Why Stanley Kubrick used BATHROOMS with Great Importance


There’s so much in Kubrick’s films, it’s deniable for me to say that his work influences my own. But then again you have to be careful of the whole ESQUE thing Danny Boyle mentioned in his filmmakers tips. A Kubrick-esque, A Kafka-esque, a Cohen-esque, how could I resist… I’ve been down the ESQUE road myself, countless of amazing filmmakers and artists before my time, it’s hard not to be influenced, but I guess we all have to discover our own way of making films.

Okay… Kubrick’s use of bathrooms? Why does this specific space play a significant role, a prominent tool, unveiling the hidden genders of his characters?

This is what Erving Goffman proposed, the founder of the dramaturgical perspective in sociology, he says that people behave in ways that they consciously manage in order to foster the most favorable impression of themselves, for example using backstage regions to prepare themselves for their front stage, and bathrooms is one backstage area where we take off our social masks and reveal ourselves when we are alone.



The obsessive compulsive, addicted, cunning, (yet I felt sorry for the chap) delusional Hummbert Humbert in the scene where he has locked himself inside the bathroom, jotting away in his secret diary. His wife Charlotte is outside calling him, “Hum, what is it that you do in there? Humbert Humbert revealing the truth why he married Charlotte, as he confesses in his diary, the true desire of his sexual obsession with Lolita, Charlotte’s daughter. The perfect opportunity arises, as Charlotte’s death is caused by the revelation of his diary. This puts Humbert Humbert exactly where he wants to be.


We later see him bathing in the bathtub as visitors come to pay respect for the death of his wife. Unlike his visitors, Humbert Humbert sits naked in the bathtub. As Westerman describes, “Humbert is exercising a newfound power, he is naked; his visitors are clothed, he is composed while they struggle to hold back their emotions.”


Dr Strangelove.

While general Turgidson secretary, Miss Scott picks up the phone from the military command wearing a bikini (casually sitting on the bed) general Turgidson is in the bathroom. This moment in this scene plays an importance, general Turgidson is in a vulnerable position as he tries to find composure while answering the phone. Kubrick told Joseph Gemelis,  ‘Confront a man in his office with a nuclear alarm, and you have a documentary.  If the news reaches him in his living room, you have a drama.  If it catches him in the lavatory, the result is a comedy’ (Gemelis 1970, 309).


2001 Space Odyssey.

“In a brief comic scene where the space bureaucrat, Dr. Floyd, studies the intricate and intimidating instructions posted on a ‘zero-gravity toilet’ door. This scene again suggest that, no matter how high a person’s stature, everyone has to perform this basic animal requirement.”  Animal in the head, as Westerman put it, or Gunnery Sergeant Hartman screaming his lungs, “you animals are doing in my head,” using the military jargon ‘head’ for bathroom, a satire and literal way of using the word bluntly.

700 2001 snapshot20080628123802

Astronaut Dave Bowman, after traveling at the speed of light into many dimensions, finds himself at a spectral room, towards the end of Space Odyssey. Noticing a mirror in front of him, he sees that he has aged considerably, and discovers another Bowman who has aged even more at a dining table, who senses that he is being watched. He get’s up and heads to the bathroom but his younger self is no longer there. “Knowledge is again gained, and withheld, in a bathroom.  It should be noted that this scene occurs moments before the hopeful finale, which depicts the rebirth of this man, and very possibly that of all humanity, in a mystical and poignant tableaux.”

image17A Clockwork Orange.

Don’t f**** with the universe, it usually bites you right back! After the perfect system that failed to correct the main protagonist Alex (the so perfect systems that never quite seem to work mmmm), Alex ends up at the doorstep of Mr. Alexander, an old man who he previously assaulted and sexually assaulted his wife who then committed suicide. Alex takes refuge in the old mans house, at first Mr. Alexander doesn’t recognize Alex and feels sorry for the bruised young man.

Now Alex is upstairs taking a bath soaking away his bruises. After getting comfortable and loosening up in the bathtub, Alex begins to sing, “Singin’ in the Rain,” previously performed while assaulting the old man and his wife. Oblivious to this, Alex keeps singing, while the old man recognizes the song, he ends up having a seizure. Alex gives his identity away; the truth comes out in the bathroom, changing Alex’s fate once again. Whilst Mr. Alexander welcomes Alex with open arms, his former victim now becomes his captor, a man longing for revenge.

barry-lyndon-1975-11-gBarry Lyndon.

The story of Barry Lyndon, witnessing a man’s biography, a man that got more than he should have, (if only he kept his ego under control), managed to loose everything till it was too late. Betraying his wife repeatedly… in the only scene in the entire film where he truly expresses his love towards his wife, and yearns her forgiveness, while she’s in the bathroom, yes that room again ;) He enters her chambers, walks over to her while she soaks in the bathtub, kneels and apologizes. We see that her pain is still there, but she sadly forgives him.  

“Whatever subtlety prevailed in the use of bathrooms up until Barry Lyndon is now abandoned with a vengeance in the last three films of Kubrick’s career.  By now, even he must have known that the pattern was clear to his audience, and he begins to underline it boldly.

0000216969The Shining. 

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.”

The Shining makes interesting use of the bathroom in various scenes. The first scene is with Danny Torrance early on in the film. Danny’s at home, standing before the bathroom sink, staring at the mirror, he has a vision about the Overlook Hotel where he and his parents will be spending the winter period isolated. He sees a wave of blood pouring from an elevator, the little boy passes out as he visions danger.

Later in the film, Danny’s parents, Jack and Wendy tour the Overlook Hotel with the manager. The manager shows them where they will be staying, at the caretaker’s quarters. They end up standing in the bathroom, faking a smile. “Jack declaring the rooms “homey.”  Faced with the truth of their lot, the couple lie to themselves in the room associated with revelation, “overlooking” what is plain to see.” 

Room 237’s bathroom. Danny reports a crazy woman trying to strangle him in room 237. Jack goes to investigate. He is confronted by a disguised ghost in the form of a beautiful woman in the bathtub. Jack is seduced by this ghostly encounter, soon realises that she is an old wrinkled decomposed woman, laughing away, the hotel telling him that we have tricked you, hinting it’s true intention.

“And, to cap it all, Jack lies to Wendy afterwards, telling her he found no one in Room 237!   The truth of what Jack saw convinced him to lie, to again “overlook” the evidence, because of his overwhelming desire to remain in the hotel at all cost.”

324063-theshining6The former caretaker Grady, talks to Jack in a blood red bathroom, after spilling a drink in the grand ballroom. The same Grady we learnt about earlier in the film, killing his family and himself some years back. From an attentive Grady, we see him transform into the hotels voice. Jack becomes receptive to the information that Grady tells him. He orders him to kill his family, in Grady’s words, to “correct them.” More truths are revealed about Grady and the hotel, it’s true intentions, and the mask that has been covered all this time is finally revealed to Jack and to the audience.

shining2_005pyxurz“Here’s Johnny!”

Jack hacking the bathroom door, full power with an axe. He smiles and somewhat seems to be enjoying it! All the animalistic voices of the hotel are in his head! He know longer recognizes his family, he has become a true killing predator, no longer a human, the ego of the hotel has been fed inside of him, inside his blood and veins. We see Wendy inside the bathroom in utter panic, as she holds a knife in desperation. Jack notices a noise in the distance, he pauses, Halloran arrives Danny’s psychic rescuer… Jack goes to investigate. “On the verge of wielding ultimate power, Jack falters, and Wendy discovers strength in herself she never needed to call on before.  It all just happened to have taken place in a bathroom”…


Full Metal Jacket.

“You animals are doing in my head.”

This is war back home, in the camps, in the bathroom. Private Pyle asserting his own authority, after the bullying he received from Sergeant Hartman, and his camp. He decides to take his own fate, no more bullying, without hesitation he shoots his sergeant dead, then commits suicide.

It’s war for the ego, Private Pyle and Hartman, both glare at each other as they face death. Heroism for Hartman, this is his long awaited chance for victory, to make sure he deals with this situation, as a man with honor, for his country and for the sake of his ego balls, yet if he dies, he will die an honorable man.

Private Pyle once and for all has the illusory authority in this great moment. Again the so-called perfect system fails man, in this case Private Pyle. “It’s a smile of recognition which passes between them, rank against rank, life against life, authority versus individual will.  One man will only give up his power by dying, and the other can only gain it through killing.  Their illusions are stronger than even their wills to live, as has been played out somewhere in every one of Kubrick’s films.  But never more bluntly than in this case.”

kinopoisk.ruEyes Wide Shut.

How the opening scene of Eyes Wide Shut sets up the entire film. Alice is sitting on the toilet, and Bill Harford is looking at himself in the mirror, his wife asks him how do I look, how does my hair look and without glancing back he says, “Perfect.” Alice replies, “You’re not even looking at it.” This moment in the bathroom in the opening scene reveals a truth in their relationship… Bill takes his wife for granted.

Alice and Bill attend Victor Ziegler’s Christmas party. Minutes into the scene Bill a doctor is called for an emergency by Ziegler. We see an unconscious naked woman lying on a red chair, while Ziegler now is zipping up his pants. Bill analyses the woman and manages to wake her up, and warning her about the potential dangers of drug habit. We see that Ziegler could care less of her condition; he wants this mess cleaned up as soon as possible so he could get back to his party. Before doing so, he realizes he’s in a compromising situation and makes sure Bill is silent about this.      “This is just between us,” Ziegler tells Bill. Bill ignorantly says, “Of course.” No doubts required, not in the bathroom.

“Yet the scene in the bathroom has unleashed Bill’s yearnings to move in circles beyond his reach. This is because Bill, like so many men in Kubrick’s work, is dangerously oblivious to how those coveted circles really work, and what the true price of admission is.  And he’s equally oblivious of his own deepest motives, using his bland behavior to hide from even himself the urgency of his desires, and his willingness to jeopardize all he holds dear just to climb another rung in the social ladder.”

For a more detailed analysis of Kubrick’s films symbolically using bathrooms, check out Jeff Westerman’s essay.

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The co-founder of Clockwork Brothers Royce specializes in many things. A director who loves to see cinema and creativity brought to perfection. His wide array of knowledge covers cinematography, editing and visual literacy.


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  4. Susan White

    You might enjoy some other essays that deal with Kubrick’s bathrooms.


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