Stanley Kubrick and the Visual Nature of Film

Watch any ordinary film and you’ll see an over reliance on visual spectacles like car crashes or helicopters blowing up. Watch any Stanley Kubrick film and you’ll see a unique combination of visual and audio blends that enhance the story without relying on dialogue.

Stanley Kubrick screenplays are sparse, almost devoid of dialogue. The most dramatic example of this is in “2001: A Space Odyssey” where dialogue is practically non-existent and the story is told through visuals and sound.

“The Shining” continues this blend of visual and audio. The visual shows us something interesting while the audio makes us more aware of the present scene. When Danny, the boy, rides his tricycle around the haunted hotel, we hear the sound of the wheels rolling across carpeting, then hard floor, then carpeting again.

The second time we see Danny riding on his tricycle, we hear the familiar carpeting, floor sound again, and suddenly silence as Danny turns a corner and sees two little girl ghosts staring back at him with a strangely peaceful, yet sinister look on their faces. This scene flashes images of the chopped up girls while they speak a simple phrase, asking Danny to come play with them forever and ever and ever.

Kubrick likes to play on words and callback dialogue, so after Danny has seen the horrifying sight of the little girls beckoning him to stay with them forever and ever, Jack Nicholson holds Danny and promises that he’ll never leave him and that he’ll stay with him forever and ever.

Normally this would sound loving and comforting, but after hearing it in the context of the little girl ghosts, the same words coming from Jack Nicholson sound nothing short than horrifying, and that’s the point.

The problem with Stanley Kubrick screenplays is that they’re sparsely written because they lack the visual and audio element that Kubrick would later add. When studying screenplays, study Kubrick’s screenplays for his mastery of dialogue, but recognize that it’s not the complete film. Only Kubrick could turn his screenplay into a visual masterpiece while lesser directors could have taken that same script and turned it into a lousy movie.

Whether you like Stanley Kubrick’s movies or not, study them. He’s one of the few directors to pull off so many iconic scenes from a variety of films ranging from dark comedy (“Dr. Strangelove”) to horror (“The Shining”) to war (“Full Metal Jacket”) to science fiction (“2001”). Any screenplays you write will need to be more detailed than Stanley Kubrick’s screenplays, so study his films rather than his screenplays alone. You’ll learn much more as a result.

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