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.
At the end of Paths of Glory, Colonel Dax, played by Kirk Douglas, passes a noisy beer hall. He hears his men shouting and applauding at something. That something is a young German woman. The owner of the beer hall has forced her onto the stage. He wants her to do something special for the sex-starved, shell-shocked, trench-mad soldiers. What happens to another woman on a stage in A Clockwork Orange is about to happen to her. But the woman avoids gang rape by singing a pretty song. It is about peace and the pleasant things of life. The song makes the men sing along and cry. Their primitive fuck-drive is overwhelmed by the simple beauty of art. It turns the beasts into humans; and the soldiers are humans for as long as the music lasts.
That moment of humanity in Paths of Glory stands alone in the cinema of Kubrick. The rest is a sea of cruelty: the cruelty of a pederast, atomic power, computer love, the 18th century, street gangs, and American imperialism. (Many might point to Spartacus as an example of Kubrick's pro-anthropy, but that film has almost nothing to do with Kubrick and almost everything to do with Kirk Douglas.)
In Full Metal Jacket, the first Asian woman we see is a prostitute ("me so horny, me love you long time"). The next one is another prostitute ("fucky and sucky, she smoke cigarette with her pussy"). The third Asian woman is a deadly sniper. She kills several American soldiers before being captured, wounded, and shot in the head by the most enlightened of the soldiers, Private Joker ("no more boom-boom for this baby"). Kubrickian logic: Always, sex leads to death; always, the animal in us is too powerful to resist.
Dr. Strangelove, 2001, Lolita, Eyes Wide Shut—what else do these movies say except that humans are absurd. We are absurd because, despite our intellectual distinction, we are no better than animals, and because we are no better than animals, we are damned to do as all animals do—eat, fight, fuck, die. The only thing that separates us from the apes? We know we are animals; we do evil with the awareness of doing it. Because of this awareness, humans are even worse than animals: They act in complete ignorance; we act in complete knowledge.
Yet we still watch Kubrick's films. And we enjoy them. We enjoy them because the hate he had for humanity was only matched by the curious love he had for the most expensive and impressive art form in the world: cinema.
Stanley Kubrick, Director plays at SIFF Cinema at McCaw Hall through Sept 6. 2001: A Space Odyssey Fri Aug 24 at 8 pm, Dr. Strangelove or:... Sat Aug 25 at 12:30 and 7:45 pm, Paths of Glory Sat Aug 25 at 2:30 pm, Barry Lyndon Sun Aug 26 at 1, 4:30, 8 pm, The Killing Mon Aug 27 at 7:15 pm, Killer's Kiss Mon Aug 27 at 9 pm, Lolita Tues Aug 28 at 8 pm, A Clockwork Orange Wed Aug 29 at 7:30 pm, The Shining Thurs Aug 30 at 7:30 pm, Spartacus Tues Sept 4 at 7:30 pm, Full Metal Jacket Wed Sept 5 at 7:30 pm, Eyes Wide Shut Thurs Sept 6 at 7:30 pm.