With Kubrick's later films, in my analysis I will include a screen grab from each shot with the listing of shots to show a little bit of shot structure. Here, with the exception of a couple of interesting series of shots, I've just numbered the shots and briefly stated what is going on in them. Why? Because this film takes place in a forest and for the majority of the film we end up with not much going on other than faces backdropped by leaves and the characters traversing forest paths. Kubrick would never again do a film solely set against a background of trees. Why? Of course I can't definitively say "why" but I think I can hazard a guess. For the kind of filmmaker Kubrick was, he probably found that a forest background was difficult to shoot, to make interesting, and problematic in that he didn't have absolute control over every single element on the set. Nature may speak to the spirit when one is tromping through the woods, but leaves and branches and blades of grass don't do much in the way of manufacturing story in the way that Kubrick told stories. For better or worse, we carve our humanity out of nature, we take the primal and mold it to our needs and to express something of ourselves, because this is the idiosyncratic way of humans. We are crafters. Builders. We break stuff down in order to refabricate it to make survival not only planned-for possible but to make practical objects and art objects that say something about us and our interior worlds as we wander about looking for reasons for nature having fabricated the wondering human. For the kind of visual story teller that Kubrick already was becoming, there's just not a hell of a lot going on in the forest frame that speaks to we humans wondering about what we are and why we do what we do. He tries to make up for this with an over-abundance of back and forth shots between the actors, action and reaction. A lot of quick takes. It doesn't work. He tries to make up for it with monologue and dialogue and it doesn't work because Kubrick was all about the hard core show not tell.
Still, there are many elements in the film that are interesting to examine, especially relative Kubrick's later work, which is why I've gone ahead and at least numbered the shots, so these things that do merit some attention are placed in context of Kubrick's becoming the show-not-tell storyteller.
Individuals familiar with Kubrick will be attentive to his use of doubles in this film, but there is actually a good deal more that is vital to understanding his later work, which he was already playing with in Fear and Desire with his incorporation of elements from The Tempest, Hamlet, and Milton's Comus. He lays a partial framework for approaching the director's relationship to film and the audience and vice versa. We even find the nascence of certain errors he incorporates in his work. For a separate dissection of these, read Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire, The Tempest, Comus, Chess, and HAL's Error.
There are 676 shots in this film, which is about an hour and 2 minutes long. Kubrick's later films were far longer and had far fewer shots relative those longer running times. Lolita had 539 shots, A Clockwork Orange had 678, 2001 had 597, The Shining had 661, Eyes Wide Shut had 586. Along the way, Kubrick learned something about economy, sticking with your shot and letting it have some freedom to relate the story.
With this film I concentrate a good bit on its relationship to Shakespeare's The Tempest, as it is essential and certain themes that we find in The Tempest and Fear and Desire were carried over to later work of Kubrick's: ideas of metamorphosis and the protean, the illusory, the director (and counterparts) as a magician. These are not at all ideas unique to The Tempest, but as The Tempest was explicitly referenced in Fear and Desire I look upon it as influential.
Kubrick's interest in doubles continues from Day of the Fight, as is his involvement in chess evidenced. The idea of the "error" that isn't an error enters his film vocabulary already, which becomes famously pivotal in 2001 with HAL.
DAY 1 - Shots 1 thru 227
Notes on the Credits: Examining relationships in the credits to The Tempest and its illusory storm, the symbolism and alchemy behind the horse-centaur in the credits and the Shakespearean minotaur as well as doublings (twins), and Prospero as both magician and director of a play
Behind Enemy Lines Shots 9 through 65
Notes on Behind the Lines: Prospero's magic circle. The characters and situation. The marooning tempest. Doubles. The mouse-trap map as one of Prospero's magic sigils. Proteus and other "animals". Idiosyncratic shots such as the CU of the hand throwing the stone and their rarity of appearance in Kubrick's later movies.
On the Way to the River Shots 66 through 98.
Notes for On the Way to the River: Ariel's noise that both guides and confounds and its influence on thought. No more forests after this in Kubrick's films. Character development.
Building the Raft and Seeing the Enemy Shots 99 through 151
Notes on Building the Raft and Seeing the Enemy: Camouflage and Huckleberry Finn. The skewing of the sense of direction. The maze and deja vu. The plane, the circle in the sky, and the mouse-trap.
The Killing Dinner shots 152 through 227
Notes on The Killing Dinner: Corby's control of Sidney. The flipped shots and diagonals. The benign knife and the murderous knife. The CU of the hand clutching the stew. The eyes of the living and the dead. The expresion of the dead as liminal, the relationship of the dead to the mannequins in Killer's Kiss and Eyes Wide Shut. The banquet in The Tempest. We have passed this way before. Sigils and the illusory death of Ferdinand. We spend our lives running our fingers down the lists and directories, looking for our real names. The rebuke of Donne's "no man is an island", and Corby's assertion that war as cold stew on a blazing island with a tempest of gunfire around it.
DAY 2 - Shots 228 thru 474
The Decision to Return to the Raft: Shots 228 through 243
Notes on The Decision to Return to the Raft: Caliban and the cannibals. Corby versus Mac as Prospero versus Caliban.
The Capture of the Woman Shots 244 through 316
Notes on The Capture of the Woman: Defining the characters of the men in respect of their treatment of the woman. Prospero versus Caliban and the hypocrisy of civilization. Breaking of the fourth wall. Communicating with signs rather than language. Sidney's flood of memories represent through flashback overlays.
The Woman Killed by Sidney Shots 317 through 474
Notes The Woman Killed by Sidney: The Tempest, chess, and HAL's error. Sidney as Ariel and his fear of being left behind. The death of the woman and its similarity to the deaths of the three soldiers the previous night. Metamorphosis, illusion, and why Sidney denies responsibility for the woman's death, instead asserting the magician, Prospero, is in control. The woman, free will, Comus, and the error that requires the calling upon Sabrina as a goddess who holds the power of reversals. Theater, the illusory, and magic. Sidney's tale of metamorphosis and the story of Taliesin. Metamorphosis, the mystery of what's in the woman's hand, and its relationship to what's in Jack's hand in The Shining. The dog, Proteus, and the protean nature of Kubrick's characters, settings and props. The Two Gentlemen of Verona and its relationship to the protean Sidney, and the question of one's true face. Mac's speaking of the rifle sight and the red eye, its relationship to the mouse-trap and to 2001. Examining the film in respect of The Tempest does not negate those layers of the story that speak to the horrors of war.
DAY 3 - Shots 475 thru 675
What Are You Living for Anyway: Shots 475 through 538
Notes on What Are You Living for Anyway: Mac's belief in the serendipitous and synchronous now drives the story. The two versions of this scene. CU shots of Corby digging in the pine straw.
Sneak Attack by Water and Land Shots 539 through 648
Notes on Sneak Attack by Water and Land: Kubrick's interest in doubles (Corby/the General and Fletcher/the Captain) already previously expressed in Day of the Fight. The realization of the mouse-trap map for the General. Why might Kubrick not have wanted this film to be seen. Kubrick's affirmation, in a latter, on the doubling in Fear and Desire, the confrontation with a deadly enemy made from almost the same mold as one. The cannibals as Caliban's doubles. Heart of Darkness. Proteus expressing the protean nature of all the characters. The extinguishing of the front fill light when the general is shot. The plane and the seeming halo effect.
Sidney in the River Shots 649 through 662.
Notes for Sidney in the River: The noises in the air as conjured by Ariel, and the sleep of Caliban. Maya and the state beyond illusion. The encouragement to keep one's eyes open and see what's really there, as in Eyes Wide Shut. Sidney's loss of his wallet, and Bill's loss of his wallet in Eyes Wide Shut. Prospero's speech after the masque in The Tempest
Conclusion by the River Shots 663 through 676
Notes on the Conclusion: Ariel's final song. Closing with a return to the beginning.
How the Film Was Sold as Opposed What It Actually Is
STANLEY KUBRICK'S FEAR AND DESIRE, THE TEMPEST, COMUS, CHESS AND HAL'S ERROR.
A glaring mistake concerning The Tempest occurs in Fear and Desire and merits examination. How Kubrick incorporates the chess game into Sidney's "error" when relating Ariel's story. How this relates to HAL's error. How chess is expressed through a hidden 64 in Fear and Desire, which uses as its template a hidden 64 in The Tempest.
The Nietzsche Stone, The Shining, and the Opening of 2001 : The Influence of the Nietzsche's Madness and Dostoevsky's Horse, in which I briefly discuss Fear and Desire as well
Nietzsche, The Shining, and The White Man's Burden, in which I discuss also the role of women in other films of Kubrick's.
Are you one of the league who find Kubrick's cinema fascinating and wonderful but are also confused by seeming peculiarities? Are you certain those often under-the-radar-over-the-head weirdnesses must mean something? Or maybe you're just curious?
Here's my request. That you, please, think in terms of art with intention, which isn't conspiracy and has nothing to do with conspiracy theories. Would you think of music composed of unspoken themes as being conspiracy? What's difficult is teasing out the artist's conscious intention as versus accidental as versus the viewer's role as an active pilgrim walking the road that art provides to accessing the unconscious and mythic, the vast knowledge that has been archived in your brain from birth forward of symbols and metaphors and archetypes through navigating the warehouse of such that is actively and passively feeding you in the cultures of everyday society. As an author and artist, I know what it is to hope for at least a few such pilgrims, confident they are the minority, that most think in terms of being only entertained, and to attempt to compose for both. Even with those who are just wanting a good story, or who want to dissect a film for practical good-cinema purposes, the majority would likely admit that it is the inherent mystery in Kubrick's films that functions as their primary gravity. It is that sense of something deeper, a subterranean coherence that provides the glue, that compels individuals to return and perhaps begin to move, without their even realizing it, from a passive state into a more active, participatory role where art becomes a transformative experience rather than just visual popcorn. For that matter, even a simple detective story can actively engage the viewer, and Kubrick's films have a touch of the detective genre to them. For instance, at the end of The Shining Kubrick zooms in on Jack seemingly appearing in an old photograph of The Overlook, and he is holding what looks like a little slip of paper, a little rectangle of white in the palm of his hand, as if displaying it for us, but what is it? One is compelled to try to solve the mystery of Jack in the photo, what could be in his hand, so one watches the movie again. That's the sleuthing, detective part of watching Kubrick's films.
The most important thing which must be kept in mind with Kubrick's films is there is the surface or principle story and then the internal or sub-story. In many of his films, if we're really paying attention, set elements pretty much immediately destroy the surface naturalism. One may not notice this deconstruction the first, second or third time one watches the film. Through constructive disorientation and disconnectedness, and sleight of hand as to where our eye focuses, Kubrick, the magician, intentionally obfuscates and reveals these elements that betray the overt and naturalistic story line as being artifice, a studio fiction that rests upon something both more solid and also bizarre. The surface story lines are the principle ones, but they are maintained and supported by the sub rosa dialogue. These deconstructive elements are plainly there, alongside his tremendous effort to make things look real and believable, and play with a purposeful sense of disorientation that when locked into exposes a puzzle that annihilates the sense of reality. This destruction of the film's naturalistic story line is difficult enough to conceive of and accept, and it's easy enough to stop at this point and decide these puzzling aspects of Kubrick's films are errors. But they are not. They are part of the art of a director cleverly designing the overt story line to be unimpeded by an internal story that tears it apart. Indeed, the sub rosa elements of the internal story may be discreet but they are enough in evidence to complicate the surface story with an aura of attractive, indefinable mystery, which is one of the reasons viewers return to Kubrick again and again. To work with the "reason" and "why" of the internal story line is to try to settle into Kubrick's sensibility, examining how these internal stories form a dialogue in his oeuvre with repeating themes and ideas, elaborated upon from film to film. The internal stories haven't a "plot"; they aren't that kind of story. Instead, you have to be willing to deal with comprehending the themes and ideas represented in them as ultimately forming a different terrain for the setting of the surface story, guiding and interacting with the overt story and giving it a new form in the hands of the participant viewer who is engaged rather than a passive recipient.
June 2014 but transferred in March 2016 to this form. Approx 2567 words or 5 single-spaced pages. A 20 minute read at 130 wpm.