Stanley Kubrick casts an impressive shadow. It would not be hyperbolic to say he’s one of the most influential film directors of all time. In his lifetime, he directed an enviable stretch of films that encompass a multitude of genres, from sci-fi to erotic thriller. Any true connoisseur of cinema has their favourite Kubrick film, be it piercing satire of Dr. Strangelove, the ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange, the lingering terror of The Shining, or the war-is-hell dichotomy of Full Metal Jacket.
As such, his work has countless disciples and imitators. The psychopaths of Martin Scorsese, the surreal horror of David Lynch, the science-fiction-obsessions of both Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott and the genre-mastering of Danny Boyle – all these elements have a Kubrickian influenced. While all these directors were they inspired by him, they were also his contemporaries. Despite his creative drought between 1987’s Full Metal Jacket and 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, he was still a functioning film-maker until his death.
Who has appeared in his absence to vainly attempt to fill his place? Directors with a caustic view of humanity, that deal with emotionally detached, often mentally unhinged characters, who are obsessed with obsession, perfectionism and splashes of violence. Directors who delight in extended alien camera movements, symmetrical one-point perspective framings and the occasional Kubrick Stare. These are the 21st Century Kubrick Protégés.
1. David Fincher
When most people think of perfectionist directors in this day and age, David Fincher’s name is the one that comes to mind first. His post-Kubrick works are meticulously crafted affairs: the gutter-punk nihilism of Fight Club, the piano-wire tight tension of Panic Room, Zodiac’s coiled reinvention of procedural drama, The Social Network’s modern day Citizen Kane-story telling and Gone Girl’s dual murder mystery/inter-gender warfare plotting.
Fincher shares Kubrick’s bleak outlook on humanity, his love for staccato bursts of ultra-violence, spookily robotic extended camera movements and general perfectionism on set. While most directors can get the shot and performance they require in three or four takes, Fincher can be known to go upwards of thirty for simple set-ups, while the beginning break-up scene in The Social Network was repeated 99 times. Stanley would be proud.
Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Gone Girl (2014)
Since Fight Club, Fincher has made films alternatively for the studio and himself. For every uncharacteristic cash-in (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) there is a film made for Fincher’s enjoyment, a personal projects that says something about the human condition. Arguably Gone Girl is a bit of both: an adaptation of a previously known property but made with the same punk-rock fury that made his 1999 opus so incendiary.
One cannot help but respect Fincher for creating the quintessential anti-date movie – a battle of the sexes that deftly pits opposing protagonists against each other, both equally relatable and repulsive to ensure vicious post-movie relationship discussions.
Despite his methodical nature, Kubrick was not one for tight clockwork-like plotting, preferring instead to linger on themes. That said, one would expect the intense procedural of Zodiac and the macabre mystery of Gone Girl to be the kind of film that Kubrick would enjoy. Gone Girl discussion is a spoiler minefield, so stop reading here if you have yet to see it. Amy Dunne in the opening shot unleashes a Kubrickian stare that colours the rest of the film.
A rare female cinematic psychopath, her scheme is immaculately thought-out and she is unafraid to spill considerable blood to get what she wants. The overall tone of Gone Girl is coloured by an overwhelming mistrust of human morality, a tone with which Kubrick is all too familiar – the orchestrated offing of former lovers is blindly reminiscent of Lolita.
2. Paul Thomas Anderson
Vying for the position as greatest director of the new millennium, Paul Thomas Anderson’s four post-2000 films are all genius in their own way: Punch Love Drunk for making Adam Sandler briefly credible, There Will Be Blood for its depiction of man versus greed while giving Daniel Day-Lewis a much-needed catchphrase; The Master for its beautifully rendered mental breakdowns, and Inherent Vice for making a less coherent, period-set The Big Lebowski.
His adventurous Steadicamed one shots, obsession with obsession, and courting of potential controversy with The Master is where Kubrick’s influence is most felt. Anderson also poached Tom Cruise while he was filming Eyes Wide Shut for Magnolia. Great minds think alike.
Most Kubrick Indebted Film: The Master (2012)
Currently in a five way tie for greatest Paul Thomas Anderson film, The Master, earlier this year, was voted by the A.V. Club as the best film of the decade so far. One thing that immediately draws one’s eye is its 65mm hyper-resolution, producing a picture quality that Joaquin Phoenix’s damaged sometime-photographer would be proud of – details resonate: the stressed lines on Phoenix’s face, the crimson Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s face goes while drunk, the rippled waves behind the boat.
A quick dip into its ocean of disillusionment reveals a tale of man lost at sea, searching for answers. A psychotic character study, Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is a PTSD-suffering, sexual obsessive with an alcohol problems not unlike Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance from The Shining; Quell’s journey instead is reversed, going from the breakdown and lashing out before being “healed” by Hoffman’s Don Lancaster.
These two powerhouse actors give exactly the kind of intense performances that Kubrick is known for, especially in ultra-focused processing scene and the post-arrest reactions – Phoenix all broken-toilet raging-id with Hoffman as the calm counterpoint.
With The Master’s definitely-not-Scientology-but-it-totally-is cult fixation, Eyes Wide Shut is an obvious reference point and, while the scene make have been just a subconscious projection of Freddie, the naked women/clothed men song and dance clearly resembles the latter’s famous orgy sequence. Though very much in the background of the film there is a definite anti-war lean to the film, even if it is never as explicit as in Paths of Glory, or Full Metal Jacket.
3. Christopher Nolan
If you’re even mildly interested in film you should know who Christopher Nolan is – hailed as a cinematic messiah, the saviour of the superhero genre, and often, around the release of Inception, the new Kubrick. The underwhelming Insomnia aside, Nolan has had an impressive run of films this century – Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, Inception and Interstellar all characterised by their smart plotting, twists and unique internal logics.
The similarities to Kubrick’s work is striking: though all essentially thrillers, Nolan’s films have a genre-hopping quality, his characters are all obsessives, and his film’s plots and imagery are refined to methodical precision. Heath Ledger’s Joker even pulls off one of the most iconic Kubrick Stares in modern cinema. While more interested in crowd-pleasing spectacle akin to classic Spielberg or Hitchcock, the Kubrick influence is definitely present.
Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Interstellar (2014)
Though never officially stated, Interstellar could be a thematic sequel to Inception, a theory that extends beyond both of them having the same director and starting with the prefix “In”. Inception travels deep into the subconscious (four layers deep) to explore Christopher Nolan’s obsession with the inner workings of the mind. Interstellar conversely travels outwards exploring the infinities of space and other dimensions.
Both have finely turned internal logics that change to increase tension and have protagonists that want to return home to their children but are unable to. Interstellar is awe-inspiring, visually impeccable and worthy of heavy discussion and overall its mysteries and plotting fare better than its spiritual prequel to the endless probing and movie-science nitpicking.
While Inception’s caper plotting could have been stolen from The Killing, its unlikely. The influence from Kubrick was mostly in ideology rather than form – that ideology that audiences are smarter than the Michael Bays of the world would let us believe, able to unravel the mysteries of films that are high on spectacle without having to dumb down.
Interstellar takes this concept to the next logic step. It is a film that can be enjoyed on the first viewing, but to truly understand a few more screenings are necessary – similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both Interstellar and 2001 are set mostly in space and deal with human evolution.
The final thirds of both have much in common; beyond their inherent impenetrability, Nolan steals the Monolith iconography for the television sets in Cooper’s retirement home and fourth-dimensional travel from Kubrick’s masterwork. There is also a hat-tip to Kubrick early in Interstellar to his apparent faked Apollo moon landing, which is an accepted fact in the film’s reality.
4. Nicolas Winding Refn
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has arguably only made one classic film: 2011’s Drive, but all that is truly great about Drive is not only peppered throughout the rest of his back catalogue but also that of Kubrick. Single-minded psychopaths, visually inventive shots, splatters of ultra-violence and a perfect ear for matching music to imagery.
The protagonists of Bronson, Vanhalla Rising, Drive and Only God Forgives are extensions of A Clockwork Orange’s Alex and his emotionally detached censor-baiting persona. The surrealist elements of Bronson mimic the more out there moments of The Shining, while buckets bloodier and locationally more Scandinavian, Vanhalla Rising’s historical context reflect that of Spartacus.
Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Drive (2011)
Rewatching Drive four years later one cannot help but be struck by the incredibly lucky casting: Not only featuring Ryan Gostling in a transformative performance from indie darling, in films like Blue Valentine and Lars and The Real Girl, to credible lead-man, but Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks mid-way through their respective roles in two of the greatest recent television shows.
Plus on top of that Inside Llewyn Davis and Star Wars VII’s Oscar Isaac as a father in a bind. Winding Refn’s neon thriller combines sizzling tension, crippling violence and an 80’s inspired electro pop-soundtrack to create one of the most iconic films of the new decade.
As stated above A Clockwork Orange is a huge influence on Winding Refn’s work, and Drive’s bursts of bone-crunching violence is in tune with that of Kubrick’s controversial thriller, as is The Driver’s seemingly disconnected demeanour when perpetrating these actions. Yet these outbursts are motivated beyond sheer whim, and therefore he is not a psychopath akin to Alex or his Drooges, but his emotional detachment is pure Kubrick.
Even the soundtrack’s synth pop has ultra-cool detached vocals to replicate The Driver’s outward facade. Visually Drive is has the same kind of urban nightmare motifs that are used throughout Eyes Wide Shut.
5. Wes Anderson
While way too many of these protégés are influenced by Sci-Fi Revolutionary Kubrick, Wes Anderson is indebted to Mise-en-scene Master Kubrick. Anderson’s perfectly arranged symmetrical fetishism is mirrored in Kubrick’s work, especially in his habit of creating one-point perspective shots, such as in the hallways of the Overlook Hotel or the opening shot of A Clockwork Orange.
Admittedly theme-wise Anderson and Kubrick are slightly at odds: Kubrick work suffers from a complete lack of quirk, while Anderson dwells forever in a non-psychotic zone. The broken family units of Anderson’s oeuvre (Moonrise Kingdom’s and The Grand Budapest Hotel’s orphan protagonists, the central family in The Royal Tenenbaums) sync up with Kubrick’s rare family set ups (Lolita, Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining).
The cold arsehole tendencies of Barry Lyndon’s titular character seems to have inspired Anderson to create characters with which to be analysed rather than emphasised, a sterile approach that signifies both auteurs’ work.
Most Kubrick Indebted Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Though The Grand Budapest Hotel may not be Wes Anderson’s best film, what is not arguable is how it is currently his purest expression of his style. With a greater budget than previously afforded to him, Anderson can production design his film to its nth degree, creating a diorama-fake world set in the nostalgically false country of Kubrowka.
Compared with the other Oscar nominees last year (Whiplash, Birdman, Boyhood, American Sniper) the differences are striking: tonally with its rapid-fire farce, visually with its pastel palette, audibly with its faux-Eastern European Balalaika-punctuated score and even performance-wise. Ralph Fiennes channels an old-school mixture of Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplin for his suave and scheming M. Gustave – something that Bradley Cooper is unlikely to attempt anytime soon.
The influence from Kubrick on The Grand Budapest Hotel is two-fold: in the framing and the subtle anti-war agenda. Anderson is known for his iconic framing in which he uses a centralised motif, in that the subject is always in the middle of frame, a device that Kubrick used a lot, but with Anderson’s new-found infatuation with a ghostly sideways tracking movement extends the homage even further than in his earlier work.
Aside from the occasional music video ripping it off Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is perhaps Kubrick’s film with least influence over modern cinema but …Budapest Hotel’s characters’ gloom and overreaction in the face of looming World War is surprisingly parallel in sentiment to the events of the war-room.
Additionally the continuing appearances of Bill Murray throughout Anderson’s work in vastly disparate guises is much the same as Peter Sellers’ dual roles in Dr Strangelove and Lolita.