American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick is considered by many critics and fans as one of the greatest directors of all time. Responsible for the creation of multiple cinematic masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon and many others, Kubrick’s works have inspired newer generations of young filmmakers who have tried to follow in his footsteps and have kept his legacy alive.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kubrick said: “I don’t mistrust sentiment and emotion, no. The question becomes, are you giving them something to make them a little happier, or are you putting in something that is inherently true to the material? Are people behaving the way we all really behave, or are they behaving the way we would like them to behave? I mean, the world is not as it’s presented in Frank Capra films. People love those films — which are beautifully made — but I wouldn’t describe them as a true picture of life.”
Continuing, “The questions are always, is it true? Is it interesting? To worry about those mandatory scenes that some people think make a picture is often just pandering to some conception of an audience. Some films try to outguess an audience. They try to ingratiate themselves, and it’s not something you really have to do. Certainly audiences have flocked to see films that are not essentially true, but I don’t think this prevents them from responding to the truth.”
On his 93rd birth anniversary, we evaluate Stanley Kubrick’s everlasting legacy as a pioneering filmmaker by looking at ten directors who were influenced by his works.
10 directors who were influenced by Stanley Kubrick:
Dubbed as the “Kubrick of our time”, David Fincher’s eye for detail and his perfectionistic approach to filmmaking has merited parallels between his work and Kubrick’s filmography. In Fincher’s films like The Social Network, Kubrick’s influence can be seen in similar methodical examinations of the human condition contextualised within the framework of modernity.
While discussing 2001, Fincher commented: “I remember having my mind fairly blown. I remember watching that film and thinking I have to be prepared for space travel. When you’re a kid, they’re showing you movies to prepare you for things: How to dissect frogs, here’s what human reproduction is. When it got to the end, it made me start to prepare for the afterlife.”
Jonathan Glazer‘s music videos already had several tributes to Kubrick but the master’s influence was clearly observable in his 2013 feature Under the Skin. The film begins where Kubrick left off, continuing his investigations of human identity and the fundamental truths of our existence.
In an interview about his sci-fi film Under the Skin, Glazer said: “I’ve picked his [Kubrick] pockets, really. People politely say ‘homage,’ but I probably stole his wallet… In a way, you’re trying things out when you’re learning. Say you wanted to play guitar, you’re going to listen to people who play the guitar. You’re probably going to play the way they play. I think it’s like that for me.”
Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most celebrated contemporary filmmakers and for good reason. With masterpieces like There Will Be Blood and The Master, Anderson has conducted seminal explorations of the extent of human ambition through visual narratives that evoke memories of the grandeur of Kubrick.
Anderson once stated: “It’s so hard to do anything that doesn’t owe some kind of debt to what Stanley Kubrick did with music in movies. Inevitably, you’re going to end up doing something that he’s probably already done before. It can all seem like we’re falling behind whatever he came up with.”
Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé has always maintained that Stanley Kubrick has been a big influence on his cinematic journey. Through works like I Stand Alone and Enter the Void, Noé has raised relevant questions about alienation and the perverse foundation of human relationships in his characteristic visual style.
Noé has acknowledged the profound impact of 2001 on his own life and work: “This is the film I’ve seen more than any other in my life—40 times or more. My life altered when I discovered it when I was about seven in Buenos Aires. It was my first hallucinogenic experience, my great artistic turning point and also the moment when my mother finally explained what a foetus was and how I came into the world.”
Ranging from his 2006 rendition of a compelling dystopian universe in Children of Men to his 2013 space thriller Gravity, Cuarón has worked on subjects that were recurring motifs in Kubrick’s oeuvre and have introduced them to mainstream audiences. Cuarón’s innovative interpretations of science fiction definitely owe a lot to Kubrick’s formative experimentations with the genre.
“It’s one of those amazing experiences,” Cuarón gushed. “It’s unlike anything I had ever seen. I was used to science-fiction more related to fantasy, but this was non-fantasy and non-adventure, and yet just as enthralling. Kubrick was someone who was very concerned with the language of cinema. More than any other film, 2001 is where Kubrick found his real cinematic voice.”
Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier’s provocative body of work has generated a lot of controversy over the years for offending public sensibilities. Similar to A Clockwork Orange‘s direct confrontations, von Trier forces us to come face to face with existential and political truths by lighting an incendiary spark in the recesses of our minds.
“The good thing is that Kubrick always sets his standards,” von Trier said. “Barry Lyndon to me is a masterpiece. He casts in a very strange way, Kubrick. It is a very strange cast. But that is how the film should be, of course. This thing that he liked short films was very surprising. And he liked Krzysztof Kieslowski very much. He was crazy about Kieslowski… I don’t know if Kubrick saw any of my films, but I know Tarkovsky watched the first film I did and hated it! That is how it is supposed to be.”
Michael Mann’s cinematic investigations of the criminal psyche like Heat (1995) may not have subjects that are similar to Kubrick’s most celebrated works. However, the influence of Kubrick’s early films like The Killing is evident in Mann’s vision as well as the meticulous orchestration of cinematic elements that Kubrick later mastered.
“It said to my whole generation of filmmakers that you could make an individual statement of high integrity and have that film be successfully seen by a mass audience all at the same time,” Mann said while speaking about Dr. Strangelove.
“In other words, you didn’t have to be making Seven Brides for Seven Brothers if you wanted to be a part of the commercial film industry, or be reduced to niche filmmaking if you wanted to be serious about cinema. So that’s what Kubrick meant, aside from the fact that I loved Kubrick and he was a big influence.”
An obvious entry on this list, anybody who is familiar with Kubrick’s filmography can immediately spot that Nolan has the same obsessions that Kubrick once did. Films like Interstellar and Inception show just how preoccupied Nolan is with the structures of psychology as well as cinema, much like Kubrick’s own work.
“You look at the cut in 2001, this vast jump forward — the confidence that takes to do that is actually enormous,” Nolan explained. “Would I love to do things like that in my own work? Yes. But I don’t think I have the confidence to do that. Which is why there is only one Stanley Kubrick. I do believe he is inimitable. But you can be inspired. You can be inspired to aspire to be that confident.”
Although his filmography only contains two features, Todd Field is perhaps the finest example of someone who was directly inspired by Kubrick to take up filmmaking. After working with Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut as an actor, Field instantly made up his mind to make his own film: a 2001 crime drama called In the Bedroom.
Field recalled: “[Kubrick] confirmed a lot of things for me about the process of making a film, such as the importance of ensuring that your working relationships are immediate and even-keeled and non-hierarchical and predominantly with your cast, not the crew. A certain single-mindedness, not being afraid to try something. And trusting your script, not trying to make everybody love it.”
Garland’s directorial debut, the 2014 sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, is probably one of the most Kubrickian films made in the last decade. With an eclectic mixture of inspirations ranging from Ludwig Wittgenstein to 2001, Garland’s film imagines the possibility of human evolution merging with our technological progress.
“2001 just shows you the scale of the ideas you can get into in sci-fi if you want to,” Garland said. “It has two massive things in it: an alien first encounter and probably the best, most involved and intelligent depiction of A.I. that’s ever been in a film or any kind of narrative.”