Biological twins, something we all intuitively understand—two offspring with the same parents—have played a not obvious, but important role in human mythology across thousands of years and nearly all civilizations. For example, the Hero Twins from the creation story Popol Vuh in ancient Maya, carried the ideas of pairing and duality as a motif penetrating almost every aspect of their culture. Similarly, the twins Sieglinde and Siegmund in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, separated in childhood, meet and fall in love, signifying the power of love beyond social and ethical boundaries. Even the scientific thought experiment “Twin Paradox,” uses our intuition to reveal the counterintuitive phenomenon explained by special relativity. I believe the idea of twins in some way touches on a very primitive part of our collective cognition– of symmetrical or semi-symmetrical deviation, reproduction, and identicality. When it comes to the twins in Kubrick’s films, the first thing that comes to mind is the Grady Twins in The Shining. However, the concept of Kubrickian Twins does not merely mean twins in a biological sense, but more so the idea of doubleness– recurrence and duality, which reveals itself through Kubrick’s formal and conceptual techniques, such as symmetry, parallelisms, reflection, mirroring, juxtaposition, and repetition.
One way to disentangle the notion of Kubrickian Twins is through the idea of identical characteristics—two characters sharing the same trait or corresponding across different times and spaces in the same or different films. This character identicalness often implies a sense of duality—of both similarity and difference. This duality can sometimes be delivered by using the same actor for different or semi-different characters. For example, the Lieutenant and the General, Fletcher and the Captain in Fear and Desire, suggest that the “enemy” and “twin brother” are two sides of the same coin; Peter Seller in Dr. Strangelove with three roles—President, Dr. Strangelove, and Captain Lionel Mandrake, show very different demeanors and persona but all have absurd stupidity at their core. In The Shining, the constant division and pairing could be found as a pattern both within one character and between two different characters. Kubrick also expresses this duality through recurrences of similar events to show a sense of repetition on a larger scale. Take, for instance, Alex’s encounter in A Clockwork Orange when he experiences a parallel event before and after he goes to jail, in which he is once the perpetrator and then is disciplined by the system and turns out to be the victim. The repetition or the similarities of different events eventually becomes a critique of an underlying law or system that is beyond the individuals’ control.
The ending quote in Barry Lyndon sheds light on the relation between the doubleness and the repetition found throughout Kubrick’s films: “It was in the reign of George II that the above-named personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.” That is to say, the binary separation and opposition is a recurring pattern of human endeavor found throughout history, as a perpetual cycle of both oneself and the human condition as a whole.
The Kubrickian Twins in The Shining
In The Shining, the notion of Kubrickian Twins is first shown through the correspondence between characters and elements. The central pairing is the Torrance family and the Grady family, as well as the murder that occurred in the Overlook Hotel and the genocide of indigenous people. The secondary doubleness is Tony and Danny, Jack and Lloyd, old women and young women in Room 273, the words redrum and murder, as well as minor details such as the correspondence of the actual name of the actors.
The picture shown at the end, as Kubrick mentioned himself, suggests a form of reincarnation. Christopher Hoile introduces the idea of doubleness in his essay “The Uncanny and the Fairy Tale in Kubrick's the Shining,” drawing a parallel from Freud’s essay to the doubleness in The Shining. In Hoile’s definition, “characters are thought to be identical because of their similar appearance, telepathy, identification of one character with another to the extent that he forgets his own nature or substitutes the other self for his own.” This means the progression of reincarnation is achieved by, in Freud's words, “a doubling, diving, and interchanging of the self. And finally, there's the constant recurrence of the same thing—the repetition of the same feature or character traits or vicissitudes, of the same crimes, or even the same names through several consecutive generations.”
From my perspective, the extreme strangeness of what the audience sees, in which it is almost impossible to understand what is actually happening in reality, is the critique of a larger system. There are lots of “continuity errors” in the film, such as the sudden disappearance of a chair when Wendy speaks to Jack, or the missing sticker of Dopey on Danny's door, which may suggest a sense of dream or hallucination. However, if we try to explain what is actually happening in reality from any single character’s perspective, something would be unexplainable. This means that this film is not about the pathosis of any single character, but the pathosis of the collective members as a whole—the pathosis of Western civilization. This collective symptom is shown by the recurring violence and crimes across different generations.
To further dive into the historical implications, there are lots of connections to the idea of doubleness in Native American cultures. Specifically, one of the important motifs across their cultures is the idea of Hero Twins, usually with supernatural abilities. In some traditions, the idea of Hero Twins carries the idea of duality and pairing, such as life and death, sun and moon, sky and earth, male and female, or two sides of the same character. In other traditions, two twins represent good and evil partnering to finish the same task or quest. Elsewhere, the twins fight against each other, but the good prevails. In The Shining, Danny and Tony can be considered a pairing where the good eventually survives and prevails, whereas Jack is devoured by his evil twin Lloyd, to conduct the task of killing and “cleaning.”
Another technique that illuminates the Kubrickian Twins is symmetry and mirroring, much like how many Native American cultures use symmetry as a means of organization and design. The use of Steadicam in The Shining eliminates the noise caused by humans to achieve the formal perfection of symmetry, eliciting a sense of perfect order and system. This symmetrical framing is itself a form of mirroring, which corresponds with the film’s ultimate function: a mirror revealing the bloody past of the hotel, and more generally, of Western civilization. Moreover, the direct adaptation of the mirror motifs shows the duality of two complementary parts of the same thing. For example, the mirror in the bathroom in room 273 shows the counterpart of the young lady as a zombie-like old lady with grotesque skin and facial expression, revealing the inevitable duality of life and death, youth and aging. Similar to the decoration in the hotel lobby, the mirror reveals the glorification of Western civilization with its rotten and grotesque foundation underneath.
For me, the doubleness associated with Native American culture reveals one of the fundamental themes that Kubrick is pointing toward: invasion and colonization. From Europeans to Native Americans, from men to women, from the ghost to the living, from the powerful to the powerless, Kubrick here is portraying what Western civilization is built upon: killing, murder, and invasion. The Kubrickian Twins, on the other hand, point towards the binary or opposition—between mind and reality, self and others, men and women. The inevitable war and violence due to the binary separation and opposition become a perpetual cycle of repetition and recurrence across different generations.
However, The Shining ends somewhat positively by suggesting an inevitable fact that no system is perfect— including the system that favors the powerful. The task of reincarnation, or the western-centric white male domination system of violence and colonization eventually failed due to uncontrollable factors and minor mistakes. The maze, as an independent system, full of mystery and unknown, is a place where everyone gets lost and becomes equal. These uncontrollable others, or the universal forces that are beyond any dominant human systems, eventually cause the breakdown of the empire of recurrence and repetition.
The Kubrickian Twins in 2001: A Space Odyssey
Although it might sound counterintuitive, the Kubrickian Twins are also embedded deeply in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, through recurrence and duality. I will examine three main twins pairings in the film: Hal and Dave, Dave and his aging self, and the apes and the modern man, all of which deliver a sense of absurdity through the juxtaposition of two complementary parts, followed by the transcendental effect beyond the binaries.
The notion of twin brothers killing the complementary parts of themselves, revenge and retaliation are constantly shown in many other of Kubrick's films. For example, the Lieutenant and General in The Fear and Desire, Alex and Alexander in A Clockwork Orange, Quilty and Humbert in Lolita all carry the similar or inverse quality of the other as two sides of the same coin. When these characters conduct vicious actions against their counterparts, a sense of nonsensical ridiculousness is revealed robustly through the underlying absurdity. In 2001, the characters Hal and Dave subvert the common sense notion that the machine is logical and the human is emotional. As an inversion, Hal appears to posit human qualities such as humor, caring, compassion, and pride, and Dave appears mechanical and lacks emotion. Hal, the murderer of the astronauts on the ship, and Dave, the murderer of Hal, both carry the qualities of the other. Due to the irreconcilable contradiction in their different purposes and value systems, they become enemies. However, when Dave disconnects Hal’s ‘brain,’ Hal expresses that he is capable of experiencing feeling and emotion, which elicits a strong sense of emotional response from the audience even though no one actually knows whether or not Hal can feel it. After that, the scene is a jump cut to wide-open spaces of stillness and serenity. The juxtaposition of closed and open space, the extreme beauty and the awe of the cosmos require the audience to stop asking questions, transcending the limits of traditional binaries.
The second pairing is Dave and his aging self in the final room. Similar to the bathroom in room 237 in The Shining, Dave sees his aging self through the mirror in the bathroom. Here, the mirror is a sign of reflection, doubleness, and division, showing the counterpart and true nature of the character. The pure existence of the character is emphasized by the absurd displacement of different elements, and the mirror is a reflection of that absurdity, implying the unchangeable limitation of human existence.
The third pairing is composed of prehistoric hominids and modern individuals. This pairing is fully integrated with the Darwinism framework of evolution, and yet there is more to it. The match cut of animal bone and the spacecraft create a formal parallel, which carries the ideas of progression from survival-driven animals to the more sophisticated conscious modern human. In the film, this evolution is facilitated by the higher intelligence beings through the black monolith, and serves as an explanation of human evolution and a discussion of the unknown. At the end of the film, Dave is transformed into Starchild. Together with the use of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, Dave’s transformation plainly recalls the philosophy of Nietzsche. In Nietzsche’s famous text Also Sprach Zarathustra, the Übermensch is the future philosopher who transcends any societal value and is a fully realized individual. Which means, even with unimaginable technological advancements from the perspective of a prehistoric hominid, the modern man who prioritizes intelligence and the logical system has by no means reached the peak of humanity. The binary separation of past and present, of unconscious and conscious, of unintelligent and intelligent beings no longer exists as humanity progresses onto another level.
Although Kubrick’s films are often theatrical, ironic, grotesque, absurd, or fantastical and therefore seemingly different from our lives, they are, themselves, a mirror of the deeper side of humanity. Kubrick’s repeated use of doubleness, dualities, and mirroring, has, perhaps predictably, a double purpose. A lot of his films are about the generalization of Western civilization, a civilization which, in large part, depends upon doubleness and dualities: our capitalistic and individualistic culture constantly separates the world into self and others. This binary separation together with animalistic drives of fear and desire, is the foundation of violence and invasion. However, the repetitive use of doubleness, dualities, and mirroring both reflects and goes beyond humanity, by both tracing back history and looking beyond the future.
 Hoile, Christopher. “The Uncanny and the Fairy Tale in Kubrick's the Shining: Semantic Scholar.” undefined, January 1, 1984.
 Freud, Sigmund. The "UnCanny". Imago, 1919.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich. Also Sprach Zarathustra. Berlin: Keiper, 1943.