Take a good, hard look at the Kubrick Stare: a fixture of the films of Stanley Kubrick, and one of cinema’s most recognisable shots. How does it work?
Well, for a topical example, consult the recently released police mugshot of Fulton County Jail inmate number P01135809, AKA former US President Donald J Trump.
The face is angled downwards rather than up, emphasising the brow, and the eyeline not directed at something far out of shot, but angled uncomfortably close to the viewer’s own.
It’s Vincent D’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket, just before he shoots R. Lee Ermey, then himself. It’s Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, smirking from under the brim of his bowler hat. It’s Jack Nicholson in virtually every scene in The Shining – and, in all honesty, the rest of the time too.
Like the Spielberg Gaze – an upturned face aglow with wonder – the Kubrick Stare is also implicatory. Perhaps incriminating is a better word, since the onlooker is being made party to the subject’s bubbling derangement.
“You know what’s going on here,” it seems to say. “And I know you know. And I know you don’t like it. And I like that you don’t.” So as expressions you might choose for your police mugshot go, it’s quite the flex.
Versions of the stare have appeared in Kubrick’s work since at least 1964’s Dr Strangelove, and in other directors’ oeuvres even before that.
(Anthony Perkins’s climactic leer to the camera in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, from 1960, is as Kubrick Stare-y as close-ups get.)