A Beginner’s Guide to Stanley Kubrick: The Essential Four Films

David Stehman ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
The Shining. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
If one were to mention Stanley Kubrick’s name to any cinephile in the world, they will most likely hear respectful admiration. Even if they are not a fan of his work, they would acknowledge that he is indeed one of the most ambitious and visionary directors of all time. To average movie-goers however, Stanley Kubrick is obscure. They may have heard of some of his most mainstream films, like 2001: A Space Odyssey (which they would know every modern sci-fi film is compared to) and The Shining, which plays every Halloween on some network channel. But they wouldn’t know about Fear and Desire, or the difference between The Killing and Killer’s Kiss. So how does one become accessible to Stanley Kubrick? What are the best films of his to start with? Here is a list to simplify that question.
Stanley Kubrick made thirteen films in his lifetime, from the 1953 to 1999. That’s a lot of movies, some of which are more accepted by fans than by casual onlookers. This is a beginner’s guide to one’s first exposure to Stanley Kubrick, and the four films that will help one understand his unique style without pushing untrained limits.
1. Paths of Glory
Paths of Glory. Photo Credit: United Artists.
Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory. Photo Credit: United Artists.
Probably the most accessible film of Kubrick’s filmography is Paths of Glory. This is considered by many as one of the greatest World War I films, as well as one of the most powerful anti-war films. Anyone who has seen The Wire can point out the obvious thematic influences the show took from the film. Following a French Captain as he tries to take on the corruption of the French High Command, this film combines the action of the trenches with the suspense of the courtroom drama that follows. It is told in a linear fashion and features very powerful performances. The plot moves quickly and the story unfolds appropriately, but it still has the masterful camerawork of Kubrick as a director. He brings out plenty of emotion from his actors, showing the directorial power he would bring to his other movies.
2. The Shining
Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Another accessible film to Kubrick is one of his later works, The Shining. This is a slow-paced horror film, but one that pays off immensely. Jack Nicholson gives a performance of a lifetime as Jack Torrance, and his descent into madness is hypnotic. The film is never boring, and it is a good way for new Kubrick watchers to gain a sense of the director’s pacing choices. Also, Shelly Duvall’s rapt emotion is a good talking point for anyone who wonders if Kubrick is an easygoing director (spoiler alert, he’s not!)
3. Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.
Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.
After The Shining, the next suggestion is Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). It’s less controversial than the pedophile themed Lolita, but it maintains Kubrick’s mastering of the black comedy. The jokes are brilliant and have aged decently. It would be helpful for the viewer to be aware of Cold War history, since the film laid out a serious and legitimate flaw in the U.S. nuclear management system. This would allow the significance of the jokes to be funnier, as well as the power of Kubrick as an intelligent satirist.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey. Photo Credit: MGM
2001: A Space Odyssey. Photo Credit: MGM
Finally, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is not recommended for the first-time Kubrick viewer. While it is Kubrick’s best film, it’s slow pace and seemingly meaningless, overly ambiguous plot will absolutely turn-off the casual Kubrick fan. It could even ruin a newcomer to watching other Kubrick films, which is never good. It is important to know Kubrick’s style before jumping into 2001, which is why watching the other films in the guide first is favorable, especially The Shining. And then, if they manage to stay interested throughout the film, they would have a better chance of appreciating Kubrick’s majesty.
These four films capture the four sides to Kubrick’s filmography. If one likes Paths of Glory’s anti-war message, they could watch Full Metal Jacket. If they like The Shining’s slow build, they could try out Eyes Wide Shut or Barry Lyndon. If they like Dr. Strangelove’s black comedy, watch Lolita. For 2001’s visual daringness, try A Clockwork Orange for an even more visually complex and intentionally uncomfortable style. For those that like all of these films and want to know about his experimental and earlier works, watch Spartacus, The Killing, Killer’s Kiss, and Fear and Desire (in that order).

Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button