The philosophy shining behind the work of Stanley Kubrick

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Mediapart: In 2001: A Space Odyseey, does the narrative confusion expressed through the enigmatic presence of the black monolith allow us not only to grasp our inability to envisage time and space beyond our earthly experience, but also confront us with the limits of human reason?

S.A.: The indifference of the universe has always scandalised humanity. By mocking his own species, or by allowing it to see a possible transmutation, Kubrick encourages us not to feel this indifference as a metaphysical betrayal. This is perhaps one of the possible interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Does the astral foetus not represent a new beginning and newfound innocence? Kubrick seems to tell us that our species, which has only just come of age, shouldn't be vexed by the fact it is only just taking its first steps, and has yet to even leave its maternal planet.

Le singe découvre l'outil (2001) Le singe découvre l'outil (2001)


Mediapart: The meeting of the primate with the tool goes hand in hand with murder in 2001, since the monkey that finds the bone will use it to slaughter the species it previously lived with in peace. The moment the bone is changed into a space ship, centuries later, hasn't violence disappeared?

S.A.: What concerns the monkeys once they've discovered the tool is effectively war. One might have thought that in the civilised world of machines, this warrior stage had been overcome. But not at all, it's perpetuated by other means. The Americans and Soviets dispute the discovery of the monolith just as the monkeys disputed the territory around their swamp. As in Full Metal Jacket, language is, in 2001, a weapon of war, as was the bone.

Mediapart: With Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's work seems to come to an end on a lighter, milder note, with the reconciliation of Bill and Alice around the future of a child.

S.A.: "Fuck" is the last word pronounced by Alice, the last word of the film, and the last word of all of Kubrick's work. It is significant that the film ends on such a trivial word. Eyes Wide Shut is like those Hollywood comedies about remarriage, where a couple separates and ends up, after a series of adventures, getting back together again. It could be considered the ultimate variation on the genre. There is a return to normal after a long detour. At the end of his journey, Bill abandons the nihilistic values of the traditional patriarchal system. He finally accepts that his wife can have an inner life richer than his own. As for Alice, she is revivified by the tragic pathos of a marital crisis triggered by the irruption of the Dionysiac into the daily life of the couple, Alice's fantasy and then the story of her dream. The ordinary is a disturbing strangeness that is revealed in the deepest recesses of intimacy, and which we have to accept as an incomprehensible but obvious fact. It may not be necessary to be a superman to conquer passive nihilism; maybe it is enough to accept being simply human. But that isn't as easy as it may seem.

Des images du rêve d'aldultère d'Alice, qu'elle raconte à Bill Des images du rêve d'aldultère d'Alice, qu'elle raconte à Bill

Mediapart: Is it possible, in the end, to distinguish a political position in the work of Kubrick?

S.A.: Difficult to answer that question. In his films, Kubrick puts progressives and conservatives back to back. The moral progress and better tomorrows that he promises are discredited by his pessimistic view of history. On the other hand, Kubrick's defiance regarding all forms of authority leaves no doubt, Kubrick was a free thinker and a poet, like that other great filmmaker he admired so much, Fellini.

  • Sam Azulys' book Stanley Kubrick: une Odyssée philosophique, (Stanley Kubrick: A Philisophical Odyssey) is published by les Editions de la Transparence, currently available in French only, priced 28 euros.
  • Video extracts of Kubricks films and a filmography can be found by clicking on the 'Prolonger' tab top of page.


English version: Chloé Baker

(Editing by Graham Tearse)

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