How To Watch a Stanley Kubrick Film

By Shady S. Shebak, MD

My experience with regards to Stanley Kubrick films encompasses only three of his movies. The three films, in the order that they were produced are 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. Each of these movies has layers upon layers of elements to decipher!

I first watched 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was in high school. I was taking a science fiction class at the time, and I remember as I was watching it, realizing that the movie was less about “space” as it was about a personal voyage into the unknown. At the time I was reading into Kundalini energy, and basically felt like the entire movie was about some inner change that must occur in mankind, with regards to energy and transformation. Regardless of the Kundalini and Chakra theory, it definitely had many alchemical themes of purifying substances, and in the case of the movie, it was the human intellect that was undergoing purification at the behest of a Divine force. The human evolved from an irrational ape-like creature to a reasonable and scientific modern man with the help of something out of this world, signified by the omnipresent monolith. One more evolutionary leap was left, and that was for the irrational impulses to reunite with our newfound reasoning skills, and uplift mankind into union with the Divine. We were also to change shape and material, from flesh to an existence of light. The movie depicts that reason alone can only take mankind so far. The movie also shows us the importance of rebirth, repentance, illumination, and imagination. One must pay close attention to other non-central themes and riddles in the movie as well. Who can forget the creepy HAL computer, with the name being one letter off of spelling IBM (H-I, A-B, L-M). The choice of music can further be analyzed, as can the opening sequence depicting what looks like themes from ancient sun worshiping civilizations; the sun being the most well known and famous of energy providers for mankind. This masterpiece is brilliant, with layers upon layers of stories, messages, and alchemy that at first glance seems like a drawn out, slow moving movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Wikipedia)

The second Kubrick film I watched was A Clockwork Orange. Might I add that this is the most honest yet disturbing depiction of modern decedent man I’ve ever watched. Each one of us is represented by all the characters in the movie to some extent. It depicts archetypes from our collective unconscious, albeit not the pretty archetypes either! The archetypes depicted in this movie are represented in their most raw and material form, far removed from any form of higher purpose or spiritual realization. The movie is the terrifying side to a nihilistic existence. Several themes are depicted and include the problem with a big brother type of government, as well as the problem with behaviorism as a conditioning tool, and there are themes of class warfare. This movie is not one where you can kick back and eat some popcorn; rather it is one where every detail in the background must be analyzed, as it was placed there purposely and meticulously by the director. Every number sequence, from serum 114, to the flashes of 331 have an esoteric meaning to be cracked by the observer. The music appears to be chosen after deep thought on the part of the director, choosing Beethoven’s Symphony Number 9. In every scene, there are hidden messages, as well as fun illusions to secret societies, conspiracy, communisim, fascism, and themes from Nietzsche and Freud. He employs opposing scenes in a very genius fashion. For example, in one scene the lead character is singing “I’m singing in the rain”, and in another later scene he’s seen literally crying in the rain. I still have to watch the movie a few more times to catch deeper and more hidden meanings.

A Clockwork Orange

Scene from A Clockwork Orange (Wikipedia)

The Shining was the third Kubrick film I’ve watched. The Shining is a story written by Stephen King, and gutted by Stanley Kubrick for his own ideas. Legend has it that Kubrick and King found themselves on bad terms because of the direction Kubrick took with the movie. Instead of focusing on the supernatural, Kubrick looked at the “supernatural” as a metaphor for Jack’s inner psychic conflicts and the “spirits” were his struggle or lack thereof with alcohol. But he did include demonic elements and references, just not enough to satisfy King. Other dimensions include alcoholism, the breaking up of a family, and almost an opposite theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In A Space Odyssey, our tools took us to space, and the Divine purified us and changed us from objects of flesh to objects of light. In The Shining, evil forces, both internal and external brought about our demise. We went from flesh to infamous damnation at the mercy of our tools and with the help of demonic forces. The Shining is also linked to A Clockwork Orange, where in A Clockwork Orange, the violence was done by characters who were mostly bored and where the forces at play throughout the movie were only human forces of re-conditioning, immoral behavior, etc… In The Shining, there are the human forces at play, but there’s also a sinister lurking dark force, akin to the Divine force represented by the monolith in A Space Odyssey.

The Shining

Scene from The Shining (Wikipedia)

It appears that these three movies are a series. A Space Odyssey is a journey of material man purifying himself and reaching an existence void of material, while A Clockwork Orange is a journey of nihilistic material existence with no supernatural or alchemical element, and where all transformations that occur are at the result of purely human interventions. The Shining is a journey of physical man at the mercy of his inner psychic conflicts and of external dark forces. It’s of man tainting himself and “dirtying” up his potential and submitting to the opposite of the Divine, and reaching an existence of darkness instead of light. I think that the message of the final Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut, will be more clear in elucidating an opposite journey to A Space Odyssey, but I have not seen that movie yet. When I do, I’ll have to re-examine or maybe replace the The Shining with Eyes Wide Shut to better explain the three journeys man can take. What I do know is that Kubrick intended to link The Shining with A Clockwork Orange, as in both movies the phrase, “Forever and ever and ever” is creepily relayed. And I do know he meant to link A Clockwork Orange with A Space Odyssey, due to the subtle camera shot in one of the segments of A Clockwork Orange where the movie cover of A Space Odyssey is clearly seen for a very short period of time. There are more links, as well as more hidden messages, subtle clues, and fascinating decisions that Kubrick employed when making his films; specifically these three films. It would take many pages to explain them all, but for now I’ll leave you with the above to think about and add onto. Remember, when watching a Kubrick film, pay attention to the details, they’ll help the story unfold.


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