To get the dark blossoms of The Shining and Full Metal Jacket you need the seed, the very young Stanley Kubrick plants it in his lugubrious, arresting, disavowed debut. Men behind enemy lines in an allegory set "outside history," a laboratory distillation of guys-on-a-mission adventures, "a picnic film, an excursion" (Kurosawa on Sanshiro Sugata). The morbid intellectualism of the Lieutenant (Kenneth Harp) and the sturdy primitiveness of the Sergeant (Frank Silvera) comprise the crux of the matter, in between there's the tabula rasa (Stephen Coit) and the soldier (Paul Mazursky) pantomiming the first instance of the directorís already obsessive vision of human beings as machines that must inevitably go awry. A landscape at once abstract and scrubby, huge faces in Soviet low angles, a raid that leaves contorted bodies and squashed food: "Cold stew on a blazing island, weíve just made a perfect definition of war." The river is pure primordial sludge, the siren (Virginia Leith) who might have pacified the warriors in Paths of Glory is here mute and gunned down, the confrontation with the enemy is an encounter with the Self. Throughout, disembodied voices ooze fortune-cookie existentialism: "No man is an island. Perhaps that was true long ago, before the Ice Age ... Itís too bad the sun doesnít burn us green instead of brown ... You try door after door when you hear voices you like behind them. But the knobs come off in your hand!" Prospero, Huckleberry Finn and Proteus are a few of the names dropped in this Beckettian backyard, which manages to marry Cormanís poverty-row journeys with the metaphysics of Ivanís Childhood while laying bare the Kubrick worldview, "all a trick we perform when we would rather not die immediately." Singing computer and droog and powdered scoundrel, they all flow from here. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce