Kubrick & The Fantastic
by Michel Ciment
Excerpted from the book "Kubrick" by Michel Ciment, translated from the French by Gilbert Adair, Copyright ©1982 Michel Ciment, All Rights Reserved
"Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence."
-- Edgar Allan Poe
For over twenty years, Stanley Kubrick's films -- with the exception of Barry Lyndon, a demiurgic work which claims nothing less than to have reconstituted a whole world -- have tended to trranscend the limits of the cinematic "realism" (however flexibly one cares to define the term) by which Lolita, his war movies and thrillers were bound. Dr. Strangelove (1963) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) belong less to science-fiction proper than to political fiction (international politics and nuclear war; the workings of the internal political system), their action being situated in the near future; and they derive, in the first instance, from burlesque farce, in the second, from the philosophical and satirical fable. It is here that Kubrick's comic genius -- present in all his films -- can be given free rein, with his sense of sarcasm and derision, of caricature and humor. Dr. Strangelove (in the character of the doctor himself and the Doomsday Device) and A Clockwork Orange (in the Ludovico treatment) bear at least a tangential relation to the genre of the fantastic. But they impress us above all as "one-off" films, without any real precursors or progeny, whereas 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining seem on the contrary to belong wholly to the genre, the first in terms of science-fiction, the second of the horror movie. Notwithstanding their evident differences of approach, such theorists as Roger Caillois, Gerarad Lenne and Tzvetan Todorov concur in the opinion that the fantastic represents a breach in the recognized order of things so scandalous that neither experience nor reason dares admit its existence; it therefore constitutes the shock between what is real and what is imaginary, excluding forms of pure fantasy in which nothing surprises us, nothing astounds us since, in the realm of the subconscious, anything can happen.
It is easy to see fow Kubrick might have been attracted to such a transgression of codified normality, such a defiance of reason. The apparitions of the monolith in 2001, those of the ghosts in The Shining, the arrival of the astronaut Dave Bowman in the Louis XVI room and the presence of Jack at the July 4th party held in the Overlook Hotel in 1921 are all instances of the incomprehensible, or even the unthinkable. In either film, the spectator is incapable of supplying a rational explanation for what he has witnessed and ends up by accepting the supernatural. This form of the fantastic therefore tends towards sheer fantasy (without coinciding with it), if one accepts Todorov's definition: "Either the reader (spectator) admits that a rational explanation can be found for apparently supernatural events and we then switch from the fantastic to the merely strange; or else he concedes their existence as such and we find ourselves in fantasy."
But, as we have seen, the fantastic can only originate from a background of strongly defined "realism". For there to exist an opposition between the real and the imaginary, and conceivably a fusion between the two, the framework of reality must be scrupulously respected. The whole tradition of fantastic literature was founded in the century of enlightenment (a period which Kubrick regards as the representation of all our current problems), from the English Gothic novel to German Romanticism. Its development in the nineteenth century ran parallel to that of science and positivism (of which it may be considered the shadowy underside); and it is instructive to note that, from Hoffmann to Gogol, from Balzac to Maupassant, the greatest authors of the fantastic were also adepts of realism, even naturalism -- before Jules Verne and H.G. Wells used science-fiction to illustrate the encounter between technology and magic.
Finally, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining explore the two orientations of the fantastic, as they were defined by Lenne in his remarkable essay. In the first, the danger comes from man. One recognizes the schema of the sorcerer's apprentice to which the myth of Frankenstein belongs. Out of a wish to dominate the universe, man creates a machine which places him in jeopardy; this is one of the themes of 2001, in which the real becomes imaginary. In the second, however, the danger comes from elsewhere, as illustrated by the myth of Dracula; this time man is dominated, metamorphosed and himself becomes the danger. The Shining, in which the imaginary becomes real, conforms to such a definition. But, as Lenne very clearly demonstrates, these oppositions -- awe of the hyper-rational/awe of the irrational, uncertainty of matter/uncertainty of mind -- operate only on the explicit narrative level. "It is man, in fact, who is the source of every superstition and every danger."
2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining can be compared in the way they expose these threats from within. The fact that one of them is the most audacious film ever made by Kubrick and the other is the one most subservient to the laws of genre (as if he realized that he could not afford to disregard the inflexible codes of cinematic horror) should not disguise what the two have in common. From the macrocosm of 2001 to the microcosm of The Shining, the quest has remained the same: to search through the fantastic and its myths for the reason behind the irrational terrors which govern human beings.
2001: A Space Odyssey
"Eternity is in love with the productions of time."
-- William Blake
The opening shots of Dr. Strangelove revealed an unknown, threatening terrain at the extremity of the earth and the cosmos; at the end of the film we were shown the whole planet exploding. These shots anticipated 2001: A Space Odyssey. Every Utopia contains an element of intellectual speculation, the kind of mind-boggling calculation that is bound to attract Kubrick. And by setting the action in the year 2001 (in Arabia 1000 signifies the uncountable and 1001 conjures up infinity, as witness the tales of Scheherazade; 2001 is also the date at which Ray Bradbury set part of his "Martian Chronicles" and Arno Schmidt's "The Republic of Scientists" takes place), Kubrick was setting himself beyond the breakup of civilization which he had already illustrated in the most sombre tones. Aurel David has shown how "the balance between the living and inert parts of the world has now been upset by a continual loss of the living substance. Life is slipping out of the biologist's hands into those of the physicist." The aim of cybernetics is the substitution of the machine for man in every menial task, in everything that is mechanical and mediatory. If it is impossible to isolate what is specifically human, one can reabsorb or destroy what is non-human and replacable by technology, perhaps even down to the ultimate 0.01%, the intellectual proportion of a human being. Man would then be wholly mechanizable and cease to exist. Such speculations are not so far removed from those of Arthur C. Clarke, the film's co-scenarist, who envisions a world peopled by robots, in which machines will prevail simply because their potential is infinitely greater than man's. Aurel David has noted how this search for the ultimate resorts of life is tinged with the fascination of disaster, a dark Romanticism well-attuned to this age of ours and which is expressed in a phrase of the great cybernetician Norbert Wiener: "We are castaways on a planet that is condemned to death."
The world of 2001 is ready to die, ripe for destruction as is suggested by the intensely melancholic music of Khatchaturian that accompanies the empty, monotonous existence of the astronauts inside the Discovery. The science of cybernetics could not fail to intrigue Kubrick, obsessed as he always has been with the idea of remote-controlled action and the mechanization of living organisms. The word, moreover, was already used by Ampere when referring to the art of politics (taken from the Greek "kubernesis", meaning "pilot"), so linking the workings of power as analysed by Kubrick with those of the most futuristic science. But such action, however efficient, has no power to determine the final goal. Man at that point is alone and machinery cannot help him. This is what 2001 is about: man, who transcended the animal condition by means of technology, must free himself of that same technology to arrive at a superhuman condition.
In the film can be found again Kubrick's despair when confronted with the fundamental question posed by Pascal's free-thinker: "By whose order and bidding has this place and this time been made my destiny?" The anthropomorphic vision of the classical period and the Renaissance was succeeded by the hegemony of science, which restored man to his rightful place in the universe without ever relinquishing the age-old dream of overcoming all natural obstacles, even to the point of thrilling nineteenth-century man with the notion of absolute knowledge through scientific progress. But modern science has taught us that we can no longer consider nature as a thing in itself, as the ultimate objective reality. "The subject of research is therefore no longer nature in itself, but nature given over to human interrogation and to this extent all man will encounter there is himself yet again." It was the eternally tormenting trio of questions -- Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? -- which prompted Kubrick to compose the visual symphony of 2001. And it offers conclusive refutation of Heisenberg's belief that the image of the universe given us by the natural sciences has had no direct influence on the dialogue of the modern artist with nature itself. Taking as his point of departure a thought expressed by Arthur Clarke which he admits to sharing: "Sometimes I think we are alone in the universe and sometimes I think we aren't: in both cases, the idea makes me dizzy", he conceived a film which overnight made all other cinematic science-ficttion look stale, even if it disappointed the "specialists", who were lost without their favorite extra-terrestrial being, and baffled "laymen" with its radically unconventional narrative.
In effect, one of the traps awaiting authors of science-fiction is their frequent inability to rise above an anthropomorphic view of the universe, and one of the principal themes of the genre is undoubtedly that of "other" civilizations. But it is hard to imagine these different worlds without having recourse to human "standards" and thereby rendering them ridiculous. Kubrick himself has pointed out how impotent human thought becomes in such a context. "Such cosmic intelligence growing in knowledge over the aeons would be as far removed from man as we are from the ants. They could be in instantaneous telepathic communication throughout the universe; they might have achieved total mastery over matter; in their ultimate form, they might exist as a disembodied immortal consciousness throughout the universe. Once you begin discussing such possibilities you realize that the religious implications are inevitable because all the essential attributes of such extra-terrestrial intelligence are the attributes we give to God. What we're dealing with here is, in fact, a scientific definition of God." The strength of 2001 is that it confronts our civilization with another without ever dissipating the mystery of the encounter. The black monolith appears both as a threat and as a sign of hope at four decisive moments in human evolution: first of all, it is the ape which approaches it with respect, then shortly after hits upon the use of a bone as a weapon, the first stage in a technical domination of the world. But this discovery, which was made in a state of terror, causes it to use the bone to kill another ape. (What Kubrick seems to be suggesting is that all human progress is linked to the satisfying of instincts. When these are deadened or repressed, as in the society of 2001, man wastes away. It is only by killing HAL 9000 that Bowman accedes to a higher level.) Thus the relation between fear and aggression, present in all of Kubrick's films, is vividly depicted in 2001. The bone cast into the air by the ape (now become a man) is transformed at the other extreme of civilization, by one of those abrupt ellipses characteristic of the director, into a spacecraft on its way to the moon. The mysterious slab reappears on the moon, the eerie signals which it emits being the object of much study by the astronauts, and this time it precedes the immense vault into the unknown represented by the journey to Jupiter. It is in Jupiter's sky that the monolith materializes for the third time, before Bowman plunges "beyond infinity". It is finally in another spatio-temporal dimension altogether that it rears up yet again, as an old man points a finger at it, his gesture presaging the birth of another man. 2001 thus takes on the aspect of a quest, reminiscent of that other great documentary voyage, that other interrogation into the meaning of life, Moby Dick (in which Melville proved that he was no less well-informed and accurate on whale-fishing than Kubrick on astronautics).
The monolith -- whether it be an image of God, of extra-terrestrial beings or of some cosmic force -- is another manifestation of the determinism which has tended to govern Kubrick's view of the world. Since the dawn of man, the ape then man himself have been passive servants. They represent a higher authority which manipulates them as the soldiers in Paths of Glory were manipulated, or Alex undergoing the Ludovico treatment, or Jack by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel. But it is also possible for the monolith to escape from this symbolic reduction and become one with the vital impulse that drives man on to transcend himself.
The oratorio by György Ligeti which acts as a musical leitmotif for the presence of the monolith coincides with Arthur C. Clarke's idea that all technology, if sufficiently advanced, is touched with magic and a certain irrationality. Its choral accompaniment leads us onto the threshold of the unknown, just as Kubrick's use of the opening bars of Also Sprach Zarathrustra prepared us for the profundity of his intentions. Nietzche's vision is no more "illustrated" by Richard Strauss's symphonic poem than by Kubricks own symphonic film-poem: rather, it echoes through what are two totally autonomous artistic recreations. 2001 postuates the same progression as in Nietzche's work, from the ape to man, then from man to the superman ("What is the ape to man? a mockery or a painful humiliation. And that is what man must be to the superman: a mockery or a painful humiliation.") The title given to the first section of the film, "The Dawn of Man", applies equally to the whole work. The foetus which appears at the end to form a second globe opposite the earth, this new being on the threshold of a new dawn, is the expression of an eternal return. We have seen how Kubrick would strip man of every shred of individuality. What is most extraordinary about 2001 is that, at the precise moment when he poses the fundamental human question, he deprives his universe of characters. The metaphysical quest is accomplished by David Bowman alone after the death of his his friend Frank Poole and the three scientists in hibernation. Though we saw Dr. Floyd's little daughter on television, though we were shown Poole's parents, we know nothing of Bowman, his tastes or his past. He is abstract man, man as Nietzsche conceived him, a means rather than an end, like "a rope stretched between the beast and the superman, a rope over an abyss". Richard Strauss's theme, sometimes known as the "World Riddle" theme, is introduced by an ascending line of three notes, do-sol-do, the same number three which is embodied in the presence of three spheres after the credit titles, the moon, the earth and the sun; a magical number which is also that of the known dimensions and which is finally abolished by the transition into the fourth dimension anticipated by the apparition of the monolith among the three globes.
For 2001 -- a poem, as it has often been described -- is also so rigorously articulated as to have inspired the only outstanding work of structural analysis devoted to a film. For her part, Carolyn Geduld has demonstrated the importance of the number four in reation to the work: four years in the making, four episodes, a four million years time-span, four heroes (ape, scientist, computer, astronaut), four evolutions (man, machine, extra-terrestrial, universe), four composers, a four-sided rectangle which appears four times on the screen. Pursuing her insight even further, in each of the four sections the same leitmotiven recur, assuring the continuity of human evolution, its permanence beyond the variations of civilization. Eating (the apes' meals, at first vegetarian, then carnivorous; Dr. Floyd's automat meal in plastic sachets; the meals eaten by Poole and Bowman aboard the Discovery; Bowman's last meal in the Louis XVI room); bodily cares (the apes delousing each other; Floyd in the zero-gravity toliet; Poole sunbathing; Bowman in the Louis XVI bathroom); and conflict (the apes' squabble over the water-hole; the latent rivalry between the Russian and American scientists on the space station; the life-or-death struggle between the computer and the astronauts; Bowman's conflict with himself before his final transfrmation).
His move into the fourth dimension is for David Bowman a moment of confrontation facing all of Kubrick's characters. Suddenly aged, Bowman encounters his double (HAL, too, had a twin computer), then another, even older form of himself lying in bed and breathing heavily (and there one recognizes two of the director's obsessions). The death of man is a new beginning; and the immense eyes of the foetus revolving in space present the same anguished gaze as that of the ape in the first section contemplating the moon, or of Goya's "Colossus" "whose unquiet features dream among the stars", in Malraux's expression.
2001, like every true odyssey, is a journey out into the external world which also becomes one of self-discovery. From being objective, the narrative becomes subjective and, by penetrating into the memory bank of HAL 9000, Bowman undertakes an expedition into the labyrinth of his own consciousness. The spacecraft Discovery draws him on to a revelation of his own destiny; and if Kubrick's film recalls the Homeric myths evoked in its title (the fight between the navigator Bowman -- literally "bow-man" or "archer", like Ulysses -- and the computer-Cyclops which he defeats by cunning), it represents, in the manner of the Greek epic, an inner exploration.
But the ambition and seriousness of 2001 should not disguise its essential humour, an aspect of the film which has been little remarked on (that of The Shining would prove more obvious, with Jack Nicholson's performance recalling the acerbic brio of Peter Sellers in Lolita or George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove). In the imposing opening section, with its vast desert landscapes where a leopard attacks a colony of apes then keeps watch at night over the corpse of a zebra, there gradually emerges an undercurrent of irony (one close to Swift and his Yahoos) which, though remaining in the most remote historical period, contrives to offer a reasonably fruitful summary of the evolution of humanity. It would have served no purpose for Kubrick to have traced the millions of years separating the origin of the species from the discovery of the cosmos: in a series of stages leading from ape to man (signalled by fadeouts to black) we see unfold the conflict of the weak against the strong, the organization of rival groups, the territorial imperative and the search for food. In the orbiting Hilton Hotel or aboard the Discovery, man is viewed with the same sardonic detachment: the exchange of banalities, outmoded forms of politeness, hollow speechifying, reciprocal suspicion, the Howard Johnson lounge, the souvenir snapshots taken by the moon explorers, the ridiculous "Happy Birthday" intoned thousands of miles away by parents proud of their astronaut offspring, the father who no longer knows how to talk to his little girl, the jokes about eating and the gravity free toilets. The fantastic progress of technology has not been accompanied by any comparable moral or emotional evolution, and this disparity seems all the greater between these men living in glacial solitude and the world which they have fabricated. The brilliant idea of using "The Blue Danube" not only evokes the music of the spheres with a deliciously buoyant humour but adds a dash of Kubrick's characteristic nostalgia for a period when Johann Strauss's melody cradled revellers on board the Big Wheel in Vienna's Präter.
Thus we can see the series of equations by which Kubrick makes ape equal to man, and man to machine, the better to undermine the complacency of his audience. If, in his preceding film, Dr. Strangelove became a sinister robot governed by conditioned reflexes, here it is the machine that becomes human -- too human -- both eager to serve and wishing to dominate, incapable of assuming the conflict between truth and lies. HAL 9000, in control of the journey to Jupiter, alone informed of the destination planned by the scientists, is a touching, oddly asexual creature with a soft, wheedling voice (it was originally to have a feminine voice and be named Athena, who, one recalls, was born straight out of Jupiter's brain), a chess fan, of course, who ends by snapping the fragile thread on which the success of the expedition depends. In 2001, too, a crack appears in the system and creates havoc, except that this time the vertiginous free-fall through time and space is the prelude to a regeneration. It is HAL who is responsible, not a man but a machine; one which, reblling against its mission, falling prey to anxiety and the fear of death, wreaks vengeance on those who no longer have confidence in it by finally sinking into criminal madness. HAL's death, a lobotomy performed by Bowman on its reasoning circuits, is one of the most poignant sequences in Kubrick's work; with its entreaties, "I'm afraid, Dave. My mind is going -- there's no question about it," then the nostalgic song of its youth "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do...", and its voice slowly fading away, becoming deeper and deeper, until it expires in an endless death rattle. By maintaining a precise balance between the two, Kubrick prevents the underlying humour from weakening the emotion generated by the paranoid computer and its death agony. Paradoxically, HAL is the only genuine character in the film, the only one whose anxiety and schizophrenia can be compared to those of Kubrick's protagonists. As for the astronauts, they are prisoners in their spacecraft, scrutinized by HAL's omniscient "eye"; even in space they can be considered captives, as when Bowman finds himself outside the Discovery. Breaking in again through one of the craft's portholes, he sets about freeing himself of HAL's oppressive dominance and, alone, goes to face his destiny.
As we have seen, this destiny culminates in renaissance as a foetus -- a renaissance foreshadowed by an earlier "delivery" when he "expelled" himself from space into the vessel, as also by his dramatic passage through the stellar entry with its erotic and genital visions. In effect, 2001 is full of sexual imagery -- uterine, ovular and phallic -- from the arrow-shaped spacecraft Orion landing inside the celestial wheel to the Aries sphere alighting on a circular base. A film of metamorphoses, fertilizations and births, A Space Odyssey ends with an autoreproduction. It is possible to interpret this conclusion, as does Jacques Goimard, as yet another representation of the Oedipal drama: in this reading, the monolith would not only be a symbol of God, but of authority in general, therefore of the father, whom the child dreams of killing in order to take his place. The old man dies and the Starchild succeeds him, as in primitive societies the king must be killed to allow his successor to mount the throne. On a cosmic scale, 2001 allegorizes the family drama which has always fascinated Kubrick and which was to form the essence of his latest film to date, The Shining.
"Je est un autre" --Arthur Rimbaud
It is not surprising -- quite the reverse, in fact -- that, in The Shining, Kubrick should present us with the antithesis of the film which preceded it, Barry Lyndon. Such a succession only confirms his habit over the last twenty years of alternating between deliberately slow-paced, meditative, even melancholic works and others with a taut, staccato rhythm, generated by a dynamism which can occasionally be frenetic (Dr. Strangelove following Lolita, A Clockwork Orange following 2001) -- like the systolic and diastolic movements of the human heart. It is also likely that Kubrick hoped to achieve one of those enormous popular successes which had always eluded him and which have become almost a prerequisite since the Movie Brats took Hollywood by storm. (In its first few weeks on the North American market alone, The Shining earned forty-seven million dollars, the highest gross of any of Kubrick's films!) It has reinstated the director in a position of strength which had been slightly impaired by the commercial failure of Barry Lyndon, just as A Clockwork Orange and its more immediate fascination followed 2001, whose success was slow and gradual. But if Kubrick has not forgotten the need for strategy, he also realizes -- even if he pretends not to -- that mental demons may be lurking behind the most meticulously rational of calculations. In this respect, The Shining reprises -- though, as always, with new inflections -- his most fundamental obsessions and preoccupations.
Though they belong to the same genre of the fantastic, The Shining clearly differs in many respects from 2001. Yet it presents disturbing analogies with the earlier work. Thus its narrative construction is also based on the number four, even if the temporal relationship between the sections is conspicuously different. The first movement reveals a magnificent landscape of mountains, forests and lakes, one in which the characters are lost, crushed, dominated (cf. "The Dawn of Man"). The second movement, in the Overlook Hotel, finds the manager entrusting Jack with a mission, that of safeguarding his establishment for several months. Here one sees the same polite affability, the same stereotyped social relations as in the scenes on the moon preceding the Discovery's departure. The third movement confines our three passengers within an enclosed space, cut off from the rest of the world, where they have to handle machinery and communicate with the outside by telephone, then radio, until the transmission system is put out of order. Like the spacecraft, the Overlook enables Kubrick to combine the contradictory sensations of agoraphobia and claustrophobia, and his characters to indulge in games and sports (Danny with his tricycle and his darts, Jack with his ball), before the person ostensibly in charge sinks into homicidal madness.
And this immense set must have demanded the director's constant attention (one thinks again of Stroheim having the Grand Hotel de Monte-Carlo reconstructed in Hollywood for Foolish Wives), as well as swallowing up the greater part of his budget. No less than the Discovery, it becomes one of the film's characters, its role being to diminish the importance of man, now fallen victim to his fate and his instincts. As for the fourth movement -- wordless like the first (in a symmetry similar to that governing 2001) -- it constitutes an initiatory journey of death and transfiguration, this time inside a labyrinth, which terminates in the past to the accompaniment of nostalgic twenties music. The final song recalls the Fitzgeraldian atmosphere in which the alcoholic writer wallows, just as the Johann Strauss waltz over the end titles of 2001 evoked the vanished era of a Vienna that was light-hearted, intoxicating and perched on the brink of an abyss. The Shining (whose running time is virtually identical to that of 2001, even if its "subjective" time-span seems shorter) is also the only one of Kubrick's films, with A Space Odyssey, to dispense with a "voice-off" text (either first-person narration or objective commentary) in favour of title cards punctuating the narrative progression. Finally, both films make use of contemporary and consciously "modern" music (Ligeti in 2001; Ligeti again, Penderecki and Bartok in The Shining) mingled with extracts from Romantic works (in this case a Dies Irae inspired by the final "Witches Sabbath" movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique) which act as a prelude to some violent and total mental breakdown.
The narrative development of The Shining is particularly radical. The gradual compression of "objective" space and time (from the mountains to the hotel, from the hotel to the labyrinth; from months to day, from days to hours) is allied to a corresponding expansion of "inner" time and space. Here the response to the cosmic fusion which formed the epilogue to 2001 is that transgression of the boundaries between mind and matter which can be seen as one of the first symptoms of madness. One thinks of the passage from Gerard de Nerval's Aurelia, quoted by Todorov, in which the narrator confesses: "We live in our race and our race lives in us. This idea I immediately felt as perceptible and, as if the walls of the room had opened on to infinite perspectives, I seemed to see an uninterrupted chain of men and women in whom I was and who were in me." The gradual erosion of the frontier between the ego and the world, the real and imaginary, characteristic of schizophrenia, is visible in The Shining -- at first stimulated by the special "gift" possessed by both Danny and Halloran then, by a process of contamination, affecting Jack and eventually Wendy, who also enter into contact with the ghosts. This personality splitting is accompanied, as often in Kubrick's work, by double images: Danny and his double Tony, the apparitions of the twins, the Overlook's lounges with their symmetrical decoration, the labyrinth with its perverse symmetry, which is revealed as a miniaturized double of the hotel and is doubled in its turn in the form of a model and a map. The camera itself -- with its forward, lateral and reverse tracking shots no longer sweeping the space in baroque spirals as was the case in Paths of Glory and Lolita but following a rigorously geometric circuit -- adds further to the sense of implacable logic and an almost mathematical progression.
The most perfect expression of this generalized determinism is the hotel whose very name (meaning both "to survey" and, in an archaic usage, "to cast a spell") indicates its manipulative function. If in Kubrick's films, as we have noted, puppets, robots, dolls and statues connote a world in which man has become no more than a docile machine, a toy in a society of empty forms, a servile being in a universe of semblances (and in The Shining the quasi-mechanical gestures of both Lloyd the barman and Grady the attendant conform to the rule), we can find in 2001 and The Shining an even more powerful evocation of the world as shadow-theatre, with extra-terrestrial spirits guiding the evolution of mankind (2001) and the evil entity represented by the hotel (The Shining). Kubrick's latest film lends an even greater force to the thesis of Carolyn Geduld, for whom 2001 embodied a vision of cosmic design as the work of Satan, depriving man of all free will, from the "Genesis" of the Prologue to the "Cana" of the Epilogue, by the way of the Black Mass celebrated in the Tycho crater on the moon. The whisperings in the corridors of the Overlook Hotel are not unlike those which greet Dave Bowman in his Louis XVI suite, and the shots of blood seeping through the elevator gates, like the apparitions of the monolith, posit the existence of a higher order.
Fascinated by the theme of immortality, Kubrick wanted to accord it even more importance in 2001, if we are to believe Arthur C. Clarke. At an advanced stage of the screenplay, the director could not resign himself to letting one of his astronauts, Frank Poole, disappear into space after being killed by HAL 9000; he wished to have him return from the dead. Speaking of his co-scenarist, Clarke said: "I'm afraid his obsession with immortality has got the better of his artistic instincts." The child and the Negro in The Shining, along with certain topographical elements (the hotel had been built on a former Indian burial ground), relate the ordeals undergone by the characters to magic, animism, to a primitive conception of the universe of spirits. Like some primitive being, the child is closer to those psychic activities which characterized humanity at an earlier stage of its development. This proximity to death is no less strongly present in the adult, except that it is masked, "censored" by the process of civilization. For Freud, "the proposition 'all men are mortal' is to be found in every treatise on logic, but it is actually a given for no one and our subconscious has as little room today as in the past for the representations of our own mortality."
But Kubrick proceeds with the greatest caution when manipulating his fantastic themes. He insures that they have a completely realistic foundation, makes very sparing use of expressionistic lighting and plays on the ambiguous relation between imagination and reality almost to the end of the film. Are they authentic ghosts or the characters' mental projections? Evidence of supernatural forces or signs of oncoming madness in the protagonist? Perhaps even a form of interaction whereby Jack's psychic condition ends with him investing his spectres with physical existence? One ought, like Jean-Loup Bourgét, to enumerate the motifs of the fantastic in The Shining: reincarnation or metempsychosis (the final shot); vampirism (the scar on Danny's neck); second sight; telepathy; a pact with the devil (the barman Lloyd); the materialization of ghosts (to which, with the encounter in Room 237, might be added necrophilia, the union of love and death common in Kubrick's work). There are also borrowings from fairy-tales (he forbidden room in which lurks a sexual secret; Jack as the Big Bad Wolf ready to devour the little pigs Danny and Wendy; the wiles of Hop O' My Thumb in the labyrinth, etc.) but it should be emphasized that the director is just as concerned to play down the effects of the uncanny that Freud associates with the pure fantastic. In his essay on Das Unheimliche, he demonstrates those processes which lead to an explanation for something that ought to have remained hidden, secret, and how what was once pleasant and familiar (Heimlich) becomes disturbing and sinister (Unheimlich). And what is latent is precisely everything connected with death, corpses and ghosts. When Jack arrives at the Overlook, he describes this sensation of familiarity, of well-being ("It's very homey"), he would "like to stay here forever", he confesses even to having "never been this happy, or comfortable anywhere", refers to a sense of dèja vu and has the feeling that he has "been here before". "When someone dreams of a locality or a landscape," according to Freud, "and while dreaming thinks "I know this, I've been here before", one is authorized to interpret that place as substituting for the genital organs and the maternal body." And Jack takes possession of the immense womb which the Overlook represents by a regressive involution which makes him withdraw from his wife and cultivate his own narcissism.
The relationships within the Torrance family illustrate the classic development of the Oedipal triangle. A few years earlier, Jack, disturbed in his work by Danny, had dislocated the boy's shoulder in a fit of rage. This castratory gesture -- the father's Oedipal act always preceding that of the child --- caused Danny to invent for himself a double who speaks out of his own mouth. "The double was in primitive terms an insurance against the destruction of the Ego, a radical denial of the power of death." (Freud) But if, for the child, the double is a protector and guarantor of survival, it becomes for the adult (as witness Jack's gradual schizophrenia, accentuated by the film's mirror images of him) a terrifying harbinger of death. To take the analysis even further, might not the gift of second sight which Danny has possessed for some time be another instance of the substitutive relation, common to dreams, fantasies and myths, between the eyes and the penis? If, as Freud believed, fear for one's eyes is a frequent substitute for the fear of castration, is second sight not then the expression of some hyper-virility which will oppose the father's destructive will and lead him, by an infernal cycle, towards an even more pronounced annihilatory rage?
In Kubrick's films, the eye has always played an essential role; and, particularly in 2001, it united instinct with intelligence and was linked with the presence of the monolith (the eye of the ape, of the leopard, of HAL 9000, of the astronaut, of the foetus) preceding each of mankind's advances. As with every great film-maker who has reflected on the very nature of mise-en-scene (Lang, Boorman, Hitchcock, etc.), sight and its faculties are called into question by Kubrick. By abolishing time and space, by creating a parallel world to replace the real one, Danny assumes the same "imagining" function as any director. He also represents the victory of the visual over the written word, the fertility of the child as against the sterility of the father.
Emotional family relationships are therefore a central concern of The Shining. Home and hearth, attacked from outside in A Clockwork Orange (the writer Mr. Alexander, a victim of his double, Alex), become with Barry Lyndon and especially The Shining the private arena of every conflict. And it is finally within Jack himself that the real battle is fought. Since Lolita Kubrick's work has been suffused with the Oedipal theme -- even if it has attracted little critical attention -- and it was pivotal in Barry Lyndon. We know that prior to Lolita Kubrick wanted to adapt Stefan Zweig's The Burning Secret, a novel which is almost the inverted double of Nabokov's; a man befriends a young boy the better to seduce his mother. Similarly, his unfulfilled ambition (dating from the early seventies) of filming Arthur Schnitzler's Rhapsody: A Dream Novel found an outlet in The Shining. Schnitzler's tale deals with the relation between the real and the unreal through the story of a husband, the father of a little seven year-old girl, who spends a night in Vienna during which reality is coloured by his imagination. The mutual infidelities of the parent couple -- whether dreamt or fantasized -- reveal the psychic urges of their inner life. In The Shining Jack, haunted by his obsession with the rivalry of his son (as always, more attached to the mother, despite recurrent bouts of affection for the father), will be driven to madness and death; and the child, however threatening seems the father, will once more end victorious. As in Lolita and Barry Lyndon, the defeat of authority is sanctioned by a date (here July 4th, Independence Day in the United States, in the earlier films 1776 and 1789) which is also, as we have already noted, that of an Oedipal juncture in history.
In the extensive adaptation which Stephen King's novel underwent at the hands of Kubrick and Diane Johnson, their concern being for ever greater precision in order to pare the work down to its essentials and allow the power of its themes and situations to emerge more clearly, the most remarkable idea was undoubtedly the final one of the labyrinth. It enriched the plot with a new mythic dimension and fully responded to the needs of a director for whom -- as he has often insisted -- the truth of anything in the cinema is to be found in the sensation of that thing rather than in its conceptualization. It is his belief that the film communicates, not with the intellect, but with the emotions and subconscious. The labyrinth, which is both a spatial and temporal expression, would seem to be the ideal terminus for a Kubrickean journey. If it is, as has been noted by Paolo Santarcangeli, a symbol for the maternal belly, for the intestines, it is also the extension of the objective correlative to Jack's psychism, already represented by the Overlook Hotel. Finally, combining two motifs linked to the concept of infinity -- one of which, the intertwining, is closed, evil and pessimistic (the eternal return associated with Jack), the other, the spiral, is positive, open and optimistic (the perpetual evolution associated with Danny) -- it signifies the definitive victory of the son over the father, of the "child of light" over the forces of darkness, of intelligence over instinct, of Theseus, the solar hero, over the Minotaur. Jack, penetrating ever further along its serpentine snow-blanketed paths beneath a bluish night sky, returns to the animal condition, with the low-hung forehead and panting breath of the bull. Armed with his axe (traditionally associated with the myth of the labyrinth), he recalls the great shedders of blood in Kubrick's universe: 2001's Moonwatcher with his bone, A Clockwork Orange's Alex with his truncheon, Barry Lyndon's Bullingdon with his pistol, all of them living symbols of the bestial instinct (one thinks, too, of the of the hallucinated "trip" which Dave Bowman takes beyond infinity). In the labyrinth and its initiatory circuit is played out the struggle of life and death. As in 2001, the death of the father, both necessary and unjust -- whence the tragic sentiment -- precedes the son's rebirth. And one can see how this "mental theme, in which hope and anxiety are intermingled, capable of fostering a kind of intellectual nightmare which comes close to madness" would have fascinated Kubrick.
In many respects, The Shining is one of his most intimate works. Isolated, hemmed in, beset by a siege mentality, an intellectual (a former teacher) sees himself as an artist but cannot manage to create. The anguish of the white page culminates in one disturbing sentence typed out ad infinitum: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". By choosing an artist for the first time as the protagonist of one of his stories (a theme prefigured in Lolita by the character of Humbert) and making him a failure, Kubrick exorcises his own demons and demonstrates -- by default, as it were -- the exalting supremacy of artistic creation. If Jack has given reality to his nightmares (he admits to Wendy that, in his dreams, he killed both her and Danny), it is undoubtedly because he has proved incapable of sublimating his instincts by writing his novel. Artistic creation has, after all, a genuine cathartic value. Just as myths do, Kubrick appears to be telling us, which is why he has always wished to identify his films with the collective subconscious. Modern civilization and science have divested our conception of the world of all its mythologies, and are exclusively bound by the principle of reality and the death instinct. It therefore befits the film-maker to create for the largest possible numbers -- with no distinction of class or society -- archetypal, mythopoeic works in which the spectator will find a balm for his torments and desires.
So it is, perhaps, that Kubrick, a disillusioned romantic become a "disillusionist" in his turn, rejecting lies and subterfuges, regarding life as either a tragedy or a grotesque farce, and often accused for just those reasons of being a nihilist, is in reality a great liberator. Helping us to know ourselves better is the same thing as allowing us to gain our independence. The contradiction which he has been exploring -- that of admitting the importance and legitimacy of the instincts and the subconscious, while at the same time regarding reason as the only solution for both the individual and mankind as a whole -- is one that confronts us all. Kubrick does not know the answer, even if the artist in him seems to have found it, but he poses the question with a magnificent and endlessly renewed invention of forms.