Stanley Kubrick: The New Humanist
by Rupert Lister
Intellectual. Cold. Satirical. Sardonic. Ironic. Humanist? Defining humanism isn't all that straightforward. It's bound with existentialism and atheism but is no slave to them. The word itself comes from 'humanities', which since the Middle Ages has been about the study of the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, of culture and literature. Some early poets are considered humanist, like Chaucer, who wrote about the concerns of the common folk, or Dante, who argued for a language that the common folk could understand. In non-Western cultures, Sunni Islam can be seen as essentially humanist. In Chinese Confucianism, is an early (pre-Christian) example of a philosophy centred on human virtuousness and altruism.
But early 'humanism' wasn't as we think of it today. For the early thinkers, through the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the task was recovering the simple, monastic ways of the past, rather than plumbing the future potential of the human individual. In fact, the 'individual' barely registered – certainly the idea of private selfhood wasn't on the table. In those days, the human was an animal inseparable from his or her society. And so, inevitably, it wasn't until the Age of Enlightenment, emerging in the late seventeenth century, specifically in an essay by Immanuel Kant in 1784, that the ideology behind humanism – espousing individual autonomy, reason and ethics, while dismissing outdated supernatural ideas – gained voice and ear. This led the way for philosophers like Auguste Comte, who coined the term 'altruism', and whose Religion of Humanity still preaches that scientific knowledge is the only knowledge (known as positivism).
In the twentieth century, the human race was treated to Friedrich Nietzsche, who lambasted his species for being delusional about its rank amongst beasts. Nietzsche was in a sense returning to the ideas of those early humanist thinkers, looking backwards to our primal needs, the deeper urges to survive, before we adorned everything with imaginary flourishes such as gods and inherent morality. More recently still was Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis. Freud, like Nietzsche, was a humanist rationalist who was determined to return to the scene of the crime: the base drives of the human creature. Philosophers like Martin Heidegger have asserted that for whatever problems humans have, humans can find solutions. A contemporary of Heidegger's was Jean-Paul Sartre, whose texts are easily consumable (in the tradition of Dante's vernacular) and whose outlook is as much focused on human responsibility and potential as it is on the human problem. 'Man is nothing else but that which he makes for himself,' (1 p. 30) he wrote, melding existentialism and humanism into a single concept. Sartre asserted that each person is responsible for his own individuality; even conformity is an individual decision. He rejected a universal essence called human nature whilst accepting a universal human condition: We are each unique but all in the same boat.
This may be the briefest history of humanism ever committed to the page, but it does at least begin to paint a picture of how elusive the notion of humanism is. Humanism is by definition constantly changing. If the consoling certainties of religion are like a glassy lake, secular humanism is like a roaring river. 'Humanity is neither a given essence nor an achievable end,' writes Tony Davies, 'but a continuous process of becoming human' (2 p. 142) . So humanistic thinking is that which is self-realising, without relying upon influences outside humanity, and humanistic acts are those that are self-actualising, performed by humans for the good of humans. In the words of Sartre, humankind 's situation 'is being perpetually made' (1 p. 55) by humans.
Kubrick's humans are nearing a twilight: some kind of threshold where they will throw off the shackles of underlying drives that are undignified and uncontrollable even by the elaborate institutions contrived to contain them. In fact, it's these institutions that Kubrick is attacking throughout his films. I don't just mean the Ludovico Institute or the War Room or Sergeant Hartman's marine-making machine. I mean the philosophical institutions that we hold dear: morality, reason and truth. These are values espoused by humanism, so surely Kubrick is antihumanist in his outlook? No, Kubrick is pointing out that these very values have become institutionalised, and so they've become distorted, making hypocrites of us all, liberal-progressive and conservative-traditional alike.
Take A Clockwork Orange for example. It attacks liberal sensibilities by giving us a man-monster who is not a product of poverty or environment or abusive parenting; and it also has a stab at right-wing traditionalism by criticising a pernicious British criminal justice system, peopled by officious bureaucrats and neo-Nazis marching to the goose-stepping bluster of Land of Hope and Glory. Then it provokes both sets by swapping the roles of victim and perpetrator (the left-wing campaigner Frank Alexander and the decadent snake-charmer Alex DeLarge). This is why Kubrick is misconstrued: because his films deconstruct everything with which they come into contact, and emerge apolitical and morally ambiguous. But far from being distant from the truth of humankind, this is a form of 'absolute humanism' (3 p. 108). 'To think and reflect in a human way,' wrote the Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, 'means to think and reflect in a non-political way' (2 p. 43). A non-political way meaning a non- directive way – Kubrick's deliberate reluctance to make a moral judgement about Alex DeLarge and his 'cure', or to make a political statement about British society, or to offer a social remedy for Alex's rampage, is in its defiant disinterest a powerful humanist statement. It is stating that in world of six billion individuals there are six billion truths, and that in the three billion seconds of an individual's lifetime there are moments of irredeemable evil (in Alex's case, the rape and murder of Mr Alexander's wife), harrowing contemplation (staring into the churning grey waters under the bridge), ecstatic elation (Beethoven) and unconscionable sorrow (suicide). This is absolute humanism because it is stripping the human to the absoluteness of his being – to the naked id – and then watching how he relates to the world of dysfunctional social institutions into which he is thrust. The joke in A Clockwork Orange is on the miscommunication of agencies, the inhumanity of institutions, and the dehumanising effects of loss of liberty. Never is the joke on the human in the frame, only ever the framework that contains him.
In Kubrick's films, wherever humans are incarcerated by an environment and manipulated by its forces, which they often are, the emphasis is on criticising the lack of humanity in the place and in its established values. The humans may be vulnerable, malleable even, but always there is a struggle between the agency of the individual and the agency of the agency constraining the individual. And more often than not we see the human emerge triumphant. Jack Torrance is inexorably drawn into the world of the Overlook, and he seeks to violently uphold its patriarchal traditions – and yet, even with an axe, he can't defeat a tearful mother and an empathically telepathic child. Private Joker is mangled by the military 'reason-machine' (3 p. 106), seeing his first exploding head before he 's left base camp – and yet he comes out the other end merciful, unheeding of Hartman's fundamentalist imperatives. Every time humankind is existentially stuck in 2001: A Space Odyssey, along comes an interventionist monolith – and yet in what way does it actually intervene, other than to remind humankind that if we want more then we must reach for it ourselves? Bill and Alice Harford can't see the love for the decadence in their materialistic marriage-prison – and yet they conclude their feud by settling upon monogamy, removing the word 'forever', re-appropriating for us real, mortal humans the concept of love from the jaws of the romantic ideal.
It's not easy to sympathise with the Harfords: with their ostentatious wealth and their beauty, they live like movie stars. It's not easy to like the Torrances: the dad's a psychopath, the mum's a dribbling wreck, and the boy is creepy as hell with hair like Anton Chigurh. We're asked to spend two and a half hours with Humbert Humbert as he justifies his paedophilic intentions for Lolita. Even Private 'Joker' isn't particularly funny. Isn't it antihumanistic to disallow sympathetic identification with these characters? Except Kubrick isn't expecting us to identify with characters, he's expecting us to identify with aspects of the human character. This is anti-solipsistic, but it isn't antihumanist. For rather than casting judgement on the achievements and cruelties of an individual – perhaps some hero acting as a vessel for idealised traits – we are given the opportunity to regard one or more aspects of the broader human character through a single set of eyes, be they those of Jack Torrance or Redmond Barry or Alex DeLarge. In short, 'Kubrick's films are never about individuals... they are always about Mankind' (4 p. 281).
The chief aspect of the human character evident in Kubrick's films is death anxiety. Kubrick's relationship with death is not a morbid fixation but a confrontation with the source of the primal anxiety that confirms our status as conscious beings. Death, whether delivered en masse (Dr Strangelove), confronted individually (Full Metal Jacket), echoed (The Shining), feared (Eyes Wide Shut), or transcended (2001: A Space Odyssey), is the great unifying theme of his work. This preoccupation isn't idiosyncratic, it's universal. Death is arguably the fundamental human anxiety. When a mother shows and covers her face before her child, this is more than a game: the child is simultaneously becoming accustomed to the permanence of an object and also its capacity for change – the early understanding of the difference between being and nonbeing. Irvin D. Yalom argues that Freud's dismissal of death was a form of denial, and that death anxiety not only prefigures Freud's libidinal (sexual) drive, but actually informs it. Yalom refers to child psychologist Melanie Klein when he states that the drive to reproduction is the drive to deny the permanence of death (5 p. 87) . This casts a film like Dr Strangelove in a different light. Broad satire suddenly takes on a more sinister hue: the sexual motifs entrenched in this story, portraying the last men on Earth as they face their existential doom, don 't seem so incongruous after all. In Fear and Desire and Paths of Glory, the soldiers verbally express their anxieties about death. In Lolita, Humbert's desire for Lolita is entangled with his mental stuckness in a time of pre-teen love, while his body ages around him. In A Clockwork Orange, our hero and narrator possesses a predilection for death that goes beyond an erotic fascination with the suffering of others: he dreams of mass destruction, as well as his own destruction. For Jack Torrance, the fear is less about bodily death (the ghosts promise an afterlife), and more about the fear that patriarchy will be lost. Jack Torrance embodies a whole generation of man. In Full Metal Jacket, Joker says, 'The dead know only one thing: it is better to be alive.' Eyes Wide Shut melds vaginal and funereal imagery, while Bill Harford is too anxious to sleep, as if scared he'll never wake up. In the one film where bodily death is explicitly followed by an 'afterlife', 2001: A Space Odyssey, the resurrection is a product of consciousness, wherein lies human individuality.
I mentioned earlier that Sartre rejected the idea of a human nature. But he did concede that there is a 'universal conception of Man' and that we each 'have the same fundamental qualities' (1 p. 29). When it comes to our 'nature' Kubrick differentiates between the innate (inborn and not acquired) and the inherent (stuck in) of behavioural response. He argues against the former and in favour of the latter, whether it's in Humbert Humbert developing an understanding of true love (Lolita), Joker resisting the urge to kill (Full Metal Jacket), or Danny refusing to follow in his father's genes (The Shining). Each of Kubrick's films is about a man's relationship with the generalised Man. In the archetypal model, the 'little a' is erased, 'and the radical power of the figure... hangs on that erasure' (2 p. 123) . The archetype embodies some greater truth about our species, and in him we recognise one or more of Sartre 's fundamental human qualities, and through that context we see the folly of the institutions that can never fully satisfy him, punish him or control him. When we see the archetype we don't see a reflection of ourselves but a reflection of some aspect of ourselves, given melody and laid upon the stave of the human story. For Sartre, the decisions the individual makes may not have a direct influence on the course of our species, but are 'on behalf of mankind' (1 p. 32) . In choosing to be married we are committing to the practice of and thus supporting the human-made institution of monogamy. 'In fashioning myself I fashion man,' wrote Sartre (1 p. 33) , illustrating the individual 's place among the collective, like a note in a symphony.
Eyes Wide Shut is a film all about the myth of love, which is the myth of monogamy. It reminds us that monogamy is an institution built once out of necessity (for survival) and now perpetuated out of convenience – and for centuries in art and literature it has been lumbered with an erroneous magical source. Kubrick takes a Ghostbusters plasma gun to the fog of romance blighting the love story. Stripped of love's supernatural safety net, Bill Harford is lost and confused and horrified by the drives underlying his perfect life with his perfect wife. Finally, Kubrick comes out on the side of the love that exists in the real world: a love proven empirically in gesture and acts of fidelity. This is different to the previous love: the 'religified' love, imagined as something outside our control, bestowed by some higher power. To reclaim love we must know what it is: a choice followed by a series of choices; and if one's choices aren't good then one must accept the other's right to dismiss our love. Love is not a divine glue but a slow-drying cement, strong but not infallible. Bill's horror comes from his realisation that he is free to fuck whom he likes, just like the society gargoyles with whom he associates. That he chooses not to testifies to the self-determination of the human individual: the potential to transcend one's animal drives and act accordingly in the real world.
Little do we sympathise with Bill Harford, but by the end we empathise, because we see a universal human truth. Beneath the wealth we see the debt of his soul. This is not the humanism of Spielberg – if that is humanism then it is idealised; aspirational. Spielberg shows us what we wish of ourselves; Kubrick shows us what we are. To dismiss Kubrick's humanism based on the argument of a perceived pessimism is to make the hopelessly optimistic assumption that humankind is fated for some kind of apotheosis. That our trajectory is ever upwards. We might yearn for Spielberg's human being – we might find it more palatable – but there's no greater truth in six hundred surviving Jews than there is in Kubrick's story of three executed soldiers.
As I made clear in my Introduction, this book is not about Stanley Kubrick the man but the worldview emanating from the films of Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick's embedded references to so-called antihumanists like Freud and Nietzsche don't mean that he is dismissive of the human being, because that search for a logical and scientific understanding of the human animal is at the service of the subjective human observer. Ambiguity, uncertainty, awe, discomfort, excitement, boredom: we experience all of these things when watching Kubrick's films, but after seventeen chapters I've only inched closer to a logical explanation of my own experience, let alone that of any other. Perhaps Kubrick's films are cold and probing, rather than warm and comforting; perhaps they do doubt the human's ability to emerge from its evolutionary infancy. But that doesn't mean his films don't 'serve openly humanist ends of intellectual clarity and emancipation, articulated around a recognisable ethic of human capacity and need' (2 p. 34).
I can understand why one might see that Kubrick has doubt in humankind, but he seems 'always... on the side of humanity' (6 p. 138). His characters generally transcend their institutional environment through their actions, whether it 's Bill Harford staying faithful despite the id-satisfying opportunities he's offered, Private Joker killing for mercy and ironically becoming anything but the killer he was (re)born to be, or Danny Torrance escaping the patriarchal cycle that his father cannot. This is not to suggest that everything ends happily every time. At the end of Eyes Wide Shut the Harfords' relationship is more fragile than ever; Private Joker is merciful but he is also shellshocked by the experience of war; and Danny Torrance can't possibly emerge from the Overlook without further traumas to add to his broken arm. But in each case the human being has emerged victorious and the institution that bound them has been left behind. The same sense of emancipation can be witnessed in earlier films. Barry Lyndon winds up defeated, but so too does the decadence of the elite, with the story ending in the revolutionary year 1789. In A Clockwork Orange, the tug of war between the systems of the right and the left snap Alex DeLarge in two – and yet he reawakens a human. Vicious, yes, but undeniably a human. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave Bowman rejects the passive technocratic utopia of dehumanised modern man and journeys into the deep space of the human unconscious.
A truly honest filmmaker, one who adheres to the show-don't-tell and sure-don't-yell traditions of this visual artform, holds a mirror up to the world to show us how it is; that is, how it appears through subjective eyes. To employ a didactic (instructive) narrative is narcissistic by way of being directive. A film explicitly contrived to tell us how the world should be and how we should act surely undermines one of the basic tenets of the humanist approach: autonomy. Meanwhile, a film that shows an archetype, however unsavoury, struggling to assert themselves upon an indifferent universe, demands of the viewer the act of interpretation, of criticism, of empathy. In short, the latter type of film demands that the viewer becomes an active agent in the making of the story – one who is not told, but is free to tell themselves.
Kubrick's humans clearly aren't the inviolable heroes of classical Hollywood. Even the stone-jawed Spartacus must murder his surrogate son after leading an army of the impoverished to their slaughter. In focusing on the individual's relationship with the environment and the manmade institutions that compartmentalise it, Kubrick is effectively rejecting Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 'noble savage', the idea that compassion for fellow man is innate. Kubrick's universe is more complex and optimistic (7 p. 166) than that because it recognises the role of science, education and technology in the course of humankind 's moral and ethical progress. And just as the wider socio-political systems that embrace and/or strangle the individual transform incrementally over time, so too does the individual, whose continuum is likewise 'from fixity to changingness, from rigid structure to flow, from stasis to process' (8 p. 131). Think of Kubrick 's endings, and where his protagonists end up: in the midst of process, with the promise only of further change to come. 2001: A Space Odyssey even suggests, staggeringly, that this is only the beginning. Kubrick is challenging the Hollywood standard of Happily Ever After; the myth of the fixed; the lie of the perennial. The Hollywood ending is desirable and escapist precisely because it provides us with the certainty we lack as actual, emergent human beings, forever in a state of flux.
So Kubrick's endings are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They simply are, and what they are is the point at which we know least about the destiny of the protagonist. (Even in a film like Barry Lyndon, where we are informed of his fate by the narrator, at the actual point of his hobbling into the carriage, we know nothing of where he is going or how he will live out his days, or who he will choose to be as he does it. We know only that, just as our view of Redmond Barry has changed over the course of being told his story, so too Redmond Barry has been changed by his having lived that story.) But then, 'nobody ever equated humanism with optimism' (9). At least they shouldn't. We do tend to enjoy humanism when it comes to positive conclusions about the potential of our species, and then disregard negative or indifferent conclusions about our species as somehow 'antihumanist', as if it's the duty of humanist art to project our imaginations toward a single golden destiny for humankind. It's a concept that, ironically, has more in common with supernatural theology than real human endeavours.
Kubrick's love for humankind may have been tormented, but in his attempts to unpick the tapestry of our condition, rather than weave another escapist frill, we're left with a legacy of exacting and adoring and occasionally despairing needle. It is the privileged role of the artist to give access to the demons of our nature and our manufacture. It takes a great artist to make friends with those demons, and a greater artist still to withhold judgement and set them against one another so that they might smite each other. For a canon of work to consistently observe the folly of institution and the hypocrisy of morality, whilst simultaneously keeping focus upon the vast and tiny self-determining individual, without becoming subdued by the chaos of all these competing interests, is not the feat of an artist proclaiming a hatred of humankind, or even that much doubt in it.
Kubrick's universe is 'godless, parentless, bereft of moral guidance' (10), but it is not the purpose of art to provide this guidance, only to reflect upon its absence. In observing a universe devoid of meaning, and conveying it on screen, Kubrick is ironically providing meaning – as opposed to the filmmaker who would claim to depict the world as it supposedly is and yet who would garnish it with the consoling delusions of some supernatural and immutable 'human spirit'. Andrei Tarkovsky argued that the 'allotted function of art is not... to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good' (11 p. 43). Sounds brutal, but follow it logically and it 's hard argue against this position. We are thrilled by the threat of death (minus the physical threat) when we watch horror films. We watch a romantic drama with the expectation of tragedy. We watch war films knowing we'll be appalled at the sacrifice we witness. Who would watch a film that promised no form of conflict, no psychological or visceral provocation, no emotional upheaval?
Classical American cinema does provide this conflict, but only before also providing a final act in which the morality to which we aspire is rewarded with a cosmic poetic justice that satisfies the absence we experience in our own lives. Through repetition we've come to associate film with heroes and villains, ultimate rescuers, and a moral judiciary rebalancing the distribution of rewards behind the scenes. The mainstream mythology of better men than ourselves overcoming impossible odds engenders passivity in us. The niche for a populist filmmaker who works with – and, more importantly, plays with – genre conventions in original and insightful ways is, like the classical narrative that is his or her toy box, forever present.
Kubrick shows that it's possible to work within genre, and produce something accessible and enjoyable, whilst focusing on aspects of society or the human character that the box-ticking blockbuster wouldn't entertain. Even though 'the main subjects of Kubrick's films are perpetrators and not victims' (7 p. 30), they are 'not just about evil, but about the confrontation with evil' (7 p. 70) – and they demand that we confront evil also. Kubrick never shies from the melancholy of humankind, and he realises this through the inherently melancholy nature of film, a medium that relies upon editing, which turns one thing into a no-thing and depicts the inexorable passing of time. Think of the use of the outward zoom in Barry Lyndon, pulling away from the elegant objects, so rich yet ungraspable. Think of how we know of the folly of Paths of Glory's Ant Hill assault long before it begins, just as we know of the fate of the three 'examples' in advance. Think of the Overlook's endless cycle of death; of Alex's 'cure'; of humankind's wonderful ignorance, fragile and alone on the shores of infinite space. Humankind is melancholy and Kubrick speaks for humankind.
The ambivalence of the humanist is based on realism. Sartre is seen as a pessimist because 'he does not believe there is any natural goodness within human beings that will automatically win out' (12 p. 111). This is the human situation depicted by Kubrick. Without an omniscient protector and without a supernatural 'human spirit' to ensure that well-meaning deeds are rewarded, humankind has only its acts, and these acts must be taken in the context of the institutions that bind the individual. To observe the potential 'diminishment of humanity and its ultimate destruction' (13 p. 106) is scary and bleak but it 's not unrealistic. To acknowledge humankind's role in, say, reversing the trajectory of climate change requires a humanist agenda; to act upon it to a greater or lesser extent is an act of humankind; the success or failure of that action is neither humanist nor antihumanist. It just is.
Alexander Walker writes: 'The humanist in Kubrick hopes that man will survive his own irrationality; the intellectual in him doubts it' (14 p. 36). And here we see the ambivalence at the heart of Kubrick 's worldview, but also the problem with the way his films are perceived by those who would convert humanism into something purely emotional and exclusive from intellectual thought. Intellectualism is a product of the developed human brain and its application in art serves the further development of the human brain. Art is not there to undermine the species, but to unsettle the soul of the subject and turn their mind to something good. A work of art fed purely on human emotion is valuable insofar as the artist and the observer are in collusion or opposition – but its purpose is merely to recreate a feeling or sensation already passed, rather than deconstructing familiar scenes from life and reconstructing so that they may be seen differently. The latter is the thoughtful, intellectual approach, and 'is in fact the correct approach to art' (15 p. 59) .
Kubrick's concern is with human progress, human drives, human hypocrisies, human power and human strength and weakness. His concern is with explaining these things and exploring them, but not with filming our direct experience of being human. He is more interested, I believe, in how fears and desires are formed than in attempting to have the viewer share in those feelings. This makes engagement difficult for those who seek direct identification with characters, rather than identification with themes, or who seek to read cinema's symbolic meanings like a third language. Kubrick's films are written in the language of film but they are not about film, they are about what it is to be human – not the individual feelings, not the tiny nuances that create the everyday experience, but the essence of us: where we are in the arc of our species, how far we've come, and what are our chances of making it. It is wrong to call him a pessimist because he concludes nothing. Kubrick depicts the human as a violent mass of conflicting unconscious drives, but also as a creature capable of reason, and increasing reason. Kubrick's human creature is able to breach the bookends of its existence, at one end suppressing the libidinous instincts of his animal roots, and at the other looking beyond death, empathically aspiring for the sake of his species.
Kubrick is using archetypes to depict the collective human experience, encompassing the trauma of our history and the existential fears and hopes for our future. For Michael Herr this makes Kubrick 'an old fashioned social Darwinist, with layer upon layer of... liberal humanism, disappointed but undimmed, and without contradiction' (16 p. 11). Whether humanity is on the brink of self-annihilation, as in the cynical world of Dr Strangelove, or whether humanism 'beats like a pulse' (14 p. 82) as it does through Paths of Glory, the evidence exists if we can only overcome our narrow assumptions of what a belief in humanity should be. It needn 't be a belief that we'll make it, only that we've the keys to the engine of our failure. It is our denial of responsibility for our collective fate that Kubrick satirises, and this satire might itself 'be taken as a kind of humanism' (17 p. 35). In presenting an imperfect world – a world like our own as it may be seen in a circus mirror – Kubrick doesn't belittle humankind's achievements, but sounds a note of caution that a complacency made available by those achievements could equally lead to ruin.
Let me briefly hand over to Roderick Munday:
'His films magnify flaws in human nature. But behind the obvious pessimism lurks a very powerful humanism... I think Stanley Kubrick is part of the humanist tradition, because the message I get from his films is that he believes humanity has nothing greater than themselves to rely on or to guide them. But, I believe he also saw the unbearable psychic pain inherent in such a realisation. And the defences we erect to protect ourselves from that pain: hate, in the final analysis, banishes fear does it not? I think Kubrick was interested in mapping out the other alternatives, hence his strong interests in myths as a way for humanity to vicariously experience something greater than ourselves. I think he saw the need for us to extend the boundaries of possibility around ourselves. That was perhaps his artistic project. So that we would not think ourselves to be at the centre. So we would not see the horizon as a boundary and stop moving towards it.' (18)
In 2001 (an apt year), based upon a script by Kubrick, Steven Spielberg directed the science fiction film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. I think of the epilogue of that film. The aliens, pure curiosity and pure empathy, seem to embody humankind's end-game: our aspirations to be godly in a useful and inquisitive way. This seems consistent with a Kubrickian worldview, if such an integrated outlook were conceivable. Kubrick's legacy reminds us that we are unfinished, 'not animal enough, not cerebral enough' (19 p. 150), still the slightly absurd undignified servants of our evolutionary past, and this realisation is finally dawning on us like the sun over the Serengeti. This generation, the one he entered and left before any of us had really begun, represents the Dawn of Man – just as Enlightened generations before have seen that same dawn and seen it proven false, or perhaps shaken it from their unprepared minds, regressing instead to the infantile anti-life rhetoric of their invented Father, outside form or matter and conveniently above comprehension, deferring their responsibility to progress and overcome a species' addiction to procreation and things, more things, power, more power, both consumed and psychological. It's easier to create an impossible God in man's image than it is to create man anew.
For Nietzsche, writing in that same grating gender-specific way, 'man is an animal whose nature is not fixed' (20 p. 88) and his 'greatest possibilities... are still unexhausted' (20 p. 127). Nietzsche was writing before the twentieth century, the century in which humankind committed its most heinous atrocities. Kubrick saw the Holocaust, saw the other possibilities of humankind; and so while he may have shared Nietzsche's outlook, he didn't hold out much hope that the possibilities to which Nietzsche referred would come to fruition, owing to our inability to cooperate in a peaceful mastery of our planet. Just as humankind's boldest hopes are within its reach, so too are its darkest nightmares. Given the horrors our species inflicted upon each other throughout the twentieth century – massive genocide rationalised through meticulously erected ideology – who can blame an artist painting the human picture for choosing dark shades? It's not up to him to tell us pretty things. It's the artist's job to tell us where we are and where we might go, and it's up to us to go there or not. No artist ever justified our species. No artist ever proved that we're worth saving. It's up to us.
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