INTERIORS: Stanley Kubrick

Courtesy of Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian

Interiors is an online film and architecture journal, published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Interiors runs an exclusive ArchDaily column analyzing and diagraming films in terms of space.

Stanley Kubrick has been called many things: pretentious, unpretentious, alienated, ambiguous, audacious, empty, disturbing, outrageous, devilish, soulless, patient, unflinching, impersonal, arrogant, calculated, paranoid, aloof, visionary, genius, tyrant, misogynist, cineaste, original, and in the immortal words of Kirk Douglas, a “talented shit.”

It’s interesting to note then, when asked about his film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Stanley Kubrick himself said, “It's not a message that I ever intend to convey in words.” The film itself is a “nonverbal experience.” There are no words – or dialogue – for more than two-thirds of the film. Stanley Kubrick is a visual storyteller; in his films, words are secondary.

Courtesy of Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian

2001: A Space Odyssey 

The closing scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which we analyzed and diagramed, brings us full circle from the opening scene of the film. Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), a scientist on the Discover One, is transported into another world/dimension after defeating HAL, the computer that controls the systems of the spacecraft. At the end of his journey, Dave’s spaceship miraculously appears in an empty room with white walls. There is an immediate feeling of distance in this room – from the outside world as well as from technology, in general. The classical architecture of the room is complemented with Renaissance paintings, which are fixed into alcoves rather than simply being framed, suggestive of windows or mirrors. The room consists of a bed, several chairs and cabinets and glowing floor tiles. A close examination of this space helped us discover several facts: the floor tiles serve as a compositional guide throughout the film, assisting us in determining the actual size of the room; the room is composed of eight by ten tiles with each tile roughly 4x4 in size.

The progression of time in this space is accelerated by varying the perspectives of the character Dave. The diagram makes note of these varying perspectives, and each time Dave’s perspective changes, we indicate this shift with a number.In our diagram, Dave's spaceship is in dotted lines. Dave first sees nothing from within his spaceship, but later, he sees himself standing across the room. This is our first instance of Dave’s changing perspective.

In this instance, we clearly see a chair sitting beside Dave’s spaceship. This chair is represented in our diagram with dotted lines. Stanley Kubrick cuts from his wide shot to Dave’s perspective, and as he does, we see that the spaceship has disappeared. The chair, however, which we saw earlier beside the spaceship, has relocated and moved a few feet to the side of a cabinet. This is represented in our diagram with the clearly outlined chair beside the chair with the dotted lines. This continuity error was made deliberately by the filmmaker. In adjusting the positioning of the chair, Stanley Kubrick retains a compositional balance with the spaceship in the room. In the later moment of the film, when the spaceship disappears, the chair moves back to its permanent position and is in composition with the rest of the room.

When Dave moves in the bathroom outside of this room, his eye catches another human in the distance as he turns. This becomes the second instance of perspective in this space. Dave sees an elderly man eating in the same area where the spaceship was sitting.

The elderly man stops eating and turns. There is no recognition that he has seen Dave, and as he gets out of his seat and moves closer, we realize that this is Dave himself, aged dramatically. Stanley Kubrick then cuts to a wide shot of the room, and we realize that the first Dave has disappeared.

The elderly Dave continues eating until he reaches across his table and knocks down a wine glass. The elderly Dave then reaches down for the broken pieces, but his attention is diverted onto the bed to the right of him; he pauses and we now shift to our third perspective. Dave sees a dying man in his bed; a close-up reveals that this is, in fact, Dave nearing death. Stanley Kubrick once again cuts to a wide shot and we realize that the elderly Dave who was eating at his table is no longer in the room. The dying Dave reaches his hand out into the distance and points. There is now a monolith placed in front of his bed. This becomes our fourth instance of a shift in perspective.

Stanley Kubrick cuts from the monolith onto the bed, where Dave is now replaced by a Star Child, a fetus-like being enclosed in an orb. The Star Child in relation to the monolith marks the fifth change in perspective within this scene. 

Courtesy of Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian

These changes in perspectives drive the progression of time within this scene. The Renaissance paintings make a connection to the theme of rebirth. The Star Child is born in a world free of technological constraints. The events in this final scene unfold in a delicate, slow burn, but time moves at an accelerated rate.

This non-linear progression of time suggests that Dave could potentially have inhabited this space for decades, but we, as an audience, along with Dave, see his life pass quickly. Stanley Kubrick delicately overlaps these instances of passing time, without dissolves or fades, but rather in a controlled manner. The single space within this room is no longer bound by the conventions of linear time.

The Shining

The Shining opens with a discussion about space. Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), manager of the Overlook Hotel, notes that the location for the hotel was chosen because of its “seclusion,” pointing out the 25-mile stretch of road leading up to the hotel. Along with the lengthy opening shots at the start of the film, this reinforces the idea that the hotel is sealed off and isolated from society. The audience, as a result, is immediately presented with an understanding of how this space is detached from civilization. There are also only a handful of scenes that take place outside of the walls of the hotel. It’s within this controlled space that Stanley Kubrick sets his film.

In our diagram, we focused on the scene where Danny (Danny Lloyd) encounters the twin girls in the hallway on his tricycle. These girls are introduced on three separate occasions beforehand. The first instance is when Danny is still in his Denver home. In his bathroom, he “speaks” with Tony about his concern with the hotel, as he sees the twin girls as well as a shot of blood spilling from an elevator in the hotel. The second instance is when Danny is in the Games Room at the Overlook Hotel. Danny turns around and sees the twin girls in the room with him. The girls turn and walk away from him. This occasion also marks the only time the girls actually move. The third instance is when Danny approaches Room 237.

These quick shots of the twin girls – which show them standing in a hallway for no more than a second – suggest that these twins will revisit us in some form over the course of the film. They become a repeated visual motif. It’s because of these recurring images, then, that as Danny rides around the corridors of the hotel we are constantly on edge – not because of what is in the frame, but because we fear what might be around the corner each time he makes a turn. In addition, when Jack describes his first impression of the hotel to Wendy (Shelley Duvall), he tells her “It was almost as though I knew what was going to be around every corner.” The audience, as a result, is always anticipating what could be waiting for them around every corner.

Courtesy of Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian

The hallway where Danny encounters the twins is on the same floor as his family’s hotel room. In an earlier scene in the film, Wendy exits the elevator and brings breakfast for Jack. The hallway immediately behind Wendy after she exits the elevator is the hallway where Danny sees the twins – to the left is where the twins are and to the right is where Danny stops. Wendy later opens their room door, and again, immediately behind her is another hallway that is part of this iconic scene. This is the hallway where we first see Danny riding, right before he makes the turn and encounters the twins.

Stanley Kubrick utilizes six camera setups in this scene. These include the Steadicam following Danny, which ultimately places him within the frame with the twins; a close-up shot of Danny that shows his reaction to the twins; an extreme wide shot of the twins from Danny’s perspective; a wide shot of the twins; a medium shot of the twins; as well as a wide shot of the dead twins. In this scene, Stanley Kubrick goes back and forth between these six setups. In carefully cutting from an extreme wide shot to a wide shot and finally to a medium shot of the girls in sequential order, he slowly draws his audience closer to the twins.

The terror in this scene is self-contained; the horrific death of the twins is located on the same floor as their family’s hotel room, on the opposite side of the hall (once again, emphasizing doubles and repetition). Danny’s subconscious places the girls, both alive and dead, in the same space, which results in a stark and frightening contrast.

A Clockwork Orange

The world of A Clockwork Orange is cold and heartless -- an inhospitable place. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) frequents the dark, desolate streets of London with his frightening crew, causing mayhem. For the depiction of a dystopian society, the film makes use of modern buildings, minimal in terms of their style, such as the Tavy Bridge Centre in Thamesmead (Alex’s apartment complex) and Brunel University’s Lecture Centre (Ludovico Medical Facility). Stanley Kubrick reportedly found the locations for the film by searching through architectural magazines.

The bare bones design of Thamesmead contributes to the notion that the architecture of A Clockwork Orange exists solely with the intentions of serving its community in a minimal way. In other words, it’s not about the complexity of the design, but rather, its functionality. The most notable space, however, is the Korova Milk Bar in the opening scene. This space was one of the few sets designed for the film. The film’s production designer, John Barry, who designed the space, was influenced by a sculpture exhibition where female figures were displayed as furniture. This idea was then carried over into creating fiberglass nude figures.

Courtesy of Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian

In our floor plan, we diagrammed the scene in Alex’s bedroom, where he has sex with two females. The sex sequence, which plays in fast motion, was filmed over the course of 28 minutes by Stanley Kubrick. The entire scene, however, runs 40 seconds in the final version of the film, accelerated in speed and cut to the “William Tell Overture.” The sequence begins with all three characters entering the frame. In the course of this sequence, all three have sex together and Alex then continues on with them individually a number of times as well. The scene was originally edited with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” but its pacing didn’t match. In regards to this sequence, Stanley Kubrick has noted, “It seemed to me a good way to satirize what had become the fairly common use of slow-motion to solemnize this sort of thing, and turn it into ‘art.’ The William Tell Overture also seemed a good musical joke to counter the standard Bach accompaniment.”

In terms of the architecture of the room, there is a side mirror in Alex’s bedroom. The mirror reflects the poster of Ludwig van Beethoven and adds a unique dimension to the room. The mirror makes the room feel larger in size. The architectural elements to the right and left of the mirror allow for a grid system within the shot itself. This grid system forces the audience to find a one-point perspective. The scene in our floor plan features the three characters and is drawn with dotted red lines. The diagram starts when the three characters enter the frame and the dotted lines map their movements until the end of the scene. The diagram shows the entire scene from start to finish. The tracking of their movements allows us to see how much movement was condensed into the scene.

These diagrams, along with others, are available for purchase in our Official Store.

Interiors is an online journal, published on the 15th of each month, in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space. It is run by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Check out their Website, Issuu Site and Official Store and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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Cite: INTERIORS Journal. "INTERIORS: Stanley Kubrick" 09 Jun 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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