#13 in my Ranking of Stanley Kubrick films.
This is the work of an immature, unfocused, and pretentious bore. This Stan Kubrick guy has no future in the movies. He should just go back to New York and become a dentist or something.
Seriously, this movie is unwatchably bad. Its story, if you can call it one, is about four soldiers in an unnamed war who have crashed six miles behind enemy lines and the lazy day they spend between building a raft and abandoning the raft to steal a plane instead. Along the way, they muse endlessly about killing and war, never getting more intriguing than what a 26 year old photographer who’s never been to war can come up with.
After they muse a bit, they walk in the middle of the day and without cover to the riverbank and build a raft out in the open, within sight of a farmhouse that houses an enemy general who often just gets out and walks around. When an airplane flies overhead, the four soldiers flee into the woods for cover. Instead of merely waiting nearby, they delve deeper into the woods, find another isolated house, kill the two enemy soldiers within (in, quite seriously, the only good sequence in the entire movie), and then leave. There’s some voiceover about eating cold stew in a hot forest and how it’s a great metaphor for war, somehow. Yeah, it really reads like someone who knows that war is bad but nothing else about it.
They leave and accidentally capture a local woman. For incredibly inexplicable reasons, three of the men decide to leave the girl with the crazy young soldier as they go back to check on their raft. In what must be an effort to demonstrate the insanity that war brings out in the individual, but actually feels like a random scene of overacting without any connection to anything that’s come before it, the soldier pleads and talks to the woman, eventually playacting as the enemy general. The miming of the general eating corn on the cob on the forest floor might be an attempt at intentional humor, but it’s so bizarre as to defy easy description. He then frees her and then shoots her as she tries to run away, because crazy, I guess.
The three others have hidden the raft and come back to witness the end of the insanity before watching the fourth run off into the wilds. The three then go back to the raft where two of them decide that the raft isn’t worth the risk, so they’re going to cross the river and, um, steal an airplane instead after killing the general. They need to do their duty.
And then we get an interminable scene of the general and his assistant musing about war, because we haven’t gotten nearly enough musing about war so far in this movie, before they get shot down and everyone escapes, mostly. The one on the raft gets shot, picks up the crazy one as he drifts down the river, and then dies before reaching safety.
It’s very easy to see why Kubrick hated this film. There are stories of him trying to buy the original negative and destroying it. I hate how many movies we’ve lost, so I can’t really say that I wish Kubrick had been successful. However, Fear and Desire as the elusive first film that no one has seen tickles the imagination far more than Fear and Desire, the surviving first film by Stanley Kubrick that’s terribly made, makes no narrative sense, and is beyond pretentious in its ignorance. There are also technical errors abounding throughout. Little editing things (like the first major conversation violating the 180 rule several times or a POV shot from binoculars panning that don’t match the next shot of the man holding the binoculars moving them the other way) don’t work. They may be intentional considering the potential ideas of insanity in war, but since the story is so poorly built, these read as just wrong rather than clever cinematic extensions of thematic ideas.
A note to end on. I mentioned the one good scene up above. It’s superb, and it’s hidden in the middle of a terrible film. It’s a scene of implied violence as the four soldiers set upon the two enemy soldiers as they try to rise from their meals of stew. Hands grip the food as bodies fly about and liquid drips on the floor while blades lunge at throats. It’s a marvelous little sequence that is the only demonstration of Kubrick’s abilities beyond being able to frame a decent shot.
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1/4