Kubrick’s (Dark) Shadows(s) on Contemporary Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction

There are some Kubrickian images that just stand out. A dynamic helicopter shot over a snow-laden landscape, the perspective suggesting impending danger, which then cuts to a building in the middle of nowhere partly submerged by snow. A man plays chess with a talking computer. The machine wins the game but is vengefully disabled by its human opponent. Elsewhere a man runs amok – was it because of isolation and cabin fever? A two-way radio goes unanswered. Someone wanders through corridors, fluidly tracked by a steadicam, before an image of a corpse suddenly appears right before the protagonist’s and viewer’s eyes. Is this the set of The Shining (1980) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)? No … we are in Antarctica, at the beginning of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

In his 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre examining the psychology of horror in literature and cinema, Stephen King referenced characters and stories from Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Citing Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange (1971) as political horror films King affirms Kubrick as a master of modern horror. [1] In this capacity, and as the opening example suggests, Kubrick has influenced a number of important contemporary filmmakers working in the genres of horror, fantasy and science fiction. These range from Guillermo Del Toro to Tim Burton through to Michael Haneke and David Robert Mitchell. Kubrick’s oeuvre has influenced their nightmarish, modernist and experimental creations. Following a deconstruction of the link between his works and the horror, science-fiction and fantasy genres, this essay explores the “dark shadows” Kubrick’s work has cast over contemporary cinema. In some ways the directors and related films examined here locate the legacy of Kubrick’s signature style and recurrent themes, but also how these filmmakers have subsequently sought to “correct” Kubrick’s perspective from their own artistic sensibilities.

Such influential ‘shadows’ include films which appear to be holistically inspired by elements of horror in Kubrick’s movies, (but sometimes in critical revision rather than mere homage). Further, they include identifiable Kubrickian cinematic techniques that have subtly impacted other works. Finally, there are the manifest shadows of Kubrick’s iconic visual constructions. There are too many of these later apparitions to mention, hence the focus in this section is on a representative scene to demonstrate how it has been adopted and adapted by others.

Positively Rewritten
In terms of horror Kubrick’s influence on directors appeared earlier than might be expected. Surprisingly, one production appears to have reinterpreted Kubrick’s vision even before Kubrick’s seminal offering in the genre, The Shining, was released. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is acknowledged as a film that revolutionised the modern horror film yet it was Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955) which, whether deliberately or subconsciously, caught Tobe Hooper’s imagination.

In Kubrick’s penultimate climax two men, Davey and Vincent Rapallo (respectively Jamie Smith and Frank Silvera) breathlessly confront each other after a prolonged chase and macabre fight inside a warehouse loft full of white, disjointed and cadaverous-looking mannequins (a scene which also influenced Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982). It is an eerie sequence evoking the atmospherics of grand guignol horror, set uncannily in a simulacrum human abattoir. The ghostly and inert mannequins’ limbs and torsos allegorically represent an innocent and passive humanity caught in the maelstrom of violence. As Jordi Vidal argues in Traité du combat moderne Kubrick’s noirish film is a movie about the passage from the baroque to the modern. [2]

Tobe Hooper’s deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction symbolised another form of passage, one specific to the horror genre – the advent of the American slasher movie. [3] No longer was the metonymy of mannequins needed; the human abattoir became explicit. The axe held by Rappallo was transformed into the chainsaw of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). Hooper similarly included a long, exhaustive chase scene where Sally (Marilyn Burns) runs and jumps through windows, as did Davey to escape his pursuer in Killer’s Kiss. Finally, audiences witness Leatherface’s “danse macabre with chainsaw” at the conclusion of the film, perhaps as a knowing gesture to Iris’s (Ruth Sobotka) balletic performance in Kubrick’s film.

Looking beyond Killer’s Kiss, further evidence of Kubrick’s influence on Hooper’s film can be seen in the character of Franklin Hardesty (Paul A. Partain). As with the eponymous scientist of Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers), Franklin is confined to a wheelchair and sometimes behaves like a frenzied automaton. In another analogy, the extreme close up of Sally’s eye reminds us of the iris and retina of Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) in 2001: A Space Odyssey, while retaining its horror resonance, recalling Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou (1929). However, in Hooper’s direction and montage, rather than performing a physical incision, it is the distinctive and strident soundtrack that provides an aural cut accompanying Sally’s scream. Her nightmare continues despite her cries yet for Davey in Killer’s Kiss it was a scream that awakens Davey from a nightmare into his equally perilous waking life.

The Cinema of the Brain
Kubrick’s influence and legacy stems beyond his iconic and oft quoted visual style and composition. Kubrick’s use of non-linear narrative significantly appeared as early as his second feature length film, The Killing (1956). During the course of his career Kubrick continued to developing structural innovation in his films which have inspired homage and imitation. By the time of The Shining his mastery of narrative structure was evident. Part of the power of this film is that, despite its seemingly linear storyline, it has the clear potential to be interpreted non-linearly, where the complexity of its structural design complements its labyrinthine trope – manifest by the presence of The Shining’s maze.

Such a layered approach to narrative structure has represented a challenge to the experimental ambitions of the contemporary horror directors previously mentioned. Kubrick’s influential role in this form has been identified as far back as 1957. Critic Vincent Ostria has argued that the famous dolly tracking sequence through the battlefield trenches in Paths of Glory (1958) prefigures the mazelike rhizome of The Shining. [4] Similarly Thomas Allen Nelson has highlighted that “Kubrick’s chateau in Paths of Glory resembles a labyrinth,” noting that in The Shining, “Kubrick’s film uses a hedge maze […] to metaphorically focus the meaning of Jack’s madness as well as visually embody larger conceptual aspirations”. [5] [6]

In subsequent years David Lynch, Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke, among others, became Kubrick’s heirs apparent by exemplifying what Gilles Deleuze termed in 1985 as the “cinema of the brain.” This concept embraces both the “interior” (the deep psychology) and the “exterior” (the cosmology of the outside). In relation to Stanley Kubrick, Deleuze asserts:

If we look at Kubrick’s work, we see the degree to which it is the brain which is mise en scène. Attitudes of body achieve a maximum level of violence, but they depend on the brain. For, in Kubrick, the world itself is a brain, there is identity of brain and world, as in the great circular and luminous table in Doctor Strangelove, the giant computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Overlook hotel in The Shining. The black stone of 2001 presides over both cosmic states and cerebral stages: it is the soul of the three bodies, earth, sun and moon, but also the seed of the three brains, animal, human, machine … The world-brain is A Clockwork Orange, or again, a spherical game of chess where the general can calculate his chances of promotion on the basis of the relation between soldiers killed and positions captured (Paths of Glory). [7]

The same observation can be applied to the house in Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997), the desert in Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002), the high school in Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003), or the film set in David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006). They are all presented as maze-like, labyrinthine spaces. The supernatural aspects of the Overlook Hotel appear as a result of the conflict between the father’s brain and that of the son, including Danny’s (Danny Lloyd) ability to ‘shine’. Conflict exists spatially and dramatically between the exterior (the place of the rational and the realistic) and the interior (the sites where the characters confine themselves), and deeper still, in the brain itself. The hotel becomes the psychic location where sadistic and psycho-sexual fantasies are enacted. It becomes the place where everything is possible. In Elephant, which concerns a high school massacre, we have a place where time and space are reversed; a place of confinement and seclusion. Enclosed spatially and psychologically it is a locus which serves to facilitate (ultra) violence and terror, but will remain open to “plural parallel worlds” of other fictional possibilities that the viewer cannot easily anticipate in advance.

Unsurprisingly, such movies are often called “puzzle films” or “mind game films” and are epitomised by plastic, narrative complexity and a pronounced, fractured linearity. They contain temporal loops and divisions within and across spatiotemporal reality. Such “cinema of the brain” blurs the frontiers between different layers of reality. Consequently the non-linear narrative and compositional structures of post-Shining cinema, such as Elephant, Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997) and Gerry, all express degrees of innocence, loss, or hopeless aporia.

The Monster Inside the Maze and The “Shining” Girl
The impossible corridors of the Overlook, accentuating the helpless situation of the trapped mother and child in The Shining, perfectly illustrate the spatiotemporal labyrinths in film. The layout is so complex that Wendy (Shelley Duvall) feels she needs to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, evoking Hansel and Gretel and the subtext of fairy tales. Such archaic fables frequently originate in the horrific events of the past and serve as cautionary tales. Kubrick draws also from ancient mythology in The Shining where Jack Torrance’s (Jack Nicholson) increasingly bestial behavior conjures the Minotaur within his labyrinth. Subconsciously, in the mind of the viewer, Kubrick evokes one of the earliest monster horror stories but with a twist. Jack’s son Danny reenacts the Theseus myth while simultaneously fulfilling the Œdipal trajectory to kill his Minotaur father.

Partly inspired by Kubrick’s work, Guillermo Del Toro’s nightmarish fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), directly contrasts The Shining’s mythological undercurrents via the emblematic Goya painting Saturn Devouring His Son (1819-1823) that serves as the film’s foundation. The movie opens with a close-up of a young girl lying on the ground, bleeding. The voice-over invites the audience to listen to her story, but the camera descends into her eyes and enables us to see it. The little girl is Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). Like Danny in The Shining she has been uprooted and transported to an unsettling new environment. The location is Spain in 1944, the home of her stepfather, the cruel and sadistic Vidal (Sergi López), a captain in the fascist Falangist forces.

In the opening scenes Ofelia finds a stone with an eye carved into it which she places back into a totemic figure at the edge of the forest. As she does so, she sees a “fairy” which signals her affinity with the supernatural, a bond that develops further in her new home. As the victorious Falangist authorities impose their tyranny and oppression, the violence and trauma they inflict is portrayed through scenes of brutality, torture and execution. A monstrous supernatural creature residing in a labyrinthine netherworld witnesses these scenes as well as other base human acts such as the lust for power and money.

The Shining treats such patriarchal cravings with greater subtlety. Kubrick creates a cavernous Gold Room where Jack remains largely insignificant in the hierarchy of historical power, ready to sell his soul for a drink rather than find fame and fortune. He is an adult male repressed and inhibited by civilisation’s discontents who cannot play freely like his “gifted” son. Del Toro transfers this adult immaturity to Vidal who, like Jack, remains a boy who wants to play but who believes that his role and responsibilities forbid him that indulgence, even though, as Del Toro says, “fascism is definitely a male concern and a boy’s game”. [8] Like Jack at the end of Kubrick’s film, Vidal is shown “frozen” in a state of stasis, or timelessness, symbolised by the watch he constantly peers at, reminding him of the precise hour his father, another figure of patriarchal authority, died.

In The Wolf at the Door Geoffrey Cocks noted that “[f]or Kubrick fine plots and words are trivial compared with the power of images as a means to address larger historical and cultural issues”. [9] In Kubrick’s films – as with Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) or The Devil’s Backbone (2001) – characters are “caught in the web of a world of great threat and danger, evocative especially of the world of fascism, war and mass murder that Kubrick himself first observed as a child, youth and young adult”. [10] Ofelia, as with Danny, enables imagery to appear that the viewer also sees. Like Tony who, via Danny’s flexing finger, channels visions of murder and torrents of blood cascading from the hotel elevator, the book that Pan (Doug Jones) gives to Ofelia is soaked with the blood of her haemorrhaging mother. Both films evoke ogres and the story of the Three Little Pigs. The monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth are echoes of fear – the Falangist ogre Franco mirroring the Nazi werewolf. The horror is one of historic trauma, just as The Shining alludes to Native American genocide.

Constructively Criticised
Kubrick is often described as the “directors’ director” and is regularly paid homage to through discrete, but readily recognisable quotation or self-conscious intertextual referencing. Nevertheless, there are filmmakers who, while admiring Kubrick technically and wanting to emphasise that virtuosity by citing him in their own work, do reserve a healthy, constructive criticism informing the evolution of their own oeuvre. For example, in a 2007 interview Michael Haneke discussed Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange noting that he had learned a great deal from Kubrick’s “failures”:

I’m a huge Kubrick fan, but I find A Clockwork Orange a kind of miscalculation, because he makes the brutality so spectacular – so stylized, with dance numbers and so on – that you almost have to admire it … It’s incredibly difficult to present violence on-screen in a responsible manner. I would never claim to be cleverer than Kubrick, but I have the advantage of making my films after he made his. I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount from his mistakes. [11]

Funny Games quotes The Shining and A Clockwork Orange to redress Kubrick’s “mistake” of treating violence in a “stylized” manner. The opening sequence reminds the viewer of the beginning of The Shining (coupled with its “Donner Party” car scene). Classical music is heard alongside voices in a car. The music is intradiegetic. While this mise en scène elicits a “holiday atmosphere”, the idyll of the family is suddenly obliterated by extradiegetic screams of death-metal music and the superimposed movie titles in bold red lettering. Those two elements dramatically alter the flow of Haneke’s film in distinction to the fluid camera movement at the beginning of Kubrick’s The Shining. The former suggests an ominous presence which applies only to Jack (who will not succeed in his mission to kill his family). In the latter, the coarseness of music and titles can only foretell a violent massacre: the family is metaphorically killed by the music. Soon afterwards, in a stylised reminder of the Clockwork Orange droogs’ white costumes, two young men enter the family’s house. Haneke’s set up allows them free reign to exploit the infamous phrase from The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. The sentiment again attains a sinister meaning when Paul and Peter (respectively Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) play out their style of ultra-violence with devastating effect. From the moment their “funny games” commence, all the quotations from or allusions to Kubrick’s film are of a disturbing nature. Believing that the assailants have gone, Anna (Susanne Lothar) goes outside to find help, while her injured husband George (Ulrich Mühe) waits for her inside. Suddenly a golf ball appears in the doorway, evoking the tennis ball which inexplicably rolls towards Danny outside room 237 in The Shining. Reminiscent of The Shining’s ghostly Grady girls the two men are shown to have returned with fatal consequences for the couple.

Funny Games also seriously questions the viewer’s subjectivity in a disturbing way. A Clockwork Orange begins with a close up of Alex’s (Malcolm McDowell) provocative gaze accompanied by his narration. The intimacy of his voiceover and the associated camera movement create a point of empathy before Alex is revealed to be a violent, though cultured, thug. In classical cinema the subjective perspective of a character is relayed via the camera. Kubrick employs this technique in 2001 (Hal) and in A Clockwork Orange during the rape scene and in the Cat Lady’s house (where the viewer assumes the viewpoint of the murderous phallus).

Considering Haneke’s comment about Kubrick’s decision to coax audience sympathy for Alex, in Funny Games the director makes problematic the relationship between his protagonists and the viewer. Not only does Haneke place the viewer in a voyeuristic framework, but also in a position of participating. After more torture, the “players” make a macabre bet that within twelve hours all three victims will be “kaput.” At that moment, Paul once again turns to the adjacent camera and says, “What do you think? Do you think they have a chance of winning? You are on their side, aren’t you? So, who will you bet with?” Challenged as to the outcome, from this moment on the viewer is deeply implicated in the horror. Paul, who maintains complete control over the action, explicitly states that they act for the viewer. They do not kill their victims immediately because they consider “the entertainment value”, not wanting to deprive the audience of pleasure. Haneke goes further than Kubrick’s characters like Alex, Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) or Jack Torrance, who each confront the viewer’s eyes with direct-to-camera address. Haneke provides his malevolent protagonists the sort of “extradiegetic power” we associate with indestructible cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry (the pair address each other using cartoon names). Through this extradiegetic device the killers can act outside the normal rules of narrative containment which explains how, when Anna succeeds in shooting Peter, Paul refuses to accept the outcome, reversing, replaying and deleting the scene by using a TV remote control. The killers set all the rules of the game for the morbid pleasure of the viewer.

More recently Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) drew substantial critical attention due to its parallels with Kubrick’s magnum opus. Interstellar is greatly inspired by 2001 but despite all of the self-conscious references, Nolan uses the familiarity of Kubrick’s movie as a launch pad for his own idiosyncratic cinematic odyssey. For Nolan, humanity belongs to a social community and at its core is the family. This becomes evident when the director reprises and adapts Kubrick’s scene with Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) on the orbiting space station speaking to his as yet unidentified daughter (Vivian Kubrick) back home on Earth. A similar scene exists in Interstellar but the difference is that the audience already knows Cooper’s (Matthew McConaughey) children. Nolan depicts events which have occurred before Coop left his family, especially the relationship with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy/young, Jessica Chastain/old). In contrast to 2001, Interstellar is primarily a family story, one concerning a father who loves his children deeply and is trying to do the right thing by them. In this respect Interstellar contrasts dramatically with another Kubrick film, The Shining. As Coop says, men are explorers, pioneers, not caretakers. Parents are the “ghosts of their children’s future.” He exists for them.

Nolan’s familial ideal is foregrounded in the scene when Coop observes his past at the very moment he left his daughter to embark on his mission to save the world. The setting and production design conjures and modifies Hal’s zero-gravity logic centre in 2001, a 3D location inside Interstellar’s ‘alien’ fifth dimension, where Coop attempts to communicate across time and space. Nolan’s motifs are obvious – the importance of family, human connection, the potential for superior transcendental life – all culminating in high drama at the point of no return. Critics of 2001 insisted that the film was “cold” and more concerned with technology over humanity, and emphasising the intellectual rather than the emotional. Hence, Nolan’s Interstellar can be understood as offering a constructive, critical reappraisal of Kubrick’s film.

The Dawn of Inspiration
2001 is one of the most quoted (indeed parodied) movies in screen history. The advanced cinematic techniques it deployed coupled with its innovative soundtrack, made it a landmark film. Of special interest here is the “The Dawn of Man” sequence, showcasing Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of how apes transitioned into humans through the (murderous) use of tools. The end of this lengthy sequence in 2001 is marked by one of the most iconic edits in cinematic history, one that dramatically transforms a bone into a future orbiting satellite, instantly bypasses four million years of human history. Director Matt Reeves acknowledged the importance of this sequence and its implicit quotation in the title Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). Reeves’ movie/sequel is situated at a moment within Kubrick’s famous temporal ellipsis, in a parallel world somewhere between the passage of the bone-tool being thrown into the air and the view of the orbiting satellite. Through the experience and perspective of the humans on-screen we see the rapid cognitive transition of an ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis) to a heightened intellectual capacity. Matt Reeves has stated that he wanted his movie to start “like 2001” but that “instead of dawn of man, it’s dawn of intelligent apes”. [12]

Similarly, towards the end of Tim Burton’s 2005 fantasy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in a circular white laboratory, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) experiments to make an edible chocolate bar available to anyone with a TV screen. While Mike (Jordan Fry) engages him in scientific discourse, a replica “Dawn of Man” sequence plays on a television in the room. As the test continues, a huge bar of chocolate is brought into the chamber to the accompaniment of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathrustra (the principal musical leitmotif in 2001). The bar is then transmitted into the television broadcast where it replaces the large rectangular monolith the apes have just encountered. Nevertheless, it continues to retain fascination for the apes, an allure mirrored by those present in Wonka’s laboratory. One observer, Charlie (Freddie Highmore), puts his hand through the screen, inside the Kubrickian sequence from where he magically retrieves the chocolate bar. As an act of intertextual homage Burton’s editing and mise en scène highlights the possibilities of new technology as did Kubrick’s pioneering film 37 years earlier. 2001 proved categorically that Kubrick was one of cinema’s great technical innovators which enabled him to transcend several dominant conventions in mainstream screen representation. Contemporary horror, fantasy and SF directors remind us of that innovation by referencing and emulating such techniques.

Sinister Soundtracks and Supernatural Lighting
If 2001 was the cradle of new and inspirational cinematic processes it was no less radical in its innovative use of music. Kubrick’s decision to solely use classical music in the film is too broad a topic for this essay. That 2001 and other Kubrick soundtracks influenced other directors’ approach to music for their own films is now indisputable. For Matt Reeves the impact of the film’s music upon Dawn of the Planet of the Apes prompted both recognition and variation: “Well, here’s our chance to do something kind of different but very specific to the apes that could really echo that”. [13]

Claudia Gorbman’s 1987 essay on “unheard melodies” established that films are traditionally scored according to rules of “invisibility” and “inaudibility”, “continuity” and “unity”. [14] Irena Paulus has further observed that Kubrick’s use of music in 2001 broke this “unwritten rule” by employing “micropolyphony” which gives colour and movement to the sound. [15] For Kate McQuiston, soundtracks across most Kubrick films contain “several striking moments of sonic ambiguity – instances in which sounds do not immediately sort into ‘sound’ or ‘music’ – and which generate some slippage or disorientation”. [16] While Kubrick breaks the rule of an “invisible” music he also invests his scores with a living presence. For the appearances of the monolith in 2001 Kubrick chose György Ligeti’s Requiem which, as an oratorio, gives the impression that multiple harmonic voices are contained within it. Another example is the main title soundtrack of The Shining, a rearranged version of Hector Berlioz’s Dies Irae that Wendy Carlos embellished with similar, though profoundly eerie, voice effects. Imbued with high-pitched vocals, ethereal (or primeval) in origin, they reinforce the impression of a sinister supernatural presence. The tone is one of archaic ritual and demonic melopoeia, a portent of the satanic chant that will later appear in the orgy sequence in Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Comparable expressions in music and sound are evident in the films of Gus Van Sant and David Lynch, such as the early sequence in Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) where a severed ear is discovered, or during the unsettling scenes featuring Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) at the beginning of Lost Highway. In Gus Van Sant’s Gerry the music is minimal and relies mainly on ambient sound. The film focuses on the way characters listen to these and are led by them.

Music is critical to the structure of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) which quotes from The Shining by playing with point-of-view and exploiting the ensuing situational conflicts of misunderstanding to engender unease. The movie is in essence an extended quotation of the Room 237 bathroom scene, which alternates between Jack’s horror at the transformed woman walking towards him (dolly out) and the decaying old woman (Billie Gibson) reaching out for Jack, intercut with him showing his terrified disgust (dolly in). This alternating approach increases the terror by implying that the victim cannot escape “It” and finally confines the viewer in a closed space. The sound in Mitchell’s film, which appears extradiegetic is, in the end, intradiegetic. The sound is the Thing (It). Music emphasises its absence from the screen. When “It” is there, “It” is signified by a non-melodious, non-harmonious and non-continuous sound. It breathes, inspires and symbolises the menace. It acts as a reminder of Romain Rolland’s comment: “music is the deepest voice of the soul”. [17]

Kubrick sought perfection in every aspect of his medium. In Danse Macabre Stephen King noted in The Shining and Barry Lyndon (1974) a heritage derived from Val Lewton’s productions. He related this to the way Kubrick had perfected the realistic and horrific possibilities of the lighting and setting of the soundstage. This meticulous sensibility influenced Kubrick’s friend, Roman Polanski, who aimed to achieve the same lighting quality for his film Tess (1980). Polanski engaged Geoffrey Unsworth, the photographic director of 2001, who shot for eight months using only natural light – particularly at “magic hour” just before sunset – to attain the correct colour tones for each season. [18] Such was the timing for the first shot in the opening sequence of Tess – a pale blue sky blurred by a thin whitish layer, zooming out to display a powdered landscape. The earth and the sky blend together to suggest that Tess’s (Nastassja Kinski) life will be as beautiful and as brief as this moment of the day is hard to preserve. Tess may not at first seem to fit with the genre of films hitherto cited but this transitory opening moment is imbued with supernatural overtones (a recurring theme in Polanski). From far away in the background a group of dancers approach; a reminder of the final scene of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), a “danse macabre” and an ominous portent of death. Kubrick used a Zeiss Planar NASA lens for the scenes with candles in Barry Lyndon, to create a “static ambience”. He combined composition with natural lighting to create an (almost) still life image. The technique is similarly exploited throughout Polanski’s film, rendering subjects immobile, appearing as portrait figures or mechanical automata, such as the dancing angel girls in Tess.

When Alec (Leigh Lawson) rapes Tess in a field a fog quickly descends, obscuring the spectacle. The scene occurs in a blue-green light, the same colour that envelopes Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) when she is in mourning (in her room after she has just lost her son). Innocence is lost in foggy colour. Tess tells her coworkers that her soul leaves her body at night when she looks up at the stars, confirming her spectral existence and making her an uncanny figure of mythical beauty. As Jacques Lacan noted about Antigone, the ultimate and sparkling beauty of a being is found at the edge of death – death is already in life and life has a foothold in the death’s kingdom. [19] Tess and Lady Lyndon are beautiful but tragic, phantasmic creatures who frequent this liminal space. In both films it is the composition and lighting that frames the characters and foretells their fates. Tess was dedicated to Sharon Tate who gave her husband, Roman Polanski, the Thomas Hardy’s novel to read only a few days before she was murdered in 1969. Tate may well have wished to play the lead role and we can project into the character of Tess the angelic aura of a beauty already condemned to be a ghost.

Black Humour
A much understated feature of Kubrick’s oeuvre is his use of humour. The dark satire which pervades Dr. Strangelove occasionally reappears in other films. The lengthy instructions for the weightless toilet in 2001 or the scatological insults of Full Metal Jacket (1987) are perhaps a more typical manifestation of Kubrick’s use of wit.

The cinematic world and humour of David Lynch is similarly unique. That Kubrick greatly enjoyed Eraserhead (1977) is not in doubt, it was amongst his favourite films and David Lynch knew that. As Lynch recalls in his book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, one day Kubrick showed his “favourite film” to “some guys who were working with George Lucas” at the Elstree Studios. [20] If Kubrick liked Eraserhead, Lynch was just as fond of Lolita (1962). [21] Greg Olson has convincingly critiqued aspects and motifs of the film found in Twin Peaks (1990). [22] Lynch alluded to Kubrick’s film when he created a scene of black humour in the third episode during which the solemnity of Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) funeral suddenly lurches to dark comedy. As a brawl breaks out in the background, Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) flings himself upon the coffin, in grief and incestuous lust for his daughter’s body. Civility, identity and order are disrupted in this sequence by the grotesque and the absurd – Laura’s coffin is prevented from being peacefully laid to rest because of Leland’s misplaced hysteria. Lynch’s coffin scene gestures to his favourite scene in Lolita, where Humbert Humbert (James Mason) has trouble opening the camp bed in the hotel suite. This tragicomic scene relies on the malfunctioning mechanism of the bed springs to parallel the criminal dysfunction of an older man’s (pedophilic) desire to sleep with his young step-daughter. The farcical absurdity of the scenario creates an uncomfortable and confusing situation for viewers – perhaps unsure if they should laugh or not. Correspondingly, Lynch’s farcical funeral fracas, with its incestuous and necrophiliac implications, recalls Humbert’s quotation from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Ulalume” (1847) and Julia Kristeva’s definition of the human corpse as “the utmost of abjection”, as “death infecting life,” and the instrument that “disturbs identity, system, order”. [23]

As this essay has demonstrated, Kubrick continues to inspire other filmmakers yet he remains fundamentally inimitable. His pervasive presence can be readily identified by cineastes around the world who are open to perceiving the now iconic scenes, images, motifs, characters and devices that his oeuvre has brought to our collective filmic conscience. In particular his lasting influence is fundamental to contemporary horror, fantasy and science fiction genres. As such Kubrick’s (dark) shadow(s) have become metaphysical entities with lives of their own. They behave like Charles Baudelaire’s poetical “flâneur,” a man who could be, “away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”. [24] It may be that to perceive Kubrick’s “shining” – his influence across a myriad of movies – audiences needs to have their eyes wide open, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Then again, perhaps it is the ocular procedure depicted by his friend Steven Spielberg in Minority Report (2002) that reveals how Kubrick’s universe might be best accessed … through someone else’s eyes.

[1] Stephen King, Danse Macabre [1981] (London: Hodder, 2012), p. 179.
[2] Jordi Vidal, Traité du combat moderne. Films et fictions de Stanley Kubrick (Paris: Allia, 2005), p. 31.
[3] He shares this advent with Bob Clark’s Black Christmas released the same year in 1974.
[4] Vincent Ostria, “Les sentiers de la gloire”, Les Inrocks, 16 August 2006, [http://www.lesinrocks.com/cinema/films-a-l-affiche/les-sentiers-de-la-gloire/]
[5] Thomas Allen Nelson, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), p. 206.
[6] Ibid., p. 205.
[7] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image [1985], translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Caleta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 205-206.
[8] Quoted in Mark Kermode, “Girl Interrupted”, Sight and Sound, issue 12, Vol. 16 (December 2006), p. 24.
[9] Geoffrey Cocks, The Wolf At The Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, and the Holocaust (New York: P. Lang, 2004), p. 11.
[10] Ibid.
[11] John Wray, “Minister of Fear”, New York Times Magazine, 23 September 2007, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/23/magazine/23haneke-t.html?_r=0]
[12] Ben Kendrick, “‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Director Caesar’s Story, CGI Characters, & More!”, Screenrant, 07 August 2014, [http://screenrant.com/dawn-planet-of-the-apes-director-matt-reeves-interview/]
[13] Ibid.
[14] Claudia Gorbman, Unheard Melodies (London-Bloomington: BFI Publishing, Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 73-98.
[15] Irena Paulus, “Stanley Kubrick’s Revolution in the Usage of Film Music: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)”, International Review of the Aesthetics & Sociology of Music, Vol. 40, No. 1 (June 2009), pp. 102-104.
[16] Kate McQuiston, We’ll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 69.
[17] Romain Rolland, Musiciens d’autrefois, (Paris: Hachette, 1908), p. 262.
[18] A heart attack saw him been replaced by Ghislain Cloquet.
[19] Jacques Lacan, “L’éclat d’Antigone”, L’Éthique de la psychanalyse (Paris: Seuil, 1986), p. 291.
[20] David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity [2006] (New-York: Penguin Random House, 2007), p. 137.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Greg Olson, David Lynch: Beautiful Dark (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), p. 68.
[23] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay of Abjection, translated by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 4.
[24] Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” [1863], The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, Translated and ed. Jonathan Mayne (New-York: Da Capo, 1964), pp. 9-10.

About the Author

Stella Louis

About the Author

Stella Louis

Stella Louis is a PhD candidate in Film Studies at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and a lecturer in the cinema department of the University of Paris Est Marne-la-Vallée. She is completing a thesis on the contemporary representation of the vampire in the digital age.View all posts by Stella Louis →