Are you one of the league who find Kubrick's cinema fascinating and wonderful but are also confused by seeming peculiarities? Are you certain those often under-the-radar-over-the-head weirdnesses must mean something? Or maybe you're just curious?
Well, I am the person who "discovered" the open door opposite Room 237 (and a lot more besides) so if you're looking for Kubrick high strangeness then you've come to the right place. But if I delve into the high strangeness, the oddities are simply a component part of analyzing the themes and ideas that Kubrick carries from film to film.
Here's my request. That you, please, think in terms of art with intention, which isn't conspiracy and has nothing to do with conspiracy theories. Would you think of music composed of unspoken themes as being conspiracy? What's difficult is teasing out the artist's conscious intention as versus accidental as versus the viewer's role as an active pilgrim walking the road that art provides to accessing the unconscious and mythic archetypes. As an author and artist, I know what it is to hope for at least a few such pilgrims, confident they are the minority, that most think in terms of being only entertained, and to attempt to compose for both. Even with those who are just wanting a good story, or who want to dissect a film for practical good-cinema purposes, the majority would likely admit that it is the inherent mystery in Kubrick's films that functions as their primary gravity. It is that sense of something deeper, a subterranean coherence that provides the glue, that compels individuals to return and perhaps begin to move, without their even realizing it, from a passive state into a more active, participatory role where art becomes a transformative experience rather than just visual popcorn.
NOTE ON THIS ANALYSIS: With Kubrick's later films, I take a screen grab from each shot. Here, with the exception of a couple of interesting series of shots, I've just numbered the shots and briefly stated what is going on in them. Why? Because this film takes place in a forest and for the majority of the film we end up with not much going on other than faces backdropped by leaves and the characters traversing forest paths. Kubrick would never again do a film solely set against a background of trees. Why? Of course I can't definitively say "why" but I think I can hazard a guess. For the kind of filmmaker Kubrick was, he probably found that a forest background was difficult to shoot, to make interesting, and problematic in that he didn't have absolute control over every single element on the set. Nature may speak to the spirit when one is tromping through the woods, but leaves and branches and blades of grass don't do much in the way of manufacturing story in the way that Kubrick told stories. For better or worse, we carve our humanity out of nature, we take the primal and mold it to our needs and to express something of ourselves, because this is the idiosyncratic way of humans. We are crafters. Builders. We break stuff down in order to refabricate it to make survival not only planned-for possible but pleasing, and to say something about us and our interior worlds as we wander about looking for reasons for nature having fabricated the wondering human. For the kind of visual story teller that Kubrick already was becoming, there's just not a hell of a lot going on in the forest frame that speaks to we humans wondering about what we are and why we do what we do. He tries to make up for this with an over-abundance of back and forth shots between the actors, action and reaction. A lot of quick takes. It doesn't work. He tries to make up for it with monologue and dialogue and it doesn't work because Kubrick was all about the hard core show not tell.
Still, there are elements in the film that are interesting to examine, especially relative Kubrick's later work, which is why I've gone ahead and at least numbered the shots, so these things that do merit some attention are placed in context of Kubrick's becoming the show-not-tell storyteller.
Individuals familiar with Kubrick will be attentive to his use of doubles in this film, but there is actually a good deal more that is vital to understanding his later work, which he was already playing with in Fear and Desire with his incorporation of elements from The Tempest, Hamlet, and Milton's Comus. He lays a partial framework for approaching the director's relationship to film and the audience and vice versa. We even find the nascence of certain errors he incorporates in his work. For a separate dissection of these, read Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire, The Tempest, Comus, Chess, and HAL's Error.
There are 675 shots in this film, which is about an hour and 2 minutes long. Kubrick's later films were far longer and had far fewer shots relative those longer running times. Lolita had 539 shots, A Clockwork Orange had 678, 2001 had 597, The Shining had 661, Eyes Wide Shut had 586. Along the way, Kubrick learned something about economy, sticking with your shot and letting it have some freedom to relate the story.
Link to the main Kubrick page for all the analyses.
With this film I concentrate a good bit on its relationship to Shakespeare's The Tempest, as it is essential and certain themes that we find in The Tempest and Fear and Desire were carried over to later work of Kubrick's: ideas of metamorphosis and the protean, the illusory, the director (and counterparts) as a magician. These are not at all ideas unique to The Tempest, but as The Tempest was explicitly referenced in Fear and Desire I look upon it as influential.
Kubrick's interest in doubles continues from Day of the Fight, as is his interest in chess evidenced. The idea of the "error" that isn't an error enters already, which becomes pivotal in 2001 Check out also the supplemental post.
Day 1 - Shots 1 thru 227
Some subjects covered:
Credits: The Tempest, the illusory storm, and the symbolism and alchemy behind the horse-centaur in the credits.
Behind Enemy Lines: Prospero's magic circle. The characters and situation. The marooning tempest. Doubles. The mouse-trap map as one of Prospero's magic sigils. Proteus and other "animals". Idiosyncratic shots such as the CU of the hand throwing the stone.
On the Way to the River: The disembodied thoughts as Ariel's noise that both guides and confounds.
Building the Raft and Seeing the Enemy: The skewing of the sense of direction. The plane, the seeming lens flare circle, and the mouse-trap.
The Killing Dinner: Corby's control of Sidney. The flipped shots and diagonals. The benign knife and the murderous, the CU of the hand clutching the stew, the eyes of the living and the dead, the expression of the dead as liminal, the relationship of the dead to the mannequins in Killer's Kiss and Eyes Wide Shut. The banquet in The Tempest. Misdirection, sigils, the illusory death of Ferdinand. We spend our lives running our fingers down the lists and directories, looking for our real names. The rebuke of "No man is an island", and war as cold stew on a blazing island with a "tempest" of gunfire around it.
Day 2 - Shots 228 thru 474
Some subjects covered:
The Decision to Return to the Raft: Caliban and the cannibals, Corby versus mac as Prospero versus Caliban. The raft and Huckleberry Finn.
The Capture of the Woman: Defining of the characters of the men in respect of their treatment of the woman. Prospero vs. Caliban, and the hypocrisy of civilization. Breaking the fourth wall. Communicating with signs rather than language. Sidney's flood of memories represented through overlays.
The Woman Killed by Sidney: Sidney as Ariel and his fear of being left behind. The death of the woman and its similarity to the deaths of the three soldiers the previous night. Metamorphosis, illusion, and why Sidney denies responsibility for the woman's death, asserting the magician, Prospero, is in control. The woman, free will, Comus, the error that requires the calling upon Sabrina as a goddess who holds the power of reversals. Theater, the illusory, and magic. Sidney's tale of metamorphosis and the story of Taliesin. Metamorphosis, the mystery of what's in the woman's hand and its relationship to what's in Jack's hand at the end of The Shining. The dog, Proteus, and the protean nature of Kubrick's characters, settings, props. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, its relationship to the Protean Sidney, and the question of one's true face. Mac's speaking of the rifle sight and the red eye, and its relationship to the mouse-trap and to 2001. Examining the film in respect of The Tempest does not negate addressing the real life horrors of war.
Day 3 - Shots 475 thru 675
Some subjects covered:
What Are You Living for Anyway: Mac's belief in the serendipitous and synchronous now drives the story. The two versions of this scene with a significant dialogue change in shot 509. The CU shots of Corby digging in the pine straw.
Sneak Attack by Water and Land: Kubrick's interest in doubles (Corby/the general, and Fletcher/the captain) already previously expressed in Day of the Fight. The Realization of the Mouse-trap map for the general. Why might Kubrick not have wanted this film to be seen. The cannibals as Caliban's doubles. Heart of Darkness. Proteus expressing the protean nature of all the characters. The extinguishing of the front fill light when the general is shot. Final shot of the plane and the seeming lens flare halo.
Sidney in the River: The noises in the air as conjured by Ariel, and the sleep of Caliban. Maya and the state beyond illusion. Sidney's loss of his wallet, Bill's loss of his wallet in Eyes Wide Shut. Prospero's monologue after the masque.
Conclusion by the River: Ariel's final song. Closing with the return to the beginning.
STANLEY KUBRICK'S FEAR AND DESIRE, THE TEMPEST, COMUS, CHESS AND HAL'S ERROR. A glaring mistake concerning The Tempest occurs in Fear and Desire and merits examination. How Kubrick incorporates the chess game into Sidney's "error" when relating Ariel's story. How this relates to HAL's error. How chess is expressed through a hidden 64 in Fear and Desire, which uses as its template a hidden 64 in The Tempest.
Link to the main Kubrick page for all the analyses