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The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick

The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick

Edited by Jerold J. Abrams
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick
    Book Description:

    In the course of fifty years, director Stanley Kubrick produced some of the most haunting and indelible images on film. His films touch on a wide range of topics rife with questions about human life, behavior, and emotions: love and sex, war, crime, madness, social conditioning, and technology. Within this great variety of subject matter, Kubrick examines different sides of reality and unifies them into a rich philosophical vision that is similar to existentialism. Perhaps more than any other philosophical concept, existentialism -- the belief that philosophical truth has meaning only if it is chosen by the individual -- has come down from the ivory tower to influence popular culture at large. In virtually all of Kubrick's films, the protagonist finds himself or herself in opposition to a hard and uncaring world, whether the conflict arises in the natural world or in human institutions. Kubrick's war films (Fear and Desire, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket) examine how humans deal with their worst fears -- especially the fear of death -- when facing the absurdity of war. Full Metal Jacket portrays a world of physical and moral change, with an environment in continual flux in which attempting to impose order can be dangerous. The film explores the tragic consequences of an unbending moral code in a constantly changing universe. Essays in the volume examine Kubrick's interest in morality and fate, revealing a Stoic philosophy at the center of many of his films. Several of the contributors find his oeuvre to be characterized by skepticism, irony, and unfettered hedonism. In such films as A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick confronts the notion that we will struggle against our own scientific and technological innovations. Kubrick's films about the future posit that an active form of nihilism will allow humans to accept the emptiness of the world and push beyond it to form a free and creative view of humanity. Taken together, the essays in The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick are an engaging look at the director's stark vision of a constantly changing moral and physical universe. They promise to add depth and complexity to the interpretation of Kubrick's signature films.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7256-9
    Subjects: Film Studies, Philosophy, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest American film directors. He is the undisputed master of the tracking shot, the reverse zoom, and the painting technique. Kubrick’s images are indelibly imprinted on the pop-cultural unconscious: the creepy mannequin warehouse ofKiller’s Kiss;the stash of money blown all over the airstrip inThe Killing;Kirk Douglas crucified inSpartacus;pedophile Humbert Humbert painting a little girl’s toes inLolita;the “cowboy” pilot joyously riding the atom bomb as it falls through the sky at the end ofDr. Strangelove;the ape throwing a femur into the sky at the beginning...

  5. Part One: The Subject at War

    • Understanding the Enemy: The Dialogue of Fear in Fear and Desire and Dr. Strangelove
      (pp. 9-32)
      Elizabeth F. Cooke

      According to French philosopher Albert Camus, our most important task is not to discover the meaning of life but to recognize that it is, in fact, meaningless. Camus calls this human condition the absurd, the fact that although we long for clarity and meaning in our lives, none is given. Stanley Kubrick was quite taken with existentialism in general, but it is Camus’ philosophy that we see most prominently in two of his war films that are studies in how we face the absurd. These are Kubrick’s first feature-length film,Fear and Desire(1953), which he removed from the public...

    • Chaos, Order, and Morality: Nietzsche’s Influence on Full Metal Jacket
      (pp. 33-48)
      Mark T. Conard

      Full Metal Jacket(1987) is clearly divided into two very different parts—the first dealing with basic training at Parris Island, and the second concerning the war in Vietnam—and each part ends with a killing. At Parris Island, the drill instructor, Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey), berates and debases his new recruits in a most inhuman way, attempting to strip them of their individuality in order to turn them into effective killing machines. One of the recruits, Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), nicknamed Private Pyle, is over weight and of questionable mental ability and so has difficulty following the sergeant’s orders...

    • Existential Ethics: Where the Paths of Glory Lead
      (pp. 49-56)
      Jason Holt

      Paths of Glory(1957) is far from Kubrick’s best-known film. In fact, it is not even his best-known war film. If one thinks of it at all, it comes well down the list, certainly afterFull Metal Jacket(1987) and, although they are not strictly war films,Spartacus(1960),Dr. Strangelove(1964), andBarry Lyndon(1975). Still,Paths of Gloryis a fine entry in Kubrick’s numerically modest but aesthetically powerful body of work. It is arguably his most underrated film. Some critics consider it the best antiwar film ever made, but even this positive verdict sells the movie short....

  6. Part Two: The Subject in Love

    • Where the Rainbow Ends: Eyes Wide Shut
      (pp. 59-84)
      Karen D. Hoffman

      Stanley Kubrick’sEyes Wide Shut(1999) is an existential film about human nature, sexuality, marital fidelity, and the nature and significance of choice. It is one of Kubrick’s most optimistic films. The rituals and banalities of life that often exercise a deadening, soporific effect on the main characters in Kubrick’s other films function here in a positive way, providing opportunities for awareness rather than obfuscation. Even though Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are subject to all the difficulties of the human condition so prevalent in Kubrick’s earlier films,Eyes Wide Shutawakens its protagonists to the...

    • Knockout! Killer’s Kiss, the Somatic, and Kubrick
      (pp. 85-108)
      Kevin S. Decker

      Through the cinema screen, Stanley Kubrick speaks to us not merely as a writer and director of films but also as a person with philosophical vision. His films serve more than the purposes of entertainment and edification. They also cast a penetrating, sometimes disturbing light on the human condition. In this, Kubrick, qua artist-philosopher contrasts sharply with many contemporary directors who can only be called entertainers, formulaically pressing the emotional buttons of their audience but never putting them at serious emotional or intellectual risk. Kubrick, however, never avoids the gargantuan task of illuminating the human spirit (and, as I will...

    • The Logic of Lolita: Kubrick, Nabokov, and Poe
      (pp. 109-130)
      Jerold J. Abrams

      Umberto Eco notes that while writing his novelThe Name of the Rose,he “had only to choose (from among the model plots) the most metaphysical and philosophical: the detective novel.”¹ The detective story is also, I think, the most philosophical dimension of Vladimir Nabokov’s novelLolita(1955) and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation (1962), for which Nabokov wrote the screenplay.²Lolitais a masterful detective story in the same tradition of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales about master sleuth C. Auguste Dupin and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.³ Of course,Lolita’s detective plot and constant references to Poe are often...

  7. Part Three: The Subject and the Meaning of Life

    • Rebel without a Cause: Stanley Kubrick and the Banality of the Good
      (pp. 133-148)
      Patrick Murray and Jeanne Schuler

      Stanley Kubrick entered the annals of filmmaking just as the McCarthy crackdown on communists in Hollywood ended and the movie production code lost its power over the studios. No director was quicker to seize on unshackled topics than Kubrick was. InFear and Desire(1953), soldiers behind the lines ambush a general and shoot him point-blank as he cries “surrender.” In the heist filmThe Killing(1956), Kubrick uses small-timers in a story reminiscent of John Huston’sAsphalt Jungle(1950) but lacking its humanity. InPaths of Glory(1957), French military officers order a suicide mission, fire on their own...

    • The Big Score: Fate, Morality, and Meaningful Life in The Killing
      (pp. 149-164)
      Steven M. Sanders

      Stanley Kubrick’sThe Killingis an early, comparatively short, tightly coiled film that nevertheless gives some indication of the director’s later productions, with their emphasis on art direction, focal lengths, and special effects. Much of the appeal of the 1956 heist melodrama is found in its temporally fragmented style as we follow each of the participants through the events leading up to and including the day that ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) robs a big-city racetrack of $2 million. Their stories are implicitly connected by their participation in Johnny’s plan and then become rather abruptly connected on the day of...

  8. Part Four: The Subject in History

    • Spartacus and the Second Part of the Soul
      (pp. 167-182)
      Gordon Braden

      At the end of Ridley Scott’s filmGladiator(2000), the mortally wounded Maximus (Russell Crowe), having killed the psychopathic emperor Commodus in gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum, speaks to the suddenly silent crowd: “There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.” Marcus was the previous emperor and Commodus’s father; Maximus is referring to a conversation with Marcus (Richard Harris) early in the film, where in his tent on the frontier Marcus had voiced his unhappiness both with Commodus as his imperial successor and with the Roman Empire itself. Marcus then...

    • The Shape of Man: The Absurd and Barry Lyndon
      (pp. 183-200)
      Chris P. Pliatska

      Covering several decades of the eighteenth century,Barry Lyndon(1975) tells a deceptively simple and even conventional story that follows the rise and fall of its title character, played by Ryan O’Neal. In part one of the film—which charts the rise of our hero—a young Redmond Barry falls in love with his cousin Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton) and enters into a duel with the rival for her affections, Captain John Quin (the superb Leonard Rossiter). Tricked into thinking that he has killed the cowardly Quin, Barry flees and joins the British army, which he soon deserts. He is...

    • The Shining and Anti-Nostalgia: Postmodern Notions of History
      (pp. 201-218)
      R. Barton Palmer

      Early in his career, Stanley Kubrick found himself drawn to projects that reflected the vaguely existential fatalism of film noir (Fear and Desire[1953],Killer’s Kiss[1955],The Killing[1956]). Philosopher Mark Conard traces this tradition (which is relevant to an understanding of Kubrick) back to Friedrich Nietzsche’s antihumanism rather than to the less antiestablishmentarian thought of either Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre.¹ Perhaps responding to a change in cinematic fashion, Kubrick soon developed an interest in politically engaged projects of a generally liberal nature.Paths of Glory(1957), an adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s fictional treatment of a 1916 French...

  9. Part Five: The Subject of the Future

    • Nihilism and Freedom in the Films of Stanley Kubrick
      (pp. 221-234)
      Daniel Shaw

      Much critical ink has been spilled over the question of whether the worldview of archetypal auteur Stanley Kubrick is nihilistic, and appropriately so. To my mind, this is one of the most important questions we can ask about genuine artists and their oeuvres. If auteur criticism is to have any validity, from a philosophical perspective, it must address such issues. True cinematic geniuses (Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Lina Wertmüller, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Cronenberg, to name a few) have something to teach us about the meaning of life, and in uncommon instances, their explorations can be genuinely philosophical. This is...

    • “Please Make Me a Real Boy”: The Prayer of the Artificially Intelligent
      (pp. 235-246)
      Jason T. Eberl

      Increasing technological sophistication, leading eventually to the prospect of artificial intelligence, has been the subject of speculation in science fiction works for decades, from literature (Isaac Asimov) to films (Ridley Scott’sBlade Runner[1982]) and television (Data onStar Trek: The Next Generation[1987–1994] and the Cylons ofBattlestar Galactica[1978–1980, 2003–present]). Stanley Kubrick first placed his filmmaking stamp on this subject with the character of HAL 9000 (voice by Douglas Rain) in2001: A Space Odyssey(1968). A fuller treatment, however, did not come until Steven Spielberg’sA.I.: Artificial Intelligence(2001), a film that Kubrick conceived...

    • Nietzsche’s Overman as Posthuman Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey
      (pp. 247-266)
      Jerold J. Abrams

      Stanley Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) is perhaps the greatest science fiction film ever made, and certainly one of the most philosophical.¹ In moving images—and almost no dialogue—Kubrick captures the entire evolutionary epic of Friedrich Nietzsche’s magnum opusThus Spoke Zarathustra.From worms to apes to humans, Nietzsche tracks the movement of life as the will-to-power—ultimately claiming that it is not yet finished. We have one final stage left, the overman, a being who will look upon humanity as humanity now looks upon the apes.² It is well known that Nietzsche tells us little about what...

  10. Filmography
    (pp. 267-268)
  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 269-272)
  12. Index
    (pp. 273-278)