Almost 70 Years Later, Men Still Ruled By “Fear and Desire”
“I wasn’t built for this.”
“None of us were.”
In Stanley Kubrick’s first film, four soldiers find themselves dropped in a forest, amidst a war. It doesn’t matter what forest or what war. They’re all the same. As the narrator tells us: “the enemies who struggle here do not exist unless we call them into being.”
And boy, do we men love calling enemies into being. The four soldiers succeed in doing just that, led by the titular twin poles of Fear and Desire as they senselessly tromp through the forest, inventing danger around every corner.
These men are fragile, paranoid and so hungry they don’t even know what they hunger for.
But when “The Girl” enters their dream (her nightmare), you can imagine what hunger springs forth from the group.
Even in a film he calls “a bumbling amateur film exercise,” Kubrick plays chicken with the audience, leaving us in knots, wondering how dark this is going to get. And just like these four men, my imagination is darker than I want to admit, darker than Kubrick’s ever going to go. He knew I would do the work far better than he could ever do. (I wish my failures were this good.)
It’s clear these men aren’t hungry for The Girl. They are hungry for home, for connection, for peace.
And there are glimpses, chances at that along the river, leading Out, chances with each other. If only they could get out of their own way, if only they would allow the war to end. For some, it’s too late: they’ve already lost themselves, their minds, they’ve succumbed to F&D, to the forest, as if lost on the set of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. They are waiting to die, nay, they are rowing toward their death, the only way out. Even survivors of the forest, of war, are unsure if they’ve truly returned.
“I wish I could want what I wanted before,” one of the men says. I wish I knew what he wanted.