10 Famous 21st Century Filmmakers Hugely Influenced by Stanley Kubrick

6. Jonathan Glazer

Before making the leap to feature films Jonathan Glazer directed music videos for the misanthropically disenfranchised Radiohead (“Karma Police” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”) and Blur’s “The Universal”.

Utilising Kubrick’s visually symmetrical one point-perspective through most of the promotional clip as well as aping A Clockwork Orange’s iconic opening shot and eye-make-up, Glazer’s direction on “The Universal” wears his idol’s influence for all to see. Psychotic characters are something that Glazer has learnt from Kubrick: Ben Kingsley’s colourfully profane Don Logan from Sexy Beast has shadows of Full Metal Jacket’s Sgt. Hartman in his use of inventive cursing, while Under the Skin’s anonymous protagonist has the same icy disregard for human life as A Clockwork Orange’s Alex or 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL.

The choice to replace Birth’s original actress Christina Applegate for the less sexually averse Nicole Kidman was no doubt inspired by her role in Eyes Wide Shut.


Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Under The Skin (2013)

Under The Skin (2014)

Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson, drives a truck around the highland villages of Scotland to ensnare unsuspecting men in her web. Boundaries between fiction and reality become blurred due to the cinéma vérité documentary footage of Johansson seducing actual men while in character, yet the question remains: How did one of the biggest names in Hollywood go completely unrecognised by the general public?

Think about how much unsuccessful footage was shot. The surrealist elements go further than her unexplainable anonymity, with a pitch black tone and her potential suitors sucked into oblivion within her lair, Under The Skin is a tangle of unanswered questions about identity, humanity and sexuality.

As explained above, Johansson plays a stereotypical Kubrickian character, with her detached alien emotions and killing-compulsion – almost like a personified HAL. Narratively Under The Skin is twinned with The Shining; both place a monster in the protagonist role, have strong hygnagogic imagery and, while Under the Skin’s monster-to-human transformation is the reverse of Jack Torrance’s arc, both characters end the film defeated.

In fact their ends have converse duality, one by flame, one by ice – perhaps a conscious decision on Glazer’s part. Even her true form resembles the aliens in A.I., though that was probably not a conscious decision of Kubrick.


7. Alfonso Cuaron

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón made quite a name for himself with 2013’s megahit Gravity, one of the few widely successful films from recent years that wasn’t a sequel, remake, reboot or based on some already ingrained license. Starting out the 2000’s with sex-filled roadtrip flick Y Tu Mamá También, then directing a Harry Potter (and the Prisoner of Azkaban) before releasing his dystopian action/sci-fi masterwork Children of Men.

His use of extended, now-mostly robot controlled one shots is his main similarity to Kubrick, but his interest in pushing for new filmic technologies, A Clockwork Orange-inspired wrong-futures and 2001-cribbed visions of space also draw comparisons.


Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Gravity (2013)


Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is the story of a medical engineer and her attempts to survive a catastrophe while orbiting Earth on a satellite. A rare occasion where a space-set film is not automatically science-fiction, in fact the events of Gravity, the crying in space notwithstanding, could happen later today and therefore is science-fact. The narrative, where Sandra Bullock is fighting against the odds for her life, makes the film a thriller.

As well as being obviously technologically ambitious and impressive, it is structurally irregular, akin to The Raid: Redemption or Mad Max: Fury Road, in the fact that after ten minutes of set-up it is an unceasing roller-coaster of action and emotions until finally letting up as the credits roll.

Kubrick, as much as innovator stylistically and narratively, was also greatly interested in new technology that would improve his craft, from the stunningly realistic special effect work on 2001: A Space Odyssey to the NASA-manufactured lens that was used in Barry Lyndon so that he was able to shoot effectively in candlelight. Cuarón and his director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on Gravity is an evolution of Kubrick’s technological enthusiasm.

The use of computer-assisted robot-armed camera rigs mimic and better the inhumanly ghostly Steadicamed tracks from The Shining, while the digital landscapes and advanced composition techniques upgrade the effects work on 2001.


8. Duncan Jones

It only makes sense that the son of the man who sang “A Space Oddity” would be fascinated by the science fiction genre. Duncan Jones has, as of yet, only completed two films: Sam Rockwell-led lunar-set Moon, and the Groundhog Day-esque Source Code, but both have more than a touch of Kubrick to them. Jones’ upcoming cinematic adaptation of Warcraft could indeed continue this trend.

Though Kubrick never quite made it to the current age of franchise over-penetration, he did re-model an array of non-original ideas: from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. While some of these reworkings were not popular with their original author (Stephen King’s The Shining for example), they showed a willingness to revise the prototypal concepts for cinematic purposes, which is ideally what Jones needs to do with his videogame-to-film conversion.


Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Moon (2009)


One of the first of the current clutch of smart science-fiction films (with Sunshine, District 9, and Looper), Moon traded sci-fi’s rigour Star Wars visuals and The Matrix pseudo-intellectual techno-babble for actual applied science theory.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut who is the lone human inhabitant of a base on the Moon, tasked with harvesting helium-3, the fuel of the future. Coming to the end of his three years in solitude, Sam has an accident which makes him question his mission. As a film its influence is still felt: this year’s The Martian plays on the same “alone in space” narrative quirk with admittedly different results.

2001: A Space Odyssey’s influence on Moon and all right-minded science fiction since 1969 is pretty obvious; to present a future that goes further than Buck Rogers-style adventures and War of the Worlds-invasions and connects human evolution with possible theoretical outcomes for the human race always has Kubrick’s masterwork as a starting point.

What is also present, albeit in the spoilerific final third, is the imprint of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb particularly Peter Sellers playing multiple characters, and the ending itself is eeriely stolen from The Shining (“you’ve always been the caretaker”).


9. Shane Carruth

Former software engineer Shane Carruth created an instant name for himself in the world of independent cinema with his debut, the micro-budgeted time-travel melon-twister Primer. The eight years between Primer and next film Upstream Color were spent making the sadly unrealised project A Topiary; Kubrick had a similarly unmade project in the form of A.I. Artificial Intelligence but this was more due to his death as opposed to a lack of funding.

Carruth’s films follows Kubrick’s lead by being meticulously crafted affairs, with an eye for detail and an interpretability that is absent from most modern cinema. What is Upstream Color really about? It is up to the audience to decide and Carruth’s unwillingness to give easy answers and impenetrability mirrors that of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s concluding sequences.


Most Kubrick Indebted Film: Primer (2004)

Primer (2004)

The problem with time-travel, aside from the paradoxes and potential butterfly effects, is keeping track of what is happening, what has happened and what will happen in the near future. It is a rare film where a chart is needed to truly understand its twisted timelines but Primer is one of those films, and it is infinitely more complex than the in-movie alternative 1985 diagram used in Back to the Future Part II.

With little money, as Carruth had when creating Primer, one must be more inventive to stand out, and, with Primer’s mind-bending plotting that film-geeks are still dissecting years later, it was always going to become a cult classic.

While Upstream Color flirted with the narrative lyricism of Terrence Malick, Carruth’s debut Primer is very much more indebted to Kubrick, especially his methodical, scientific mind. Like Moon, it explores science and technological advances the same logical way that 2001: A Space Odyssey does, while its razor-sharp plotting is reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Killing – its race-track robbery replaced with time-travel-assisted stock market exploitation.

Carruth has said that he found it hard to find actors who could “break … the habit of filling each line with so much drama”, as such the non-professionals that make up the cast deliver dialogue in a monotone that, though semi-unintentional, mirrors the emotional detachment associated with Kubrick characters.


10. Todd Field

With only two features to his name, Todd Field is in no way a cinematic heavyweight, though both of his films were very well received: 2002’s Best Picture nominee In The Bedroom and 2006’s Little Children.

Field’s relationship with Kubrick is more than just artistic theft, considering that he played the piano player in Eyes Wide Shut and therefore an actual protégé of the great man. His dealings with families in cinema, in a darkly constrictive, unconventional manner is fairly Kubrickian, as is his cold view of humanity in general.


Most Kubrick Indebted Film: In The Bedroom (2002)

In The Bedroom (2001)

Todd Field’s debut has a stellar cast: Sissy Spacek, Tom Wikinson, Marisa Tomei together in a tale of love, sex and manslaughter. Like Candyman and Happiness before it, In The Bedroom is gifted with a misleading title, that one would assume would set-up a steamy erotic thriller.

This is not the case. Its moniker is a reference to lobsters traps colloquially known as “bedrooms”, and the belief that if there’s more than two lobsters in one bedroom trouble will occur – a metaphor that is extended throughout the film’s central events.

On first viewing Field’s debut In The Bedroom doesn’t feel immediately Kubrickian. There are no inhuman looking Steadicam tracks, no overt psychotic episodes. Look a little closer and Kubrick’s influence is clear, his coldness towards humanity, his inability to not create overly emotional yet sketchy female characters, William Mapother’s character even flashes a particularly sinister Kubrick Stare.

While other directors are more enamoured with Kubrick’s technical details and science fiction effects, rarely is his ability with actors or dealings within the family unit commented upon. Field, having formerly been directed by Kubrick, draws wounded and vengeful performances out the whole cast, especially Wilkinson and Spacek, while Tomei at certain parts feels like she is channelling The Shining’s hysterical Shelley Duvall. In Lolita, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut Kubrick deals with families as fractured, broken and untrusting, shot through with his trademark cynicism and this is how the family unit is shown by Field.

A further winking homage to Kubrick is a deleted scene featured Spacek and Wikinson watching Barry Lyndon claiming it to be the first film the couple saw together.

Author Bio: Ashley Robak should really try harder. He has a BSc in Film Production, a film blog which is sometimes updated (http://ashleypurplecamera.wordpress.com) and occasionally contributes to On Record Magazine. When not writing about film, he attempts to make his own with Purple Camera Media (http://vimeo.com/purplecamera).