Fear and Desire ★★

Stanley Kubrick perhaps said the most accurate thing that one could possibly say about his debut feature film, Fear and Desire, in which he likened it to a child's drawing on a refrigerator. It does feel at times that it hardly hints at the mastery of the medium that he would be so proud to claim later, feeling much like a student art film that got a little too bold for its tiny budget to support. The film's visual styling owes much to the era of silent films, particularly in the frequent use of closeup on the faces of all the actors, and Kubrick shoots and edits them without much regard for continuity, where profiles often change lighting entirely between edits, and there's a sense that Kubrick is only just getting used to the idea of editing being an important storytelling tool, as there are moments where the cuts are so frequent and yet so inconsequentially minor that it can feel disorienting as the scene cuts between the actors in relation to one another and in isolation. But even if the film was in the hands of a more technically mature filmmaker, it would still be hard to overcome the film's biggest culprit in the script, which is a minefield of pseudo-philosophical mumblings that feels both ponderous and painful, with each actor having their own voice-over take on What It's All About. There wasn't a single monologue that didn't feel like an actor was struggling to not give up halfway through the reading, and since the film has a lot of monologues, I can only imagine that the lot of them was praying for mercy in the ADR sessions. Like any kid's drawing on a fridge, though, there is always a hint at some deeper, innate quality that can manifest itself with the proper motivation, and there does exist quite a bit of that in the film. It is unsurprisingly photographed well throughout, and even though the editing is inconsistent in the overall presentation, a lot of shots work quite well in isolation, and Kubrick does manage to stage a couple of impressive sequences together, particularly a nightmarish attack on a small home occupied by enemy soldiers and a visually compelling recasting of two of the actors of our heroes as the enemy general and captain, which works in spite of the general's monologue presenting perhaps the nadir of the film. Kubrick had originally planned to release the film as a silent feature, and one has to wonder if some of the film's issues would go away if it had come to pass, but overall, Kubrick's little fridge drawing isn't lacking in merit or ambition: it needed more discipline and maturation. Those aren't qualities that you wouldn't ordinarily obtain right away, so it's hard for me to knock on Kubrick too hard for that. That being said, I will certainly praise him for making this just barely over an hour long, because I don't think anyone would be able to take that much more of it than what they already had to watch. This is about strong a definition of a noble failure that I can think of.