Faithfulness: A “Vision” of Stanley Kubrick’s Last Three Films – by Richmond B. Adams

Stanley Kubrick, it appears, has raised many of the same questions through his films as Nathaniel Hawthorne did with his writing. In fact, they seem to share similar psychologically based images despite being separated by 100 years and Kubrick’s use of a medium that Hawthorne never experienced.

by Richmond B. Adams, Northwestern Oklahoma State University

Richard Fogle argues that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown” remains particularly difficult “from the ambiguity of the conclusions which may be drawn from it” (207).

Hawthorne relates the story of one Brown, a young resident of Salem, Massachusetts during a time of Puritan hegemony (Pearson 1033). Brown, according to Fogle, accepts his fellows and their society as they present themselves throughout the village (207). One evening, on a journey that seems previously planned, Young Brown travels into the woods, encounters a walking companion (whom he seems to know) and soon walks into what Fogle calls “the vision of human Evil” (207). His entire worldview receives unredeemable wounds, causing Brown to live out his life as a “stern, sad (and) …meditative” man (Pearson 1042). Hawthorne’s story, if interpreted as an allegory, conceivably might have been paralleled to The Scarlet Letter or perhaps “the Minister’s Black Veil” as another representation of Puritan New England. While presenting a view of Evil, Hawthorne’s story seemingly elicits more questions than it provides answers. Fogle’s article, for example, asks if the events Hawthorne described actually occurred to Brown’s life or were they “merely subjective, a dream…” (208). Did Brown, in crying to his wife Faith, resist the lures of Satan by asking her to do the same (208)? As Fogle puts it, “(Brown) is not wholly lost, for in the sequel he is only at intervals estranged from (Faith’s bosom)” (208). Fogle argues that Hawthorne’s “ambiguities of meaning are intentional, an integral part of his purpose” (208).

Stanley Kubrick, it appears, has raised many of the same questions through his films as Hawthorne did with his writing. In fact, they seem to share similar psychologically based images despite being separated by 100 years and Kubrick’s use of a medium that Hawthorne never experienced. More specifically, questions of faithfulness stand as a connecting image between Hawthorne ’s story and Kubrick’s final three films.
Faith, as the name of Good Man Brown’s wife, connotes images of chastity, gentleness and fidelity. Hawthorne, however, through presenting her as the newest “convert” to the decidedly “un-Puritan” festivities, asks questions about just what fidelity means. Those questions Kubrick well understood and utilized throughout his career. In his final three films, however, faithfulness assumed a particular importance. Through well-honed techniques developed over almost fifty years, Kubrick expressed his questions in terms of covenant, betrayal and universally human archetypes. Kubrick said himself “One of the things that horror stories can do is show us the archetypes of the unconscious; we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly” (qtd. in Nelson 194-5). While Kubrick specifically referred to The Shining, his words apply as well to Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. In fact, Kubrick makes clear that he means to explore “those archetypes” as they express themselves through faithfulness and images of horror.

Thomas Allen Nelson argues that as The Shining begins, Kubrick develops Jack Torrance’s (Jack Nicholson) character from a deceptively objective point of view (202). Even during his interview with Ullman (Barry Nelson), Nicholson portrays Torrance as barely controlling his anger even in the middle of his conventional conversation. He wears a well-practiced (in Jungian terms) mask that enables him to socially transcend his background as a child of an alcoholic home. He dresses appropriately, smiles on cue and exudes a charm about “being a writer” that Ullman finds acceptable for the winter caretaking position. In other words, as Ullman tells Jack about the Grady axe murder, he does so with confidence that an educated, literate man such as Torrance has sufficient internal resources to deal with the isolation of a six month, snow-bound winter.

Kubrick juxtaposes the interview with an opening scene of Jack’s wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their five-year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Pictured as living in an apartment complex, Wendy and Danny watch television and discuss Jack’s interview at the Hotel. Kubrick establishes their relationship as close, but not necessarily intimate, especially for a five-year-old son and his Mother. The possibility exists that some of their distance rests upon Freudian questions. Freud, of course, argued that boys around five years old begin to differentiate from their Mother and the nature of their previous relationship. While certainly applicable to girls as well, Freud’s notion of Oedipal tensions within any boy’s relationship to his Mother becomes particularly relevant in Kubrick’s film.

As the scene continues, Kubrick presents Danny as talking with “Tony,” his friend who lives in his mouth and, when necessary, hides in his stomach. “Tony” and Danny speak to one another in a typically Kubrickian bathroom scene standing before a mirror. In a sense, Kubrick presents Tony not simply as a double within the construct of a segment. Tony, while certainly Danny’s double, becomes a living character, one who sees, warns and remains faithful to Danny and later, “their” Mother.

As Jack’s interview ends successfully, Danny experiences a “shining” in which he sees the Hotel elevator overflowing with blood and the two murdered Grady daughters (Lisa and Louise Burns). Kubrick presents Danny in a frontal shot with looks of horror etched across his face, literally seeing the murders rooted in the haunted past of the Hotel. Wendy contacts the Doctor (Anne Jackson) who examines Danny and listens to Wendy describe Tony as originating soon after Jack’s previous abuse. Done through documentary-like shots, Wendy appears embarrassed at the memory of Jack’s behavior, but believes it an accidental occurrence and no longer relevant to their lives. Kubrick presents Wendy, in other words, as the “all-American” spouse faithful to her husband in a banally conventional way. In so doing, Kubrick suggests that Wendy distorts genuine faithfulness by providing explanations for Jack’s abusive behavior. By permitting Jack to “mask” his deeply repressed psychological energies, Wendy helps to bring forth the Monster that eventually betrays both Danny and herself. It does not require much imagination to picture Mrs. Grady a few years earlier expressing similar faithfulness to some behavioral excess by her husband as they prepared for a winter of Overlook care taking.

Kubrick presents the Torrance family driving towards their winter residence in a very small car that emphasized the lack of movement amongst themselves, as if their roles stand as “fixed.” As the conversation develops, however, Kubrick makes clear that the Torrance’s, for all of their conventional appearances, are not a well- adjusted, “happy-go-lucky” American family pursuing their version of “success.” As Danny asks his father a question, Jack almost demeans him. Kubrick particularly emphasizes Jack’s leering facial expression, implying that while he can survive in a setting with societal “checks and balances,” Jack will have severe difficulty once separated from a larger world. Once, in other words, Jack becomes isolated with the first heavy snowfall, his external personality will become subsumed into the Monster that lurks just below the surface.

The division in Jack’s personality rests on something not unique to him. He reflects what the twentieth-century Christian theologian Paul Tillich argues as the dichotomy between man’s “essential” and “existential” selves. More specifically, Tillich argues that “the myth of Adam’s Fall …has universal anthropological significance” (II. 29). Tillich argues that the Fall, if understood mythically rather than historically (as in a literal reading of Genesis 1-3), represents the universal human condition rather than a ‘once upon a time’ event some thousands of years ago (II.29). Borrowing and adapting his ideas from Platonic philosophy, Tillich argued that man’s ‘transition from essence to existence’ becomes a “’story to be told’ as a part of the ongoing human experience (II.29).

Man’s essential self, in other words, represents the mythological expression of being created in God’s image (1; Gen. 1:26). While the Fall into an existential self damages man’s ability to relate as God “intended,” he does not, however, lose an awareness of God’s image within him. Especially as myth, however, the Fall bears consequences of anxiety. That anxiety creates, depending upon the relationship of each individual to an overall cultural context, a “competitive” tension with one’s divine essence. That sense of competition, which Freud expanded to include the unconscious and Jung understood in terms of man’s basic “duality,” remains at the heart of Kubrick’s film and the escalating descent of the Torrance family.

Jack’s behavior, as winter closes around him, begins to assume the form of an open contest between his essential and existential selves. His lack of a Superego, probably resulting from the dysfunction of his childhood, made almost inevitable Jack’s regression from a (barely) functioning family man to, at film’s end, a grunting, snarling “evolved” version of Moonwatcher wielding an axe some thousands of years later.

Jack’s descent, of course, probably could not have occurred as quickly outside the isolation of the Overlook Hotel itself. Much like the setting in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Fall of the House of Usher,” the Overlook assumed a life of its own. More importantly still, Kubrick portrays it as a home with a memory. As Ullman makes clear, the Hotel was constructed over a Native American burial ground, even unearthing some sacred artifacts in the process. From its very beginning, it seems that those who built the Overlook blindly breached the boundaries between the sacred and profane and, in so doing, expressed a cultural value that the Torrances came to embody themselves. Namely, that the pursuit of mammon outweighs a respect for the creative force that gives rise to man’s ability to pursue wealth in the first place.

As Tony Williams argues in his “Stephen King, Naturalism, and The Shining,” that Kubrick’s film and its origins in Stephen King’s novel also reflect the tradition of American literary naturalism, a major theme of which rests upon “the same pernicious American materialistic dream (that perverted) Clyde Griffiths in (Theodore Dreiser’s novel) An American Tragedy (160). Jack wants to spend the winter writing a play that, as Williams put it, “will gain him the material rewards of an American Dream…” rooted in the same excesses shown through the novels of nineteenth-century French novelist Emile Zola (160). If Jack can write a “successful” play, he can ideally achieve a type of isolation within the society that will simultaneously recognize his “hard work” and native “skill.” Jack need not, with monetary success, answer to anyone, conceivably even the legal authorities, if he should “slip up” and abuse either Danny or Wendy again.

The evolving relationship between Wendy and Danny, conversely, mirrors Jack’s descent into monstrous isolation. They play in the snow, explore the Hotel’s outdoor maze, watch television and try to find ways to pass the time. Instead of, as during Danny’s medical examination, when Wendy stood so far away from the bed as to be visually small, she draws closer to her son as the film progresses. As Danny gradually gives way to his “essential” self of Tony (doubling Jack’s submersion into his “essential” self of the Monster), Wendy sits close to “them” on the bed and gently urges both of her “sons” to indicate what “they” see happening throughout the Hotel. In the film’s climax, Wendy assumes the protective role of Mother by managing to slide open the bathroom window and help her “sons” escape into the maze.

As much as Wendy and Danny come to understand Jack’s essential descent, however, they cannot, without assistance, escape his physical power. Danny’s ability to “shine” enables Halloran (Scatman Crothers) to return from Miami to the Overlook in an effort to render that help. Interestingly, Kubrick presents Halloran’s “receipt” of Danny’s “shining” not while enjoying the company of friends in a social setting. Halloran instead lies on his bed and, like Wendy and Danny, watches television.

Kubrick, in other words, presents Halloran as separated from his overall social network almost as Jack remains from his. That doubling, however, emphasizes Halloran’s attainment of “essential” resources to mitigate whatever “existential” loneliness he may have experienced over the course of his life. The fact that Jack presents himself as a “family man,” while Halloran (presumably) has remained single, only accentuates Kubrick’s ironic twist of cinematic and cultural convention.

Halloran, of course, represents, the societal checks that Jack has managed to “transcend” through the release of his essential, monstrous self. Through verbalizing his arrival with repeated calls of “Hello, anybody there?,” Halloran expresses a social convention of “announcing” one’s arrival as a visitor at another’s “home,” particularly if such a visit is unexpected. By sacrificing the human ability to assess his immediate circumstances for a veneer of courtesy, Halloran forfeits his life. Kubrick, in presenting Halloran’s death (and departing from King’s novel by doing so), exposes the ease by which social convention can become the seeds through which its members can entrap themselves.

Jack’s behavior, however, does not rest on an aberration that separates him from “the best people.” His trips to the aptly named “Gold Room” represent his ascent into the crème de la crème of Overlook society even as he appears in caretaker’s clothing. During an initial visit when he visits only with Lloyd (Joe Turkel), Jack is interrupted by a frantic Wendy who claims that Danny has been attacked in Room 237. As the still somewhat loving father, Jack rushes to the room, walks inside and encounters an internal projection of a beautiful woman (Lia Bedlam) resting naked in the bathtub. As she rises from the tub, Jack approaches, eventually to embrace and kiss her. As the kiss progresses, Jack’s projection assumes the forms not so much of his desire, but of his fear. The beautiful young woman becomes a decomposing old “hag” (Billie Gibson) who laughs at Jack’s almost adolescent sexual pursuits. Jack, the old woman reminds him, looks, but does not see.

Jack’s descent escalates when Wendy accuses him (incorrectly) of causing the scars around Danny’s neck. Jack then revisits the Gold Room, greeting as old friends its visitors and experiencing Grady’s reminder of his permanent role as caretaker of the Hotel. Given that Grady’s reminder occurs in a sparklingly clean bathroom with red fixtures and white walls, Jack’s blue attire once more raises the specter of the American Dream of material success descending into a nationalistic nightmare of psychological illusions, projections and erupting Monsters. Kubrick’s irony appears, given how bathrooms remain places where bodily impurities are released, as Grady helping Jack to purge his last elements of social restraint and assume a rightful place in Overlook Society. Grady, in other words, helped to relieve Jack of whatever impurities still remained within him and enabled his essential self to explode into consciousness.

>From a Tillichian perspective, Kubrick’s irony rests upon an inversion between Jack’s essential and existential selves. In the film’s opening sequences, Jack wears his existential self for the entire world to see. He presents an image of someone having transcended his alcoholically dysfunctional background and even his momentary “relapse” of abusing Danny. He wants to achieve “success” and promises Danny that he would never harm either his Mother or him. In a sense, by adhering to the American virtues of hard work, perseverance and the support of a loving family, Jack believes he will remain “faithful” to those values that exist beyond himself.

Kubrick does not then present Jack’s descent, in other words, as an expression of “un-faithfulness.” Jack does not discover a new set of values to replace the ones with which he arrived. The Hotel assumed the role of a pseudo-Mother by nurturing his explorations and validating his discoveries. Through Lloyd’s declaration that Jack could receive no more drinks while refusing to offer an explanation, the Hotel even becomes a disciplinarian in a parental mode of “because I said so.” Jack, having found unconditional acceptance tempered with “parental” wisdom, assumes the role of dutiful child and attempts to purge his “home” of unwanted (Halloran) or unhealthy (Wendy and Danny) influences. Jack does not, Kubrick makes clear, adopt a reality beyond himself. By allowing his essential self to finally surface, Jack remains faithful to his “real” family, one where he finds meaning, memory and independence in the film’s concluding image of photograph inscribed “Overlook Hotel July 4, 1921.”

Independence remained the stated goal of American public officials throughout the Vietnam War. Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, unlike either Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) or Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) does not rest, however, on a specifically “anti- war” message. Some twelve years removed from the fall of Saigon, Kubrick approaches his film with a basic acceptance that the war did incalculable harm to the American sense of exceptionalism, its body politic and (especially) its people. Mario Falsetto argues that rather than the war itself, Kubrick’s primary concern “is the examination of aspects of human behavior that any war or conflict might generate” (71).

While Falsetto’s argument contains merit, Kubrick made his film as an American who achieved maturity at the height of the Cold War. As he watched perhaps the perversion of “containment” through support of artificially created “countries,” Kubrick arguably envisioned another vehicle through which he could examine specific forms of human reactions in an American context. Kubrick assumes, in other words, that war is irrational, insane and brutal (72). He also believes that war, as indicated by the sniper sequence, has more than one perspective and assumes an infinite variety of forms within those points of view.

Kubrick reminds his audience, however, that every war has a background. That background can, as Full Metal Jacket demonstrates, provide another vehicle through which human behavior can receive examination. Furthermore, through his use of American Marines with a motto of “Semper Fidelis,” Kubrick once more examines just what it means for Hawthorne’s descendants to remain “always faithful.”

Bill Krohn, in his article “Full Metal Jacket,” understands Kubrick’s narrative to assume forms of a symphony with two distinct movements (par 1; 2). Boot camp training at Parris Island, South Carolina begins with Marine recruits receiving their haircuts (Nelson 240). Kubrick introduces Drill Instructor Hartmann (Lee Ermey) as castigating and humiliating his “ladies” and “maggots” in a rigidly immaculate barracks. Hartmann asserts several forms of power over his recruits. He punches Joker (Matthew Modine) for speaking out of turn, has Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) choke himself in order to “get rid of that stupid grin” and arbitrarily gives nicknames to every member of the platoon. By his training techniques, Hartmann makes clear his intent to mold “Born Again Hard Killers” who will not “hesitate at the moment of truth.” With one exception, Hartmann’s conversion efforts prove logically fruitful. Pyle as the exception, however, becomes a tragically ironic embodiment of Hartmann’s logic and, by inference, that of his Corps.

Kubrick’s initial portrayal of Pyle painfully presents him as anything but a candidate to become a “poster child” for Hartmann’s logic of “Born Again Hard.” “Pyle” reflects Hartmann’s apt nicknaming by his uncoordinated and physically immature manner and appearance.

Hartmann’s attempts to “motivate” his “prize” recruit reach a climax after Pyle’s violation of the rules. Pyle, through his lack of “faithfulness” (sneaking a jelly doughnut into the barracks), exacts a large penalty from his brothers. The evening after a day of particularly difficult “motivation,” Kubrick presents Cowboy (Arliss Howard), Joker and the other platoon members wrapping bars of soap in towels. Pyle sleeps peacefully, trusting his “brothers” in the most vulnerable of conditions. Pyle quickly feels his notions of faithfulness assuming new forms in the “Born Again Hard” world of the “Semper Fi” Marines. As Pyle screams in pain, he at last begins to understand what Hartmann logically has in mind.

Kubrick takes time to present Joker’s beating of Pyle as something resembling a “scene within a scene.” Through the jelly doughnut episode, Joker had consistently referred to Pyle by his “non-Marine” name, Leonard (Lawrence). Joker consistently speaks in a gentle tone of voice, recognizing Pyle’s innate sensitivity that presumably caused a misunderstanding of Hartmann’s “attention.” Pyle’s lack of an inner life (or, as Tillich might put it, an unawareness of his “essential self”) causes him to try even harder to achieve “success” that only perversely pushes him toward more “f…-ups” and the inevitably of more Hartmann denunciations.

Joker participates in Pyle’s beating, but as the last member to strike. He raises his towel, hesitates, but ultimately strikes Pyle six times with his soap. Kubrick, by focusing on Joker’s face as the scene blacks out, emphasizes the conflict raging within him that, as the film later suggests, has its origins in “the duality of man, the Jungian thing.” Joker’s hesitation, but ultimate “faithfulness,” to his inner Beast implies a Kubrickian belief that under even modest pressure, the “best people” will all too easily succumb to the prevailing cultural ethos in which they find themselves.

Kubrick, in other words, presents Joker as having enough self- awareness to struggle with his essential and existential selves. His essential self, at least for the majority of Kubrick’s film, reflects a thinking and sensitive man who presumably would rather be anywhere than Parris Island beating on a harmless sop of a man. A sense exists, however, that Joker’s self-awareness causes deep anxiety as the logical extent of Hartmann’s “Born-Again Hard” begins to dawn upon him. He realizes, in other words, that only a very short distance exists between “Born Again” redemption and the “Hardness” of becoming, as Animal Mother’s (Adam Baldwin) helmet strap later advertises, “death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Falsetto stipulates that whatever Joker’s anxiety, his background remains purposefully unclear (93). While the other recruits have equally hazy origins, Joker’s function as the film’s voice-over builds a more intimate relationship with the audience and elicits questions about the development of his character. Falsetto argues that while “it may not be a particularly empathetic relationship, … the audience does come to know him by the end of the film” (93). Whatever the depth of that empathy, Joker’s dilemma with Pyle and within himself reflects a common experience of how human beings react within a given set of (often) unalterable circumstances. Joker’s hesitance portrays, in other words, an essential self that presents a desire for life beyond instant satisfaction, even if it only means a few minutes without Hartmann’s yelling in his ear. Conversely, as Joker strikes Pyle, he incarnates his existential self by choosing a conforming faithfulness to his immediate cultural framework. Kubrick presents the paradox, in other words, of the recruits remaining faithful to each other by sacrificing one who attempts to be (and could conceivably might have been) the most faithful member of the platoon.

After Pyle’s beating, Basic Training continues in the Church of Born Again Hard. Pyle, as the newest convert, begins an escalating descent toward becoming the “congregation’s” most fervent disciple. Kubrick presents him as an ever-more snarling, glaring killing machine who embodies a merger of his essential and existential selves, seemingly invulnerable to harm from an outside source. Hartmann notices the change in Pyle’s behavior and, ironically at last, begins to provide encouragement to his newest disciple. Hartmann’s motivational logic appears to be taking fruit.

Kubrick’s presentation of that logic appears as nothing out of the ordinary. Hartmann lauds the accomplishments of Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald, both Marines who used their rifle skills to indiscriminately kill and change history. He tells the soon to be graduated Marines that while some of them will not return from Vietnam, they will live “eternally” through the Corps. He repetitiously announces the first assignments for the recruits, only expressing an awareness of a contingent “Corps” when he discovers Joker’s assignment to the journalistic “rear with the gear.” Pointedly as he reads Pyle’s assignment of “infantry,” Hartmann neither sees nor bothers to notice the glaring, existential and monstrously silent response of his most fervent follower. He only (and inevitably) raises his voice.

As Kubrick further extends the logic of faithfulness, Pyle’s life transcends both itself and the Corps through a “Born Again” love for the weapon that he has been taught to cradle, nurture and come to “know” on an intimate basis. In Pyle’s new world, neither Hartmann nor the Corps matter in the least. Pyle, through brutal simplicity and ironic cleanliness, incarnates the logic of an unthinking killing machine. Pyle, in other words, no longer feels forced to sleep with the instrument through which he will achieve external gratification, advancement and status. Like Jack Torrance, Pyle has become the Monster that lurks within him and, as Kubrick implies, achieves an internal gratification. Pyle had, by killing Hartmann, transplanted his “Father” who gave him the tools he needed to “succeed.” As he kills himself, Pyle takes Hartmann literally at his word that, since he has been “Born Again Hard,” he “will live forever in the Corps.” He had, as it were, become Hartmann, the destroyer of worlds.

Kubrick, by abruptly shifting the scene to Vietnam itself, leaves Parris Island to deal with the legacy of Hartmann, Pyle and itself. Bill Krohn, as he interprets the Vietnam portion of Kubrick’s film, argues from an interesting perspective. He suggests that we meet a whole new cast of highly individualistic characters who are imbued with the whole range of human emotions, but cut loose from from their narrative moorings they appear as opaque moorings of a larger\whole, their acts legible only as behaviors…in which they are embedded in a horrible monotony, the traits-racism, misogyny, machismo, homicidalmania-that govern the group-mind, even in its malfunctioning…(par 10)

Arguably, Joker and the other Marines in Vietnam not only engage in a “group-think,” but also represent a larger pattern that Hartmann might have called “mind-f….” As Krohn suggests, each of the characters can elicit sympathy (10). This is not a connection, however, rooted solely in reference to their fate; the characters, as do their predecessors and successors in Kubrick’s canon, bring forth an awareness of a human tendency to engage in “group-think” even among the “best people” of any culture, time or circumstance.

Kubrick portrays Joker’s ongoing disdain for military convention through his relationship with Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard). Recognizing his passionate photographer as another version of Pyle, Joker denies him permission to “get into the s..t.” He continues to remain, in other words, connected to his essential self. He realizes quickly that while Rafterman uses “the s..t” as words, he does so only as a statement of conforming to what others have said. Rafterman, in other words, tends to separate those metaphors from the reality they intend to describe. Conversely, in Tillichian terms, Joker experiences his existential metaphors as all too real.

Once the Tet Offensive illuminates the fallacy of America’s attempt to redeem the South Vietnamese from its northern brothers, Joker receives an order to investigate operations at Phu Bai. With Rafterman now at his side, a peace sign on his lapel and a “Born to Kill” insignia written across his helmet, Joker begins to really explore “exotic Vietnam.”

Once fully in “the bush,” Joker reunites with Cowboy and accompanies “the Lusthog” squad on its mission. Kubrick continues his examination of faithfulness through what soon becomes, in Falsetto’s words, “(t)he sniper sequence” (95). As it develops, Kubrick shifts the scene’s point of view from Cowboy and Joker to the initially unseen sniper. As first Eightball (Dorian Harewood), then Doc Jay (John Stafford) and, climactically, Cowboy are “wasted,” Kubrick gradually narrows the visual focus from a large city to the “courtyard” of a building and, ultimately, as the flames surround the sniper’s inner sanctum, to Hell itself.

Nelson argues that, with Cowboy’s death, Kubrick “turns the focus of his moral drama onto Joker and completes not only a reverse doubling between Joker and Rafterman, but a more important one between Joker and Pyle” (257). While that death does indicate a “shift within a shift,” Nelson makes no mention of Kubrick’s choice on how to film Cowboy’s death. As Cowboy demands the phone to contact headquarters, Kubrick originally films him facing the camera. As Cowboy begins speaking, however, Kubrick shifts the camera back toward the sniper’s inner sanctum. Within short order, Cowboy joins Eightball and Crazy Earl as just more of the detritus that threatens to overwhelm those who remain alive. What lays strewn across the courtyard, Kubrick seems to suggest, allegorically represents the human unconscious, waiting to immerse individuals and societies in a burning “Hell,” often of their own making.

Kubrick presents Joker as the first Marine to actually see the sniper. He discovers that while only a teenage girl (Ngoc Le), she understands Hartmann’s logic and does not hesitate at the “moment of truth.” Her firing becomes a Vietnamese version, Joker seems to recognize, of what Pyle might have become beyond Basic Training.

Arguably, Kubrick does not present Joker, but Pyle, as the center of his film. As usual with Kubrick, he thinks neither in terms of spoken lines nor physical screen time to present his vision. Rather, Kubrick presents Pyle as an archetype which Joker comes to recognize. Pyle, in other words, evolves from an innocent towards an ironic “self- actualization,” undergoing a “Born Again” conversion that he fulfills by (literally) taking the “hart” of the “man” who facilitated his initial transformation. As Joker stood over the sniper’s wounded body and receives an “invitation” from his fellow members of the Marine “Church,” he realizes, in effect, that he stands not only over Pyle’s bunk on Parris Island, but over what he has taken as his essential self up to this point in his life. Perhaps without knowing so, Joker’s “congregation” asks him to be received as the newest member of the “Church of the Existential Self.” Joker, who has self-awareness, completely understands: his “moment of truth” had arrived at last.

Kubrick’s deliberate focus on the growing contortions of his face from a self-aware “Joker” to a “Born Again Hard” Marine becomes one of the film’s most horrific scenes. In Tillichian terms, Joker knows that his existential self is becoming his essential self and, as Hawthorne and Hartmann might suggest, it remains that “Born Again Puritan Marine” Self to which he will be live “Semper Fidelis.”

In other words, Kubrick presents Joker as not only Pyle’s double, but Pyle himself. As he marches to Mickey Mouse (a child’s song that Leonard Lawrence undoubtedly knew), Kubrick pointedly emphasizes how Joker carries his rifle in properly “faithful” form. He has learned, at last, to cradle his rifle, embodying what Pyle came to understand on Parris Island. Namely, that Hartmann’s logic of love and violence, life and death, “the Jungian thing,” reduces human life to a Survival of the “Hardest” who use their semi-automatic bones without hesitation at “the moment of Truth.” Joker now loves his “Charlene” with the same intensity that Pyle, once properly “motivated,” demonstrated on Parris Island. Joker knows, in the words of Animal Mother’s headband, that he has become Pyle, “the destroyer of worlds.”

Love and redemption, at least in certain ways, continue as themes in Eyes Wide Shut. As Michel Ciment presciently observes, Kubrick managed not to use the word “eye” in one of his film titles until he presented the adventures of Dr. Bill and Mrs. Alice Harford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman–259). Upon its release, however, the film received nearly universal disdain from “reviewers of the national press” (Kreider 41). What, as Tim Kreider argues, the critics did not see in Kubrick’s last film resembles much the same that these same “best (cinematic) people” refused to acknowledge throughout his career (41). Krieder’s implication, it seems, becomes an impish analogy between the Harfords and Kubrick’s critics. They looked, but did not see.

The film begins as Dr. and Mrs. Harford dress themselves for a Christmas party at the home of Victor and Illona Ziegler (Sydney Pollack and Leslie Lowe). Kubrick presents “Dr. Bill” as expressing a type of intermixed dependence and condescension toward his wife as he asks Alice for the location of his wallet. Ever the faithful wife, Alice helps him to locate what Kubrick has established as the focal point of Bill’s existence. Conversely, when Alice asks Bill how she looks, he verbalizes “terrific,” but does not even bother to physically evaluate her appearance. In other words, the good Dr’s “examination” roots itself in falsehood and evasions. Alice recognizes Bill’s indifference as yet another example of how he understands her as little more than a trophy who faithfully helps him “climb the ladder” of New York society.

Bill expresses his ambition while dancing with his wife at the Ziegler party. He answers her question “How many people do you know here?” with a revealing “Not a soul.” In more than one way, Bill’s comment reveals a sense of himself. He full well knows the Zieglers and he sleeps with his wife, a particular type of “knowing.” Bill’s comment, however, expresses a Kubrickian theme that Dr. Harford has positioned himself socially between the Ziegler’s above him and the Mandy’s (Julienne Davis) and Rosa’s (Mariana Hewitt) below him. Bill knows just enough people, in other words, for him to easily adapt a “chameleon-type” relationship with whomever he happens to come into contact.

Kubrick, conversely, presents Alice as having some sense of self- awareness. Her question suggests an awkward loneliness that she soon assuages by drinking herself into a near-stupor. For much of the film, Alice presents herself as separated from almost anything that might provide an outlet for her energies. As she tells Sandor Szavost (Sky Dumont) during their dance, her art gallery went out of business and has not subsequently been able to find another means to reopen it. Thus far, her repressed energy has become almost solely focused on the raising of Helena (Madison Eginton), her seven-year-old daughter.

Helena, by the way in which Alice relates to her, also represents Kubrick’s theme of faithfulness. Her physical needs are met in abundance, Alice helps her with math homework and periodically bestows a goodbye or good night kiss. Even the film’s last scene predicates itself on Helena’s expectation that her parents will be faithful to their earlier commitment and “take her Christmas shopping.” Helena, in a named irony of love, gives Kubrick another (among many) vehicle through which he can explore just what “fidelio” might actually mean.

As Alice and Sandor are dancing, Bill has begun a “dance” with two of Ziegler’s other guests, Gayle and Nuala (Louise Taylor and Stewart Thorndike), evidently more of Ziegler’s “servants” employed for “contract labor” as the evening progresses. They straddle beside Bill, inviting him towards further “knowledge” that culminates “where the rainbow ends.” Kubrick continues to introduce themes related to “faithfulness” as he presents the “models” (indicating that Bill sees them just as Ziegler does, as useable and disposable commodities) in red and green dresses. While appropriate attire for a Christmas party, those colors also suggest plants in a garden. Kubrick, in other words, has the “objects” serve as “temptresses” in an updated portrayal of Adam in Eden. The doubling of Sandor’s serving as almost a Dracula-like Temptor of Alice/Eve with Bill’s nearly coming into “knowledge” of Ziegler’s contract objects presents some of Kubrick’s most powerful symbolism. The question becomes, however, just how “faithful” and to what or whom Bill and Alice will remain “Semper Fi.”

Ziegler, in a fit of restrained panic, summons Bill to his next “test.” Another of his “contract laborers,” Amanda Curran (Julienne Davis) has collapsed over an upstairs toilet following a combination of “Speedball” and “having her brains f….d out.” Bill, in a typically detached, robotic and “professional” manner, examines Ziegler’s “worker,” condescendingly telling Mandy that she “is a very lucky girl.” Perfunctorily “prescribing” appropriate treatment, Bill turns his attention to Ziegler’s question about what to do with his apparent piece of toilet trash.

Kubrick, in other words, presents Bill in something of a ménage a trois, but not the one he had in mind just a few minutes earlier. While he remains sexually faithful to Alice (as she does with him by declining Sandor’s invitation “to see the Renaissance Bronzes”), Bill violates the essence of his medical oath by not insisting that Mandy be transported to a hospital for further treatment. With the amount of stimulants she has ingested, for Bill to participate in Ziegler’s “charade” of pretense reveals his existential self to which he will sacrifice almost anything for the reward of continued acceptance by Ziegler and the other “best people” at the epicenter of American material nihilism.

Following a night of sex and a day of work, Bill begins to experience just how deep Alice’s resentment actually runs. He realizes, in other words, that he has related to Alice, in Kreider’s terms, as his spousal prostitute (44). Kubrick doubles Mandy’s abuse of stimulants with the Harford’s use of marijuana, but in such a way that a similar effect takes place. While Mandy, however, “OD’s,” Bill and Alice only utilize “proper” amounts of their drug, enabling them to free themselves for their first honest discussion apparently in quite some time. Alice, in hysterical frustration at Bill’s decided lack of “knowledge” about women, tells him about her willingness to abandon their family for a naval officer she simply saw the previous summer at Cape Cod, Massachusetts (pointedly seat of the Puritans). Kubrick portrays Bill as dumbstruck, unable to speak, looking like some “best people” combination of Moonwatcher and Jack Torrance who just happens to have a medical degree. As Alice slowly describes her liaison fantasy, Bill literally receives a type of “redemption” through a phone call from Marion Nathanson (Marie Richardson), daughter of a patient who has just died.

Kubrick balances the next several scenes as well as he did any from his entire career. Marion’s kissed expression of love foreshadows the kisses exchanged at the Somerton orgy. Marion desperately expresses love for Bill while the “disciples” at Somerton use the symbol of Judas’ betrayal in the Gethsemane Garden. Carl, Marion’s fiancé, physically resembles Bill with the only apparent differences being height (Carl is taller), profession (Carl will soon teach mathematics at the University of Michigan) and, as Bill surely knew, monetary status and assets. Nathanson, a presumably Jewish name, lived in a house strewn with Christmas objects, raising the question of just how much faith means to its presumed “adherents” and the ease of syncretism that Judaism (at its best) was instructed to resist upon entering its original “Promised Land” (190; Deut. 30:15-20).

Kubrick, of course, did not “accidentally” raise the issues of syncretism and faithfulness. He knew exactly what he was doing. Bill’s somewhat tortured journey to the Somerton mansion resembles, among other archetypes, Israel’s journeying through the wilderness toward the “Promised Land” that God had lovingly provided for them. Additionally, Kubrick alludes to Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” as Bill (a conventionally “Good” young man until his wife expresses her fantasy of un-“Faith”fullness) rides deeper into the dark wilderness just as Brown walks further into his own (Pearson 1033-1042).

Kubrick’s use of “fidelio” as the password for entrance easily plays on the wife’s name in Hawthorne’s story. Once inside the mansion, Bill, like Brown in the wilderness, enters a totally unexpected world. While he can speak, he mostly gazes in some combination of awe, admiration and (later) uncertainty about what takes place before his eyes. His eyes remain wide open, Kubrick suggests, but they remain steadfastly shut to the realities he experiences.

Bill and Brown experience a form of betrayal that ironically becomes a vehicle through which they (can) overcome whatever illusions they may have had. During his journey to the “Somerton” outside of Salem, Brown “sees” Goody Cloyse, his catechism teacher, Deacon Gookin, the Pastor’s “right hand man,” “several church members from Salem village” and “his revered Pastor” (Pearson 1039; 1040). Brown calls these people “A grave and dark-clad company” (1039). Dr. Bill, conversely, might “diagnose” those attending “Evening worship” at Somerton as the “best people.” Each man, in other words, experiences a betrayal of everything he valued by those who had taught him to do the valuing. That, in itself, stands as powerful testimony to the hypocrisy and shallowness exposed by both Hawthorne and Kubrick.

Kubrick, like Hawthorne 150 years earlier, turns “proper” convention on its head. Unlike Brown, however, Bill does not react with horror at what he sees. He does not listen to the unnamed woman’s efforts to “save” him “before it’s too late.” He assumes the role of inquiring doctor trying to diagnose an “illness” without realizing that, as Ziegler points out later, that the illness exists within him.

Like Brown, however, Bill escapes and spends the next day journeying through various parts of Manhattan in a similar daze to that of Goodman Brown’s experience in Salem, namely “staring around … like a bewildered man” (1042). Bill retraces his steps from Domino’s apartment (gaining the “knowledge” that she has tested positive for HIV from Sally) to the Sonata Jazz Café, (where Nick told him about the party) to the Hotel where he experienced a gay version of himself in the clerk (Alan Cumming) to the Rainbow Costume Shop, momentarily resuming his former life of “proper” disgust at Milich’s (Rade Sherbedgia) objectification of his Lolita-like daughter (Leelee Sobieski) and, somewhat climatically, to the gates of Somerton where he is “shunned” and warned simultaneously to cease his desire “to know.” After seeing Mandy’s body ultimately objectified as an exposed corpse inside a sterile morgue, Bill comes to realize his own sense of objectification, that he, while still breathing, has little more life than Mandy does in the morgue. He returns home to “see” at last his own emptiness in the juxtaposition of Alice “sleeping with” his mask on red sheets wearing a blue nightgown gently covering her white skin.

As Bill collapses in tears, willing to “tell everything,” Kubrick’s mise en scene pushes the film toward an invitation, not just for the Harfords, but also for humanity itself. Bill, in other words, serves as an allegory that his American and Western audiences can, with self- awareness, recognize as their essential selves attempting to “redeem” their existential doppelgangers.

Bill remains faithful in a conventionally sexual sense. He never attains “knowledge” of other women, although he (like Alice) has been tempted more than once. In being faithful, however, Bill simply follows the cultural rules imbued upon him from their earliest Puritan origins through his nine years of (presumably Church sanctified) marriage. He comes to understand that he has little or no inner life, a la Jack Torrance and Leonard “Pyle” Lawrence. While Bill wields neither an axe nor fires a “Full Metal Jacket,” he does begin to recognize that the Monster lurks within both him and his society as well. To pretend, either through repression or “Born Again Hard” religion (of any form) or an idolatrous adherence to “Good Manners” with “the “best people,” that humanity has somehow overcome the Monster becomes the very means by which it will make its presence felt. The machine of “Doomsday,” in other words, lurks just below the surface. Faithfulness to one’s self, Kubrick suggests, becomes a very complex matter that both societies and the individuals they shape ignore to their peril.

Kubrick’s final three films, in other words, ask a similar question: to what and whom is one ultimately faithful? For viewers of his films, the question also needs expanding to what does Kubrick himself remain “Semper Fi.” Falsetto and Ciment independently provide a preliminary set of answers. Falsetto argues that, as an American in self-imposed exile, Kubrick “always kept abreast of the work of other filmmakers” (32). Kubrick, however, deliberately chose to remain consistent to his lifetime directorial style of multiple scene takes, long Average Length of Shots and avoiding the Hollywood sensationalism during the 1990s (32). As Falsetto puts it, “Kubrick simply continued to work in ways that were true to his aesthetic of how to shoot and edit film. He continued to build his narratives in such a way that the spectator had to work at the meanings of his films” (32).

Ciment echoes what Falsetto understands as a central part of the “Kubrick viewing experience” (32). In referring to the opening shot of Eyes Wide Shut of Alice nude as “the most erotic in all of Kubrick’s work, (it indeed) anticipates the final scene of the film in which she suggests to her husband, tenderly and crudely, the words conjuring the image that they go home and make love” (266).

By maintaining faithfulness to his vision that the audience does not simply watch a film, but experiences and receives a challenge from it, Kubrick perhaps gives a Ciment an answer: “yes, maybe, but no more than anyone else who honestly accepts life as contingent, fated, ambiguous and uncertain.” Ciment concludes by asking “Was Kubrick finally reconciled with life” (266)? He might just as easily have asked if Kubrick was faithful to his understanding of life. Alice’s concluding answer of “f…” provides Ciment’s concluding words: “In retrospect, Alice’s remark resonates like an epitaph” (266). An epitaph, however, that Kubrick insists needs to remain open.

Works Cited

Ciment, Michel. Kubrick: the Definitive Edition. New York: Faber, 2001

Eyes Wide Shut. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Sidney Pollack. Hobby Film, 1999.

Falsetto, Mario. Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis. New and Expanded Second Edition. Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger, 2001.

Fogle, Richard. “Ambiguity and Clarity in Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” A Casebook on the Hawthorne Question. Ed. Agnes Donohue. New York: Crowell, 1963. 207-21.

Full Metal Jacket. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Matthew Modine, Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio. Warner Brothers, 1987.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” The Complete Novels and Selected Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Norman Holmes Pearson. New York: Modern Library, 1937. 1033-42.

The Holy Bible. The New Revised Standard Version. Iowa City, IA: World, 1989.

Kreider, Tim. Rev. of Eyes Wide Shut. Film Quarterly. 5.32 (2000): 41-8

Krohn, Bill. “Full Metal Jacket.” .

Nelson, Thomas Allen. Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2000.

The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall and Scatman Crothers. Hawk Films Ltd., 1980

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1951.

Williams, Tony. “Stephen King, Naturalism, and The Shining.” Excavatio. 1988. 160-4.


Source: The Film Journal, Issue 13, January 2006.
Also seen in alt.movies.kubrick Newsgroup, Sat, 7 Aug 2010.


3 thoughts on “Faithfulness: A “Vision” of Stanley Kubrick’s Last Three Films – by Richmond B. Adams”

  1. Richmond B. Adams

    As the author of this piece, I want to thank you for reprinting it all these years later. I hope it will add in some small way to ongoing conversations about Kubrick and his films.

    1. Hi Richmond,
      thanks a lot for getting in touch.
      It’s a great piece and I was surprised that it didn’t have the visibility it deserves.
      I found it by chance by going back to the archive of one of Stanley Kubrick’s Newsgroups.
      All the best.

      1. Richmond B. Adams

        Thank you for your most gracious reply: I wanted to ask, given that I am trying to publicize your reprinting of my piece as part of my tenure application, if I might have your name and some other means by which I may contact you. In those senses as well, I have an article on Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN that examines both the novel and the film plus their interplay and differences from a cultural perspective. Would you be interested in looking at it?
        Thanks again for your most unexpected and, if I may say, very timely renewal concerning one aspect of thoughts on Kubrick. I look forward to what I hope will be a fruitful and perhaps long-term conversation. I am, always,

        Yours Most Respectfully,

        PS: Is it possible for you to edit my by line from how you found it to what I prefer, namely Richmond B. Adams, and also put under it my current affiliation of Northwestern Oklahoma State University? If not, no worries, and thanks.

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