Confessions of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is frequently cited as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. His films, which are mostly adaptations of novels or short stories, cover a wide range of genres, and are noted for their realism, dark humor, unique cinematography, extensive set designs, and evocative use of music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Peace but I’m not sure what pacifism really means. Would it have been an act of superior morality to have submitted to Hitler in order to avoid war? I don’t think so. But there have also been tragically senseless wars such as World War One and the current mess in Vietnam and the plethora of religious wars that pockmark history. What makes today’s situation so radically different from anything that has gone before, however, is that, for the first time in history, man has the means to destroy the entire species—and possibly the planet as well. The problem of dramatizing this to the public is that it all seems so abstract and unreal; it’s rather like saying, “The sun is going to die in a billion years.” What is required as a minimal first corrective step is a concrete alternative to the present balance of terror—one that people can understand and support.

What is your greatest fear? I understand that at Yale they’ve been engaging in experiments in which the pleasure center of a mouse’s brain has been localized and stimulated by electrodes; the result is that the mouse undergoes an eight-hour orgasm. If pleasure that intense were readily available to all of us, we might well become a race of sensually stultified zombies plugged into pleasure stimulators while machines do our work and our bodies and minds atrophy. We could also have this same problem with psychedelic drugs; they offer great promise of unleashing perceptions, but they also hold commensurate dangers of causing withdrawal and disengagement from life into a totally inner-directed kind of Soma world. At the present time, there are no ideal drugs; but I believe by 2001 we will have devised chemicals with no adverse physical, mental or genetic results that can give wings to the mind and enlarge perception beyond its present evolutionary capacities.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? The fear of death, however biologically distant it may be, psychologically suppressed, philosophically challenged, it still lies dormant, eager to take centre stage. Man is the only creature aware of his own mortality and is at the same time generally incapable of coming to grips with this awareness and all its implications. Millions of people thus, to a greater or lesser degree, experience emotional anxieties, tensions and unresolved conflicts that frequently express themselves in the form of neuroses and a general joylessness that permeates their lives with frustration and bitterness and increases as they grow older and see the grave yawning before them. As fewer and fewer people find solace in religion as a buffer between themselves and the terminal moment, I actually believe that they unconsciously derive a kind of perverse solace from the idea that in the event of nuclear war, the world dies with them. God is dead, but the bomb endures; thus, they are no longer alone in the terrible vulnerability of their mortality. Sartre once wrote that if there was one thing you could tell a man about to be executed that would make him happy, it was that a comet would strike the earth the next day and destroy every living human being. This is not so much a collective death wish or self- destructive urge as a reflection of the awesome and agonizing loneliness of death. This is extremely pernicious, of course, because it aborts the kind of fury and indignation that should galvanize the world into defusing a situation where a few political leaders on both sides are seriously prepared to incinerate millions of people out of some misguided sense of national interest.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? There is a certain element of the lumpen literati that is so dogmatically atheist and materialist and earth-bound that it finds the grandeur of space and the myriad mysteries of cosmic intelligence anathema.

What is your greatest extravagance? I try to see every movie, I have projectors at home, so it’s a little easier for me now; those pictures that I can borrow prints of I run at home, and those that I cannot, I go and see, but I try to see everything.

What is your current state of mind? I think the most exciting prospect about the moon is that if alien races have ever visited earth in the remote past and left artifacts for man to discover in the future, they probably chose the arid, airless lunar vacuum, where no deterioration would take place and an object could exist for millennia. It would be inevitable that as man evolved technologically, he would reach his nearest satellite and the aliens would then expect him to find their calling card—perhaps a message of greeting, a cache of knowledge or simply a cosmic burglar alarm signaling that another race had mastered space flight.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Smug rigid puritanism. Perhaps there will have been a reaction against present trends, and the pendulum will swing back to a kind of neo-puritanism. But it’s more likely that the so-called sexual revolution, midwifed by the pill, will be extended. Through drugs, or perhaps via the sharpening or even mechanical amplification of latent ESP functions, it may be possible for each partner to simultaneously experience the sensations of the other; or we may eventually emerge into polymorphous sexual beings, with the male and female components blurring, merging and interchanging. The potentialities for exploring new areas of sexual experience are virtually boundless.

On what occasion do you lie? I think it was André Maurois who suggested many years ago that the best way to realize world peace would be to stage a false threat from outer space; it’s not a bad idea. 

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My family. One can offer all kinds of impressive intellectual arguments against the family as an institution—its inherent authoritarianism, etc.; but when you get right down to it, the family is the most primitive and visceral and vital unit in society. You may stand outside your wife’s hospital room during childbirth muttering, “My God, what a responsibility! Is it right to take on this terrible obligation? What am I really doing here?”; and then you go in and look down at the face of your child and—zap!—that ancient programing takes over and your response is one of wonder and joy and pride. It’s a classic case of genetically imprinted social patterns. There are very few things in this world that have an unquestionable importance in and of themselves and are not susceptible to debate or rational argument, but the family is one of them. Perhaps man has been too “liberated” by science and evolutionary social trends. He has been turned loose from religion and has hailed the death of his gods; the imperative loyalties of the old nation-state are dissolving and all the old social and ethical values, however reactionary and narrow they often were, are disappearing. Man in the 20th century has been cut adrift in a rudderless boat on an uncharted sea; if he is going to stay sane throughout the voyage, he must have someone to care about, something that is more important than himself.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Any trace primitive remnant of irrationality. You don’t stop being concerned with man because you recognize his essential absurdities and frailties and pretensions. To me, the only real immorality is that which endangers the species; and the only absolute evil, that which threatens its annihilation. In the deepest sense, I believe in man’s potential and in his capacity for progress. In Strangelove, I was dealing with the inherent irrationality in man that threatens to destroy him; that irrationality is with us as strongly today, and must be conquered. But a recognition of insanity doesn’t imply a celebration of it—nor a sense of despair and futility about the possibility of curing it.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Sleeping only four hours a night has dramatically increased my productivity.

What is your most treasured possession?I drive a Porsche 928 S, and I sometimes drive it at 80 or 90 miles an hour on the motorway.

What is your favorite occupation? Taking pictures.

What is your most marked characteristic? My favourite typeface is Futura Extra Bold.

Who are your favorite writers?  Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway.

What is it that you most dislike? I find it difficult to believe that we have penetrated to the ultimate depths of knowledge about the physical laws of the universe. It seems rather presumptuous to believe that in the space of a few hundred years, we’ve figured out most of what there is to know.

How would you like to die? A number of organizations are attempting to disseminate information and raise funds to implement an effective freezing program—the Life Extension Society of Washington, the Cryonics Society of New York, etc.—but we are still in the infancy of cryobiology. Right now, all existing freezer facilities—and there are only a handful—aren’t sufficiently sophisticated to offer any realistic hope. But that could and probably will change far more rapidly than we imagine. The main challenge to the scientist of the future will not be revival but eliminating the original cause of death; and in this area, we have every reason for optimism as a result of recent experience. So before anyone dismisses the idea of freezing, he should take a searching look at what we have accomplished in a few decades—and ponder what we’re capable of accomplishing over the next few centuries. Death is no more natural or inevitable than smallpox or diphtheria. Death is a disease and as susceptible to cure as any other disease. Over the eons, man’s powerlessness to prevent death has led him to force it from the forefront of his mind, for his own psychological health, and to accept it unquestioningly as the unavoidable termination. But with the advance of science, this is no longer necessary—or desirable. Freezing is only one possible means of conquering death, and it certainly would not be binding on everyone; those who desire a “natural” death can go ahead and die, just as those in the 19th century who desired “God-ordained” suffering resisted anesthesia. As Dr. Ettinger has written, “To each his own, and to those who choose not to be frozen, all I can say is—rot in good health.”

What is your motto? The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.