2007-01-10 23:53:50 UTC
before you can call him a man?"
- Robert Zimmerman
"I may have poor insight about myself...Who
can define where phobias come from?"
- Stanley Kubrick
"Proceed from the dream outward."
- Carl Jung
"Its origin and purpose still a total mystery."
- Dr. Heywood Floyd
I've repeatedly referred to Stanley Kubrick as
a "thinking man", and I really don't think that
I have to supply any supporting evidence to make
that assertion. All available testimonies about
his working methods to "create" his "art" describe
a long, sometimes seeemingly endless, process of
reading hundreds if not thousand of books, technical
papers, and essays, watching hundreds of films, and
then analyzing, evaluating, and discussing them with
his collaborators for further seemingly endless
hours. He explicitly disavowed his personal use of
any type of "psychedelic" drug that he feared would
dull his rational evaluation of the images and sounds
that he would choose to insert in his "art".
This is in sharp contrast to many other "artists",
who work quickly on seeming instant "inspiration".
Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein", the classic modern
nightmare about the horror of man's technology attempting
to play "God", as the result of images in a dream. Bob
Dylan has said he has "no idea" where his songs came from,
that he used to write them as fast as he could scribble
the words. Anthony Burgess wrote the novel "A Clockwork
Orange", which has always been described as a "nightmare vision"
of a technological society run amuck, in a matter of
weeks, and, according to him, based on single overhearing of
the English slang expression "queer as a clockwork orange"
in a bar. The "Beatles" pop group songwriting duo, according
to several stories, used to disappear into a room together,
only to re-appear a few minutes later (presumably in cloud of
their beloved cannabis smoke) with a new hit single.
Of course, Jung had this whole dichotomy "figured out".
He theorized there were four basic personality traits that
generally arose from the dichotomy between rational
conscious thought and "unconscious emotions". A person
would have some preponderance of the four traits that
would make them generally either a "thinking person"
or a "feeling person". But some of the four traits
would be found in ALL people, and Jung called the traits
that were in opposition to the dominant traits of an
individual "the shadow", because the individual (or
the society/country, as Jung felt that definable
groups of people also had a "personality") would
always be trailed, like a "shadow", by these "suppressed"
traits throughout their lives, and they would tend
to emerge, sometimes destructively or "neurotically",
throughout a person's (or a society's) life.
For a "thinking person", the traits are "thinking" (of
course), a focus and reliance on conscious thought, logic,
science, technology, etc., and "sensation", a focus and reliance
on "information" from the senses: vision, hearing, etc.
For a "feeling person", the traits are "feeling" (of course),
a focus and reliance on emotions, and "intuition", a focus and
reliance on ideas that are not derived from logic, but by
"insight" and "introspection".
Much has been made about Kubrick's "fear of flying", and
how ironically "irrational" that it seemed to manifest itself
around the time that he made a movie about space flight,
a movie that seemed to promise human transcendance through
futuristic technology. Well, a dedicated Jungian theorist
could indeed have a field day with that one, but by taking
even a closer look at the various possible relationships
between a person's dominant traits and his "shadow"
traits we might come to an even deeper, but perhaps
very startling "insight" into the mind of Stanley Kubrick.
Such dedicated Jungian theorists will note that I've
greatly simplified the voluminous and convoluted theories
of Jung for the purposes of this essay. For example, I've
condensed the "symbols" or images of the "anima", the
feminine traits in a man, from four down to two. I've not
covered at all his theories about the individuation of
the "self", the relation of an individual person within
society. I've blown by many other "Jungian symbols" that
actually have been seen in Kubrick movies, conflated
"mandalas" and "labyrinths" while ignoring "magic circles"
and "squaring the circles" and God knows all the stuff
about alchemy (but hey, why was Tom Cruise's mask a "golden
nugget" in "Eyes Wide Shut"?).
But let's be clear about this: Jung never said that "the
shadow" was necessarily a "bad thing", or something that
led inevitably to "neurosis". Rather, it was a "neurotic
relationship" between the dominant and "shadow" traits that
could sometimes cause "problems". In fact, a person could
be most "fearful" of their dominant traits, and might
"project" these fears onto "others" (part of the whole
process of "individuation of the self" that Jung theorized).
For Kubrick, as a "thinking" person, his dominant traits
would be "thinking" and "sensation": his focus and reliance
would be on "seeing" and "hearing" things, and "analyzing"
and "thinking" about them. He began as a photographer,
working for the (ironically-named) "Look" magazine, so he first
focused on "seeing" things. Later, he had a general "dream"
to be a filmmaker, and he began his well-known process of
"thinking" how to make a movie. Yet it would seem that these
traits are not well-suited to an "artist": wouldn't an "artist"
be better served by "feeling" and "intuition"?
It may very well be the case that in Jungian terms, he
constantly "projected" this paradox in his own life as part
of the overriding themes of his movies. I've repeatedly
summarized his overall theme as "the inability of man's
intelligence to overcome his animal emotions". And certainly,
in every movie he made, we see the abject failure of
"thinking" and "sensation", the dominant "Jungian" traits of
Kubrick himself, to avoid disaster.
The elaborate scheme to rob the racetrack in "The Killing"
failed for the gang members because of human "emotions".
In "Paths of Glory", Kirk Douglas came up with an elaborate
defense and then a scheme to prevent the soldiers from being
executed, which failed. The well-educated Humbert in "Lolita"
is "blind" to the destructive impact of his passion for the
nymphet, who he first "sees" in a bikini.
In "Dr. Strangelove", the "brainy" President Merkin Muffley
couldn't stop the world from being destroyed, and makes some
of the most comically irrational remarks in the movie, such as,
"you can't fight in here, this is the War Room!", and,
"there's no point in becoming hysterical at a time like this!"
in a hysterical tone of voice. The entire plot of the movie
turns on the failure of a several "rationally" conceived plans.
"2001" shows the failure of man's ultimate "rational"
creation, the HAL-9000 computer. "A Clockwork Orange"
is a similar tale of the failure of rational plans, along
with some explicit references to the failure of "sensation".
P. R. Deltoid exasperated, "We study the problem, we've been
studying it for damn well near a century, and we get no further
in our studies!", mocking "thinking". During his "re-conditioning",
which ultimately fails disasterously, Alex's eyes are propped open,
symbolizing the inadequacy of "sensation" vs. "intuition".
Half-way through the process, he says, "I SEE that all this killing
is wrong...", but as the doctor correctly notes "you're not cured yet".
Later, the Minister of the Interior (or Inferior, per Burgess) "thinks"
that a visual demonstration will "show" that Alex has been "cured",
and he introduces Alex by saying "You SEE before you a
changed man...", further mocking "sensation". And note
the title of his last movie, "Eyes Wide Shut", signifying the
failure of the senses to provide understanding, and note
the male characters saying things like "I've seen one or
two things in my life" and "I'm just looking around".
So we might just go ahead and theorize that Stanley Kubrick
didn't fully trust his OWN "thinking" trait as an "efficient"
method to make a movie, or a reliance on the "sensation" trait,
which equates to mere photography when making a film.
Certainly his "process" became so slow towards the end of
his life that it took him well over a decade to complete
a single film, with several other projects abandoned by
his death in various states of conceptual disarray. And it's
interesting to note that the movie that is widely considered
to be the most "forgettable" film of his career, "Barry Lyndon",
relied on gorgeous photography for most its "quality", with a
standard linear and narrated plot largely unencumbered
with any of the striking and memorable "symbolism" of movies like
For some, the beauty and literal wordy plot was enough, but
"The Simpsons" has presented not one parody of it as a rough
gauge of its permanence in movie history. Kubrick apparently
learned the lesson he had already known, and he never again tried
to rely on purely beautiful visuals to illustrate a literal story
without the use of those baffling "symbols", from whatever source
he could find them. But the problem would be, as he surely must
have known, the slowness of "discovering" them by working in
his rational analytical manner.
But Kubrick's own personal relationship with technology is
itself baffling and irrational. After the release of "2001",
he gave a very lengthy interview to "Playboy" magazine.
The interview is remarkable not just from the standpoint of
the passage of time invalidating much of his "predictions"
about the future, but the irrational nature and apparent
genesis of his "predictions" and his other assertions
For example, he flatly states that he "believes" in "flying
saucers", that alien intelligence MUST exist somewhere in the
universe, that you could come up with an "intriguing scientific
theory of God", that he was considering being cryogenically frozen
to attempt to acheive immortality, and that death itself could
be "cured" by the year 2001.
In other words, and not even with 20/20 hindsight, we might just
conclude he was insane...except that if he's nutz, he shared those
whacky ideas with at least tens of millions of others, including
Walt Disney's soon-to-be-thawed noggin. Throughout the interview,
he explicates two dominant themes: an intense fear of death,
and a naive and irrational belief in the power of technology
to transcend the inevitability and permanence of the grave,
and to propel us beyond this Earthly cradle.
And in the middle of it, he mentions Jung specifically:
"Carl Jung summed up this position when he wrote of
contact with advanced extraterrestrial life that the
'reins would be torn from our hands, and we would, as
a tearful old medicine man once said to me, find
ourselves without dreams...' I personally don't accept
- Stanley Kubrick
Of course you don't, Stanley, because you just made a multi-million
dollar movie with a plot where advanced exterrestrials give man
the gift of immortality. Space aliens, and technology in general,
are YOUR "God", your "dreams"; if space aliens don't save you, then
cryogenics or the magical ability to "cure death" by the year
2001 surely will...
Jung wrote specifically about "flying saucers", and concluded that
the phenomenon was just another example of "modern" man supplanting
new myths for the old ones that have been "disproven" by "technology".
Certainly, throughout history, men of science and math and logic
has exhibited the persistant irrational behavior of trying to "prove"
that "God" exists, such as the extension of Descartes' "mind-body split"
dichotomy and "Pascal's Wager". So Kubrick appears to be just
another in a long line of "rational" men who respond to those
nagging "shadow" archetypes of "God" and the related "fear of
death", and after years of his "process" of working on "2001",
he just wound up explicating these latest irrational myths of
Interestingly, his previous movie, "Dr. Strangelove", had an
actual sub-title that indicated some sort of personal resolution
on the subject of death: "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And
Love The Bomb". This seems like a peculiar title for a movie
that seems to indicate total nuclear annihilation of the planet
is inevitable due to the inherent folly of man. But note
carefully he added the "plot device" of the "Doomsday Machine"
where EVERYBODY dies, and then consider this quote:
"God is dead, but the bomb endures; thus, they are no longer
alone in the terrible vulnerability of their own mortality.
Satre once wrote that if there was one thing you could tell a
man about to be executed that would make him happy, it was that
a comet would strike the earth the next day and destroy every
living human being. This is not so much a collective death wish
or self-destructive urge as a reflection of the awesome and
agonizing loneliness of death."
- Stanley Kubrick
So it looks here as if both "Dr. Strangelove" and "2001"
were some type of attempt by Mr. Kubrick to assuage his own
personal fear of death, though he tends to "project" his
technological "God" archetype and "comforting" global annihilition
fantasy onto his audience rather than himself. So this may
go a long way to explaining his seemingly irrational "fear
of flying": he seemed quite concerned with death, and at the
same time had some type of conflicting "instinctive" distrust
of the technology he so lengthily diefied verbally.
He even admits that fear of death is behind his "fear of
flying" in the "Playboy" interview when asked about it:
"I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of
And in a later interview:
"Call it enlightened cowardice, if you like. Actually, over the
years I discovered that I just didn't enjoy flying, and I became
aware of compromised safety margins in commercial aviation that
are never mentioned in airline advertising. So I decided I'd rather
travel by sea, and take my chances with the icebergs."
- Stanley Kubrick
There is a subtle, but I think significant mix of ideas in this
"explanation". Aside from his supposed "statistics" about
"compromised safety margins", which were presumably compiled
with the same ruthlessness that he determined that "flying
saucers" were "real", while at the same time this several-pack-day
smoker ignored the well-known statistics about the corrosive
impact of nicotine on aterial walls, he says he "just didn't
So did Stanley Kubrick also have an irrational "fear of
airplane food", or what's the deal here? Perhaps a clue
lays elsewhere in the "Playboy" interview. After he
natters on wordily about his imaginary space aliens and
UFOs and immortal popscicles, he also addresses the issue
of family and children, and the future of "the family" in his
presumed "brave new world" of techological salvation:
"One can offer all kinds of impressive intellectual arguments
against the family as an institution...but when you get right
down to it, the family is the most primitive and visceral
and vital unit in society. You may stand outside your wife's
hospital room during childbirth muttering, "My God, what
a responsibility!"...and then you go in and look down at
the face of your child and -- zap! -- that ancient programming
takes over and your response is one of wonder and joy and
pride. It's a classic case of genetically imprinted social
patterns. There are very few things in this world that have
an unquestionable importance in and of themselves and are
not susceptible to debate or rational argument, but the
family is one of them."
- Stanley Kubrick
And indeed, by all accounts, Mr. Kubrick was very well
"integrated" with his "genetically imprinted social
patterns". Virtually every interview with him contains
notes that the interview session included the presence
of his children in his home, plus a somewhat intimidating
number of their pet animals, and he incorporated his
extended family members into his long-term film production
"team". He even cast his daughter in a role in the
movie "2001" with the predictable resultant risk that one
critic would refer to the scene as evidence that it was
the "ultimate home movie".
I've already speculated that the inclusion of the
scene at the end of "Paths Of Glory" with his future
wife represented Kubrick's personal desire to integrate
a positive feminine image into his life in the form
of a loving nuturing mother figure. I've also theorized
that the various negative images of women in Kubrick's
movies were inserted specifically as signs of a
"society gone mad", and that the movies "The Shining"
and "Eyes Wide Shut" were cautionary tales about the
importance of integrating "family values" into the
life of a man.
So Mr. Kubrick's "fear of flying" may actually boil
down to nothing more "irrational" than he was a "homebody",
he really liked to stick around the house and be with
the kids. And in many ways, this was perhaps a wise
choice from an "artistic" standpoint as well. If the
challenge of the logical, analytical "thinking person"
to create art is to develop "introspection", what is the
point of travelling the world? Perhaps to Kubrick, attempting
to find the answers about human nature by traveling would
be as foolish as Jack Torrance "overlooking" that in the
"final analysis", literally HE was the center of the only
part of the universe that really mattered, the unity of his
own "soul", as we see a picture of Jack at a fish and goose
soiree decades earlier in the hotel lobby after another of
Kubrick's "tracking shots" through the "maze" of
But this journey, although it would not involve physical
travel, also did not involve pure "intuition" or startling
flashes of "insight". It was more a process of "bringing
in" a world of previous thought on whatever general subject
he was working on, and the "thinking person" process of
tediously analyzing it over a course of many years, quite
often in conjunction with writing collaborators.
Kubrick always worked with writing collaborators in one
sense or another, either by choosing a novel that required
little plot changes to suit his themes, or at the other
extreme, authoring what were essentially original screenplays.
In the case of movies like "2001" and "Dr. Strangelove",
he largely wrote original screenplays working with one or
several collaborators. In the case of "A Clockwork Orange",
his "collaborator" was truly the novel itself, Anthony Burgess'
searing "nightmare vision" that Kubrick largely just "translated"
for the screen. It is from his collaborators on projects
where he made major changes from any original material
that we get testimony as to how he actually "created"
In the case of "The Shining", he worked with Diane
Johnson, an American author whose "dark psychological"
novel, "The Shadow Knows", about a mother stalked by a
mysterious axe-wielding persurer, somehow intrigued Kubrick,
who at the time had a general goal to make "the ultimate
horror movie". She describes the start of their collaboration:
"I had dabbled with a couple of screenplays. But I got involved
because Kubrick was thinking of making 'The Shadow Knows' but he
never went as far as optioning it. He was considering it along
with the Stephen King novel, and when he finally decided to do
'The Shining', he said he would like to work with me on the
- Diane Johnson
She then describes the long process of developing the
screenplay, which consisted of reading hundreds of books,
including many psychology books and compilations of fairy
tales, in an attempt to "analyze" what is "scary".
And in the case of "Full Metal Jacket", Kubrick worked with
Michael Herr, who specifically mentioned in an interview that
Kubrick wanted to make the movie about the Jungian concept
of the "shadow":
"During the next few years, we talked on the telephone. I think
of it now as one phone call lasting three years, with interruptions.
The substance was single-minded: the old and always serious problem
of how you put into a film or a book the living, behaving presence
of what Jung called the Shadow, 'the most accessible of archetypes,
and the easiest to experience'."
- Michael Herr
Couple that quote with the specific reference to Jung in the
movie, and you could easily predict the rush of Kubrick's then-dwindling
audience to the bookstore to buy a copy of "Introducing Psychology".
So let's take a closer look at what's going on in "Full Metal
Jacket", a movie that Kubrick said he only intended to show
"the truth of war".
On the surface, and at just about any level, it is quite
simply another Kubrick tale about the failure of "thinking"
and "sensation", this time in the specific environment of war,
an arena he sees as properly dominated by "emotion" and
"intuition". From the beginning of the movie to the last
scene, Kubrick presents the real battle in war for the soldiers
is the struggle between "heart and mind".
This is a struggle that is first shown starting in boot camp,
and in a crucial scene, the drill sargeant says, "It is not a
rifle that kills. It is a hard heart that kills. It is
your killer instinct. If you hesitate at the moment of truth,
you will not kill the enemy, the enemy will kill you." And as we
see in the climax of the movie, it the "shadow" of the "thinking"
traits in a soldier that will cause that hesitation.
The names and "nicknames" of the characters in
"Full Metal Jacket" are significant. The protagonist
is nicknamed "Joker" to signify his primary trait as a
thinking man; he tends to "think" that everything is a
big joke. He and the other thinking man characters are
depicted as wearing glasses to symbolize their reliance on
"sensation", visual sight, that betrays them. "Joker"
aggravates his editor on the "Stars and Stripes" newspaper
by insisting on a rational visual sighting of a "blood
trail" before writing a story about "enemy kills";
his editor argues with him "you don't want people to
read our paper and feel bad, do you?"
His Jungian opposite in VietNam is nicknamed "Animal Mother",
very close to the Jungian concept of an "mother anima" symbol.
He is shown as relying on his "animal spirit" to make
decisions, as opposed to the "thinking men". "Joker"'s first
encounter with the several experienced military "authority"
figures who literally try to "wipe the smirk off his
face" is Drill Sargeant "Hartman", very close to a
The failure of the "sensation" trait of the "thinking
man" is shown multiple times. In boot camp, the recruit "Pyle"
that "Joker" is assigned to help train goes "Section Eight"
("insane"), but "Joker" is powerless to stop it. In one scene
where the other recruits beat "Pyle", "Joker" is shown putting
his hands over his ears to block out the sound of "Pyle"'s
sobbing. Later, "Joker" acknowledges that "Pyle" is insane
in the "head" to "Cowboy", another recruit who wears glasses,
but they both fail to understand the importance, leading
to a later confrontation in the "head" with "Pyle" that almost
costs "Joker" his life.
"Joker" is finally sent to Hue city at the height of
the "Tet offensive" by his editor after being aggravated
by his "jokes". This becomes "Joker"'s final symbolic
journey of "self-discovery", where he finally learns
how to be a soldier in war; he explicitly says that
"I'm not ready for this" during a skirmish at the base
at the beginning of the offensive. And later, on the
way to Hue, he has an encounter with another military
"authority" figure that symbolizes exactly why he is
not ready. In front of a mass grave of people executed
by the VietCong, a colonel asks him why he has "Born To
Kill" written on his helmet and a "peace symbol" on his
jacket near his heart. The colonel is outraged by his
response that "it represents the duality of man...the
Jungian thing" and tells Joker "you've got to get your
head and your ass wired together", again symbolizing
the importance of getting rid of the "shadow" trait
of "thinking" in a soldier.
Hue is represented as a "maze" of annihilation, with constant
image of fire and the rubble of broken stones, with bedraggled
palm trees with their fronds knocked off. I've talked
before about the symbolism of the "monolith" in "2001",
and note the complete difference in images in "Full Metal
Jacket". In addition, Jung also said that images of fire
were a powerful symbol of death in many cultures (also,
Jung wrote about the image of the nuclear fireball as being
the ultimate symbol of annihilation without the possibility
of resurrection, so a veiwing of "Dr. Stangelove" is
interesting in that regard). We see the soldiers enter
the city in a classic Kubrick "tracking shot" from behind.
The platoon, now under the command of "Cowboy", the other
"thinking man" recruit from "Joker"'s boot camp with the glasses,
becomes "lost", as he tries to rely on maps, symbolizing yet
again the failure of "thinking" and "sensation" to guide them
through this "maze" of death. After two soldiers are shot
by a sniper, "Mother Animal", knowing "instinctively" that
there is only one sniper, takes effective command of the squad,
leading to the climax of the movie, the killing of the sniper.
And it is during this scene that we again see a literal
"maze", just like in "The Shining", symbolizing the
complexity of the "unconscious mind".
First we see a railing with a maze-like pattern in the
background as "Joker" enters the building in a yet another
classic Kubrick "tracking shot" through the "maze" of the
building, then we and "Joker" see the sniper. Then as "Joker"
tries to shoot the sniper, his gun jams, and this scene is
framed with "Joker" on the right, and a circular "labyrinth"
pattern on the wall to the left and behind him. This scene
is one of the most purely symbolic in all of Kubrick's movies,
as we ironically see that it is ostensibly his GUN that fails
him, when "Sgt. Hartman" clearly said that, "It is not a gun
that kills, it is a hard heart."
From that standpoint, this scene cannot be taken literally,
and Kubrick, with his stated knowledge of Jungian symbolism
and the explicit dialog reference, must have "deliberately buried"
the "labyrinth" symbol in plain sight right next to the protagonist.
It is "Joker"'s thinking, rational, conscious mind that has actually
failed him at the crucial moment, that's the REAL "reason" for the
"hesitation"; he is not "integrated" with his unconscious "labyrinth"
Then another soldier shoots the sniper, and then we see the
sniper is actually a young girl. As she lays wounded, she first
begins to speak in Vietnamese, which "Joker" interprets as "praying",
an "irrational" act. She then entreats them in English to "shoot me".
"Animal Mother" says "leave her for the rats", but "Joker" argues
"we can't just leave her like this". So as the symbolic
"integration" of "Joker" with his "killer instinct", "Joker"
shoots the sniper. As he turns to shoot her, we see the
"peace symbol" that he "joked" about is covered by the
folds of his flak jacket, so we only thing we see in the
frame, centered, is his face, and the logo on his helmet,
"Born To Kill". We see the struggle on his face as he draws
his (unseen) weapon and makes the choice to fire it. And then
we see his "Kubrick stare" afterwards, a mixture of both serenity,
resolution, and menance. In his final voice-over, he says
"I am alive, and I am not afraid". "Basic training" is
finally complete, as is this ridiculous long-winded anal-ysis.
But, despite Kubrick's acknowledgement that he WAS
afraid of death, HE is not alive any more; he passed
away in 1999 before finally completing his last movie,
"Eyes Wide Shut", which was released 13 years after his
previous movie, "Full Metal Jacket". So Stanley Kubrick
finally reached the end of his own personal "hero's journey",
his long and twisted "maze" of "exploring" his "unconscious" mind
in a peculiarly very "conscious" manner, and "projecting" the
images that he found there, images that make no "literal sense",
like the irrational symbols of a dream, for rest of the world to
"see", but most importantly, hopefully to "feel".
He lays beneath his "favorite tree" (Christian symbol of motherhood,
the continuity of life and home) under a blanket of stones (Jewish
burial custom). We haven't "seen" any "rational" evidence that his
"soul" has been made immortal, such as perhaps by the "god-like"
intervention of his imaginary super-advanced space aliens, nor have we
heard any lurid stories that his head bobs in liquid nitrogen next
to the racist Uncle Walt as he said he wanted to do. Rather, like the
"primitives" who built Stonehenge and the Pyramids, his most
profound symbols have entered the "collective unconscious",
perhaps to live forever in the mind of man: it is his legendary
acheivements that have become immortal.
William Ernest "I Am Finished" Reid