Fear and Desire (1953)

Kubrick’s much-maligned first feature, while a sketchy exercise, is still (barely) watchable as it ruminates about war and existence, albeit in too self-important and vacuous a manner.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dir. Stanley Kubrick
1953 | USA | Drama/War | 62 mins | 1.37:1 | English
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some violence

Cast: Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Stephen Coit, Virginia Leith
Plot: In the midst of a conflict in an unidentified war, a plane carrying four soldiers crashes behind enemy lines. From here out, it is kill or be killed.
Awards: –
Source: Martin Perveler

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existential, War
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Over the decades, Stanley Kubrick had tried numerous ways to stop his first feature from seeing the light of day, thinking that it was a blemish in what was a nearly perfect body of work. 

But while it doesn’t add significantly to the legendary filmmaker’s canon, Fear and Desire should still interest Kubrick completists because ideas stemming from this sketchy exercise were expanded much more deeply and provocatively in his later films. 

The dialectical tension evoked by its title ‘Fear and Desire’ prefigures Private Joker’s mentioning of the ‘duality’ of the human condition in 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, where he tries to explain to a Colonel why he is wearing a helmet that says ‘Born to Kill’ and yet still pinning a peace symbol on his uniform. 

“It’s better to roll up your life into one night and one man and one gun.”

But it is the more existential and fatalistic Paths of Glory (1957), Kubrick’s first true masterpiece that bears greater similarity to Fear and Desire inasmuch as the theatrics of war calls for a poetic examination of what it means to live or die. 

Four soldiers whose plane was shot down gets trapped behind enemy lines as they try to plan an escape route.  At only an hour long, there is not much depth, but Kubrick makes some interesting observations about the folly of mankind while giving us a rather atmospheric mood through cinematography. 

While it is still watchable (if only barely), Fear and Desire’s rumination about war and existence through its characters and narration may ultimately feel too self-important and vacuous to warrant any meaningful appreciation.

Grade: C




    1. Ooo thanks for your support! Yes, it’s my favourite Wong Kar Wai*, and easily one of the top 10 films of the 2000s!

      *I haven’t seen his first feature, AS TEARS GO BY, and ASHES OF TIME yet, but I doubt they will dislodge IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE!



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