tangibly, until Spielberg made Schindler’s List – switching to Nam in the early-80s. By the time he completed it, Platoon had stolen his thunder (much as The Deer Hunter stole Apocalypse Now’s, despite the better movie coming second in both cases).
Full Metal Jacket is not an anti-war movie (Kubrick said as much); anyone can see that, with its attention to suspense, slow-mo deaths and the catharsis of the end to its first act (that drill sergeant had it coming). Kubrick wants to engage us with the viscera and inhumanity, perhaps because Private Joker is struggling with the conflict himself, full of bravado and dichotomies (hence the peace sign), culminating in his first kill, a mercy killing, while his own “trainee” has emerged fully conditioned (as a killer).
The closing refrain of the Mickey Mouse Club song preserves that ambiguity; is it paralleling the programming of all juniors recruited and conditioned into the Disney empire? Is Joker going with the flow, ambivalent about the brainwashed around him, robot killers all (“The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers”)? Dehumanisation is part of transhumanisation, after all. Before long, you’re a Grey or a Starchild, and don’t much care anymore.
Juli Kearns’ analysis highlights some salient points regarding the film’s depiction of women (they’re prostitutes or assassins), although I’m unpersuaded by her conclusion that Kubrick is attempting to expose the audience’s essential misogyny (following on from reactions to Wendy in The Shining). She also suggests “Kubrick, translating books into films, has a habit of softening up characters in order to make easier to digest films that remain difficult”, this relating in particular to Joker’s mercy killing of Cowboy and how would-be rapist Animal Mother is, by process of battlefield action (even if it’s in some part directionless) identified heroically. This is perhaps important in stressing that, however divergent the protagonist’s behaviour, Kubrick requires a degree of audience identification (be it with Jack Torrance or Alex DeLarge). Kearns also addresses the stray geography of Tet, but that doesn’t strike me as pointedly thematic as in The Shining, beyond a confusion-of-war point (one might, if one wished to stretch it, identify a systematic laying waste of a civilisation, of the kind that leads to the new world of Barry Lyndon).
There’s also Kubrick’s ever-present penchant for the cartoonish; Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is cruel, barbaric and tyrannical, but he’s also immensely entertaining, issuing a constant and colourful stream of inventive invective and debasing vitriol. I’d argue this is more successful than Jack in The Shining (even if the movie as a whole is not) or Quilty in Lolita, because the performance never punctures the picture’s dramatic integrity. Lee Ermy and Vincent D’Onofrio are powerhouses in this section, and dependable as Matthew Modine is throughout, the picture suffers once their respective energy and objectification are absent. The standard is for the firm-but-fair drill instructor to engender retrospective respect (An Officer and a Gentleman). Here, his sadism is met with warranted retribution.
I wouldn’t give Kubrick’s use of the Docklands a pass, but the industrial grime of his landscape, combined with his wife’s ambient-nightmare score, lends the picture an almost science-fiction quality at times (and with Pyle’s breakdown, we’re firmly in horror movie territory). We are in danger of crossing into the subjective landscape of the mind, such is the way with MKUltra (and one might extend this to Kubrick’s seemingly incoherent approach to geography).
Kubrick’s biggest tip of the hat is Hartman citing Whitman and Oswald, two MK-programmed assassins (or at least, a patsy servicing a false flag on the President), there to promote the CIA fear programme, as exemplars of the marines. Because that’s the point: to brainwash you. If not to become an out-and-out psychopath, then a confused and shattered personality placed at a crime scene (RFK, in the mainstream conspiracy account). When Pyle is beaten by the men submitting to the programming he has not, through ineptitude, they tell him “Remember, it’s just a bad dream, fat-boy”. Kearns observes of the surrealist inconsistencies of the novel (and by extension the film) “This is a dream. While it is also real. It is the truth concealed by the real world”. One might present that as a cogent summary of Kubrick’s entire oeuvre.
As with the return to the war genre, though, there’s an overriding sense here that Kubrick isn’t telling us anything he hasn’t already told us. Indeed, there’s perhaps a vibe that he feels he actually needs to spell it out for us this time, lest he was too (un) subtle with A Clockwork Orange. Or perhaps because he changed allegiance in the meantime? But there was little chance – except as a stylistic option for fancy dress, or perhaps one of those headline makers who ensured the picture was withdrawn from circulation – that we would find ourselves sympathising with Alex, as much as we are positioned to identify with him. Joker, though, is approachable and humane. He could be one of us. His struggle is our struggle, to remain ourselves, amid a landscape that is being systematically destroyed and rebuilt around us. So above (out there), so below (within).
Eyes Wide Shut
(1999) Kubrick’s final work, and the one that got him killed. If the ’60s were the “zenith” of his working cap in hand for his masters while inevitably laying a trail of breadcrumbs within the mesmerism, his subsequent output extends increasingly towards the revealing of method, culminating in this full-blown assault. Well, the parts that made it to screen, at any rate.
The story goes that, horrified at the content, Stanley was summarily and permanently dispatched and Steven brought in to exclude the most offending articles (he’d do the same thing to official effect on A.I.) This amounting to 24 minutes’ worth. I remain uncertain how accurate this account is, as if The Shining is any evidence, the director favoured the oblique when he was doing his explaining. On the other hand, Full Metal Jacket isn’t exactly holding back in elucidating its subject matter.
Suggestions include a scene prior to the orgy with a pentagram on the floor/ wall, that (via David Wilcock who, well… Corey Goode) Alice is at the orgy and Sandor Szavost is Red Cloak and has sex with her (some serious reshoots and/or re-editing would be required to get what we have, if this is/ was so, since she is at home and unaware of Bill’s foray in the release version), that the masked woman’s fate was explicit (which would mean we’d have seen it, but Bill wouldn’t unless, again, reshoots), and that the ending made apparent what is perhaps more unsettlingly implied in the version we have: that Bill and Alice’s daughter Helena is sacrificed to the cult, and they have signed up to it (in keeping with general Elite ruling). In that shop at the end, with its Magic Circle game, we see individuals many attest to have been at the opening party scene, and it certainly appears Helena is going off with them/in their direction (with Bill and Alice seemingly oblivious to her whereabouts).
This is a movie with “sex” in a drawing above Helena’s bed, with costumier Milich selling his teen minor daughter to Japanese tourists, with a hazy dream/reality state in Alice’s recollections suggestive of MKUltra, interpretations that the frat boys suggesting Bill is gay are Skull and Bones (this scene is one of several allusions to Bill’s/Tom’s sexuality). There are repeated references to rainbows, pentagrams, butterflies, even masonic hand signs.
Jay Dyer’s reading that Eyes Wide Shut is an initiation ritual for Bill’s “benefit” is persuasive, with the various participants such as Nick, Mandy, Domino, Milich and indeed Alice (the mask on the pillow) leading him over the rainbow. In the addendum to my review of the picture, I suggested Alice needed to be complicit for Dyer’s take to hold. Obviously, if she’s an MKUltra victim, not so much. Even Juli Kearns, who scorns conspiracy theory takes on Kubrick, accepts the initiation reading, although she places far greater emphasis on the picture’s embrace of a dreamy logic (as per other Kubrick films, there are artificial interiors with customary skewed geography and/or objects; this feels more germane to the subject matter in a Shining kind of way than other examples).
Kearns, in one of her more obscure references, attests “I’m neither a Christian nor a conspiracy theorist chasing after possible Illuminati references”, which is why her thorough analysis ultimately feels sorely lacking. She comes across as almost recklessly obtuse (summarising one part of her discourse: “The orgy is all about the Illuminati, right? No. Go away”). I mean, I guess fair play to her bloody-mindedness in refusing to entertain the most obvious – and fundamental – aspect of Kubrick’s work. The problem with that, though, is she’s like Nick Nightingale playing the piano blindfold, occasional glimpsing snatches of what’s going on but more often simply staring into the darkness and assuming that and the ivories are the only thing in the room.
Kearns admits the whole movie is a conspiracy. And it IS. You might argue it isn’t Illuminati (although Victor’s clearly telling Bill they’re big cheeses), but the picture is explicitly a conspiracy movie. Thus, Kearns avers “On the surface, it appears that Bill stumbles onto a secret society, but, like The Shining, there is much to the movie that is enigmatically impossible and points to a much deeper and more esoteric journey”. How could It be much deeper and more esoteric than that? Because, in her analysis, symbolism for its own sake becomes about missing the wood for the trees, so in thrall is she to a conception of artistry as the primary (only) truth, at the expense of genuine revelation. She thus ends up waffling about the abduction of Helena, attempting to convince herself “this film isn’t intended to end on a fearful note” through reference to themes of generational awakening and separation and not taking the three men at the party as literally the same people. If anything, Kearns protests so much, she’ll only succeed in convincing you Eyes Wide Shut is exactly the opposite.
Kearns does reference an observation by Kidman that Kubrick designed “the Harford home so that it was an exact duplication of his apartment before he left New York for England, even the furniture”. Was this the scene of his induction to the cause? Like Bill (and Alice)? R Lee Ermy said Tom and Nicole had their way with him (really, in a movie impugning Tom’s character’s sexuality?) Perhaps Kubrick casting two trans movie stars was his way, per the title and abiding theme, of inviting audiences to look closer. Nothing is as it seems.
Eyes Wide Shut’s lustre only seems to grow, but that might be because of how rewarding it is to analyse, rather than necessarily being a great movie in and of itself. It exerts a transfixing hold, but it doesn’t grab you the way The Shining does (which clearly wears the crown for the most-pored-over Kubrick). Like Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut lacks either sympathetic or engaging leads. It’s also encumbered by peaking dramatically about seventy minutes before the film finishes. Perhaps it would be a different story, were those missing scenes reattached. Perhaps, one day, they will be. Until then, Eyes Wide Shut’s enigmatic allure will continue to grow.
A Clockwork Orange
(1971) The sex & violence and media-censorship debate precedes A Clockwork Orange. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a film in which sound and image are shown to predicate mood falls foul of copycat incidents, such that its director withdraws it from (UK) release. It all sounds a little rehearsed, doesn’t it? Or was Kubrick, with his all-seeing eye, somehow unprepossessing and naïve when it came to the crunch?
I respect A Clockwork Orange, rather than adore it. One might argue its tonal disparities are built into its DNA, except that there’s prior form for Kubrick’s inclination towards vulgarity (Sellers, Terry Southern), and he possibly allows it too much of a head at times here; it isn’t just commentary, it’s a taste for the cartoonish, the adolescent even (again, you can argue that’s all Alex, but I don’t think that’s all it is). Drinking from dentures water and Carry On nurses with their tits hanging out: Kubrick revels in the lowbrow. And sure, excess is part of the point; it’s whether or not the excess is pertinent or superfluous/ indulgent that is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps.
To this heightened end, Mendes, who ripped of Kubrick (badly) in 1917, noted the lack of other characters besides Alex. His voice is all; we’re forced to identify with him, the world through his lens, be it through back-projectioned countryside drives, the glories of Beethoven, or rape by Gene Kelly and bludgeoning with ceramic phallus. Kubrick offers up a wide-angle lens of an environment, the more disturbing for its juxtaposition of the heightened & stylised (the fashions, the language) with real locations.
Mendes also – he’s quite astute here, so obviously dropped IQ points between Revisiting A Clockwork Orange and Bond – observed sex in the film is either violent or comic. It’s “strange and not entirely healthy”. Alex is a twisted little devil child adult, post-If, pre-Caligula, but his moral status is irrelevant to society; the public response is what counts. In the book, he outgrows childish ways – he’s fourteen there, aged up as Kubrick had done with other characters hitherto – and it’s his choice to change. This might be seen to underline the theme of State depersonalisation and State-sanctioned violence vs individual liberty. Ironically, the expected prime offender, Godfrey Quigley’s prison chaplain, is not after Alex; his probation officer (Aubrey Morris as the absurdly named Mr Deltoid) is evidently intended to be, if not expressly culpable, then enthusiastically capable of the same.
Then there’s art as salvation or merely reflective of one’s own lens (The Bible is all violence to Alex, and the purity of Beethoven is only pronounced when it induces adverse reactions in him). The picture is as structurally schematic and self-conscious as it is wanton in its crudity (we’re being asked to see the seams when Alex encounters, by progression, all those he formerly wronged).
Pauline Kael considered, with regard to making the attacked less human than their attackers, that “there’s no moral difference”, “I can’t accept that Kubrick is merely reflecting this post-assassinations, post-Manson mood; I think he’s catering to it. I think he wants to dig it”. That would be the Manson psyop; is Kubrick adding fuel to his masters’ fire? She cites areas that make Alex more sympathetic than if Kubrick had gone for undiluted Burgess – his taste for ten-year old girls – and one might perceive the same of Lolita, where her age has been inched up into the marginally “less” unacceptable. The question of Kubrick’s intent here is key; is he producing designer youth culture (like Berg tried with Ready Player One) as a means to further programme the youth, per his being a Dark Cult member, or is he commenting on and revealing the same, by demonstration of method (it’s notable that the project was with Paramount before it strayed into his eyeline, and the likes of Roeg and Russell – and Tinto Brass! – had been mooted and/or given it consideration).
Of course, A Clockwork Orange’s major citation within the conspirasphere is one we can identify elsewhere in Kubrick’s work, that of mind control and attempts thereof, from Lolita to Full Metal Jacket. Jay Dyer has it that “the masses are actually a kind of Alex DeLarge writ large” in terms of the broader intentions behind MKUltra (he considers it no coincidence that the conditioning draws on Alex’s own attacks and WWII/ Hitler footage). Dyer has it that Alex is “a subject of sexual-based traumatised mind control throughout his whole life” and a product of a society that “protects and allows and propagates these crimes”. Alex can be turned on and off at the flick of the switch, induced to violence or rejection of the same (albeit, in context, he retains his impulses, yet is unable to act upon them; he doesn’t have an entirely different personality impressed upon him).
As with other Kubrick works, ideas of history and its placement are starkly evident, not least in the foregrounding of hideous modern architecture (brutalism) as a contrast with soothing classical art. The first music we hear is Carlos’ take on Henry Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary, composed in 1695. You know, around and about 1700. The movie’s reigning champ composer, though, Ludwig, is officially lodged at the other end of the eighteenth century, and there are doubts that his prolific level of work was possible – while being deaf to boot – and murmurings that he was, therefore, made up (you can hear some Beethoven in the Songwriter scene in Under the Silver Lake).
This is a picture where Kubrick throws in an LP of 2001: A Space Odyssey (much as he had Spartacus in Lolita), and has a bum profess “What sort of a world is it at all? Men on the Moon and men spinning around the Earth, and there’s not no attention paid to earthly law and order no more”. What sort of world? A made-up one? One of exaggeration, illusion and behaviour modification? Much of it helped along by Stanley himself (nukes and vacuums of space and jail bait et al). Juli Kearns draws attention to the comic book story The Strange Old Camera (“with the same cover, first appeared, it seems, in ‘Adventures into the Unknown’, issue 104, on January 1, 1959”). She alludes to Kubrick’s body of work, but one might argue “The idea that something from the past has been photographed in the present” is simply much of the filmmaker’s standard form, and as presented by Kubrick, there are continual juxtapositions of time that lead one to assess the extent to which the past is as much a construction as movies themselves.
There’s also Drencrom. As Alex observes: “The Korova Milk Bar sold Milkplus, Milk plus vellocet, or Synthemesc, or Drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence”. Ultraviolence and adrenochrome? What is Stanley telling us here? Kearns comments “Drencrom… is one of Burgess’ Nadsat language terms and means ‘drug’” (she also relates this to CRM-114 in Dr. Strangelove and Serum-114 here, the number seemingly one of Kubrick’s favourites.
So was Burgess in on the Elite elixir? Kearns certainly considers he was far from the left-leaning individual some have credited: with regard to the Alexander character “I imagine instead Burgess was assailing the left wing due his personal belief in their coddling individuals like Alex, presenting youth such as Alex as the progeny of left-wing policy. My opinion is Kubrick may have viewed Burgess as a part of the problem upon which he was commenting, that Burgess’ traditionalism was to a fair degree composed of generations upon generations of foulness glossed over and glorified”.
Burgess possibly falls in line with various “prophetic” English writers displaying a bent for predictive programming, like Wells and Huxley (he also has personal reason to be a hardliner, with his wife’s WWII attack by four US army deserters; while commonly described as rape, it seems this was not the case). Some have credited Burgess with calling out Savile and Heath. Others (Roger Lewis) suggested he was working for MI5, and/ or the CIA, and/ or KGB, and lacing A Clockwork Orange with code revealing US nuke bases in the UK (good luck with that one*). Whatever his allegiances or otherwise, the chief suspicion, as always, is of such an influential work being allowed out there without any engineering or prodding behind it.
(1980) The Shining is undoubtedly the Kubrick picture with the most ascendant reputation. That might, in part, be because most of his pictures had a high rep from the off, while The Shining was greeted in decidedly mixed terms. But it’s also because – and to a lesser extent, this is also true of Eyes Wide Shut – the Kubrick analysis industry has reaped the most dividends from just what this picture, of all his pictures, the one that in some respects might seem most facile – a Stephen King spook story, of all things, with Jack mugging for all he’s worth – is all about. It has thus earned itself the distinction of being the most impenetrable and therefore yielding, in a manner of almost Lynchian proportions. I do think it’s a great film, albeit I have reservations about some of its more excessive touches (as I do with all Kubrick’s pictures that veer to the comedic at points, bar Dr. Strangelove).
Indeed, it’s abidingly curious that Kubrick, the meticulous 200-IQ craftsman, should so indulge the apparently uncontrolled and excessive. He used Jack’s most extreme takes here, and it’s surely no coincidence that Danny should be watching Wylie Coyote cartoons early on, since Jack is later embodying Wylie to Wendy’s Road Runner. This penchant for the cartoonish, juxtaposed with the adult and/ or extreme, was also in strong evidence in A Clockwork Orange, and to a lesser degree Lolita (and of course, Dr. Strangelove started out as a drama before taking a 180-degree turn).
Kubrick’s choices are his choices; Jack’s entertaining, but his Torrance is, obviously, unhinged from the outset. Shelley Duvall’s all spindly flailing limbs, and in her way as amped up as Nicholson. Offing Scatman Crothers that way is a sick joke; this is how Stanley will treat any notions of fair play, rudely killing the most likeable character (additional to which, it doesn’t say much for his shining that Hallorann had no forewarning). Ultimately, for me, there’s a certain callousness built in – as per A Clockwork Orange – that, beyond the dive into the garish, slightly diminishes the whole.
King’s study of family and alcoholism is still there, but it’s for you to pick out, along with other seams that come from emphasising the role of inner demons over supernatural direction; is Jack not only an abuser but a sexual abuser (hence the copy of Playgirl, with a feature on incest on the cover, along with a mention of David Soul selling his – which plays into the Baphomet-esque pose of Jack in the 1920s Overlook photo at the end)?
Kearns posits that Kubrick inserts these points in to suggest Jack, rather than Danny, as victim. But then, she has no interest in analysing conspiracy theory threads in Kubrick’s oeuvre, which would take child abuse and its relationship with Elite practices as a running theme from Lolita and through to Eyes Wide Shut (I was somewhat dismissive of her Room 237 contribution, but then, much of her theorising is more synchronistic symbolism-based than overarching, so was never going to be the best fit for a snappy and superficial doc). There’s the Summer of 42 movie too, of course (42 is also found on Danny’s shirt). Regarding the Playgirl, flourished by Jack with no embarrassment, and no response form the manager, it’s very odd, tantamount to Travis taking Cybill to a porn movie in Taxi Driver and Cybill being okay with it.
On the other hand, the way Kubrick juggles the non-human elements is frequently spellbinding, perplexing and fascinating. There is a sense that it must all make sense, but that clarity is just out of reach, something you sometimes feel with Lynch movies – Kubrick was a fan – but if you see enough, divest yourself of such a notion. Obviously, we have Danny’s visions, and we have Hallorann speaking to him telepathically – we mustn’t forget that’s not something to be rationalised – but the escape from the locked larder presents a break in the hotel being explicable, as simply having an adverse effect on Jack’s interior state (Danny’s injury is also evidently not at Jack’s hands).
Still, though. Most of what we see here is of the visionary, rather than tangibly supernatural. Even the spatial confusion of the place – something that has been pored over by fans – can be posited as largely subjective on the part of the protagonists, if one so wishes. Kubrick had it that the ballroom photograph at the end suggests the reincarnation of Jack, with a cut coda that his body was never found. While that’s fine, it’s more suggestive to me of his essence being caught in some kind of loop, that a different mode of reality is running through the Overlook.
There’s also whether you’re to believe a word Kubrick says. “A story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analysed too closely” he commented, of a movie that would encourage entirely the opposite effect. His statements were often slightly disingenuous and misleading, I suspect.
Room 237 floated a number of theories, in a production that only fitfully served its subject. While most of those included probably have a degree of validity, I doubt any were the full story. Not the Holocaust, or race (the epithet used to describe Hallorann, then summarily axed), or the expunging of Native Americans (albeit, this aspect may lend itself more generally to the veil of illusion surrounding both American History and history generally). The poster is an evil inversion of 2001’s star child (Bowman also ends up in a hotel room)? Jay Weidner’s take of a confession of the Apollo Moon Landings fakery is my favourite of these (2x3x7=42, Jack as the embattled husband hiding the truth from his wife), but unless it has been Mandela’d, the purported distance is 238 not 237 miles. Kubrick assistant Leon Vitali debunked much of The Shining theorising, presumably in the tones of his Barry Lyndon character – that Apollo shirt was picked on the day, etc and the best take was always preferred over silly continuity concerns – but so what? He was privy to what he was privy to, and even if he was privy, he may well have been sworn to silence.
I’m quite willing to entertain the Moon landing theory, but it seems to me only a part at best, rather than the whole. Even the exposing of Illuminati practices is generally identified in less expansive terms than might be intended. Jay Dyer points to Monarch mass mind control (the skiing poster on the wall), and the “theme of paedophilic generational bloodlines parasitically manipulate (sic) the underclass through the false promise of worldly prosperity”, one that is inculcated via a control structure which “operates through sex magick and generational traumatisation”. It’s also worth noting that sequel Doctor Sleep features vampiric elite (gypsies) who get high from sucking the lifeforce of the innocent young. But Kubrick had already namechecked adrenochrome a decade earlier than the first big-screen visit to the Overlook.
There are the various readings of the characters, but the Overlook itself is, I suspect, the key. In respect of its occupants’ perceptions, reality is subjective and/ or confusing. Or, reality is fabricated, unbeknownst to us. We accept the world as we are told it is, despite that version being a physical impossibility. So, if the Overlook we see is different to the actual Overlook, is its history also inaccurate, and by extension America’s history (for example)? We might see what we have here in Lynchian terms, one of divergent realities or timelines, of the interface between the physical and etheric (on the scale of Black Lodges and the end of Twin Peaks: The Return). But I prefer the idea that Overlook makes no sense because we have no perspective on what we’re looking at. We have to be oriented in order to perceive it properly, and without such a steer, it’s simply a maze, ever more disorientating and bewildering, be it with regard to history itself (made up) or the nature of reality (shifting and subjective).
Kearns is big on the idea that the key to The Shining is the piece of paper held in Jack’s hand (likely his actual hand, although the original photo is cropped so as not to show it): “The slip of paper displayed against Jack’s palm can only be taken as an intentionally placed mystery…” Presumably, it states “You are living in a satanically prescribed realm, so say I Baphomet”. Or some such. More prosaically, one theory has it that the movie is all about the move to the Gold Standard, on account of there being a man in the photo who looks like Woodrow Wilson (who signed the Federal Reserve Act into law). For my part, I was struck that there’s a man in the photo who looks a wee bit like time-traveller Nikola Tesla (as he appeared about thirty years earlier). I’ll refrain from formulating an entire theory based on that, however. I feel certain you’re all very relieved.
Paths of Glory
(1957) While The Killing was evidence of a technically accomplished director who could deliver a taut, suspenseful crime movie, Paths of Glory announced Kubrick as an artist. Perhaps not one who’d be rewarded with any Oscar attention (yet), but that doesn’t mean it would have been anything but deserved if he had. After two urban crime pictures, Stanley returns to the terrain of this first, that of armed “global” conflict, and by making a film that largely – barring one scene – eschews the battlefield, Paths of Glory manages the very rare feat of being able to describe itself as an anti-war picture.
Kirk’s Colonel Dax defends three of his men at a court-martial hearing, picked as representative of divisional cowardice in failing to launch a successful assault on an enemy hill. The elite officers live it up in a (pre-1700 Event) chateau, while the men slum it in the trenches; Dax is presented as the honourable officer, in contrast to Brigadier General Mireau (George Macready), promising the hill in exchange, effectively, for a promotion. Mireau initially called the request impossible, which is how Dax reacts when the instruction comes down the line. He sticks with his men, but one might argue the ins and outs of such a choice. His actual defence proves a farce because he isn’t allowed to make one; the hearing is a fait accompli.
There are strong performances all round, with charges of anachronism really only valid if you expected the picture to have been in subtitled French; the message is universal to warfare, transcending the WWI trappings. Douglas gives solid righteous outrage, although Macready, Adolphe Menjou (as the casually unscrupulous superior Major General Broulard) and Timothy Carey, as one of the condemned, are all more distinctive and specific. Paths of Glory concludes with a glimmer of hope in humanity, a most un-Kubrickian attitude and not one he’d make the “mistake” of repeating.
(1964) or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb It may be that 2023 offers the counterbalance to the nuke propaganda Kubrick and Terry Southern so humorously dropped on us six decades earlier. Stanley was a black hat at the time, of course, whereas Christopher Nolan, it seems, somehow, maintained White Hat status throughout his Hollywood sojourns.
Did Kubrick know nukes were a lie?* He had an IQ of 200, which is no barrier to self-deception, but if he didn’t know at the time he made Dr. Strangelove, he surely did by the time he was shooting the footage for Apollo 11’s mission. Does the deceit detract from the film? I’d say not. Indeed, one might even argue it adds to its flavour, which isn’t to condone said behaviour, but simply that malign intent isn’t necessarily a bar to creativity and quality. If it were, there’d have been scant dividends from Hollywood over the past hundred years or so (and if you say the ratio of wretchedness to reward is slender, I’m sure I couldn’t disagree).
The story here is convincing enough, that Stanley planned to abscond to Oz to escape the fearful dread of fallout. But surely, even if he didn’t twig with the nukes, he was wise to the Cold War front?* In this same movie, he takes due aim at fluoridisation, simultaneously informing the public and reassuring them, since the information on its dangers is delivered by a mad general (D Ripper). This mad general is also hell-bent on a pre-emptive strike (so he knows there’s a conspiracy, but he believes it’s a commie one).
Kubrick and Southern, over and above merely standard-issue nukes, give us something altogether more devastating and absurd (see also The Mouse that Roared in this regard, of pointing to and mocking the premise of the menace), the Doomsday Device. The language of which carefully apes that of the nuke one (the Soviets were “afraid of the doomsday gap”). The language is all deterrent and fear and credible threat, all of which are martialled to keep the populace cowed by the prospect of nuclear holocaust. Dr. Strangelove very opportunely – if we’re to believe it was happenstance – arrived and milked the situation of “terror on the brink” the Cuban Missile Crisis had fanned.
And, following Dr. Strangelove’s terrible threat realised, leading to a reset, a new civilisation shall rise from the ashes, one found living it up in DUMBs (indeed, rather than mutually assured destruction, Ripper might have been right the first time, that the danger comes from “A foreign substance… introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual”. No one would fall for that, would they? Certainly not in the 2020s).
There are the occasional signs of the adolescent gaze – not exactly uncommon to Southern either – that would crop up in the likes of A Clockwork Orange, with much phallic emphasis, of cigars and planes and bombs and whatnot. But with Kubrick mercifully nixing the pie fight, Dr. Strangelove largely maintains its undiluted satirical bite, helped considerably by multiple Sellers at his creative, unhinged zenith, George C Scott, Sterling Hayden, Peter Bull and Slim Pickens. Scott protested the director used all his most OTT takes, but that’s what he’d do with Nicholson in The Shining too. Evidently, the tight grip/ antagonism unleashed was a key part of his approach.
Dr. Strangelove would also turn out to be one of Kubrick’s greatest awards contenders (he’d get nods for Picture, Director and Screenplay), even if it would typically go away empty handed. In a few years’ time, the outrage at the lie perpetrated here may render Dr. Strangelove as uncelebrated as Triumph of the Will. Which would be a shame, as a very funny film is a very funny film, even if it’s revealed to be even darker in hue than anyone ever realised.
*Addendum 24/06/23: So, I’ve been chasing the wrong conspiracy with this one, it seems. It’s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, and as one who’d been dyed-in-the-wool terrified of all things atomic as a nipper, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response).
As for superpower conflicts and the Hegelian arrangement, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Certainly, I’ve assumed the generalised position that, at the highest levels, elite are elite and so much conflict is, to some degree, smoke and mirrors, however much the immediacy of governments perceive this as real (in a similar way to financiers who would never blanche at backing both sides). It would perhaps be more accurate to assert that there was influencing and puppeteering going on at the highest levels, but less so outright control (factor into this the Khazarian control or manipulation). Added to which, conflicts may be legitimate conflicts, but not necessarily legitimate conflicts for the reasons officially stated. On the more specific basis of the alleged threat under scrutiny, though, whether, say, the Draco would have allowed the Cold War to escalate into an all-out nuclear one: my understanding is they would not. It would, after all, not have been in their best interests.
2001: A Space Odyssey
(1968) A question that arises with Kubrick, if we assume – for the sake of argument – he was, in his own way, exposing the Elite, when he actively began doing this “against” rather than for them. Post-faking the Moon landings seems to be answer, as much as a decade after. So was 2001: A Space Odyssey simply getting with the programme, selling what they wanted sold, much as he had previously with nukes and paedos?
Jay Weidner has it that “Believe me, they’ve been on the Moon a lot of times, but they didn’t go the way we were shown in the Moon landings, which were faked by Kubrick. In exchange, Kubrick cut a deal where he would be able to do the kinds of movies he wanted to do”. Pardon me if I don’t take your word for it, Jay (that we’ve landed on a plasma projection numerous times). I’m not entirely certain the causal explanation for faking the Moon landings is necessary anyway (Kubrick wouldn’t need to be incentivised so much as told this was how it was going to be, or else), but there’s some scope for seeing a link between the film set/ Monolith on the Moon and Kubrick’s services having already been secured by NASA at the time.
The notion of fakery and deception is embedded in 2001: A Space Odyssey, though, from the point we learn of a cover story for the Moon quarantine – to conceal the truth about ET influence on, and control of, humanity – due to an epidemic, of all things (“Now, I’m sure you’re all aware of the extremely grave potential for cultural shock and social disorientation contained in this present situation”). Kubrick presents a shiny, apparently utopian future in which the majority of mankind remains in abject ignorance. Not least about germ theory! Indeed, one might suggest this deception persists even now, in the conjecture of how best to reveal the method by which we have been enslaved and duped for so long.
The degree to which the Jupiter mission is apprised or not is evidenced by HAL fishing for Bowman’s psychological insecurities; Kearns suggests HAL is fully conversant with the Moon situation, which is likely the case (there’s no reason to think HAL is a psycho at this point… except that the next conversation with the computer concerns discrepancy with the twin 9000). The question would be the degree to which the conflicts of secrecy “broke” HAL or is simply the influence of the Monolith, “evolving” HAL into a killer in much the same way it did apes.
2001: A Space Odyssey is virtually an anthology film, linked by the Monolith as storyteller, if you like. HAL as the sympathetic psychopath (in the lineage of Norman Bates, then, who like the Monolith would return during the ’80s). I don’t intend to enter into much of a critique of the picture’s qualities here, beyond emphasising that it’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, above and beyond its themes and message (one doesn’t need to have any truck with it to be seduced by its spell).
If one wishes to point to flaws, one can single out the ape costumes. Indeed, they’re markedly less convincing than those in Planet (the year before), such that one might even argue there’s coding to make the 2001: A Space Odyssey apes look fake because evolution is fake. I don’t think the opening twenty minutes are especially riveting, but they’re only twenty minutes and crucial to the whole. Rightly, it’s the last eighty that consume all the attention, amounting to the bulk of the narrative. What’s so arresting overall, though, is how persuasively and meticulously Stanley sells the NASA/freemasonic lie. His previous two pictures were laced with mockery/ satire of its selling points, but 2001: A Space Odyssey does attest to the veracity of its theme and content. It also, for all that its director professed atheism, and what’s on screen promises a materialist-influenced world, carries the conflicting potency of the metaphysical. It’s this that truly elevates it, such that it extends beyond its remit and touches, if you like, the infinite.
Jay Dyer notes the picture’s Darwinian instincts and Kubrick’s apparent Marxist leanings, and both he and the other Jay are big on the secret space programme (there’s a secret there alright, but it’s that there isn’t any space). Both only go so far with the level of predictive programming here: we are apes (no); we are innate killers (no); we are indebted to alien/AI Chariots of the Gods influence (no); we are subordinate to AI (no); we are heading for Luciferian transcendence (no); and there is no God (no). In this, we also have the context of our movement into space (no), satellites in space (no) and nuke satellites (no). 2001: A Space Odyssey being the follow up to Dr. Strangelove, with its nukes (no*), Cold War (no*), and simply explicable Elite (no).
Most significantly, on the Luciferian track, is that the progression of the Monolith influence is to equate man, ultimately, to machine. Both are equally reliant on advance – corruption, if you like – through divine (alien, not actual God) intervention in order to transcend. When we encounter the stargate influence of the Monolith, and from there the Starchild, the distinction between the physical and virtual has been blurred, the ultimate transhumanist goal. The pod in the bedroom suggests a virtual, interiority to existence, something that may be actualised via interface with tech (a transhumanist starchild ascended to via the intervention of an alien AI/ probe monolith).
I was most interested in this nugget regarding Bowman’s trip from Kearns’ analysis: “The painting behind him is La Tendre Pastorale, by Francois Boucher, who decorated King Louis XV’s Versailles living quarters”. That’s Versailles, of the rumoured advanced tech (obviously, this has been debunked by more knowledgeable authorities). Not insignificantly, the painting is dated 1730, which is just a little time past the you know what (now, whether that’s when Francois – assuming he was a real person – painted it is another matter). Kubrick is surrounding Bowman with root of the Monolith’s influence on humanity. What if the Monolith is the 1700 Event? At any rate, the version of reality the picture lends us is one prescribed, so inherently an inverse of the one Kearns is suggesting.
If we draw this in, the root of everything that envelops our understanding of the world – the paradigm we are presented – of space and history and evolution, has been prescribed circa 1730 by an artificial, external force bent on transforming us into something else, something we may see as ascending towards a godlike place but is actually a state of Satanic/Luciferian deception (it is also, perhaps not coincidentally, childlike, associated with innocence and ignorance, and we know who likes to prey on children. And I’m not just talking about the story’s creator/author).
Not long after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick offered an explanation for “what happens on the film’s simplest level”, whereby “extra-terrestrial explorers… decided to influence their [man apes, us] evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artefact… programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe… And finally, there’s a third artefact… waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system”.
Kearns rightly analogises Kubrick’s explanation of Bowman’s fate to a prison: “this artefact… transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo… drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny”. Does that sound like transhumanism in a nutshell? Kubrick doing his masters’ bidding? 2001: A Space Odyssey is packaged as transcendence, yet it’s actually a trap. This is, of course, how Kubrick told it (just as he told it that Humbert loved Lolita, and that he was scared silly of nukes). That’s just what you did, if you wanted to live longer.