Lovely Leitmotif For Collective Optimism


sapce odyssey

“Against Nature’s silence I use action
In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
I don’t watch unmoved I intervene
and say that this and this are wrong
and I work to alter them and improve them
The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes” — Marat in Act I, Scene 12 of Marat/Sade

Ten years ago — ten years after the publication of Before the Great Spirit, I had a hand in writing book jacket copy for Scarecrow Press, in support of professor Julian Rice of Florida Atlantic University. And although I’m not totally aligned with each and every one of his takes on Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic opus, what’s below is an endorsement of the thrust of the great director’s work… full of hope for humanity… highly instructive respecting our collective crises… which have so much to do with misconceptions about human nature.

There have been two common assumptions about Stanley Kubrick: that his films portray human beings who are driven exclusively by aggression and greed, and that he pessimistically rejected meaning in a contingent, postmodern world. However, as Kubrick himself remarked, “A work of art should be always exhilarating and never depressing, whatever its subject matter may be.”

In Julian Rice’s interpretation of Kubrick’s films, there is the strong suggestion that the singular director’s work had a more positive outlook than most people credit him for embracing. And while other studies have recounted Kubrick’s life and production histories, few have offered lucid explanations of specific sources and their influence on his films.

In Kubrick’s Hope, Rice explains how the theories of Freud and Jung took cinematic form, and also considers the significant impression left on the director’s last six films by Robert Ardrey, Bruno Bettelheim, and Joseph Campbell. In addition to providing useful contexts, Rice offers close readings of the films, inviting readers to note details they may have missed, and to interpret them in their own way. By refreshing their experience of the films and discarding postmodern clichés, viewers may discover more optimistic themes in the director’s works.

Beginning with 2001: A Space Odyssey and continuing through A Clockwork OrangeBarry LyndonThe ShiningFull Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, Rice illuminates Kubrick’s thinking at the time he made each film. Throughout, Rice examines the compelling political, psychological, and spiritual issues the director raises. As the author contends, if these works are considered together and repeatedly re-viewed, Kubrick’s films may help viewers to personally grow and collectively endure.

One of the things that Rice amazingly omits is something that I’d like to conclude this piece with; it has to do with a lovely leitmotif embedded in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Specifically, there are at least two instances in that film where — at crucial junctures, involving scientific specialist Heywood Floyd and  one of the main astronauts (on separate occasions) — birthdays are focused on. Those two moments — instructive for the audience with regard to how the human dialogue contrasts with the dominant spacecraft technology and behavior — bring viewers back to earth in a sense… by virtue of the fact that the scientist and astronaut both have exchanges with family members left behind.

Anyone who’s seen 2001 knows that that focus on birthdays is very much aligned with what transpires at the end of the film. Rebirth resonates astoundingly at that point. It is a moment filled with authentic hope, and I write this piece to underscore that there is more to focus on in our real lives than the blatant negative thinking and nihilism which now seems to dominate our apocalyptic lives. [Pause.] Lies.

There is hope, pure and simple. Hope that is given birth by you… when you decide to turn yourself inside out and invent a lovely meaning to life.

Richard Martin Oxman is founder of the Oxman Collective. He can be reached at [email protected]. The above was written and submitted in under 30 minutes, unedited. The author feels that that fact is important to consider here. For hope. A great spirit made that possible.


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