“Kubrick: and beyond the cinema frame”CHAPTER 1
CULTURAL / HISTORICAL EFFECTS
2001 is a definite contender for the strangest film phenomena of all time. At times it is a painfully slow film that frustrates its audience with a seemingly non-existent narrative. It is also artistically and technically stunning, even by today’s computer assisted standards. It’s scientifically well researched and goes to great efforts to offer a truly convincing portrayal of space travel – one of the few film’s ever to accurately portray the empty atmosphere of space as being utterly silent and it was the first to feature a spinning artificial gravity station, which was originally conceived by a former Nazi named Wernher Von Braun.
Despite a seemingly cold and emotionless narrative that even NASA has described as “baffling” ...
"Writer Arthur C. Clarke and moviemaker Stanley Kubrick would borrow the torus design for their exhilarating (and baffling) 1968 movie epic 2001: A Space Odyssey." - SP-4308 SPACEFLIGHT REVOLUTION (NASA archives)
... it is consistently held in such high regard as to appear on almost every serious film buff’s top 100 movies list. Its cryptic symbolism has been analyzed and discussed endlessly, even in the world of the internet decades after release.
An even more strange aspect of 2001 is its budget. How did a movie that is so cryptically impenetrable, so non-commercial and so slowly paced acquire what was, at the time of its production, one the highest film production budgets of all time? It is only logical to assume that 2001 acquired its budget as part of an overall mass media push to culturally promote the cold war space race, and in particular to add a sense of God-like mysticism to the moon landings that would come less than a year after 2001’s release.
Stanley Kubrick openly stated that 2001’s true meanings had been visually encoded to bypass the conscious rationalizations of the audience and sink straight into the unconscious. And as we shall discover in this review he wasn’t kidding.
I don’t like to talk about 2001 too much because it’s essentially a non-verbal experience. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to the feelings than it does to the intellect. I think clearly there’s a problem with people who are not paying attention with their eyes. They’re listening. And they don’t get much from listening to this film. Those who won’t believe their eyes won’t be able to appreciate this film. - Kubrick talking to Jerome Agel, page 277 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
There are very few films in history that have received such varied reviews and interpretations. Depending on which review you read 2001 is either an adaptation of the classic Greek play The Odyssey, an adaptation of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a pretentious and self-indulgent art house film, a bold statement about mankind’s evolution to the stars, a promotion of Masonic philosophies or a propaganda film to increase public support for the cold war space race … and the list I have just offered is by no means exhaustive.
While there is evidence to support some of these interpretations, none of them offer anything near a full understanding because no matter which analysis you apply there always seems to be other symbols and concepts that remain elusive. This is especially true of the film's surface narrative. The following quote is pretty much a confession from Kubrick that there is a great deal more going on in 2001 than the film's dialogue tells us.
Interviewer The final scenes of the film seemed more metaphorical than realistic. Will you discuss them -- or would that be part of the "road map" you're trying to avoid?
Kubrick No, I don't mind discussing it, on the lowest level, that is, straightforward explanation of the plot. You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man's first baby steps into the universe -- a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there's a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.
When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he's placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man's evolutionary destiny.
That is what happens on the film's simplest level. Since an encounter with an advanced interstellar intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself.
What are those areas of meaning?
They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.
– Kubrick interviewed by Joseph Gelmis 1969
Here are some more quotes along similar lines.
If you accept the idea that one views a film in a state of ‘daydream,’ then this symbolic dreamlike content becomes a powerful factor in influencing your feelings about the film. Since your dreams can take you into areas which can never be a part of your conscious mind, I think a work of art can ‘operate’ on you in much the same way as a dream does. – Kubrick talking about A Clockwork Orange to Andrew Bailey, p340 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
2001, on the other hand, is basically a visual, nonverbal experience. It avoids intellectual verbalization and reaches the viewer's subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophic. The film thus becomes a subjective experience which hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting. – Kubrick interviewed by Joseph Gelmis 1969
Kubrick’s bizarre statements of a visually encoded meaning seem to suggest that the film’s formal narrative is only a part of the story. It seems that 2001 was deliberately designed to incorporate a multitude of concepts so that it is near impossible to interpret consciously. It’s like a cinematic rubick’s cube … or should I say Kubrick’s cube?
I must also add a few words here about the creative process of writing 2001's script. The widely held belief is that Arthur C Clarke wrote the book and Kubrick then adapted the book into a film. However, the following quotes indicate a different story.
Kubrick was revising the novel (2001) with Clarke and simultaneously preparing his shooting script … At the end of August Clarke decided that the novel should end with Bowman standing beside an alien ship. Kubrick was not satisfied with this conclusion and the search went on. - p283 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
Clarke attempted to convince Kubrick that the novel’s manuscript was ready for publication. Kubrick was still unwilling to declare the novel finalized … Clarke firmly stated that he was the writer and should have the clout to pronounce the novel complete. Clarke was frustrated that he had lost $15,000 in commissions while working on the lengthy revisions of the novel. - p298 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
Clarke was in debt and tried to get a publishing contract signed with Delacorte Press, but Kubrick refused to sign, even after Delacorte had spent $10,000 on the project. Kubrick would immediately praise the new version, then within a few days point out flaws, errors and imperfections until the new prose crumbled into worthless fragments. - p299 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
Kubrick / Clarke had a 60/40 deal on the book - p310 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
It's a totally different kind of experience, of course, and there are a number of differences between the book and the movie. The novel, for example, attempts to explain things much more explicitly than the film does, which is inevitable in a verbal medium. The novel came about after we did a 130-page prose treatment of the film at the very outset. This initial treatment was subsequently changed in the screenplay, and the screenplay in turn was altered during the making of the film. But Arthur took all the existing material, plus an impression of some of the rushes, and wrote the novel. As a result, there's a difference between the novel and the film. – Kubrick interviewed by Joseph Gelmis 1969
I think that the divergences between the two works (2001 film and novel) are interesting. Actually, it was an unprecedented situation for someone to do an essentially original literary work based on glimpses and segments of a film he (Arthur C Clarke) had not yet seen in its entirety. – Kubrick interviewed by Joseph Gelmis 1969
Arthur C. Clarke, back in Ceylon, continued to wrangle with Kubrick about the novel, the final text of which the director still refused to approve. Each time Clarke felt sure the script and book were set, Kubrick would cable him for some more dialogue or a new scene, none of which, Clarke claimed, ever found their way into the film. … Kubrick almost certainly did delay the book in order to protect the film. The film took on its own life as it was being made, and Clarke became increasingly irrelevant. Kubrick could probably have shot 2001 from a treatment, since most of what Clarke wrote, in particular some windy voice-overs which explained the level of intelligence reached by the ape men, the geological state of the world at the dawn of man, the problems of life on the Discovery and much more, was discarded during the last days of editing, along with the explanation of HALs breakdown. - p227 / 228 Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter
Kubrick wanted to make a sci-fi film before he even hooked up with Clarke. He based his original ideas for 2001 upon a handful of short stories written by clarke, in particular The Sentinel. Kubrick then hired Clarke to work on the film's story with him, but the book was written as the film was being made. Clarke was allowed to view rushes of what had been filmed and based many of the book's details upon what he believed Kubrick's footage was conveying. Kubrick had creative control over the book and so was at liberty to instruct Clarke on how the book should be written. Quite simply, Kubrick was the primary creative force and Clarke was a writer for hire.
The story was always the same with Kubrick's collaborations with writers. He would "adapt" an already written novel for the screen in conjunction with the original writer, or in some cases he would simply buy the rights to the story then exclude the original writer, while he brought in a third writer to help him revise the story until it was virtually unreconisable from the original text. This was especially true of The Shining (read the second chapter of my analysis for details of how Kubrick massacred King's story so that he could infuse it with a variety of additional, visually encoded themes that were personal to Kubrick).
(movies) haven’t scratched the surface of how to tell stories in their own terms. – Kubrick speaking to Richard Schickel, quoted from p407 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
So in the case of 2001, the book isn't a reliable source for determining the film's visually encoded themes. It was this realization that lead me to explore the film on a variety of new levels. In writing the original version of this review I spent months laboriously researching other interpretations of 2001 in an attempt to find some clues about what Kubrick was really communicating. And after continuous cross-referencing of the films symbols and themes, during which I almost gave up, I eventually stumbled across a key element of the films structure and symbolism that I had never encountered before and which I am still convinced cuts straight to the heart of the films meaning. So we shall start with an updated recap of my original review.CHAPTER 2
THE MEANING OF THE MONOLITH
Variations on the same haunting piece of music, taken from Gyorgi Ligetti's Requiem, seem to occur every time an evolutionary step is being taken in 2001. We hear this music when the apes first encounter the monolith in the dawn of man, when the astronauts encounter a second monolith in the Tycho moon crater and when Dave Bowman encounters the third monolith near Jupiter. We are given repeated confirmation that this music is the singing voice of the monolith and that it sings when it is helping its primitive hosts to evolve.
During the stargate, which is preceded by shots Jupiter, Ligetti's requiem blends seemlessly into another Ligetti piece called Atmospheres. Atmospheres is heard at the very beginning of the film over a black screen and later repeats during the intermission just before the astronauts do battle with the HAL 9000 computer, again over a black screen. So, why the black screens? The answer can be found by noting one of the key differences between the film and Arthur C Clarke’s original short story, The Sentinel. Clarke described the monolith as a pyramid shaped piece of polished mineral surrounded by a spherical force field. Kubrick, in adapting the story for cinema, changed this to a black rectangular box …. Why? Because the monolith is a representation of the actual wideframe cinema screen, rotated 90 degrees.
So in the films opening and during the intermission, we are not looking at an empty black screen at all. We are looking directly at the surface of the monolith! The monolith is the film screen and it is singing directly at its audience in the same way that the apes and astronauts are entranced by its heavenly voice, not realising that they are being communicated with directly!!! For almost forty years audiences and reviewers across the globe have sat staring at this black singing screen, not realising that they are staring at the monolith. The joke is on us and Kubrick, if he is watching over us, will be laughing and cheering from beyond the infinite. This widescreen two and a half hour presentation of sight and sound is in itself the stargate and we are its subjects. Kubrick is taking us on a psychedelic ride of intellectual evolution and he is demanding that we literally think outside the box! So the term “Space Odyssey” now has a new literal meaning. It refers to the spatial relationship between the screen, the audience and the audience’s surroundings. The following quotes strongly support the "monolith as screen" interpretation.
At one point a private contractor was asked to mold a large block of Lucite. Kubrick was interested in experimenting with projecting images onto its surface (the monolith). The block was cast and received a lot of newspaper coverage about it being the largest casting of plastic ever attempted. The optics weren’t up to Kubrick’s standards, though, and he scrapped the idea. – production of 2001, p280 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
In the sequence where he (Bowman) is being locked outside, and doesn’t have his helmet on, some films are being projected onto his face. It makes no sense, but looks great. - Douglas Trumball discussing special effects for 2001, quoted from p304 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
Interviewer To take one specific, in the novel the black monolith found by curious man- apes three million years ago does explicit things which it doesn't do in the film. In the movie, it has an apparent catalytic effect which enables the ape to discover how to use a bone as a weapon-tool. In the novel, the slab becomes milky and luminous and we're told it's a testing and teaching device used by higher intelligences to determine if the apes are worth helping. Was that in the original screenplay? When was it cut out of the film?
Kubrick Yes, it was in the original treatment but I eventually decided that to depict the monolith in such an explicit manner would be to run the risk of making it appear no more than an advanced television teaching machine. You can get away with something so literal in print, but I felt that we could create a far more powerful and magical effect by representing it as we did in the film. – Kubrick interviewed by Joseph Gelmis 1969
The last quote in particular is interesting. If the monolith is in fact a symbolic cinema screen then Kubrick's description of it as "an advanced television teaching machine" would be accurate. The so-called "powerful and magical effect" that Kubrick refers to is simply a deep sense of mysteriousness for the audience based upon only communicating the cinema screen connection at a very subtle level. The interviewer even identified another clue about the meaning of the monolith - that in the book it is described as becoming "milky and luminous". the film itself shows a variety of milky and luminous images of the universe immediately after the stargate tunnel.
The most deceiving aspect of the screen association is that for most of the film the monolith is seen standing upright. If it had been depicted horizontally then it wouldn’t have taken long for reviewers to crack this piece of the puzzle. The connection is also more difficult to make because the upright monoliths are slightly too long to fit the widely used 35mm cinema screen exactly. However, looking at 2001's production history we find that the film was originally shot in 70mm Cinerama format and after it's first release using expensive 70mm triple projectors, 2001 was re-released in 35mm format for a wider distribution.
The following poster of the film very blatantly communicates the monolith / cinema screen association, by showing three screen shots of the film, one of which is rotated 90 degrees.
There are literally hundreds of visual clues of the monolith / cinema screen relationship scattered throughout the films visual structure, but I shall concentrate here on the most obvious and undeniable examples.
We find several direct hints both before and during the stargate sequence, which has long been one of the most confusing aspects of the film. For the first time in the story we are seeing the monolith freed of its previously vertical stance as it floats around the screen, accompanied by scattered moons and a tormenting piece of music. Notice that at no point does any object on screen pass directly in front or behind this monolith. So we have no indication of its actual size - for all we know it could be a few inches in length or thousands of miles thick.
The concept of visual alignment, as seen with Jupiter and its moons, is nothing to do with astronomy or astrology. As the monolith floats about it repeatedly comes close to matching up with the frame of the screen and in some shots the white light reflecting across its surface completely mismatches the light sources of the surrounding sun and moons. As the sun moves on and off screen it causes flares of white light to stretch on and off screen in a similar way to the reflections on the monolith.
After several minutes of this tormenting imagery we see a shot of Jupiter and its moons suddenly aligned, but the shot is rotated 90 degrees so that Jupiter’s North and South poles are to our left and right. The monolith is in its vertical position, as seen earlier in the film, but due to the 90 degree rotated viewpoint it now appears to be horizontal. Rather than having this horizontal monolith move directly toward us, which would make it perfectly align with the cinema frame and thus make the cinema screen connection absolutely obvious, Kubrick has this monolith tilt backwards until it fades into the blackness of space.
The shot then scrolls up toward where we should see the sun, but we are instead faced with a black screen, just like in the intermission and the film’s opening. The monolith has literally just become the cinema screen and now our stargate voyage can begin.
We next see a high speed journey along a vertical horizon of patterned light, leaving both Dave Bowman and the audience tormented and confused as to its meaning. The music intensifies to the point of insanity, adding to our confusion, but then something odd happens. The stargate horizon switches from vertical to horizontal.
This is a hint that if you are going to understand this film consciously then you should be viewing the monolith horizontally. Only then can you make a direct connection between the monolith and the letterbox shape of the cinema screen, hence the films repeated visual themes of rotation and alignment. If you do manage to make this visual connection during the stargate you are then rewarded by the dazzling big bang explosion of consciousness that follows.
Now if you’re still not convinced that the monolith is a representation of the cinema screen then go back earlier in the film and watch the lunar excavation site landing sequence. During the moon bus descent we see the landing base come into view in the cockpit window. It is in a vertical position and begins slowly rotating into a horizontal position. It is also moving directly toward the computer display screen on the lower left where it will align.
The computer display alternately shows a circular target grid of yellow lines pulsing toward us like the big bang explosion at the end of the stargate. In the middle of this target grid is a rectangular half monolith just below the center of the cross hair.
And here is the unbelievably blatant hint that has bypassed our conscious attention for decades … As the landing pad reaches its horizontal position, the missing top half of the monolith rectangle suddenly floats in from the right of the display and matches up with the centre of the cross hair.
The vertically positioned monolith is completed and the entire cross hair display begins flashing in white, again like the big bang sequence of the stargate. Immediately after this we see the computer display repeated, but this time seen by a man watching the moon bus landing through a large rectangular window. The upper section of the crosshair rectangle floats in again, but just as it’s about to align with the centre the shot cuts away so that the conceptual connection between the rectangle in the computer display and the rectangle of the window is merely suggested.
Floyd and his colleagues are also sat in the back of the moon bus puzzling over photos and diagrams. One of the papers shows a spiral target grid with a white monolith rectangle in the lower right corner.
Another computer display along the same lines is featured when Bowman chases Poole’s missing body. Again we have a pulsing circular target display, this time with a monolith type rectangle flashing in the upper right.
During this pod sequence the yellow target display from the moon bus sequence is several times projected onto Bowman’s face along with a white rectangle floating inwards toward the centre.
If even that doesn’t convince you then look at the coloured light patterns in the horizontal section of the stargate tunnel. Just before the big bang, the stargate pattern fills up with a series of yellow lines and spirals that are very similar to the computer crosshair display in the moon bus.
Even the first lunar landing sequence carries hints of what the monolith is. The spherical craft, carrying Floyd to the moon base, approaches a dome like structure. The dome opens in a star-like pattern, foreshadowing the explosion of consciousness at the end of the stargate, and inside the dome can be seen the outline of a horizontally positioned rectangle.
Another clue is that the door on the back of each spacepod features a prominent sign stating “Caution: Explosive Bolts”.
The door is roughly a vertical monolith shape and on the inside of the door, behind Bowman’s head (visible just as he is about to blast into the vacuum without his helmet), is a horizontal red monolith featuring the same “Explosive Bolts” warning - yet another connection between the letterbox design, the upright monolith and the explosion of the stargate.
Dave holds his breath and faces the correctly positioned red monolith before being blasted into the airlock. This is paralleled in the stargate. His head shakes violently and his complexion turns blue as if he is holding his breath.
These clues are absolutely no accident. They are exactly the kind of thing Kubrick was referring to when he described the film’s messages as being visually encoded, but the sophistication with which he created these visual associations is so unusual and such a unique directing talent that hardly anybody has ever managed to unravel the monolith’s meaning in nearly forty years. There are so many hints of what the monolith is, but unless you think outside of the films surface narrative you simply cannot crack the puzzle. You are stuck in the box. And by showing us close ups of an eye during the stargate, Kubrick is shouting at us to LOOK at the visual clues, which he has offered in so much abundance.
In addition to the all these examples of visual encoding there are some interesting facts on the IMDB Trivia page for 2001 that support this interpretation of the monolith.
"When the film was sold to British TV, Stanley Kubrick urged that it be shown in "letterbox" format, with a black area at the top and bottom of the screen. The BBC complained that while this was fine for dialogue sequences, viewers would become confused when the scene shifted to outer space. The BBC's solution, used during the first TV presentation, was to add fake stars to the black areas above and below the picture area. Bitterly opposed by Kubrick, this disastrous experiment was never repeated."
"When Stanley Kubrick learned that his film would have an intermission in most cinemas (as this happened in most films that length) he not only ordered where the intermission took place, but had his film's composer record specific music for the intermission, and requested that the theatre be plunged into darkness for a minute before the film restarted."
The monolith / screen connection is a mind-blowingly original cinematic concept, but as we shall see 2001’s symbolism doesn’t stop there. What we have done so far is to merely unlock a door through which we can explore the film’s hidden narratives, of which there are many, but before we continue, let’s first identify some of the basic building blocks of Kubrick’s unique style of visually encoded meaning.CHAPTER 3
THE KUBRICK CODE
When trying to understand subliminal narratives in film it is very easy to impose meanings that you are expecting to find as opposed to perceiving messages that actually are there. Even in academic fields researchers frequently seek out co-incidental evidence to support theories that they expect or hope to prove.
For this reason, when you believe you have found a subliminal theme in a film, you must test your theory by looking for both evidence and counter-evidence.
It is easy to miss subliminal messages in a film because most films are not conceptually deep and so we are accustomed to taking storylines at face value. But having produced and directed several short films myself I can assure you that very little of what you see and hear in any professionally produced film is there by accident. Virtually everything from choice of locations and set designs to sound effects, actors expressions and camera angles has been implemented by somebody involved in the production. So human expression is present on many levels and not just from the director either.
Rather than simply saying “a cigar is just a cigar”, which is an easy cop out clause for those who prefer face value meanings, it is worth acknowledging that there are universal patterns in how messages are encoded into art. Surprisingly, these patterns, and the techniques for identifying them, have a great deal in common with basic encryption, decryption and code-breaking as used in computing and intelligence operations.
Most artists engage in some sort of subjective encoding, whether they are aware of it or not. They consistently express or “encode” their own emotions and beliefs into what they create. Much of the time these encoded expressions are easy to decipher, but sometimes they’re extremely difficult.
In the case of Kubrick, his films are very difficult to decrypt for several reasons.
1. We are dealing with an artist who has an especially strong understanding of many subjects and disciplines including psychology, symbolism and semiotics (the art of subjectively encrypting messages).
2. His messages tend to be cerebral rather than emotional – frequently relating to his opinions of broad historical and social issues, of which the average person has a comparatively weak understanding.
3. His symbolic encoding operated on a deliberate level of complexity that is almost unheard of, even in the history of the arts, and is comparative to the skills of an advanced mathematician.
4. Most people who watch Kubrick films are not actually aware that there are encrypted messages waiting to be cracked.
Now the concept of a “key” or “pass” word in text and number based encryption is also applicable when we’re trying to decode hidden messages in art and film. The difference is that in art the encryption keys usually exist as concepts instead of words and numbers. For example in H. R. Giger’s art the idea of humans being physically fused with their own technology is a “key” concept that enables us to begin unravelling other meanings in his work. Another “key” in Giger’s work is that of human sexuality being an emotionless mechanism of reproduction.
Most artists, though they may not be aware of it, have a personal preference for using certain types of encryption. Some painters place great emphasis on colour combinations to establish moods. Some writers create complex personal histories for their characters. And some musicians create notation that mimics the phonetic sequences of lyrics. The types of conceptual encryption in the arts are incredibly varied.
So before we continue with cracking the code of 2001, let’s identify some of the key encryption concepts that Kubrick used throughout his filmography.
1. Role switching & character synthesis
This involves the audience mentally placing one character’s identity into the body of another so that a different narrative begins to surface. It was used extensively in Eyes Wide Shut so that characters from Victor Zeigler’s high society party were revealed as being participants in the Somerton mansion orgy. This in turn revealed that the two parties were in fact one and the same, the first being wrapped in lies and illusion and the next stripped of such illusions to reveal an underlying moral decadence. The naked woman who sacrificed herself to protect Bill was also a psychological synthesis of Alice, Mandy and Domino – which revealed a hidden message of all women being viewed by Bill as stereotypical sex objects.
The character switching concept was also used in Full Metal Jacket, where Private Pile and Animal Mother represented psychological opposites of the same mind. This in turn was a clue to the films theme of split identity and disassociation induced by military brainwashing.
2. Paintings as metaphoric mirrors
Again Eyes Wide Shut made extensive use of this device. The masked orgy participants and guests at Ziegler’s party were revealed, through the paintings adorning the mansion walls, as members of European nobility – the clue to this concept was made most obvious in Ziegler’s bathroom, where Mandy lay overdosing on a red sofa, while up on the wall could be seen a large painting of an identically posed woman on a red sofa.
Another excellent example of this was in A Clockwork Orange, in which the woman who Alex kills has a painting on her wall depicting a woman with the breasts cut out of her clothing. This reveals that the warped sexual fantasies we see in Alex’s behaviour, who had cut the breasts out of his rape victim’s clothing, are a larger social trend which Alex is simply conforming and reacting to.
3. Mirror-framed characters as symbolic reflections
The most frequent use of this concept in a Kubrick film was The Shining. Whenever Jack sees a ghost it virtually always stands with a mirror behind it – the bar tender, Delbert Grady, the corpse woman. This was a key to the film’s hidden narrative that the hotel was not actually haunted, but that the family were haunted by their repressed memories of Jack’s brutality and America’s bloody history.
4. Subliminal repetition between scenes
This was a very frequent Kubrick device. As already mentioned, the two party scenes of Eyes Wide Shut contained a multitude of aesthetic similarities such as paintings of nobility, dancing couples and masks that roughly imitate the facial features and hairstyles of actual characters.
5. Double speak
Also a favourite Hitchcock approach, this involves dialogue that has no reference to a specific context and can therefore carry meaning both in the obvious surface narrative and in the hidden narrative. For example, in Full Metal Jacket an indication of Private Pile’s double identity as Animal Mother is when the drill instructor says “Private Pile, you are definitely born again hard”. Another good example can be found in Eyes Wide Shut. While dancing with Alice, Sandor Szavost says “One of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties”, the two parties being a sly reference to both Ziegler’s Party and the Sommerton mansion orgy.
6. Multiple meaning in one symbol
This is one of the most confusing devices of Kubrick and he used it with a skill that is unmatched. In Eyes Wide Shut the huge star shaped Christmas decorations have several meanings – they represent giant snow flakes, but also the hypnotic illusions of high society, and some reviewers have interpreted them as secret society symbols or as astrological symbols.
The monolith in 2001 represents in the surface narrative - God, a doorway to another dimension and a piece of alien intelligence, while in the hidden narratives it represents the cinema screen (as well as a few more meanings which we shall explore shortly).
7. Lingering shots
This is a Kubrick method that has lead many people to label his films as painfully slow. When he holds a shot on screen for an unusually long period of time, it is often to emphasize the symbolic elements and allow us time to ponder over the meanings of what we’re seeing and hearing. Sometimes Kubrick also leaves scenes in complete silence to encourage visual exploration of the shots.
8. Wide angles
This is the main factor that has led some critics to label Kubrick’s work as cold and emotionless. Rather than being an aesthetic preference it is frequently used when set design and compositional elements are carrying meaning, as opposed to acting and dialogue alone.
9. Fractional messaging
These can be especially hard to decode. It involves a concept being divided up into several sub-concepts and then embedded in different shots and scenes. The viewer must cross reference information throughout the film and piece the concept back together. The clues I have already described as to the meaning of the monolith are a good example of fractional messaging.
10. External symbols
This involves messages being delivered to the audience outside of the actual movie content. They can come in many forms such as being embedded in a marketing campaign or deliberately falsified rumours about the shoot.
In Eyes Wide Shut Kubrick worked with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were married both in real life and in the film’s story. The couple were featured in the marketing poster as being reflected in a silver-framed mirror, revealing that the content of the film was a metaphoric reflection of the audience’s reality. Another example of this would Kubrick’s rumours of endless takes in filming a single shot. These rumours were probably true in some cases, but also could have been made up to bring greater audience attention to particular shots. In the case of 2001, the many bizarre posters and production stills are embedded with very obvious clues about the films hidden meanings.
11. Colour association
This comes in several forms. It can be based upon bio-semiotics, which is the audience’s genetically inbuilt associations. For example red equals hot and blue equals cold or black plus yellow equals danger. It can be based upon popular cultural association such as red, white and blue representing an English or US flag. Kubrick on the other hand, often would set up unique colour associations that are not natural to the audience. In Eyes Wide Shut the red pool table of Zeiglers parlour combined with blue lighting from the windows links the scene conceptually to the bright red carpet and blue lighting of the orgy ritual. 2001 has many colour association themes that have made their way into this review.
12) Dream logic
This method combines narrative logic with the symbolism of dreams. For example, in Eyes Wide Shut the story changes from conventional logic to dream logic after Bill has a pot smoking session with his wife.
A unique trick of Kubricks was to film a dream sequence, but let the audience assume it is part of the actual narrative. The room 237 sequence of The Shining is a great example. In the surface narrative the room is haunted by the ghost of a dead woman, but in the hidden narrative it is Danny having a flashback or nightmare to having been strangled by his father for waking him up in an earlier scene. It is typical for victims of abuse to identify with their abuser and so Danny re-experiences the event as his own father, while externalising the abuser as a mysterious rotting corpse.
These are just some of the frequent conceptual keys that we must be aware of before we can unravel the hidden narratives of Kubrick’s work. Before we continue though, I must warn you that this is a very long review because 2001 is possibly the most conceptually complex film of all time. Kubricks sci-fi ground-breaker has layers upon layers of symbolism, which will both amaze you and challenge your powers of perception.
I am in no way claiming that all of the ideas in this review are accurate. Some of my observations you will find undeniably precise and others you will think are stretching interpretation to the extreme. My intention is not to map out a series of absolute perceptual certainties or to imitate the rigid self-consciousness of an academic paper. What I do hope to do is introduce you to a broad range of thoughts and ideas that will allow you to reach your own personal conclusions.CHAPTER 4
ENLIGHTENMENT AND REBIRTH
Having identified the monolith as a cinema screen, one of the most drastic transformational effects upon the story is that of the expanding universe sequence. Kubrick was a demon for technical realism and considering the lengths he went to in depicting space age technology and the lunar surface, the so called “expanding universe” and “alien landscape” sequences are particularly unconvincing by comparison. The big bang sequence has some major scientific flaws. For starters, the bright explosion after the stargate is emitting stars, but scientists have known for a long time that the early universe was gaseous and consisted almost exclusively of hydrogen and helium.
Stars did not develop until at least millions of years later. We also see no galaxies at all in the later stages of this expanding universe sequence, even though our own milky way is seen behind the BBC news presenter when watched by Bowman and Poole. There are also shots that appear to be depicting nebulae’s forming into stars, but if they were shown in an entirely different story context we would probably not even think of them as footage of an expanding universe. One particular shot of a white ball leaving a trail is totally unrealistic.
If this is intended to be an image of a star then it’s a very poor special effect.
So why would Kubrick include such a strange selection of unconvincing shots for this sequence? One could argue a lack of efficient special effects technology at the time of production, but even with the methods he did use Kubrick could have done much better than this.
The monolith / screen relationship is the perceptual key to understanding these anomalies. Once you crack the screen connection, the dazzling explosion that follows the stargate ceases to be a representation of the big bang and expanding universe. It is now a psychedelic metaphor for intellectual rebirth and enlightenment, which applies both to Dave Bowman and the film’s audience. This bizarre sequence of liquidous shots are a visual metaphor of expanding consciousness.
The most obvious clue of a rebirth theme is the shot of a red gaseous formation that looks very much like a growing foetus in a womb. This also bears similarity to the films final shot of an illuminated baby.
A slightly less obvious example of organic rebirth and growth is the small red and yellow explosion that creates two bubble formations. If you look closely on the dvd you will notice that a faint white light is flashing over the shot at roughly one second intervals. This does not occur in any of the other expanding universe shots and there is no reason why an exploding universe would feature a pulsing white light. Most likely this shot represents a beating human heart.
The whole big bang sequence is an organic opposite to the cold and clinical images of technology. Many reviewers have also interpreted the films space ship designs as being mechanical representations of organic reproduction, such as the sperm-like discovery ship and various egg shaped crafts. This could explain the aforementioned shot of a white ball leaving a trail – perhaps a hint of the discovery ship being a metaphoric sperm on its journey through the womb.
This organic interpretation also ties in nicely with the unexplained scale of the monolith floating near Jupiter. Are we seeing the vast scale of Jupiter and its moons or is this a representation of organic impregnation on a scale too small for the naked eye? [Cont...]