The filmography of Stanley Kubrick is collectively accepted as one of the most critically acclaimed bodies of work in cinema, with nearly every single one of his releases being identified as a masterpiece in its own right. Managing to navigate around each corner of cinema and dominate nearly every genre, from horror to sci-fi, Kubrick’s collection is truly impressive, with only his first two films being reviewed indifferently by critics. The director’s own opinion disregards Fear and Desire as equivalent to a “child’s drawing on a fridge”, though other than his thoughts on his debut film, he preferred not to look inward on his career.
Kubrick instead would often declare his favourite filmmakers working across the world, noting the Russian mastermind Andrei Tarkovsky as one of his favourite directors, marking 1972’s Solaris and 1986’s The Sacrifice as two of the all-time greats. His fondness for Solaris was no surprise, as just four years earlier, Kubrick had made his own psychological, existential space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, released just one year before man landed on the moon.
The appreciation for each others’ projects, however, was not mutual, with Andrei Tarkovsky referring to Stanley Kubrick’s film as “cold and sterile”, with some believing that the former made Solaris in a bid to “one-up” Kubrick. Politically, the rivalry makes sense, with ‘The Space Race’ occurring from 1955-1975, in which the USSR and America were in locked competition to assert their global dominance and reach the moon first.
“2001: A Space Odyssey is phoney on many points, even for specialists. For a true work of art, the fake must be eliminated,” Tarkovsky noted in a pre-Solaris interview, with his upcoming film quickly being marketed as Russia’s ‘anti-2001’. The director’s central issue with Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film was in the film’s “lack of emotion”, due to the film’s focus on technological invention.
Tarkovsky declared that in his own science fiction film “everything would be as it should. That means to create psychologically, not an exotic but a real, everyday environment that would be conveyed to the viewer through the perception of the film’s characters”. Continuing, the director criticised Kubrick’s approach, noting: “That’s why a detailed ‘examination’ of the technological processes of the future transforms the emotional foundation of a film, as a work of art, into a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth”.
With a more central focus on individual characters and essential, passionate human drama, Tarkovsky’s film is certainly very different from Kubrick’s, even if they do share an appreciation for broad, existential narratives that focus on an explainable air of mystery. This dislike of Kubrick’s film from Tarkovsky feels like, more than anything else, a political stunt to gain more publicity for his own film. Though perhaps it was a rivalry born of similarity, with the two directors sharing a comparable passion for the deepest human fears and desires.