The Kubrick Experience – The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut

28 Mar

With only 3 more movies left, the end of my Stanley Kubrick blogs is finally here.  The beginning of the end starts in 1980 with Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, based off of a Stephen King novel.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who takes a job as a caretaker for the Overlook Hotel while it closes during the winter season thinking that it would be the ideal time to work on his latest book. He brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him. While staying at the Overlook, the family and Jack’s sanity slowly deteriorates until one night Jack is pushed over the limit.

Much like Barry Lyndon, there is so much in this film to talk about that a summary of just a few sentences is very difficult to write. First, there is a plethora of iconic scenes that have been studied, discussed, and long remembered. Even if you haven’t seen the film, I can bet that you know or have at least heard of the terms “REDRUM” and “Here’s Johnny!”

Kubrick’s signature tracking shots are shown in full force in The Shining. There are tons of brilliant tracking shots that last for a very long time, my favorite being the one where Danny is riding his tricycle through the hotel, which is partially shown in the above video. The contrast of the sound between him riding on the hard floor and carpet almost act as a soundtrack for the scene.

The biggest question this film poses is: “Is the Overlook Hotel haunted or has Jack just gone crazy?” There is plenty of evidence for both which makes it very difficult to decide. Jack acts very volatile throughout the movie, but there is a certain picture at the end which points to the hotel being haunted. It’s a horror movie that challenges the viewer to make their own decisions on what has happened and offers little to no closure.

With the combination of its camera work, acting, and soundtrack, The Shining can easily be put at one of the top spots of horror movies. The directing was so meticulous that the famous “give me the bat” scene was shot 125 times. This obsession pays off, however, making The Shining one of the best horror films ever made.

Kubrick combined the horrors of the mind that was evident in The Shining with the horrors of the Vietnam War in his 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket.

This film’s plot can be broken up into 2 acts. The first act deals with boot camp. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) welcomes the new recruits to the United States Marine Corps with insults and warnings. Among these new recruits is Pvts. Joker (Matthew Modine) and Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). All of the recruits are pushed to their limits, especially Private Pyle, until one night when he is finally pushed too far. Act 2 has a story shift to the actual conflict in Da Nang and Phu Bai, Vietnam. Joker joins up with Lusthog Squad and reunited with his boot camp friend, Cowboy (Arliss Howard). It is here that the two friends and the rest of the squad experience the traumatizing events of war in full force, and come to the realization that none of them may make it out alive.

What makes Full Metal Jacket interesting is that this is a war movie that isn’t about the brotherhood or camaraderie between the soldiers, but more so about the debilitating  psychological and physical effects war has on human beings. The soldiers aren’t even safe at boot camp, where they are verbally and physically humiliated in front of many different people.

Sure, the war scenes may not be as intense or epic as what is seen in films such as Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, but what this film does offer is the gritty realism of the day to day street battles that were just as dangerous as the massive skirmishes that were seen in World War II. A particularly intense scene towards the end of the movie  pits the entire squad against one sniper that can not be seen. The fact that no one knows where the sniper is or who the sniper can see makes this a memorable scene.

This film leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth after the ending scene. No one knows if Joker is going to live to see another day or the rest of his life. All that is revealed is that war to soldiers is a day to day lifestyle that can not be predicted. It is all very dehumanizing and violent. Full Metal Jacket is one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made that makes everything about conflict seem devilish.

After going for over a decade without releasing a movie, Kubrick finally released the film that would be his swan song and is dubbed as “the film that killed Stanley Kubrick”: Eyes Wide Shut.

Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) used to have the perfect life with a great job, a loving daughter, and a beautiful wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman). But, recently he has found his marriage to be close to being permanently damaged. One night when Alice reveals a secret that she has been keeping hidden for years, Bill sets out on an all night psychosexual escapade that takes him through the New York underground and back. The next day, Bill finds himself in more trouble than he was the day before and realizes he must come to terms with both his and Alice’s separate desires.

Like I said in my last Kubrick blog, his movies were prone to receiving loads of controversy upon their release, and Eyes Wide Shut is no exception. It was threatened with an NC-17 rating upon its release unless it was censored. Stanley believed that the graphic sexual content was necessary to telling the story, but eventually did give in and edit the movie to give it the R-rating it has. There are copies of the original NC-17 rating, but I have not yet seen it.

To touch once again on the topic of his meticulous directing style, this film holds the record for longest constant shoot: 400 days. Even though this proved to be very stressful, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have both said it was a complete honor to have worked with Stanley Kubrick (unlike most of the other actors in the past).

Sex and its psychology is the most important part of this movie, and it would definitely appear on Freud’s top 10 films list if he were alive today. Never before have I seen sex portrayed in a strangely frightening way (until I saw A Serbian Film, but that’s a review for another day). The sex in this film is shown both as a leisurely and casual activity, but also as an almost ritualistic escape from reality.

Sadly, Kubrick died four days after the final screening of Eyes Wide Shut before its release. Never before, nor since has the world seen a more dedicated and frustratingly meticulous director, obsessed with every little detail. Some say Kubrick may have been autistic. Others say he was simply that brilliant. All I know is that he is my favorite director and one of my main inspirations when it comes to both storytelling and style. It upsets me to think that I will never see a new Stanley Kubrick movie in the theaters. Although he was before my time, I appreciate his work and will always consider him the best of the best.

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