A Life in Film: Stanley Kubrick at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Stanley Kubrick had one of the longest and most fruitful careers in film history. He sought to flesh out the darkest aspects of human existence in his abundance of dazzling films, which are being encapsulated in an exhibition and shown on the big screen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until January 25.

I went to see Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Bomb (1964) and the Stanley Kubrick exhibition. The great thing about the experience is how much I enjoyed it despite how little I knew about Kubrick going in. I had seen The Shining (1980), but beyond that I was mostly unaware of his exorbitant career and talent. Interestingly enough, I attended the film and exhibition with a friend who is a massive film buff and Kubrick fan, and we enjoyed the experience equally. Whether you go to learn more about Kubrick or to appreciate the talent you are already well aware of, it is a worthwhile event.

To begin with, TIFF incorporated a lot of extra touches to make not only the exhibit, but also the way into the theatres very atmospheric. The elevators in the building and the carpet beside the escalators are made to look like those of the iconic Overlook Hotel from The Shining, inspired by The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. This attention to detail is consistent throughout the exhibition, and gives the entire visit a vibe akin to what Kubrick created in his films.

Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Bomb is a dark, satirical comedy that cautions the what-ifs of nuclear warfare. The events of the movie are amazingly realistic, considering that the characters are all fictional and that the world did not in fact end via doomsday device. Kubrick’s genius comes out in his ability to be as precise as possible in circumstances that are largely made up. In reality, when Truman was instated as president in the 1940s, he very quickly had to make a decision regarding nuclear warfare and the Soviet Union. He invited many advisors to come and discuss the predicament in the war room at the Pentagon, much like president Muffley does in the film.

Although I’m fairly certain nobody ever straddled a missile while waving a cowboy hat as they plummeted to death like the pilot Major Kong does towards the end of Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick uses these fake, fantastic circumstances in order to explore the dangers of the all too real possibility of nuclear military operations. Despite Kubrick specifically addressing the early Cold War, Dr. Strangelove’s exploration of the downfalls of war is just as relevant today as it was when the film was made in 1964, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film really transcends specific genres—it’s part dark comedy, part science fiction, and part war film.

All of Kubrick’s films presented by TIFF within the next couple of months use the fantastic in order to explore reality. He often used movies to explore the darkest results of common human practices. A Clockwork Orange (1971) tells the story of a dystopian, hyper-sexualized, and hyper-violent English society, while The Shining explores the psychological dangers of isolation. Despite their incorporation of the unreal, his films all provide a commentary on the darkest pitfalls of the human psyche.

Seeing any of Kubrick’s films—especially in a theatre—is a truly great experience that not many viewers today are likely to have experienced. To cap off the whole experience is the amazingly executed exhibition of Stanley Kubrick’s life and films.

The exhibit goes through his films chronologically, starting with Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer’s Kiss (1955), and going all the way through to his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Although I knew he had had a long and hugely successful career, it was really wonderful to go through and get a sense of each of the films. Each room was set up in a really atmospheric way. The Dr. Strangelove room had the rectangular lights arranged in a circle, mimicking the lights in the war room in the actual film. The Shining had the Overlook Hotel’s carpets, mentioned earlier, along with the iconic room 237 door as well as the “redrum” door.

Along with the set up of the rooms, their contents were also outstanding. There were tons of on-set pictures from each of the films, along with original scripts and many of Kubrick’s actual notebooks. There was also a great deal of correspondence, some of the most interesting being letters sent between Kubrick and Vladimir Nabokov, author of the novel Lolita, which Kubrick made into a movie in 1962. The exhibit also displayed letters from a Christian action group that strongly suggested that Kubrick not release Lolita due to the highly sexual content of the novel, though the film was, as Kubrick points out in his response, already finished shooting.

It’s difficult to encompass the entire exhibit in words; it’s truly a great experience, and I highly recommend going to see any of the films playing and the exhibit itself. Along with the main exhibit, which has an admission fee, there is also a small free exhibit on the fourth floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The free exhibit dedicates its space to foreign posters, Kubrick’s early photography, and displays about his unmade projects.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing both Dr. Strangelove and the exhibits. Although I had only intended to see one movie, after seeing the exhibit I’m now interested in seeing as many films as I can. If you are interested in horror, science fiction, or thrillers, I definitely recommend making your way to the TIFF Bell Lightbox before January 25, and go online for ticket purchases because they sell out fast. The link to the exhibition is here!


-contributed by  Rhiann Moore


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