Exploring Stanley Kubrick’s obsession with the colour red
Stanley Kubrick, the iconic film director, screenwriter, and producer who is regarded by many as one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history, developed a unique style during his career which remains unparalleled.
During his life, Kubrick often struggled with the constant breakdown of his work, passionately hated being drawn into the meaning and philosophy of his films and, at times, comparing the understanding of his work to that of popular music. While strong themes of realism, vulnerability and dark humour remain throughout his pictures, Kubrick believed that the viewer’s intuition was what made the philosophy of his work what it was, stating that “emotions and subconscious are far more similar than their intellects”.
Back in 1960, in an interview with Robert Emmett Ginna, Kubrick reflected on having to deal with the retrospective breakdown of his work: “One of the things I always find extremely difficult, when a picture’s finished, is when a writer or a film reviewer asks, ‘Now, what is it that you were trying to say in that picture?’ And without being thought too presumptuous for using this analogy, I like to remember what T. S. Eliot said to someone who had asked him—I believe it was The Waste Land—what he meant by the poem. He replied, ‘I meant what I said.’ If I could have said it any differently, I would have,” he answered somewhat bluntly.
Later, when speaking to Time Magazine in 1975, Kubrick said: “The essence of a dramatic form is to let an idea come over people without it being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it is simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to discover it for themselves.”
He added: “Realism is probably the best way to dramatise argument and ideas. Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious.”
While Kubrick often played down the importance of philosophical ideas and prevalent themes in his work it was, in fact, certain formulas that he continued to carry along with him through most of his most influential works. Filmmaker Rishi Kaneria, who has been a keen admirer and student of Kubrick’s work, created supercut film to explore his repeated use of the colour red.
Using clips from films such as Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and more, we are introduced to the ever-present colour theme that followed Kubrick from project to project. Whether it be in the shape of deep red blood flowing from the Overlook Hotel’s elevator, or the pulsating red menace from Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick managed to incorporate different meanings through the colour.
“I have always been fascinated by colour as a form of non-verbal communication,” filmmaker Kaneria said. “Colour has a profound and powerful psychological effect on us and it makes the perfect tool for providing subtext in film—as well as supporting a certain theme or providing the right mood.
“Kubrick has always used red to great effect—not only for atmosphere but for the fact that the various meanings ascribed to red echo many of the themes in his films.”
Kaneria added: “Red’s many meanings include: death, blood, danger, anger, energy, war, strength, power, determination…but also passion, desire, love, and sex. All prominent themes in Kubrick’s work. But more importantly the very dualistic nature of red (the fact that it can mean anger but also love) plays right into the grand “Jungian” theme in all of Kubrick’s work which is this notion of Duality: sex and violence, birth and death, war and peace, fear and desire.”
“In the end, my motivation to make this piece was simply to contribute to the growing collection of deconstruction surrounding Kubrick’s work found on the web and to inspire people to revisit or discover his catalogue of films and to think more critically about colour in film.”