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Kubrick

Kubrick

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Published by: Michael Gibson on Nov 24, 2012
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Michael GibsonVanderbilt UniversityGraduate Dept. of Religion
Beyond the Infinite: the Apophatic Vision of God in theCinematic Art of Stanley Kubrick 
“Through art we discover the means for embarking upon our joyful journey of return to the Kingdom of God.” -Bishop Kallistos Ware
1
 Introduction
Art has attempted to express or represent the holy in a polyphony of forms, fromancient iconography to Serrano’s
 Piss Christ 
, underscoring the variegated approaches tovisualizing the human encounter with the ethereal. Though art and religion share acontentious relationship, especially since the rise of modernity, there remains a resilientresidue of substantive connection between the two spheres, in which they are involved inmutual critique and enrichment.
2
The visual medium of art contains the prolific capacityfor stimulating the religious mind (and body) towards fresh encounters with andunderstanding of the divine and the holy, and can open new layers of meaning for theological thought and analysis.
3
Art can, in fact, take on the visual shape of theological
1
 
Ware, “Creativity and the Meaning of ‘Image’ from the Perspective of the Orthodox Icon,”
TheologyToday
61 (2004): 61.
2
 
Robin Jensen writes: “Images are vehicles for theology, both at the popular and official level, both withinthe institution of the church and outside it, as supports or subversion of mainstream teachings…. I came tounderstand that the future church leaders and theologians needed to learn about the arts as a way of expressing, exploring, forming and challenging faith as well as a medium of divine self-revelation,” in
TheSubstance of Things Seen: Art, Faith and the Christian Community
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 47,ix. Cf. Ware,
op. cit.
, 54. It should be noted, as these authors suggest, that art is not conducive
carteblanche
to the religious mind, as some art is intrinsically inimical to religion; however, it is decisivelyimportant for the church to
think 
through and experientially encounter visual imagery as concomitantlyformative, provocative and challenging for faith. See Frank Burch Brown,
Good Taste, Bad Taste and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), ch. 5; also, DavidMorgan,
The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), ch. 1, 4.
3
 
See esp. Hans Urs von Balthasar,
The Glory of the Lord: a Theological Aesthetics
, eds. Joseph Fessio, S.J., and John Riches, part I:
Seeing the Form
, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius,
 
ideas and forms, providing access to the transcendent through the provocation of contemplation; in a certain sense, art has a mediational capability in its inexhaustible andmultivalent interpretational structure.
4
In this, visual art is an expressive idiom throughwhich theological modes of thought can be communicated in a powerful and relevantmanner.Cinema is a particular type of visual art that has gained vast currency incontemporary culture, and represents a located artistic form with a tremendous reservefor visual articulation of theological ideas and provoking theological thought,contemplation and discussion.
5
According to film critic and screenwriter/director PaulSchrader, the development of a ‘transcendental style’ in filmmaking has given rise to theability of film to be expressive of the holy; as Schrader indicates, the nature of themedium, and its concomitant techniques, lends itself to visual communication of ‘theineffable and invisible, the transcendent refracted through immanent, temporal means.’
6
The transcendental style of film creates a unique sense of connection between themedium of cinema and the nature of religious iconography, which projects the viewer  beyond the immediate impression of the visual into the region of encounter, incontemplation and experience of the sublime and the beautiful.
7
Film is able, at once, to
1982), 34-44, 79f.; cf. Trevor Hart, “Through the Arts: Hearing, Seeing and Touching the Truth,” in
 Beholding the Glory: Incarnation Through the Arts
, ed. Jeremy Begbie (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1-26.
4
 
Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher,
On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers
, ed. and trans. RichardCrouter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 3-54, 69.
5
 
A. Bazin, “Cinema Theology,”
South Atlantic Quarterly
91/2 (1992): 393-408; D. Bridge, “Back to theCinema: Theology Reflects on the Arts,”
 Epworth Review
22 (Jan. 1995): 39-44; Paul Schrader,
Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer 
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1972),169. Clive Marsh, lecturer in divinity at University of Sheffield, UK, suggests that film is a key resourcethrough which theology may discover constructively its discursive contribution to contemporary culture; hecautions, in so doing, that both theology and film must mutually engage each other in their own integrity,which is to say that one cannot co-opt the other in an expedient quarrying of utile parts. Cf. Marsh, “Filmand Theologies of Culture,” in
 Explorations in Theology and Film
, eds. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz(Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 2, 27-29.
6
 
Schrader,
Transcendental Style in Film
, 3-4, 7-8.
7
 
Ibid, 11-13, 161f., 169. Cf. Jim Forest, “Through Icons: Word and Image Together,” in
 Beholding the
2
 
capture and represent the transcendent
in
the immanent, and subsequently to propel theimagination beyond the temporal, immanent ‘moment.’ Cinematic art, as well,underlines the communal act of participation in the event of encounter and experience,insofar as it unfolds in the midst of a corporate gathering, and takes up the viewers intoits gesture (or gaze) toward the transcendent and the sacred.
8
 This essay will explore the theological possibilities of film to actualize a sense of a vision of the divine as an iconographic corollary through its utilization of thetranscendental style; in particular, I will focus on Stanley Kubrick’s film
2001: a SpaceOdyssey
. The central argument of this essay will be that Kubrick has created areligiously metaphysical film that contains an
apophatic
vision of God,
9
and that the filmand its central feature, a black monolith, have a functional resemblance to iconographicart by drawing the viewer toward the divine, in effect transcending the immanentaldimension of the vehicle. Kubrick’s film visually represents the apophatic theologicalmodel, structured around a series of encounters with the ‘wholly other’ (viz., themonolith), in which the characters are propelled to embark upon increasingly distantexpeditions toward the monolith (the conclusive encounter occurring at the very limit or  boundary of the created realm); the upshot of this structure is precisely that the
Glory
, 83-97. Roger Holloway makes a similar argument to Schrader in
 Beyond the Image: Approaches tothe Religious Dimensions in the Cinema
(World Council of Churches, 1977).
8
 
The communal feature of film, as well, highlights the nature of art’s variegated interpretive structure, inwhich an artwork evinces a multivocality of meanings resident in the interpretative reception of theaudience; cf. Jensen,
Substance of Things Seen
, 33, 47. Also, Marsh,
op. cit.
, 3, 11-13, 35-37; Schrader,
op. cit.
, 169, 172.
9
 
Kubrick, in an interview with the
 New York Times
, indicated that the film has a particularly metaphysicalquality about it, that ‘the God concept is at the heart of 
2001
, but not any traditional, anthropomorphicimage of God. I
find it very exciting to have a semi-logical belief that there's a greatdeal to the universe we don't understand, and that there is an intelligence of anincredible magnitude outside the earth. It's something I've become more and moreinterested in. I find it a very exciting and satisfying hope.’ From
New York Times
(21December 1968), 1D. Accessed athttp//:www.nytimes.com/archives/art&ent/1968/Kubrickinterview/2001.html
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