Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” – A Most Ambitious Fantasy

The fourth entry in Plot and Theme’s year-long look at the filmography of Stanley Kubrick.  Check out all entries here.


Introduction

In 1962, Stanley Kubrick adapted the Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita for his sixth feature film.  Though published only 7 years earlier, Nabokov’s novel was already reaching the status of a classic work due to its controversial subject matter, witty wordplay, and themes of erotic fantasy, hebephilia, and sexual predation.  Working with Nabokov on the screenplay, Kubrick’s adaptation faithfully recreates the key aspects of the novel, capturing the sexuality, irony, and tragedy of a man who lusts after a prepubescent girl.

Still shackled by the Hayes Code, Lolita was thought to be unfilmable, and the director himself later expressed that had he known how severe the censors were going to be, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to adapt Lolita.  Fortunately, he did.

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The Power of Information in “United 93”

Paul Greengrass’s United 93 is more than a harrowing dramatization of the events of September 11th, 2001.  It’s also a profound treatise on the significance of information, and how ignorance leads to irrationality, uncertainty, and fear.  This piece will look at three aspects of the film and how each is intimately tied to the availability of information: the plot, the characters, and the themes.  The plot is revealed slowly, as a sense of dramatic irony permeates the spectator’s interpretation of the events.  Characterization is established by reactions to the inexplicable, and then corresponding responses as more information becomes known.  Even the ultimate thematic statements hinge in the treatment information in United 93.  Greengrass concludes that information is power – especially in the hands of individuals.

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“Spartacus” – the Three-Headed Triumph of Douglas, Trumbo, and Kubrick

The third essay in a year-long analysis of the films of Stanley Kubrick.  Check out the schedule and explanation here, where you can also find links to all the completed pieces.

Introduction

Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas and written by Dalton Trumbo, may be the best Swords-and-Sandals story ever put to film.  The film is a powerhouse but is easily the least “Kubrickian” film in all of the great director’s filmography.  This is mostly due to Kubrick sharing control with Douglas, who produced the film and had final cut, and the writer Dalton Trumbo.  In this piece, I’ll detail the circumstances surrounding this intense collaboration, starting with the political climate and background of the film.  I’ll continue on with the story and characters developed by Trumbo and Douglas and finish with Kubrick’s stylistic contributions to the film.  Though all three creators approached the film with their own intentions and goals, they were still able to produce an irrefutable classic.

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Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”, the Abuse of Power, and the Inevitable Absurdity of War

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

-Thomas Grey, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,1751

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is often celebrated as the director’s first true masterwork.  Adapting a novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Kubrick’s film contemplates power struggles, justice, and the wastefulness of war.  The crux of the story involves three French soldiers who are court-martialed for cowardice after retreating from an impossible attack, but Kubrick’s story is not a mere anti-war film.  The trite idea that “war is bad” is taken as a given, and augmented by multiple impressive cinematic and storytelling techniques into an even more powerful statement:  there is an utter absurdity to war, one that incentivizes an habitual abuse of power and a routine miscarriage of justice.

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Classic Review – Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

INTRODUCTION

In 1991, dozens of happy accidents converged into one of the greatest thrillers of all time:  The Silence of the Lambs.  It is the most recent film to win Academy Awards in all five of the major categories (both leading actors, screenplay, director, and best picture).  As that distinction may suggest, practically every aspect of the film boasts superlatives.  The performances are exceptional.  Ted Tally’s adaption of the screenplay structures the film with the familiar beats of the hero’s journey, but provides enough twists to keep us on edge.  Jonathan Demme’s direction shows restraint and courage, and produces moments rife with tension, many of which do not exist on the page.  The characters, technical work, and writing all cooperate towards a single goal:  championing a theme of female strength and intellect in a world dominated by men, and the courage that it takes to confront true evil.

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Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” Disorients the Audience to Convey an Essential Truth: Dishonesty Doesn’t Sell

Stanley Kubrick described his heist film The Killing as his, “first mature work”, and the film boasts many of the director’s eventual hallmarks.  Techniques that appear in Kubrick’s later masterpieces can be seen in a nascent form throughout the film, as if Kubrick is exploring the possibilities of his own voice and style.  Specifically, The Killing purposely confuses the viewer through keen story structure choices and twists on the heist genre.  The result is a disorientation that forwards a theme that trickery, thievery, and crime – even those which are meticulously planned, are doomed to failure.

Continue reading “Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” Disorients the Audience to Convey an Essential Truth: Dishonesty Doesn’t Sell”

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