The Coldness of Kubrick

  • chief characteristic of Kubrick films (for most critics) is their overwhelming coldness, the sense of distance that he creates between characters and between character and viewer
  • Kubrick’s universe seems to be an universe of structure, where human beings scarcely have a place; Kolker ” Kubrick uses his imagination to show that subjectivity is forever destroyed by monolithic, unchanging, dehumanized structures”
  • HAL 9000 computer displays more of the emotion that we associate with humanity than any of Kubrick’s other characters
  • Kubrick strikes us as cold precisely because his films so thoroughly immerse themselves in the realm of fantasy -> a realm beyond affect , beyond all emotional investment
  • fantasy is a structure, a structure that operates with the same mechanical coldness that we see in Kubrick’s films

  • the radicality of Kubrick as a filmmaker consists in his ability to use film’s fantasmatic quality to light hidden obscene dimension of symbolic authority -> this is the most basic development of the cinema of fantasy because it is the most easily recognizable way of presenting the distorting power of the gaze
  • Kubrick: “the basic purpose of a film… is one of illumination, of showing the viewer something he can’t see any other way.” -> the film does not show a hidden reality, but illuminates the underside of power through its deployment of the gaze
  • in Kubrick’s films we see symbolic authority through the distortion (excessively manifested) of the gaze
  • Kubrick illustrates the potential of the filmic medium not for direct attacks upon ideology, but undercutting ideology’s fantasmatic underside -> his films work to break the hold that symbolic power has over us
  • In Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick uses film’s unique ability to represent fantasy – not external reality  – to reveal the key role that fantasy plays in our experiences
  • from the title of the film to the final scene, Eyes Wide Shut suggests that the characters are, at almost every point, if not in the midst of a fanstasmatic scenario, then at least having experiences that are informed by their own fantasies. -. both characters fantasize rather than act, this fantasizing is what sustains their marriage
  • Victor Ziegler -typical figure of symbolic authority in a Kubrick film, a shocking libidinous father figure
  • the obscenity of paternal authority is something that remains invisible throughout most of our everyday experience. This authority presents itself as neutral and even compassionate, and this guise prevents us from questioning the exercise of symbolic power. When we see paternal authority’s obscene dimension, we begin to question its legitimacy
  • even a computer, the HAL 9000, begins to act perversely when it occupies a position of authority in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Kubrick indicates through his characters that the stain of enjoyment resides in the structure of symbolic authority rather than in the particular subject that inhabits the position
  • Kubrick uses the fantasmatic dimension of cinema to expose this stain and allows us to see its disruption of the image and the narrative in his films
  • in 2001: A Space Odyssey we see how the enjoyment associated with authority infects even the seemingly unflappable neutrality and rationality of a computer
  • in Paths of Glory Kubrick illustrate the obscene dimension of military authority not through performance but through settings
  • the films compel the spectator to examine the motivations driving the exercise of this authority. When we answer this demand and recognize the obscenity at work in this process, we free ourselves from our investment in this authority. In this sense, Kibrick’s fantasmatic depictions of the obscenity pf symbolic authority are in the service of the subject’s freedom -. recognizing authority’s obscenity is the path to freedom from it.


McGowan, T 2007, Real Gaze, SUNY Press, Ithaca, US. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. [19 November 2016].

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