Post by John Smith
was Kubrick catholic?
Kubrick was an atheist. He was of Jewish descent, but he was
not a Jew in the religious sense of the word (only in the quasi-racial
ethnic-cultural sense). There isn't even much evidence that he was
culturally Jewish: he liked to think of himself as being of Austrian
ancestry, and if he had a bar mitzvah that fact didn't creep into his
As a first approximation to Kubrick's atheism, we have interview
testimony from Kubrick's brother-in-law and business associate, Jan
Harlan. The interview is at
On page 2 (of 5 pages), Kubrick is asked, "What aspects of the [A.I.]
story most appealed to Stanley?" Harlan says, as part of his reply,
"He was not a religious man at all." That is truly an understatement.
The real evidence of Kubrick's atheism comes from the Playboy
interview. There Kubrick was asked, "Would you agree with those
critics who call  a profoundly religious film?" Kubrick
replied: "I would say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 . .
. I don't believe in any of Earth's monotheistic religions, but I do
believe that one can construct an intriguing SCIENTIFIC definition of
God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion
stars in our galaxy alone . . . and that there are approximately 100
billion galaxies in just the visible universe. . . . It's reasonable
to assume that there must be, in fact, countless BILLIONS of planets
where biological life has arisen. . . . Now the sun is by no means an
old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems
likely that there are billions of planets in the universe where
intelligent life . . . is hundreds of thousands of millions of years
in advance of us. . . . These [advanced intelligent] beings would BE
gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as
man would appear a god to an ant that somehow could comprehend man's
The "scientific definition" of God that Kubrick would implicitly
accept reduces God to a figure of speech, a metaphor. This God is not
literally God. Indeed, it differs from the Judeo-Christian God (and
from Allah) in three essential respects. First, whereas God is
perceived as a rational, self-conscious supernatural being, the
"scientific" god is not A being at all; it is an entire RACE of
beings. Second, whereas God is supernatural, the "scientific" God is
a natural being that has evolved over time, just as the human race has
evolved. The godlike alien race just happens to have been evolving
for a longer time, which puts it far ahead of us. Third, whereas God
is perceived as eternal, having no beginning and no end and having
preceded the universe, the "scientific" god didn't exist at first,
arrived after the universe began, started out (like man) as a lower
life form, and only gradually became metaphorically godlike. As a
related point, the individuals who constitute the godlike race are
mortal, capable of dying, whereas God is supposed to be immortal.
So you see, the "scientific" God that Kubrick would accept is a mere
figurative God, not the literal God of Judaism and Christianity.
As for Kubrick's saying "the God concept is at the heart of 2001,"
that is certainly true. 2001 is an allegory depicting Nietzsche's
magnum opus, THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA. Nietzsche, influenced by Darwin,
told the story of man's evolution from (1) ape to (2) lower man, the
believer who creates God by imagining his existence, to (3) higher
man, the nonbeliever who "kills" God by ceasing to believe, to (4)
overman, a mentally and morally superior race of men that Nietzsche
thought would evolve from higher man. God must die for overman to
evolve, because there can be only one Supreme Being. In 2001, Hal and
the spaceship Discovery jointly symbolize God, and Dave Bowman is
Zarathustra, the first of the higher man to slay God. Dave's
"killing" Hal symbolizes Zarathustra's killing God. This event
dramatizes Nietzsche's famous words, "God is dead!"
I was not the first to recognize 2001's Nietzsche theme. John Allen,
in his 1968 review in the Christian Science Monitor, said that "Mr.
Kubrick's tracing of mankind's development from prehistoric past to
post-fantastic future is the old theme of . . . ape-man-superman, to
put it into Nietzsche's terms." And Joseph Gelmis, writing Newsday in
1969, said that Kubrick "suggests that Nietzsche glimpsed the truth"
and that "in 2001 the evolutionary setups move from Leaky's man-ape to
the current species of homo sapiens to the newborn star-baby in a
cocoon - an infant angel, or superman." ("Overman" and "superman" are
alternative translations of Nietzsche's German word ubermensch, in
which uber = over and mensch = man. Overman is literally "over"
higher man in the evolutionary hierarchy.)
It shouldn't be necessary to add that thousands of viewers captured
the loud allegorical hint Kubrick delivered at the beginning of 2001,
where Richard Strauss's THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA launches the film.
Kubrick's willingness to allegorize a book that glorifies the death
of God is further evidence of his atheism. What few people realize,
and further testimony to Kubrick's atheism, is Kubrick's repeating the
death-of-God symbolism in a second film, A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.
In a few months I plan to set up a website that will include several
essays, including one explaining in detail the allegorical structure
of A.I. For the moment, just a few details will have to suffice.
A.I.'s surface story uses symbols to sequentially tell two hidden
stories: (1) the Bible's Adam and Eve myth and (2) Dante's DIVINE
COMEDY, in which Dante has just finished (a) a period of earthly sin
and proceeds to travel through (b) the Dark Wood, (c) hell, "Dante's
Inferno," and (d) purgatory to get to (e) paradise.
In A.I., David is Adam, who becomes a surrogate for Dante on the
journey back to Paradise. Teddy is Eve and has a symbolic name, the
significance of which I will explain in due time; the name reveals
Teddy's identity (elsewhere hinted at by two scenes in which Teddy
performs sewing, a feminine task). Paradise is Mommy (Monica
Swinton), to whom David-Adam strives to return after being cast out of
Eden. The seven mysterious words Mommy speaks to imprint David with
love for her are obviously a coded message. (In John Baxter's
biography of Kubrick, we learn on page 215 that Kubrick was interested
in codes.) This message, the decoding procedure for which I will
present at the proper time, reveals Mommy's allegorical identity.
Steven Spielberg, who wrote the screenplay and completed the A.I.
project after Kubrick died, apparently was not privy to the allegory:
Kubrick was highly secretive (he never revealed to anyone the presence
of allegories in 2001). Spielberg said in an interview that there was
"no scenario of A.I. to speak of, only myriads of notes and thoughts
gathered in a box . . . and that I manipulated as if I were an
archaeologist." So it isn't Spielberg's fault that he went astray in
two places, including the ending. His most important deviation from
Kubrick's intended course was putting hell (the Flesh Fair) ahead of
earthly sin (Rouge City). Kubrick clearly intended to have the Rouge
City episode precede the Flesh Fair episode. (That would have
required revising the plot to put sin before hell, but revision would
not be difficult.)
The basic outline of A.I.'s Adam allegory was first discovered by Jon
Bastian, who has presented it in a web essay. Bastian's web article
"A.I. in Depth" can be found at
Although Bastian misses perhaps 90 percent of A.I.'s symbolism and
misinterprets some of the remaining symbols (he thinks Rouge City is
part of hell), his thesis is nevertheless basically correct. He is
correct, for example, in theorizing that David's 2000 years submerged
in the Atlantic Ocean symbolize purgatory, although he misses the
details. In Catholicism, purgatory is a place where sinners spend a
long but finite period of time being cleansed of their sins before
going on to heaven. One of the best mediums for cleansing, and easily
the most popular, is water. And 2000 years is a long but finite
period of time. David's 2000 years of being "washed" by the waters of
the Atlantic is Adam-Dante's cleansing in purgatory.
Purgatory, meanwhile, is where Kubrick kills God a second time. In
A.I. the "mechas" (robots) symbolize humans, and the humans symbolize
divinity. Professor Hobby, who creates David (Adam), symbolizes God,
who created Adam. During the 2000 years David spends underwater, the
human race dies, destroyed by a new ice age. Professor Hobby, God,
dies with the rest of divinity during this period.
Thus does Kubrick symbolize for a second time the death of God. Yes,
Kubrick was an atheist.
In addition to killing God a second time, A.I. provides an
interesting postscript to Kubrick's antireligious attitude. In Rouge
City, David and Gigolo Joe stand outside a chapel named Our Lady of
the Immaculate Heart. Joe, who is a gigolo, mentions that he picks up
a lot of business from women coming out of the chapel. This remark
could be interpreted as conveying disrespect for those who attend
And then there is the chapel's name, Our Lady of the Immaculate
Heart. This name lampoons three Catholic phrases:
1. "Our Lady of _______" is the name of many (most?) Catholic
churches. For example, in Lake Wobegon, the Catholic Church is Our
Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.
2. "Immaculate" comes from "immaculate conception," the Catholic
doctrine holding that the Virgin Mary was conceived free from original
sin. (Don't make the common mistake of confusing the immaculate
conception with the virgin birth.)
3. "Heart" comes from "Sacred Heart," the name of many Catholic
schools and churches.
Once again we see Kubrick poking fun at religion.