Stanley Kubrick read every issue of Neurotica, a 50’s Beat journal. In the late 40s and early 50s, Stanley hung out in Greenwich Village, rubbed elbows with the up-and-coming art crowd. I didn’t know that much about Stanley.
I have been reading and studying the new book: Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish intellectual by Nathan Abrams.
(These are random notes from the text, not in any way a critique or review.)
Stanley’s three films, Dr. Strangelove in 1964, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, and A Clockwork Orange from 1971, seem to frame my adolescence. I’m not sure what that means. But 2018 was the fiftieth anniversary of 2001. There was a new book on the making of the film which I read with goofy gusto. That book made me realize 2001 was the movie of my life. I started to see ads for Nathan Abrams’ book, and was perplexed by the title. I didn’t even realize Stanley Kubrick was Jewish. My wife got me the book through interlibrary loan.
Abrams believes Stanley’s life was the quest for menschlikayt. Even though Stanley was not a practicing Jew. He finds in Stanley’s films the search for tikkun olam, the healing of the world. Abrams likes to go over all the possibilities, allusions and dead ends, so his text is filled with lists. For example, he paints a vivid picture of the postwar Jew, all the iterations in pop culture, that would work their way into Stanley’s movies.
So we have the schlemiel, the nebbish, the schmuck, the putz, the schmendrick. Further, Abrams goes into the sissy Jew, the pious Jew, the warrior Jew.
Abrams thinks Dr. Strangelove was based on Werner Von Braun. Or Herman Kahn. I had heard these speculations before. Especially on Von Braun. Abrams also thought Johnny von Neumann was a model, and he was in a wheelchair towards the latter part of his life. But there is no mention of Edward Teller being a possible model, which I had assumed. Most critics ended up believing Dr. Strangelove was an amalgam of various characters, and the real, pertinent question at the end of the film was whether Dr. Strangelove was a Nazi or a Jew.
Bruno Bettelheim said the survivors of the concentration camps looked like the walking dead. Bettelheim, Hannah Arendt, Ben Hecht all were astounded in public at Jewish collusion in the Holocaust. Kubrick studied their writings. He thought Americans, but actually the people of the world, were also becoming the walking dead in colluding with a nuclear holocaust.
Allen Ginsberg is quoted singing, “Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.”
And, of course, Holden Caufield comments, “I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it. I swear to God I will.”
By the time Stanley was working on 2001, computers and space travel were taking off. Arthur C Clarke got Stanley in touch with Marvin Minsky, who was heading up computer research at MIT. Stanley and Minsky met to talk about computers and artificial intelligence. In the same timeframe, Minsky published a book in which he reveals that he is the direct descendent of Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague that conjured the golem. Judaism depends on its Abrahamic covenant. It is a faith of obedience and humility. Rabbi Loew had challenged God by seeking to create life on his own. The rabbi used sacred letters and sacred numbers to create a golem. Minsky used numbers and letters to program his computerized intelligence creation. The humans in 2001 had created a superior intelligence in HAL.
When Nietzsche read of the Kabbalah in Gershon Scholem’s translated texts, and then meditated on the notion of creating life, he wondered if the golem had killed God. His great one-liner appeared on the cover of Time magazine, “Is God dead?” in 1966.
2001 is divided into four sections. These four sections correspond to the Tree of Life, or Sephiroth, a Jewish sequence, the chronology of human life that is sometimes abbreviated PaRDeS. This stands for:
Peshat – simple, everyday life
Remez – analysis, implication
Derash – the seeker searches, the quest
Sod – the mystery, the sublime, EIN SOF that which is without end
2001 is more than a simple hero quest story. In the film the hero invents his own scourge which he barely manages to subdue. The hero is forced to destroy his own child, and only then does he enter the infinite. Ein sof. He must go through a gate of God, which in Hebrew is Babel.
Kabbalah implies many worlds. The olamot are the many emanations of Ein Sof. The ‘starry yahoodies’ may be David Bowman’s reincarnated figure. Some wondered whether this had anything to do with the Wandering Jew. Then, in his next film, was Alex in A Clockwork Orange the Wandering Jew? Further, was the Wandering Jew really Cain?
Menschlikayt requires conscience. This means choice, the ability to choose or decide or pick good or evil. The right to choose badly. The right to sin. That’s what A Clockwork Orange plugs.