The Films of Stanley Kubrick Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

A Couple on Kubrick closes out.

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I'm ending this round of director analysis a bit more disappointed than the previous one's.  It has little to do with the writing I've done or the company I shared, but an overall sense that it was all too obvious all along.  I won't sit here and say Kubrick failed me as an artist in any way, his films are still among some of the best crafted I've seen.  But there's a difference between a craft born out of an urgent need to create and simply finding the appropriate calling.

Even at his most obtuse, Kubrick's legacy is as literal as his films.  What happens in his films is the exact metaphor we're supposed to pull from the images.  Text and subtext are bled into one and it feels to easy trying to analyze the films.  In The Killing, he doesn't have much of a subtext so the text is a fantastically paced heist.  The soldiers in Paths of Glory face pointless, ignoble deaths while constantly being reminded of this fact.  Then there's the contentious Full Metal Jacket, which begins with a story of soldiers losing their humanity to the military machine and ends on the same note.

None of this is typically bad (disappointment about Lolita and A Clockwork Orange, aside), and there's a loving space carved out in my cinematic heart which loves a blunt subtext.  But it isn't much fun analyzing the films because he spells out the points so blatantly.  Even Eyes Wide Shut, my absolute favorite film of his to think about (if not necessarily watch), explicitly states its point in the dialogue, "If you men only knew."  Then we watch a man pointlessly try to learn and we arrive at the same conclusion we started at, it is useless to try and learn.


A Couple on Kubrick: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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Well, sweetie, it has come to this. The last movie Stanley Kubrick was the primary auteur for.  It was widely hyped, it had a very sexy trailer (that I still remember even though this came out when I was 12), some people were upset about some CGI used in order to keep the movie at an “R” rating, and everyone was talking how Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were not sexually compatible.  Are you ready for it? OK!

Let me start off by saying that, in spite of remembering the promotional material surrounding the movie, I’ve never actually seen Eyes Wide Shut until now. Now that I have seen the  movie, I am left with many questions.

For now, I am going to skip the questions and focus on what I liked about the movie, which I can fully express in my favorite scene of the movie. Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and his wife, Alice Harford (Kidman) are smoking pot and enjoying themselves, when Alice decides to ask if Bill slept with the two nymphet models at the party they attended the night before. Bill assures her that he did not. That exchange leads into a heated discussion about why men interact with women (sex, according to Bill), how that applies to Bill (is he not sleeping with other women out of devotion or out of courtesy), and lastly, whether cheating lies along gender line while Bill explains that even though Nicole was dancing with an older Hungarian gentlemen who wanted to have sex with, he trusted her. The reason why he trusts his wife was not only because she was a devoted wife and mother, but also that women have no evolutionary need to cheat, so she is unable to cheat.

Alice, angry and high, shifts her mood from bubbly and annoyed to deadly serious and cruel when she tells Bill how she saw a handsome and nameless Naval Officer and how she would have had sex with the Naval Officer regardless of the dissolution of her marriage and family if given the opportunity. Alice’s revelation stuns Bill and leaves him insecure and confused, starting his journey into sexuality, morality and consequences leading him into the sex cult. This scene has it all. A great performance by Tom Cruise, a scarily familiar conversation about sexuality and human interaction across gender lines, the start of a great character journey for Bill and the only part of the movie where I like Alice.


A Couple on Kubrick: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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I don't know anyone who really loves Full Metal Jacket.  There are a lot of reasons for this since this is the most muddled Stanley Kubrick film since Lolita.

This isn't to say that there aren't things to enjoy about the movie, especially during the first forty five minutes.  But the praise and adoration I've heard from people who rush to defend the film and incessantly quote Lee Ermey's speech always depend upon this crutch.  To be sure, it's a stellar opening, but one which relies on repetition to get through each and every one of it's clinically detached scenes.

Saying this is part of the point would be doing a disservice to the people who suffered through Vietnam in ways we couldn't have imagined.  I remember speaking to a much admired teacher of mine in the 8th grade and repeated a stupid phrase from my friend about how pointless the Vietnam War was.  He got very quiet and asked if I knew he fought in the war.  This jolly man who grew his hair out in his '60s because he never had a hippie phase was very sad because I thought his life was a cynical cycle of violence instead of a fresh horror every day.

There are no fresh horrors in Full Metal Jacket.  


A Couple on Kubrick: The Shining (1980)

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The Shining has to be one of my favorite psychological horror movies and one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick movies (the other favorite being Dr. Strangelove). It’s dark, atmospheric, menacing, frenetic, disorienting, graphic, spooky, ominous, and, most of all, memorable. Continuing my praise, it is an opaque multi-layered movie that delves so much farther than the typical haunted house story is could have been.  Kubrick is quite a cynic when it comes to humans (as mentioned in our look at 2001: A Space Odyssey), but while 2001 cynically studied evolution and man’s insignificance in terms of space and time, The Shining focused on the darkness lurking in men in a more concentrated and (comparatively) microscopic way.

First, let’s focus on one of the main characters, Jack Torrance as played by Jack Nicholson. Kubrick wanted to deviate from King’s idea of Torrance as the normal but troubled guy turned crazy, and instead make Jack an embodiment of the dark aspects of man barely concealed by a thin veneer of humanity. In the beginning of the movie, Jack can put on an affable face of decency, but his outright contempt of Stuart Ullman (the owner of the hotel) and all other people (including [and especially] his family) is pushing through his friendly façade. I wonder how anyone can not notice it. How could Ullman look at Jack Torrance and say, “That’s a guy who is not brimming with malice beneath the surface”? That’s because Kubrick does not present or want Jack that way (I’d be baffled if he did) because that’s not what Torrance should have been.


A Couple on Kubrick: Barry Lyndon (1975)

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Would we look so favorably on our rogues if they were delivered to our screens with half the honesty of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon?  This was two years before Star Wars, before Harrison Ford redeemed a full film of selfishness and interstellar racism with one line and a quick explosion.  He was an opportunist and is revered, to a degree, but Barry is the essence of the rogue.

His name barely matters, he exists in a sea of opportunity and displacement every scenario he finds himself in.  It's no wonder he turns into such a selfish mess when he finally has a place to call his own, from country to quiet villa he was looking out for no one but himself.

It's this kind of severe focus I wish Kubrick used during A Clockwork Orange.  That film felt to me ten years ago, as is does now, of a teenage kid unable to get his way and deciding to use his talent to tell rape jokes instead of making a point.  Barry Lyndon is the sort of mature work we've seen develop since 2001.  Even Dr. Strangelove, and especially Lolita, suffered from this kind of teenage mentality.  But in Barry Lyndon he brings his attention to detail to a full historical epic and does not spare the times from his analysis.