Between two gazes: Kubrick's alienating aesthetic
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In his explanation of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s concluding “Stargate” sequence, Stanley Kubrick privileges its psychological and affective aspects, stating that “[the concluding sequence’s] meaning has to be found on a sort of psychological level rather than in a specific literal interpretation” (qtd. in Grant 81-82). Expanded beyond this film and into Kubrick’s corpus altogether, his films largely display an emphasis on the psychological impacts they have over spectators. More specifically, Kubrick’s films have been described as cold cinematic texts that resist emotional engagement (Kolker, “Rage for Order” 60; Freer 114). Consider 2001’s Stargate sequence—in which a series of chromatic images appear onscreen at random with no obvious narrative purpose or explanation—as exemplary of the emotional estrangement underlying Kubrick’s films. Conventional narrative cinema provides clear-cut narratives that allow méconnaissance (or misrecognition) to occur in the cinema, during which spectators immerse themselves into the film’s narrative verisimilitude; but Kubrick’s films resist this by thwarting such expectations—as is evident in the convoluted Stargate sequence—to create an alienating aesthetic unique to the Kubrickian corpus. Psychologically, Kubrick’s cinema alienates spectators from identifying with his narratives, which consequently thwarts emotional identification from spectators. In order to theorize this trend from a psychoanalytical perspective, I explore the convergence of two conflicting Lacanian film theories—an earlier version which resists méconnaissance and the latter version which alternatively requests that theorists use misrecognition to observe moments when their immersion is disrupted—occurring throughout Kubrick’s films. There is a marked discordance between conventional narrative structures and Kubrick’s deconstruction of them, one which shall be explored in this thesis to illustrate the various ways in which Kubrick’s alienating aesthetic is manifested, particularly in A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.