Under the Influence: Stanley Kubrick

Carl Eden
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Michael Prescott’s recent Vada article – Under the Influence: Woody Allen – seemed like a great jumping off point for looking into the influence of other prominent movie directors – in this case, Stanley Kubrick.


Kubrick remains one of the most infamous figures in cinema and possibly America’s greatest movie director – known for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Paths of Glory, and Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick has been mentioned by numerous modern day directors as being a direct influence upon their careers. He was a difficult and unusual man, demanding perfection from his cast, but a man who pushed the boundaries of cinema, exploring what could be done both on screen and behind the camera. Kubrick remains one of the few directors to successful walk the line between art-house and commercial cinema.

There are certain traits to look for in Kubrick movies. Start with an adaptation from a literary source, regardless of genre. Kubrick worked across historic, science-fiction, war, horror, and satire, but all of his movies share the same themes of humanity, human nature, and man’s potential for good or evil. Look for technical process and practical production techniques which push the boundaries of movie making. Also, slow-pacing and length, anachronistic and striking use of music, dream-like atmosphere, excellent composition and visual framing, and bold use of colour. And finally a sense of coldness; Kubrick used his characters as vehicles for thematic purposes, as opposed to painting them as real people.

Kubrick’s influence is everywhere but many of the directors born from him have now carved out their own careers, to the point that calling them Kubrickian now would be a disservice. The Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spielberg, Tarantino, Fincher, and David Lynch all quote Kubrick as a master and a hugely inspirational director, but all now have their own styles which in turn, makes them inspirational directors themselves. Over the years, and especially since Kubrick passed away in 1999, critics have been quick to drop ‘Kubrickian’ into their reviews, tending to base such observations upon slight nods and tropes as opposed to actual style. Kubrick really stands alone, but it’s interesting to look at some of the recent movies which have been called Kubrickian to see just where this comes from:

1. Moon

Duncan Jones’ cinematic début drew numerous comparisons to Kubrick’s classic 2001. It’s easy to see why. In terms of visual design, the station here shares a lot of similarities with the Jupiter craft; Kevin Spacey’s GERTY echoes HAL-9000 in tone and the movie shares 2001’s intelligent edge. Moon is a smart film, and like 2001, captures the sense of space’s loneliness and vastness, but Moon is a more practical movie, looking at the effects of space on the body and brain, whearas 2001 had loftier, more philosophical desires. Really, however, the film is warmer than anything Kubrick would have done, and smaller in scale in terms of plot. It’s a return to intelligent science-fiction and a fantastic film, but one which takes influence from Kubrick’s design as opposed to style.

2. Inception

Christopher Nolan has been vocal about his love for Kubrick and when Inception was released, critics and forums jumped on the term Kubrickian, using it as a big buzz word to describe the picture (it seems every Inception review is guilty of this). Kubrick’s style does crop up in Nolan – both are measured, reserved directors who treat characters more as players in a piece as opposed to real people. In Inception, the characters are really there to serve the story, and they don’t really function on their own without it. They’re plot-pieces more than anything, though this isn’t a bad thing, and explains why Nolan, like Kubrick, is often considered and intelligent but cold director. The movie shares tropes with Kubrick – borrowing mazes and corridors from The Shining – and the tilting hallway sequence nods back to 2001′s impressive practical spinning effects. The influence is there, but ultimately the plot is too literal to really call Inception Kubrickian, and Nolan has little to say beyond the action on screen.

3. There Will Be Blood

Of all recent movies, PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is by far the most Kubrickian, to the point of being at times almost a direct homage. Anderson shares a great deal with Kubrick: long, measured movies with bursts of violence, the anachronistic and classical use of music, the sense of dread in the atmosphere, the powerful cinematography and framing. Look at Anderson’s filmography as a whole and it mirrors Kubrick’s; different kinds of movies sharing a similar style with larger themes.

There Will Be Blood could have been directed by Kubrick. Like Eyes Wide Shut, Blood comes from a short story and is adapted into a much larger tale. It deals with themes which fascinated Kubrick; the evil within, and man’s potential for both greatness and corruption. It’s even paced in a similar way to a Kubrick film, and with the framing and use of colour, looks like one. It’s a powerful movie – one of the best of this century – and probably one of the few which could genuinely be called Kubrickian.

Kubrick is a must for fans of cinema and his influence is everywhere. If you feel there are more movies which mimic his style, free feel to let us know in the comments.

About Carl Eden

An English Lit graduate with a love of movies and words, currently living and working in Manchester. I'm an aspiring 20-something film journalist far too involved in pop culture. Big on TV, books, coffee-abuse, The Smiths, Buffy, David Lynch and I consume a lot of Haribo. Follow @cedenuk or check out my blog http://somefilmsandstuff.com/

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