Stanley Kubrick would’ve turned 80 years old yesterday. He was the director I latched onto in high school when I first began to look at movies as an art form. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was the movie that did it and that’s why I keep the picture of Peter Sellers as the good doctor on the LiC logo.
Scholarly volumes have been written about the man and I won’t pretend to add to them here at risk of embarrassing myself, but while I’m thinking about beginnings and endings in regard to Mr. Kubrick, I would like to call attention to his genius for memorably concluding a film.
First there is the ending of The Killing where Sterling Hayden waits on the tarmac to board his flight with the cops hot on his trail. It looks like he just might get away with his crime when his suitcase falls off the luggage car, bursts open and all his money is scattered into a swirl of noir fruitlessness by the airplane’s propellers.
There is Barry Lyndon with Ryan O’Neil who, despite his film’s worth of ambitious class struggles, is stripped of his title and reduced to some paperwork and the sum of 500 guineas a year at the hand of his ex-wife. This is followed simpy by the printed epilogue: “It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”
There is the German woman (played by Christiane, Kubrick’s future wife) at the end of Paths of Glory who is forced to sing and hopefully strip in front of the leering French soldiers, only to have them crumble and break into song with her as she wins them over.
There is Lolita, which ends where it began as James Mason’s Humbert Humbert comes to murder Peter Sellers’ Claire Quilty. It’s a scene we’ve seen before and we know how it turns out as Mason stumbles through the disheveled house. He calls out Quilty’s name twice, but the scene is cut short and the second “Quilty!” is heard over a black screen followed by a still of the bullet riddled painting Quilty had taken cover behind before Humbert shot him. The printed epilogue tells us that Humbert died of coronary thrombosis while awaiting trial for the murder.
Next, there are the Marines at the end of Full Metal Jacket singing the Mickey Mouse theme while Vietnam burns behind accompanied by Matthew Modine’s voice over about being alive.
I’m skipping “I was cured all right” at the end of A Clockwork Orange and Jack Nicholson’s frozen glower at the end of the Shining, but my favorite of all is Dr. Strangelove with the crazy doctor arising miraculously from his wheelchair exclaiming, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” followed by a cut to the end of the world in a series of nuclear detonations set to Vera Lynn’s rendition of We’ll Meet Again (see above). It gives me chills every time I see it.
None of these have quite the same impact out of context, so celebrate the birth of Stanley Kubrick this week by watching one of his movies.
You’ve made your last ending Stanley, but happy belated 80th birthday anyway.
Filed under: Miscellaneous