Stanley Kubrick
The Dangers of Emotional Disconnect

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Stanley Kubrick-The Dangers of Emotional Disconnect

I have seen four Stanley Kubrick films thus far, three recently. In the late 1970's I viewed, "2001-A Space Odyssey," and deemed it a great and thoughtful work. Viewing it at least four times over the years has not changed my perception of it. In 1999, I saw "Eyes Wide Shut," Kubrick's last film and "A Clockwork Orange." Most recently I viewed "A.I.," a collaboration of Kubrick and the director, Steven Spielberg.

Common themes seem to run across Kubrick's films. In teen age youth Kubrick finds raw untamed emotion, "uncivilized," amoral and "un- legitimized." In more advanced age, Kubrick finds corruption, particularly in males. He seems to rail as a Director, or perhaps merely observes, how with age comes ossification, routine and a kind of inner dying. He seems to lament a person's capacity to detach himself from his emotions, ostensibly for the pantheon of monied success or social status. Never leaving his camera is a realization of the evil that spreads from hypocrisy. Even HAL, who so subtly intermixes child-machine and adult deceit, is tormented by these themes.

In "Eyes Wide Shut," the evil Victor Ziegler almost foreshadows William Harford's future. Harford is a man in the early to mid stage of emotional disconnect. Victor Ziegler is in the very last stages- a man who causes the death of a woman, without a tear or thought. A man who needs increasing doses of sex to experience vestiges of what it means to be human. One sees the beginning of William's corruption in the scene in Victor's upstairs room. William is all to willing to be silent, reassuring the corrupt Victor- while making glib comments to the prostitute- who almost died- about not mixing drugs and alcohol. Kubrick's  "hero" in the film, Alice Harford, is a woman who recognizes her primordial drives and needs, embraces them, but does not let them control her fate.

There is a ritual/orgy sex scene in "Eyes Wide Shut," that was digitally edited to retain an NC-17 rating. The digital editing of the scene is poignant and maybe Kubrick's "last laugh." The sexuality in the scene, without the digital editing, is cold and leaves one with an impersonal, detached sense of what's going on. So why not digitally edit it- increasing the sense of detachment it was intended to create? In the process one caters to the unemotional, uninvolved movie executives who care little about the meaning of the work itself. Victory from defeat with irony. Finally, in the film "A.I.," (see below), we see another debasement of sex that reflects humanity's degradation- with humans having sex with android prostitutes. Androids who will always be wanted for what, "they can do for humans, rather for than what they are." Ironically, it is the prostitute again that elicits our sympathies and is most truly human and victim.

What distinguished homo sapiens successful precursors in "2001- A Space Odyssey," from the less successful? Is it the ability to use weapons as a tool for destruction? What is HAL's ultimate instinct- self-preservation? What causes HAL's downfall- human deceit?  HAL in some sense represents the penultimate rational, destructive being, combined with child like innocence and complete amorality- strands running through many of Kubrick's characters.

Perhaps the title of Kubrick's last film is an expression of his ultimate frustration with mankind- "eyes wide shut." Yet there is one true hero in the film- the prostitute- not the one that "seduces" "Dr. Bill," but the one that makes the ultimate sacrifice for him- giving her life. The same prostitute who he approaches in a truly loving manner in the morgue- the same prostitute whose murderers will go unpunished with Bill and Alice's acquiescence. Is it so surprising that we would find in a Kubrick film heartfelt martyrdom in a self-destructive prostitute? 

Yet, in Alice we find a woman in touch with who she is and therefore unlikely to destroy what she is not. Perhaps in Alice we find our salvation. 

Stanley Kubrick died in March 1999. For over twenty years he had talked with Steven Spielberg on producing a movie loosely based on the short story, "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," by Brian Aldiss. Kubrick had created thousands of storyboards for the movie, and reportedly was waiting on cinematic advances, to make a movie that would fulfill his vision of a future with androids that looked and acted like humans. Spielberg completed the project after Kubrick died, and in 2001, directed and wrote the movie A.I. (Artificial Intelligence).

The questions the movie raises concerning the ethical and societal implications of creating humanoids that feel, think and love are I believe intertwined with the themes that run through all of Kubrick's work. After all, why should humanoids that think and feel like humans be treated as less than human- other than for the human propensity to enslave, isolate and marginalize? Who is more "human," the robots or their human creators? 

Again in the child robot, David, one finds a being that was programmed inescapably to love, yet finds himself alienated by a society that treats him in ways similar to both Frankenstein's monster and Pinocchio. In the end his love and faith triumphs and he finds acceptance and sweet dreams lying beside his "resurrected" mother, who by her own admission, "forgot to tell him about human beings." Thus David, fulfills a duty to his creators that, as the film alludes to in its' beginning, the Biblical Adam failed to fulfill to his God- to remain faithful. The film's ending occurs 2,000 years after David's construction- not surprisingly, after the human race is extinct and the Earth barren- with David's memories the last enduring trace of what was. 

Yet the film laments the loss of the human race. Why is that? To answer this, one must go beyond the movie's script. The answer may lie in the tragic realization that very forces that led to mankind's destruction were also the cause of his greatness.

Mankind is a child of evolution and the universe. All creation that preceded him is manifested in him. Every struggle of opposites is mirrored in him.  This struggle is a result of what he has evolved to be- a self-aware being with powers of language and abstraction, yet grounded in the primeval forces that have shaped creation. In Freudian terms the ID (Eros and Thanatos) and the Ego struggle, seeking balance and integration through the Super-Ego. 

This dynamic tension between "animal" and "god" in the man yields creativity and a never-ending search for truth mysterious. Removal of the creative animus may define a being that has lost the ability to evolve. Yet this creative side may be dependent on the instinctual forces that drive the human race to extinction- violence, self-delusion and a denial of connectedness.

While creativity and destructiveness are one, it does not follow that violence- due more to fear, must prevail. In Virtual Evolution, The Noire Side and a Personal Message, I have written of ways man can reintegrate himself into the fabric of the universe. In "A.I.," humans have difficulty accepting that a robot can love- but do humans love at all? Only through self-understanding can sensitivity, compassion and love arise. Only then will mankind truly love. Perhaps this was Kubrick's ultimate dream.


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