Stanley Kubrick is one of the most well-known and celebrated directors in Hollywood, and his films are still as popular as ever. In fact, many of his works have reverberated through modern pop culture and have set the groundwork for many filming techniques and storytelling in Hollywood. It's usually his characters who steal the scenes in most of his films.
They are the vessels in which Kubrick explores the thin line between civilization and barbarism. For that matter, a lot of them don't actually appear normal but more as caricatures; they are exaggerated avatars of certain ideas which Kubrick loves to explore. As a result, the director has developed his own filming style worthy of a university subject. That's a topic for another time, however; for now, we'll be taking a look at 10 of Kubrick's most memorable characters, some of which are enough to haunt our dreams.
10 Barry Lyndon (Barry Lyndon)
Barry Lyndon, from the Kubrick's film title of the same name, is a prime example of the Kubrick touch. He was a civilized and actually likable man who changed into a scheming social climber and liar for his own gains. The film is set in the American Revolution, and we see Barry turning rogue in a relatable yet absurd manner.
Such a nihilistic portrayal of the nature of man is Kubrick at his best. Barry eventually lucked out and was able to marry a wealthy and entitled woman, essentially making him rich in the process. It all came crashing down afterward; Barry proved to be incredibly inept at maintaining his acquired riches and titles, in the end, he lost nearly everything.
9 Spartacus (Spartacus)
Three great cinema minds actually worked on the film Spartacus; the radical leftist screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo, the criminally macho actor Kirk Douglas, and, of course, Kubrick himself. The result? The legendary Spartacus was brought to life in the most faithful and triumphant way that might never be replicated on the big screen.
The star of the film himself, Spartacus, was a tragic story. Of course, he's not too far off from the Kubrick archetype; he was a slave and a gladiator who led an ambitious and threatening rebellion against the Roman empire. Sadly, like his real-life counterpart, Spartacus failed and was crucified in a spitting image of Jesus.
8 Dave Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey)
Back in the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s, Kubrick was famous for three succeeding films which carried his favorite subject matter: nihilism. As such, these three films were dubbed Kubrick's Nihilism Trilogy. All of them explored the futility of human actions and the eventual failure of man; 2001: A Space Odyssey is the second film in that unofficial trilogy.
It featured protagonist Dave Bowman as one of the astronauts sent on a mysterious space mission. Everything went wrong when their computer started challenging their belief and authority. This eventually led to a tense showdown between Bowman and the computer as they were held hostage and killed by the artificial yet barbaric being.
7 HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)
That psycho murder-bot computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey? Its name was HAL 9000. Initially, it was programmed to assist the astronauts aboard the spacecraft Discovery One bound for Jupiter. HAL even promotes itself as "foolproof and incapable of error." So, when it started making some mistakes, Bowman and his scientist/astronaut crew grew concerned and wanted to shut it down.
Hence, HAL thought up of ways to obstruct or even kill them. Its motivations were unclear as it appeared to be doing its actions in order to preserve their chances of success for the mission. In the end, HAL appeared to show signs of fear and even pleaded Bowman to not deactivate it. Eventually, Bowman won against the murder-bot who represents plenty of things wrong with human society.
6 Col. Dax (Paths of Glory)
There is no doubt that Kirk Douglas stole nearly every film he's in. That's why when he worked with Kubrick in the World War I film, Paths of Glory, it was a Kirk Douglas film. As in, the film acted and happened around him. Douglas played the character Col. Dax who was a dignified and sympathetic army officer; Dax did not treat his soldiers as expendable, in stark contrast to his higher-up, General Mireau.
In order to break through a German defense line and gain considerable progress in battle, Mireau was willing to sacrifice and disregard the lives of the grunts. Dax, however, still tried to preserve and save his men. The mission was folly and a bust, of course, with Dax and Mireau representing two sides of the same coin in war.
5 Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange)
A Clockwork Orange is Kubrick's third film in his Nihilism Trilogy, and it's arguably the most disturbing. It openly depicts sexual assault and torture among other barbaric things spearheaded by eccentrically criminal protagonist Alex DeLarge. Oddly enough, Alex is actually an evil character, an antagonist protagonist... if that makes sense.
Alex also is a rowdy gang member where he and his decadent entourage go around committing various crimes with impunity. That is until Alex was caught by the police and underwent a radical rehabilitation process which rendered him emotionally and mentally castrated. Hence, A Clockwork Orange is like a reverse Kubrick touch where the protagonist starts out chaotically but ends up orderly... depending on how you interpret the ending.
4 Dr. Strangelove (Dr. Strangelove)
The First film in the Nihilism Trilogy, Dr. Strangelove contains one of Kubrick's most exaggerated characters to date. It's a film where nearly all the characters are caricatures; even their names represent certain philosophical notions. However, Dr. Stranglove takes the cake for his crazy performance especially in the face of apocalypse.
The wheelchair-bound Strangelove, with his thick German accent, plays as the US President's advisor here. Funny enough, he was once a Nazi official. Working with the US Government in this film, Strangelove explains and understands the Soviet Doomsday Machine with ironic gleeful enthusiasm and admiration. He's easily the most entertaining part of this film.
3 Jack Torrence (The Shining)
To be fair, Jack Torrance from The Shining is not exclusively Kubrick's character. Stephen King created him as the main character for the novel of the same name. Still, Kubrick, along with actor Jack Nicholson, deserves plenty of credit for making Torrence come to life. It may not be true to King's character in the books—at least, according to him—but Kubrick's Jack Torrence is easily one of the most haunting representations of abuse in any form.
Of course, it's not just what the character stands for that makes him memorable, it's also the portrayal. Seeing a rabid and murderous Nicholson in action breaking through the door and shouting "Here's Johnny!" was timeless. Such iconic acting was pop culture's cream of the crop; we'll surely remember it for generations to come.
2 Gomer Pyle/Animal Mother (Full Metal Jacket)
Kubrick was definitely on to—or maybe just 'on'—something in Full Metal Jacket. Turns out, he was one of the most qualified directors to tackle the insanity of the Vietnam war along with Francis Ford-Coppola and Oliver Stone. His most tragic character yet was Private Leonard Lawrence aka Private Gomer Pyle played by the commendable Vincent D'Onofrio.
Pyle was everything wrong with brutal military indoctrination of modern society. He was cinematic proof that dehumanizing humans results in them becoming indiscriminate killing machines. While Private Pyle offed himself halfway through the film, we were still greeted with what he would have become had he finished training: Animal Mother. He was emotionless, visceral, and only knew one thing; how to kill people—the tumorous byproduct of the Vietnam war.
1 Sgt. Hartman (Full Metal Jacket)
If Private Pyle was the fuel, then Gunnery Sargeant Hartman was the fire. A rather big and explosive fire. Let's face it, Full Metal Jacket would not have been as good as it was without Sgt. Hartman, who was played by a former real Gunnery Sargeant, Ronald Lee Ermey. His portrayal of the bloodthirsty American war machine made Private Pyle's breaking point believable.
Even more amazing is the fact that most of John Wayne's—sorry, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman's lines were improvised by Ermey. Originally, Ermey was only set to be a military consultant, but Kubrick actually liked Ermey's ad lib so much that he decided to keep him for the role. That was something new even for the meticulous Kubrick—then again, saying no to Sgt. Hartman would be signing your own death sentence.