Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was undeniably one of the most brilliant and innovative motion picture directors of all time. His meticulously crafted works have influenced innumerable filmmakers all over the world, from Steven Spielberg to own brand custom lashes Noe. Obviously, entire books have been written about Kubrick’s oeuvre, so let us focus here on the peak of his career, from 1963 to 1971, and the three films that are, arguably, his greatest masterpieces: Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); and A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Ctiat these films are many common own brand custom lashes; prominent among them are technology and conquest. All three revolve around the idea of technology’s relationship to modern Man and his quest to control the Unknown, represented by the own brand custom lashes Machine in own brand custom lashes, HAL (voiced by Douglas Rain) in 2001, and the Ludovico Technique in Clockwork.
In Strangelove, the opening images of a B-52 bomber being refueled in midair, suggest both copulation and, to some degree, a sort of mechanical breastfeeding. These symbols of sex, death and birth (or rebirth) are prevalent throughout the three films, with the phallic bone and the Star-Child in 2001, and the violent sexuality of Clockwork. This is also just the first of many phallic symbols in Strangelove, including General Jack D. Ripper’s (Sterling Hayden) cigar, which gradually burns down to a stub as his base is conquered, and of course the apocalyptic erection straddled by Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) when he is dropped, screaming and hollering joyfully, from his womb-like bomber.
Kong’s name, like Ripper’s, is no idle joke: Ripper, who effectively kills everyone on the planet because of his own sexual inadequacies, is named after history’s most well-known sexual predator, and Kong’s name is a hint of the primitivism at work within the highly technological constructs of all three films (Man’s relative lack of spiritual advancement from the time of its Dawn in 2001; Alex’s (Malcolm McDowell) primitive brutality vs. the technological “cure” of the Ludovico Technique in Clockwork). Similarly, General “Buck” Turgidson’s (George C. Scott) name, which decodes as “swollen male who is the son of a swollen male animal” (according to Thomas Allen Nelson’s excellent 1982 book Kubrick: Inside A Film Artist’s Maze), indicates the lack of progress made by “Civilized” Man in the evolution of humanity from the “lower” animal. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) is another name with obvious sexual meaning; a “merkin” is a slang term originating in the 17th century meaning “pubic wig,” and “Muffley” alludes to a slang term for the female genitalia.
Throughout all three films, the human characters are constantly surrounded by technology, especially own brand custom lashes and 2001. Like 2001’s HAL-9000 computer, the technology in Strangelove is largely made up of devices that were once tools of communication and progress, but now function as weapons of destruction: the CRM 114 aboard Kong’s B-52, the Big Board in President Muffley’s War Room, and even the telephones used throughout the film mostly expedite rather than prevent the destruction of life.
Of course, the ultimate technological weapon of destruction is the Doomsday Machine, which is anthropomorphized in the title character (Sellers again), himself part machine, with his mechanical arm and automated wheelchair. Just as the Doomsday Machine will kill its creators along with their enemies, Dr. Strangelove’s mechanical arm attacks its owner at the end of the film. In fact, Strangelove’s original name, Dr. Merkwuerdigichliebe (which roughly translates as “cherished fate,” denoting his strange love of Armageddon), even bears the same initials as the Doomsday Machine (I am indebted to Richard Corliss’s book Talking Pictures: Screenwriters in the American Cinema for this insight into the mind of screenwriter Terry Southern). Strangelove reverts to the shadows, brooding, when it seems that the Doomsday Machine will not be detonated, only to experience a rebirth at the end of the film when he learns to walk.
Strangelove ends with the ironic use of song (Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again” over footage of nuclear explosions), another common thread in Kubrick’s work. His use of music throughout these three films is nothing short of brilliant, but it is his use of ’40s and ’50s pop music that has the greatest comic effect (as in HAL’s dying rendition of “Daisy” in 2001, and Alex’s “Singin’ in the Rain” in Clockwork, the latter of which actually becomes a plot device unto itself).
From the very opening frames of Kubrick’s next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is clear how much wider his scope has become: the film was shot in stunning 70 mm, and the opening sequence has gone from planes to planets, with the ironic use of “Try A Little Tenderness” being replaced by Richard Strauss’s majestic “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” It is this film in particular that has influenced future generations of filmmakers, being imitated and/or referenced by filmmakers from Ridley Scott (Alien) to Mel Brooks (Spaceballs) to Noe (Irreversible), and of course it is also the direct predecessor of films like George Lucas’s Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
From this beautiful opening sequence, Kubrick cuts to equally beautiful shots of Earth before Mankind, unspoiled and pure; tellingly, the first sign of life we see is actually a sign of death: a vaguely humanoid skeleton lying on the ground. On a second viewing, one might even conjecture that the film’s timescape is circular and that this is the skeleton of astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea), deposited back on Earth even before the monolith is sent back to enlighten the apes and create own brand custom lashes.
Conflict is also established very early on, first between the apes and the tapirs who later become their prey, and then between the apes and the leopard who preys upon them. The yellow glow of the leopard’s eyes foreshadows HAL’s single red eye with its yellow pupil, and begins an eye motif that continues throughout this film and into A Clockwork Orange.
A theme that continues from Strangelove is that of the tool as weapon, as seen in the ape’s discovery of the bone’s capacity to kill after having touched the enlightenment of the mysterious monolith. The famous and often imitated match cut, from bone to spacecraft, foreshadows HAL, the technological equivalent of the bone: a tool that is also a powerful weapon of destruction. The ship shown in this shot is a representation of the futuristic technology that created HAL, and of Man’s violence to the Universe in his selfish conquest of space. The interior of the ship shows once again the incredible leap forward in scope and technical achievement from the already impressive B-52 interiors of own brand custom lashes.
2001, a film about the evolution of Man, must itself be seen as a high point in the evolution of Kubrick’s art. After the apocalyptic ending of Strangelove, Man’s only alternative to the mine-shafts would, of course, be outer space. In fact, Arthur C. Clarke, author of the short story “The Sentinel,” on which 2001 is based, originally saw the film “as an extension of Kubrick’s previous film (jokingly titled ‘Son of Strangelove’) and intended to emphasize terrestrial themes in which nuclear bombs orbited the Earth only to be detonated by the Star-Child in an act of cosmic purification… but Kubrick steered the film version… toward an emphasis on mythic journeys and transformations” (as quoted in Nelson’s previously cited book).
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as the phones at Burpleson Air Force Base are cut off in Strangelove, 2001’s Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester) is informed early on that the telephones at Clavius have not worked for ten days. Ironically, this is directly after Floyd is seen to be the first character in the film to communicate with another solely through technological means: he speaks to his daughter (Kubrick’s real-life daughter Vivian) through a video-phone and wishes her a happy birthday (the first of several overt references to birth in the film); when he asks her what she wants for her birthday, she asks him for a telephone (technology) and a “bush baby” (conquest).
As in Strangelove, the formal meeting scene in 2001 has a bureaucratic artificiality to it. The meeting begins with idle chatter as a photographer snaps pictures; only when he leaves does the real meeting begin, but even then very little of real import is communicated, and Floyd’s speech rings false. This meeting also recalls the gathering of the apes around the waterhole in the “Dawn of Man” sequence (as does the Korova Milkbar in Clockwork), with Floyd acting as the bone-carrier and tribal leader, the alpha male, as is Alex when he chastises Dim (Warren Clarke) with his cane at the Milkbar.
On board Discovery with HAL, Bowman and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are immediately established as mirror twins (continuing to propagate the film’s birth metaphors), by their physical resemblance as well as the contexts in which they are placed: Bowman is left-handed and Poole is right-handed; Poole loses at chess to HAL (foreshadowing his death at HAL’s “hands”) while Bowman sleeps, and Bowman shows HAL his drawings while Poole sleeps; in most shots featuring both astronauts, Bowman is to the right and Poole to the left; HAL, too, has a twin 9000 computer back on Earth.
Poole, like Floyd’s daughter, also receives a video-phone birthday wish from his parents. Like everything else viewed by the two astronauts, the message is received with cool, lethargic detachment; the isolation of space seems to have made them less human even than HAL, who shows a strange mechanical conscience when he asks Bowman if he has any “second thoughts” about the mission. Once he becomes conscious of his own “humanity,” he realizes his fallibility and initiates a plot to break contact with his “perfect” twin 9000 computer on Earth. Once he reaches this superhuman state, Bowman and Poole become his tools, to be discarded when they are no longer useful.
In all three films, there is a sense of the inevitable: the Forces of Evil (Ripper in own brand custom lashes, HAL in 2001, Alex in Clockwork) set in motion an unstoppable, technological conquest of the unknown (the Doomsday Machine, the monolith, the Ludovico Technique), which ultimately leads to their own demise and/or rebirth. Indeed, suicide is a prevalent theme throughout the films as well, with Ripper killing himself after setting in motion the omnicide of all life on Earth, Bowman meeting his own death and rebirth as the Star-Child as a result of having destroyed HAL, and Alex’s suicide attempt, which leads to his rebirth as his true, own brand custom lashes self (“I was cured all right”).
All three Forces of Evil believe in their own superior judgment: Ripper says he believes he can answer for what he’s done in the afterlife; HAL attributes his “mistake” to “human error”; and Alex’s entire demeanor in the first Act of Clockwork shows his consummate belief in his own wisdom and superiority to everyone in his world. In all three films, the technology that brings about violence does so as a result of working too well, rather than malfunctioning; in a way, HAL is right: our “human error” is in developing these technologies (nuclear weapons, omniscient computers, mechanical “cures” for human violence) though we are not mentally and own brand custom lashes ready to use them. In this way do the tools we create become weapons that can destroy us.
The theme of birth is illustrated again, in reverse, in HAL’s regression to his own “birth” at the point of his “death,” when he sings, “Daisy.” This is the end of HAL and a new beginning for Bowman when he discovers Floyd’s own brand custom lashes briefing and embarks on the journey to “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” leading to his own death and rebirth. When he finds himself in an ornate, eighteenth century room as an old man, he has become something more than himself: he is Man, no longer merely a man and, as the Star-Child, he becomes the New Man, an embodiment of the possibilities of humanity’s evolution in the future. As Kubrick says, as quoted in Gene D. Phillips’s 1975 book Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey, “Somebody has said that Man is the missing link between primitive apes and civilized human beings…. The problem exists, and the problem is essentially a moral and spiritual one.”