"Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountaintop. You look up and wonder,
how could anyone have climbed that high?" – Martin Scorsese
Kubrick: An Indoor-Plumbing Luddite
Marshall McLuhan pronounce the downfall of civilization in clear terms – in his case, the advent of written language
split apart our tribal society forever destroying our close-knit society that was once built upon the need to remain close
in order to receive information. Three years after his death, I realize that an artist like Stanley Kubrick is subtler when
describing the downfall of civilization.
Best known for films like “2001: A Spacey Odyssey,” “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Eyes Wide
Shut,” Kubrick was once one of the famed five directors with “final cut” status. This meant that Kubrick
controlled all aspects of the final product – no studio could take a film and recut it to their liking. It was this
ability that gave Kubrick the ability to send his message out unfettered by “the man,” who would inevitably try
to obscure the message, lest society discover it’s true meaning.
Kubrick presented to us the following: The downfall of civilization was predicated by the advent of indoor plumbing.
In other words, as soon as the excrement was permitted in the home, it’s stench began to permeate every aspect of society.
There is no need to look that far for the cause to society’s ills – simply look towards your spacious bathroom.
earliest attempt to convey this message under the studio system failed miserably. For decades, lost on the cutting room floor,
was a scene in “Spartacus” where Tony Curtis was giving Spartacus a bath. This was a slave/master relationship
that would later shift the balance of power and become a nice piece of “lost footage” for the special edition.
I believe this early attempt by the studios to censor Kubrick was the first sign that he was onto something that the establishment
wanted quieted right away.
“Lolita” brought about the signature “bathrooms are evil” scene that would resonate throughout Kubrick’s
film career. In a key scene, Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is in the bathtub when he is told that Lolita’s mother has
died. It is alone, in the bathroom, that Humbert decides to take his nymphet fantasy out of his mind and onto the road.
While others busied themselves with the controversy of an underage paramour, the genius of Kubrick’s anti-indoor-plumbing
message was left to the wayside. This is the way of most great movements in history – a quiet murmur that slowly but
surely raises the volume so that it becomes a roar amongst the populous.
“Dr. Strangelove” saw all hope of mankind’s salvation lost in a bathroom suicide. The bomb is making
it to the entire world because one man had the privacy of a bathroom where he could dispose of his life, the codes and the
world in one quick action. Fundamentally, I think no film of Kubrick’s comes closer to describing the way that the common
bathroom leads an individual to think of everything in terms of instant disposability.
In “2001: A Space Odyssey,”
the bathroom makes one brief, but important appearance. On the way to the space station, a passenger stops to survey the bathroom
instructions on the wall. Deeming them far too complicated, he walks away from the whole matter. In Kubrick’s only future
world, he saw one where the bathroom would eventually cause us to dispose of our base needs.
In Kubrick’s only banned film (in the UK), “A Clockwork Orange,” challenges the audience to view
violence as near sport. Our anti-hero, Alex is unapologetically violent. When he is imprisoned and reformed, Alex no longer
fits into his ultra-violent world. Stumbling upon a house, he is greeted by the kind, generous sort to which we all aspire.
After all, wouldn’t life be better if we were all the sort that believed in the common good? But even if we were, the
bathroom is the bearer of the dark side in our kindly person. For when Alex makes the mistake of singing in the tub, our kindly
stranger realizes who and what Alex is – in a split second, the kindly stranger is willing to extract an uncivilized
revenge to further his own, selfish cause.
Kubrick is thought to have returned to the suicide theme in “Full Metal Jacket,” but here we see the disposal
of men as cannon fodder. A grunt on the brink calmly murders his drill sergeant in the bathroom and then turns the gun on
himself. Prior to killing himself, he informs the men that it is not he, but they that are in a world of, well…excrement.
Shining?” Well, it wasn’t all “here’s Johnny!” lines. Amongst other background bathroom glipses,
a crucial scene in the film takes place in a bathroom. The young son, Danny, reports strange goings on in the bathroom. John
is first tempted, then tormented by the ghost in the bathroom. One minute, John is holding a beautiful naked woman in his
arms – she then turns into a rotting, bloated corpse. If that weren’t enough, the hotel men’s room becomes
John’s undoing. It is there that he meets his other self, the caretaker that he’s always been. You know, the axe-wielding
Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” was full of bathroom imagery. Initially, it appeared
as if the film would take a decidedly pro-stance on indoor plumbing. After all, we were meeting a husband and wife who were
getting ready for an upscale party in the bathroom. As with many a married couple, they were uninhibited in front of one another,
completing their entire bathroom routine in front of each other. This was the bait, for it is later in the film that the bathrooms
of the wealthy become the dumping ground for overdosing beauty-queen turned prostitute. From there, it simply gets worse for
the married couple, for the beauty queen, for the gap between the middle-class and the wealthy, for New York and for Christmas.
Kubrick offers no solution for the problem; he merely points it out. Perhaps like McLuhan, he is only meant to offer
an observation about a thing that we cannot turn back. Perhaps the brilliance of his film career eclipsed his true message.
We will never know.
SOME NOTES ON THE ABOVE ARTICLE
Morgan's article is well written, but I think she misses the central reason as to why Kubrick constantly films key scenes
bathroom is a place of privacy and seclusion. It's where man is at his most primal and animalistic. There's nothing noble
about sitting on a toilet. It is here where man squats and does his dirty business.
Kubrick, the bathroom becomes a symbol of man's denial. We deny our animal nature, our violent instincts and our ignoble roots,
preferring instead to be beasts in the privacy of closed doors.
bathroom is where Jack attempts to kill his wife. It's where Ziegler's dirty habits are revealed. It's where generals
learn of war and soldiers commit suicide.
constantly showing us bathrooms, Kubrick shows us man in his most base environment. Conversely, by leaving his bathroom
doors open, Kubrick plants the seeds of hope which lie our capacity for realization and awareness.
paying attention to our own animal routines, we cease to identify with them, and this de-identification shifts our attention
toward the higher "I". The “I” that observes it’s own process and directs, as best it can, its own inner
growth. This transcendence, through feedback, separates the essential self from the automatism of the machine/animal and creates
a consciousness capable of genuinely directing and rising above it's own activity.
Kubrick's use of bathrooms in "2001: A Space Odyssey". A "bathroom scene" occurs three times in this film:
1. At the
end of the film, Dave Bowman enters a bathroom and encounters his middle-aged self in the mirror.
2. Heywood Floyd is
stymied in his attempt to communicate a message to adults because his daughter's baby-sitter has gone to the bathroom. (IE-
in typical Kubrick fashion, communication breaks down because of a simple bathroom break)
3. During his journey to the
moon, Floyd has to apply the full weight of his PHD intellect in order to take an intergalactic dump.
of the themes present in all Kubrick movies is: "The inability of man's intelligence to overcome his animal instincts."
explicate this theme, the bathroom becomes Kubrick's central unifying image. The animal instinct to squat and pass stool,
as part of the process of life (and ultimately death), is a metaphor for the animal nature of man.
Bowman first encounters his own animal aging process in the bathroom, he appears shocked. The bathroom is used consistently
throughout Kubrick's movies as a shocking reminder of the mortality, brutality, and animalistic nature of man, and that nature
is consistently shown to overwhelm man's nobler intellectual aspirations. This is why the bathroom appears exactly between
the monolith and Bowman's deathbed. Bowman, now cultivated and having shed his spacesuit, returns to the bathroom and sees
nothing there. He's now free to die and be reborn. By placing the bathroom between the monolith and the deathbed, Kubrick
signifies man's baseness as an obstacle which much be overcome.
The following is a list of "bathroom scenes"
in Kubrick's filmography:
1. Dr Strangelove: General Ripper commits
suicide in the bathroom. General Turgidson learns of the attack whilst on the toilet.
2. The Shining: Jack attempts
to murder Wendy in the bathroom. Jack receives his murderous orders in the red bathroom. A dead corpse is found in the green
bathroom. Danny receives visions infront of the bathroom mirror. Shots of the couple's apartment frequently have the bathroom
door open and the toilet visible in the background.
3. Barry Lyndon: Barry reconciles with his wife in the bathroom.
(for a Kubrick bathroom, this is a rare noble act)
4. Full Metal Jacket: Pyle murders Hartman and commits suicide
whilst in the bathroom. Joker and Cowboy trade sisters for sex in the bathroom.
5. A Clockwork Orange: Alex attacked
in bathroom. Alex attempts suicide from a bathroom window.
6. Lolita: Humbert learns that Lolita's mother has died,
whilst in bathtub. It is alone, in the bathroom, that Humbert decides to take his nymphet fantasy out of his mind and onto
the road. Lolita watches Humbert shave in the bathroom twice a day.
7. 2001: A Space Odysey: Floyd struggles with
Zero G toilet. Bowman studies bathroom at the end of film. Floyd phones Earth whilst "babysitter is in the bathroom".
Spartacus: Tony Curtis and Spartacus sequence in the bathhouse. Olivier in bathroom.
9. Killer's Kiss, The
Killing: Very short bathroom scenes in each.
10. Paths of Glory: No bathroom scene, though Dax's quarters do have
a weird bath in it.
11. Eyes Wide Shut: Hooker overdoses in bathroom.
Bill ignores Alice in bathroom. Power relationship between Bill and Alice mirrors Ziegler and Bill's in both bathroom scenes.
In his writings, Harry Bailey points out
that Bill instructs the ODed Mandy to "Look at me, look at me!" in an attempt to revive her from her drugged-out slumber,
while earlier that same evening in his own bathroom with Alice, she jealously and despairingly remarks, "You're not even looking
at me", after she asks him to comment on her appearance ("How do I look?").
There's another power doubling too, a
tragic irony: just as Bill was looking into the mirror attending to his vanity when Alice makes the above admonishment, Ziegler
too was looking into the mirror adjusting his tie as Bill was demanding Mandy to look at HIM.
Alice as passified trophy
wife, demanding marital reciprocity is contrasted to Bill as passified servant to wealth and power, which is further contrasted
with Mandy as obedient patient to Bill, expendable whore to Ziegler.
- J.F.S (tieman)