Bertolt Brecht once wrote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” I don’t know who Bertolt is but I like his style, and I think his quote (which I googled) fits what I’m about to mansplain to you quite well.
In these troubling times, and no I don’t mean finals, I mean the notifications I get on my phone every day of the next guy resigning amid sexual assault allegations. In these troubling times, one can look to art to remind us that the bad guys have been exposed before, and they will continue to be exposed. Art is a useful tool in this endeavor. I think that’s how Stanley Kubrick meant to use his art, as a hammer to smash the penises right off the naked men forcefully masturbating in front of women.
Stanley Kubrick was born to a Jewish family in New York City in 1928. He was not a good student in high school and didn’t make the grades to get into college. He worked as a photographer for Look magazine after graduating. He read extensively at the library, watched movies at the art house movie theater and he became an expert at chess by playing grumpy old men in the park. He made his first movies by saving up money and asking for loans from family and friends. Throughout his filmmaking career, he made roughly a dozen feature-length films, and he is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
I don’t know how or why but at some point Kubrick decided that he was going to tell stories that criticized the rich and the powerful and the greedy and that empowered the less powerful.
Many self-proclaimed cinephiles would be burned at the stake by even more condescending self-proclaimed cinephiles for claiming to know what Kubrick’s movies are about. Usually I would join in because it’s against my religion to try to guess what the hidden meaning behind the Gold Room in “The Shining” might be; however, I think I can say with confidence that Kubrick was a man who wanted to serve up some justice to the powerful men who deserved it.
Take, for example, his 18th century period drama from 1975 Barry Lyndon. It is about a young Irish man, Redmond Barry, born into poverty but set on not staying there for long. Barry is scorned by his cousin, who he has become infatuated with. She would rather marry an older, richer military man. Barry vows to never be taken advantage of again. He travels abroad, climbing the social ladder through deceit and opportunism. He finally sits in the position of power he had hoped for, but by the end, he is thwarted by those he harmed along the way. He ends up sad and alone (and crippled).
Then there is “A Clockwork Orange,”about a young man aroused so deeply by the many pleasures western society provides for a person of his class and stature he must be made into a science experiment for the people in power most responsible for providing those pleasures. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is about a future man-made weapon (the computer) so powerful it outsmarts its own makers. Even “Eyes Wide Shut,” as crazy as the movie might be, is simply about a man who wants the status and lifestyle of the richest of the rich, but once he gains access he finds it’s really all about treating women like sex slaves and using power to threaten them. Was “Eyes Wide Shut” about Harvey Weinstein’s gang of manipulative, deceiving, disgusting circus clowns? Maybe.
And, of course, we can’t forget “Lolita,” an excruciatingly relevant movie about a bunch of full-grown perverts drooling over a 12-year-old girl. Guess how it ends. The perverts die sad and alone.
I think Kubrick was drawn to these types of stories of powerful men meeting swift justice. Many of his films were adapted from existing books. “Lolita” was written by Vladimir Nabokov, “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess and “The Shining” by Stephen King. Kubrick almost made a movie about Napoleon Bonaparte. It never came to fruition, but I can imagine it would’ve been about a greedy, power-hungry man who dies sad and alone.
Kubrick took those already powerful stories and put them on the screen so that he could persuade the masses through beautiful images and damn good suspense.
I could go on and on, but the moral of all his stories seems to be that the power-hungry, perverted men die sad and alone.
I can’t vouch for the man’s character because I didn’t know him. I’ve heard he could be a real jerk on set. And, I don’t want to pretend to know what Kubrick really thought. He could have been one of the many perverts from his generation (God, I would be devastated), but I think his work speaks for itself. And it is as relevant today as it has ever been.
We should continue to watch these movies. We should show them to our children when they are old enough. And we should use them as an example of exactly how not to act when you find yourself in a position of power. Nobody wants a Jack Torrence in the world, but they seem to be popping up more and more all the time.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Ryan Suppe studies journalism and philosophy. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @salsuppe