Playboy: Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is
undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of
films—and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even
in a commercial jet liner. Why?
Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome
awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to
conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us;
whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of
fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of
purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment
of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives;
this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing
realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from
death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending
termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the
cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of
futility. Why, he might ask himself, should be bother to write a great
symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he
is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the
unimaginable immensity of space?
Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their
lives in this perspective—who recognize that there is no purpose they
can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their
existence goes unknown and unchronicled—can fall prey all too easily
to the ultimate anomie… But even for those who lack the sensitivity to
more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this
inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass
of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our
lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.
The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind
of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the
death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes
around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no
crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give
purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality
is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even
psychiatrists are aware.
Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?
Kubrick: The very meaninglessness of life forces man
to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an
untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at
something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older,
the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their
consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their
idealism—and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he
sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in
the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky—he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s
elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the
meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and
affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was
born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining.
The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile
but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this
indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of
death—however mutable man may be able to make them—our existence as a
species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the
darkness, we must supply our own light.