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.


12 Responses to “Happy Belated Birthday Mr. Kubrick”

  1. Paths of Glory has the greatest ending I’ve seen. He’s one of the few filmmakers with a flawless filmography. His films demand repeat viewing.

    And there’s Eyes Wide Shut, quite possibly my favorite movie (just edging out Sweet Smell of Success and Taxi Driver). People complain that it’s too difficult to fully grasp the themes and ideas and emotion of the film. Well, yeah, that’s exactly the point. Like the best works of art, it exists for you to inspect and explore, to ponder and to be challenged. It’s remarkable in every way. The more I watch it, the more I think about it, it’s unmatched. And it has a great ending in its own right. Visionary filmmaking.

  2. I’m glad you threw down for EWS, Ari. It’s not my favorite Kubrick, but I like it a lot. I assumed it was just because I’m admittedly in the tank for Kubrick, but to say it’s among your favorite movies of all time is saying something.

  3. “There was no message for me, and I haven’t seen or heard from her since. And now I don’t suppose I ever will again. Anyway I guess the whole thing was pretty silly… know a girl for two days and fall in love. So I cashed my check, sent flowers to Albert’s widow, cleaned up and here I am…” “Davey! Davey!”

    “You know, there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible… Fuck.”

    From the beginning of his career to the end, Kubrick knew precisely how to end his films.

    Great post, Craig. Happy Birthday, Mr. Kubrick.

  4. Nice Alexander!

  5. Gracias!

  6. Which ending of all of them is your favorite?

  7. Such an impossible question.

    I’m partial to Paths of Glory for sheer emotional punch. It’s beautiful, it’s devastating. Dr. Strangelove, for the reasons you point out. It’s just such a chilling but darkly funny sequence. 2001 for its transcendent lyricism. Literally awesome in every imaginable way.

    So, I cheated. Sue me. :)

  8. Holy Lord…

    I’m a hold out on Eyes Wide Shut. I may one day come to appreciate it instead of viewing it as the half baked (but rather insightful) mess that I’ve always felt that it was.


    But, for me, it’s all about LOLITA, 2001 and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. All fabulous works of arts. However, LOLITA is a film that I passionately connect to while the other two have no personal resonance. Obviously.

    Considering the endless amounts of trash in the current marketplace, I miss Stanley’s sheer aristocratic genius more and more. The whole thing is tragic.

    Happy Birthday, Stanley. Wherever you are…

  9. The only Kubrick film I didn’t completely or mostly love was Spartacus. Probably because it was his least personal film, coming in as a replacement for Anthony Mann after the first week of shooting. Hard for me not to single out 2001 and A Clockwork Orange as my particular favorites. Though I have an especially soft spot for Barry Lyndon too.

  10. I trust Peter and Stanley enjoyed a fine cuppa tea today while reminiscing over pie-fights forgotten and Major Kongs unplayed.

    Thanks Craig for reminding me why I love these films so much.

  11. Kind of makes me itch to watch them….again.

  12. 2001 is Kubrick’s greatest ending because it’s so…evolved.

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