Sunday, September 5, 2010
The Box Or How I Learned to Stop Worring amd Learned what a Kubrickian Masterpiece Is.
In one of the first published reviews of Inception Anne Thompson called that film a Kubrickian Masterpiece as if, 11 years after Stanley Kubrick's death, that phrase can now refer to just about anything as opposed to works that are 1) masterpieces and 2) feel like Kubrick movies. Today the term has evolved because it has become, theoretically speaking anyway, part of public domain. It hardly matters if it's user knows the first thing about Kubrick because if the film is psychological science fiction and engulfs the viewer in it's mammoth scale awesomeness, well it's no ordinary masterpiece: it's a masterpiece of Kubickian proportions. At least that's how I've read it over the years. The term is ironic because A) Kubrick only made two sci-fi films, only one of which (2001) is a masterpiece and B) although his latter day epics such as A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and The Shining are more prolific in that they are more recognizably what we have come to associate as being "Kubrickian" the early, shorter films such as Paths of Glory, The Killing and Dr. Strangelove are just as much, if not more so, masterpieces as the latter. However, if Inception is a masterpiece (we won't debate it again here), it certainly isn't a Kubrickian one as the film owes little to Kubrick other than that it is A) psychological science fiction and B) over two and a half hours in length. If we were to break down Kubrick into pieces (the droning soundtrack, the deliberate, surreal pacing, the meticulously symmetrical framing, created by the hand of a true knit-picker, the emotionally distant characters, the devious visual sarcasm) you'll find that very little of Inception translates. It's too sloppy, too full of ideas flying around in too many directions, and too loud and hyper active to be anything Kubrick would have associated himself with. Although it is no masterpiece (or even all that good), if you want to see true Kubrickian influence, look no farther than Richard Kelly's The Box, a strange, enigmatic and wholly Kubrickan sci-fi affair. That Inception was adored to death and The Box hated and swept under the rug is just one more notch of proof that it owes a lot of what it knows to Kubrick. The Box, Kelly's best film, whatever that's worth, is more or less exactly what he's spent two features doing: spinning complex yarns that turn in upon themselves so many times that the only thing they can be about is challenging their viewer to try and figure out just what they heck they are about. However, unlike the interesting but failed Donnie Darko and the abomination Southland Tales, this time Kelly is 1) working from source material and 2) has more control over himself stylistically. Number two is what's most important. It hardly matters what this story is about, if it is even about anything. What's interesting is how Kelly manages to control all of these chaotic elements (a mysterious button, the offer of a million dollars, amputated toes, abrupt nose bleeds, a man with only half a face, strange meetings by the poolside and so on) and keeps them grounded within his stylistic mold. There's something ever so ominous about the muted 50s household naivety; the way the wallpaper in the kitchen is so bold it always seems as if it is about to swallow its heroes whole; the way the faceless man speaks in the clipped tone of someone who is never really saying everything they know; and the way people silently seem to be stripped of their souls, one by one. All of this is very creepy, maybe in part, or maybe in full, because one never quite knows just what is going on at any given moment. Because Kelly is so restrained visually in that mysterious Kubrickian manner, it allows him to go completely over-the-top thematically. That's exactly what Kubrick got away with. That's exactly why his masterpieces have become an adjective all unto themselves.