Make your own free website on Tripod.com

The Kubrick Corner

Home
Biography
PART 1: More than meets the eye
Introduction to themes
The Kuleshov effect
Kubrick as cold rationalist
PART 2: Opening Shots
The Kubrick Aesthetic & Spectatorship Theory
Concept Art and Storyboards
Kubrick's bathrooms
Dinner with Stanley
PART 3: The Killing
Simultaneity and Overlap
The Unknown Kubrick
The Early Films
PART 4: Paths of Glory
Creation and Destruction
PART 5: Spartacus
I Viddied Spartacus
PART 6: Lolita
Michael Ciment on Lolita
1962 Kubrick interview
PART 7: Dr Strangelove
War and Sex
PART 8: 2001: A Space Odyssey
A Cold Descent
SF Capital
Three Metamorphoses
PART 9: A Clockwork Orange
Alex as artist
Crime and Punishment
The Decor Of Tomorrow's Hell
Spectacle and Violence
PART 10: Barry Lyndon Reconsidered
The Vanity of Existence
Narrative and Discourse
Kubrick's Narrator and "The higher aesthetic"
PART 11: Imperfect Symmetries
Animal friends
Historicism and Hauntology
4 Articles
The Uncanny
PART 12: Deconstructing Masculinity
The Jungian Thing
Kubrick's Ulterior War
AMK Essays
Who am I?
Anybody's Son Will Do
PART 13: Eyes Wide Shut
3 Articles
Contemporary Sexuality and its Discontents
Squalid Infidelities
Crazy cults and Grotesque Caricatures
Was Eyes Wide Shut completed?
PART 14: A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Kubrick's A.I. by Ian Watson
New AI Page
PART 15: Kubrick's Psychopaths
Kubrick's office and grave
A Collection of Letters
The Quote Page
Scorsese on Kubrick
Kubrick Interviews
Useful weblinks, books and Guestbook

"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

architecture4.jpg

Stanley Kubrick: An Indoor-Plumbing Luddite

 

by Stephanie Morgan

 

Men like 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.


Kubrick’s 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.


In 1962, “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.


“The 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 one.

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

 

Stephanie Morgan's article is well written, but I think she misses the central reason as to why Kubrick constantly films key scenes in bathrooms.

 

The 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.

 

For 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.

 

The 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.

 

By 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.

 

By 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.

 

Consider 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.

One of the themes present in all Kubrick movies is: "The inability of man's intelligence to overcome his animal instincts."

To 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.

 

When 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".

8. 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)