Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kubrick the Pessimist



Kubrick hated humans. This hate for his own kind is the ground upon which his cinema stands. As is made apparent by 2001: A Space Odyssey, his contempt was deep.

It went from the elegant surface of our space-faring civilization down, down, down to the bottom of our natures, the muck and mud of our animal instincts, our ape bodies, our hair, guts, hunger, and grunts. No matter how far we go into the future, into space, toward the stars, we will never break with our first and violent world. Even the robots we create, our marvelous machines, are limited (and undone) by our human emotions, pressures, primitive drives. For Kubrick, we have never been modern.

"I'm in a world of shit," says Private Joker at the end of Kubrick's unremittingly dark Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket. That is what Kubrick has to say about the state of everything: The world is shit, humans are shit in shit, life is worth shit, and there is nothing else that can be done about the situation. In Kubrick's movies, progress, sustained enlightenment, and moral improvement are impossible because the powers of reason, love, and religion are much weaker than the forces of generation and degeneration, desire and destruction, sex and death.

Because the world is nothing but shit, the ideal Kubrickian subject must have very low standards and no high hopes. In short, he must be like Barry Lyndon: a man who goes from situation to situation with no particular aim or goal in mind. One moment he is on this side of a war; the next he is on the other side of it. One moment he is rich; the next he is poor. The way the world goes, he goes with it. If he finds happiness, he takes it without question; if trouble appears, he flees from it without hesitation. And if someone is dead or in pain, he always says to himself: "Better you than me." That is the best a human can do in what Kubrick pictured as the worst of all possible worlds.

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