“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”- Stanley Kubrick
Over the last few months, a video has gone viral on TikTok where a voiceover directs the user to perfect the legendary Kubrickian stare that was characteristic of every eerie and sinister character created by the legend. What is the Kubrickian stare, and why is there so much hype regarding it, you ask?
Stanley Kubrick, who at the end of his life told his wife how he was “still fooling them”, is an undisputed cinematic legend. A subject of study and intrigue for cinephiles and film buffs for decades, this master auteur’s works are a product of his creative genius and idiosyncratic artistry. Often termed as a “recluse”, this eccentric visionary was known for his wide variety of films that often contained socio-political commentaries and had quintessential unsettling and complicated characters who heightened the characteristic Kubrickian horror. Known for groundbreaking camera shots and incredibly controlled camera movements, his films are always wrapped in an amorphous haze where the viewers are made to dig for the hidden meaning.
One of the biggest influences in the history of cinema, Kubrick goes down as one of the greatest filmmakers in the annals of time, cementing his legacy with a wide range of films that were shocking and unnerving with themes that added to the growing sense of horror and unease. Looming ambiguity clouds his narratives that usually see the filmmaker trying to blend the sinister and uncanny into a dreamlike sequence embedded in reality. From using oppressive and claustrophobic framing to incorporating sexual and physical violence, the auteur’s absurdist dive into the depravity and predicament of the human condition has served to be one of the most inspiring influences on subsequent filmmakers.
Steven Spielberg, a dedicated Kubrick mentee and a self-proclaimed 2001: A Space Odyssey fanboy, once said that was his most “realistic film” ever made. Kubrick’s terrifying perfectionism, perseverance and determination helped him become a trailblazing auteur who managed to shock and awe the audiences with his ideas. Kubrick always wanted to stand out from the rest and delve into the incomprehensible. He had reportedly told Spielberg: “I want to change the form, I want to make a movie that changes the form”.
Kubrick defies categorisation and constantly competed against and outdid himself. Aware of the sheer power of framing and the subtle use of inanimate objects, colours and music, Kubrick manoeuvred various film elements to heighten the tension and manifest sheer terror within the physical and spiritual realm of the films. His works have continued to be the driving force for various directors who have tried to be as meticulous and dexterous in filmmaking and direction. Kubrick, luminous and inspiring, prevails as the most influential figure in cinema who challenged the conventional rubric of cinematography and directing, paving the way for a plethora of fresh and disruptive ideas to revolutionise the art of filmmaking.
Today, on this master auteur’s 22nd death anniversary, we pay tribute to his illustrious career spanning nearly five decades by taking a look at the ten best Kubrickian films on Netflix that die-hard Stanley Kubrick fans will surely enjoy.
10 Netflix films all Stanley Kubrick fans will love:
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
A war veteran in the Navy during the Second World War, Freddie Quell is diagnosed with PTSD that culminates into alcoholism, violent rage and crazy sexual appetite. However, he soon meets a stranger named Lancaster Dodd who heads a religious cult by the name of ‘The Cause’ where he successfully incorporates Quell by indoctrinating their principles. However, Quell’s unsteady mental state and volatile nature threaten his place within the movement as others grow wary of him.
The Master is made of elements that liken it to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The film presents a slice of reality where an emotionally scarred war veteran is psychologically more vulnerable and susceptible to such indoctrinations. It makes one question the varying anatomy of relationships while painting the pathetic picture of the human condition. Brilliant cinematography as well as stellar performances from the cast, namely Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, help heighten Quell’s despair and anguish that is a product of war. By portraying the depraved and miserable existence of mankind, Anderson, like Kubrick, draws in the theme of isolation that is seen as the root cause for such psychological disintegration.
“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.”
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
Described by Quentin Tarantino as “one of the best movies made in this decade”, There Will Be Blood was one of PTA’s best works that established him as one of the most talented filmmakers in the history of cinema. Daniel Plainview conducts the oil business with his son H.W. whom he adopted after the latter’s father was killed in a freak accident. A ruthless mercenary, Plainview does not value anything above his business and has a relentless drive for success that compels him to stop at nothing from becoming an established oil mogul. He does not hold back from manipulating the poor H.W. who remains oblivious to the elder’s notoriety.
A riveting narrative buoyed by incredible performances on the part of the cast, especially Daniel Day-Lewis who deservedly won the Oscar for his performance as the brutal antagonist, PTA’s film dabbles in various themes, including manipulation, vaulting ambition and the lust for success that leads to subsequent insanity and ruthlessness. Johnny Greenwood’s wonderful scores help heighten the harrowing atmospheric horror that results from the depravity of the human mind. Mellifluous camera angles are somehow all-encompassing yet intimate. PTA pays homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey in various scenes while also paying homage to the auteur’s various characters that spiral from being a man to an isolated soulless being.
“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
The film was considered one of the best horror films made in recent times. It revolves around Chris and his girlfriend Rose’s vacation in her parent’s upstate home. The family is amicable and Chris sees it as a sort of nervous discomfort on their part to adjust to their interracial union. However, the events soon become sinister and incredibly disturbing as the weekend progresses.
In Get Out, Peele’s harrowing commentary on the condition of human existence is accentuated by issues plaguing society, including racism. A dark comedy, the film continually emphasises the depravity of the human mind which is vicious and horrifying. Jordan Peele had revealed that Stanley Kubrick had always been his inspiration. “I wanted to be Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Hitchcock,” he said.
He continued, “I’d wanted to be a director since 13, and horror and the suspense thriller were the most powerful genres to me. They always scared everything out of me, but it wasn’t until then that I got mature enough to mentally separate myself, and look at these films as powerful artistry.”
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
Set in post-Civil War Spain that is invaded by the Allies, the film revolves around a young 11-year-old Ofelia who lives with her pregnant mother and brutal and murderous father. Ofelia wants her mother to be safe and wants to protect her unborn brother from all kinds of harm. She stumbles upon a minuscule creature which leads her to enter a mythical world of fantasy where she is assigned various tasks that she has to perform to appease them in turn for her brother’s safety.
If Danny from The Shining were the protagonist in a fantasy world, there would not have been much difference between the two films. From the father being cruel to various other fantasy elements that oscillate between fantasy and the real, the maze in the film where Ofelia runs from her step-father mirrors the one in The Shining. Amidst isolation, darkness and sadness, Pan’s Labyrinth shows the victory of the protagonist which ushers in a ray of hope.
“Once upon a time, when the woods were young, they were home to creatures who were full of magic and wonder.”
Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
The police forces in San Francisco Bay Area are continuously taunted by a serial killer who keeps taunting and plaguing them with cryptic messages and letters that makes it even more difficult for the police to catch the elusive killer. Based on Robert Graysmith’s novel, the film deals with the real 1970s case where the police become obsessed with the killer and the film elaborates on how the lives of the detectives, newspaper journalists and police get entangled as they try and hunt down the killer.
With actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr., the film shows Fincher’s brilliant eye for detail. In true Kubrickian fashion, the director apparently wore the actors out due to his constant strife for perfection. Dark, brooding and filled with cryptic riddles and psychological horror, the film shall appeal to Kubrick fans.
“I am not the Zodiac. And if I were, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
Metropolis was one of Kubrick’s favourite sci-fi films and his 2001 was a tribute to Lang’s masterpiece that was way ahead of its time as it pondered over the dangers that technology possesses as mankind grows increasingly dependant on it. Accentuating and simulating the horrors of the working class in a highly capitalistic dystopia, the film criticises the frail economy and class conflict that prevails in our society. A political allegory that abounds in Biblical allusions and paradoxical visuals, this silent film is pertinent even today.
Freder hates his father for seeking help from a mad scientist who bears a personal grudge towards Freder’s father for having married the love of his life. The scientist models his robot after a woman named Maria who is a polarizing figure among the working classes and prompts the city to fall into a state of chaos to gain control over the city. Freder decides to act as the mediator to help strike a balance and restore peace.
“The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.”
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband Guy move into the iconic Bramford building in New York. Guy is a struggling actor and the new building seems to be spooked by various unpleasant rumours surrounding it. The young couple befriends their bizarre neighbours, the elderly Castevets who barge into their lives. Rosemary soon gets pregnant and her husband starts bagging jobs. However, she soon finds her social circle crumbling down and ominous events haunting her that leads her to question the intentions of the Castevets as well as her husband.
Polanski managed to make Rosemary’s agony and psychological turmoil palpable. It was Polanski’s film that inspired Kubrick to go on to make The Shining; Rosemary’s Baby was groundbreaking because the director incorporated the slow anguish and unsettling horror into the atmosphere which was embedded in religious and spiritual cults. The concept of Rosemary birthing Satan’s child brought in religious connotations while the painfully slow tension showed her descent into psychological hell. Kubrick was inspired by the element of sinister horror and incorporated the same in his film.
“He chose you, honey! From all the women in the world to be the mother of his only living son.”
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
Donnie Darko is a bit of a loner who does not get along with his family or peers yet finds a friend in Gretchen who dates him as well. His psychiatrist helps him use hypnosis to come to terms with his secrets. Donnie begins seeing a man in a bunny costume and encounters various other supernatural hallucinations which indicate his schizophrenia. Soon, the bunny man manipulates him to commit a series of crimes and Donnie has no way of return.
Richard Kelly’s debut work surrounding the psychotically eerie Donnie is incoherent bewildering, mind-boggling and unnerving at the same time. He tries to incorporate Kubrickian themes in his work including the infamous Kubrickian stare that adds an aura of sinister to the film. The movie might leave the audience questioning their sanity as the filmmaker deliberately confounds them. The perception of reality is constantly challenged as is the viewer’s ability to comprehend the convoluted plot narrative. Even Gyllenhaal himself had no idea what the film was about.
“I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief because there will be so much to look forward to.”
American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)
A tamer version of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut with the characters dealing with various emotional desires, Mendes’ American Beauty becomes a classic Kubrickian film due to the sultry cinematography, seductive camera movements and the sexual overtones within the lucid narrative. Much like Kubrick’s films, this is a sardonic commentary on various social conventions that lull us into a falsified notion of reality. With a befitting background score and dialogue steeped in caustic humour, the film is a scathing commentary on tropes of relationships, masculinity, consumerism and the flawed conventions of beauty.
Kevin Spacey plays the role of the pathetic protagonist Lester Burnham who is troubled in his marriage where his wife is too ambitious while his daughter deals with insecurities and self-loathing. He begins to fancy his daughter’s friend Angela and grows increasingly infatuated with her, often having Lolita-like fantasies. Bogged down by a loveless marriage, the film is a direct attack on homophobic society as well as society’s stigma regarding marriages, social taboo, sexuality and more.
“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.”
Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
The film revolves around a soap salesman named Tyler Durden who meets the insomniac and depressed narrator on a plane. They decide to start an underground fight club together in Durden’s broken-down apartment after the Narrator’s house is ruined in an explosion. The club is frequented by depressed and frustrated men who want to stir up their mundane lives. However, with the attractive Marla sauntering into their lives, the Narrator and Durden’s camaraderie starts to disintegrate with Tyler’s obvious attraction to her.
When Kubrick portrayed “ultraviolence” in his film A Clockwork Orange, he probably could have never imagined that Fincher, a fanboy, would bring in the same volatile and brutal images in his film that is provocative, dangerous and unsettling. With sharp and memorable dialogues that serve as a scathing commentary on the immense consumerism prevailing in the society, Fincher explores themes of castration, morality, psychological disintegration and anarchy. Embedded in irony, the film is a brutal satire that questions the freedom of choice that might even damage one’s emotional well-being.
“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”