The Moon landing is one of the most outstanding human achievements of the last century. And, for many, no evidence is extraordinary enough to make them believe in this extraordinary claim. My favorite version of the fake-Moon-landing conspiracy theory is that Stanley Kubrick directed the supposedly fake video of the first men walking on the Moon.
At first glance, this association seems really bizarre. When I first heard of it, the director’s choice struck me as random. Why Kubrick? I’m here to answer this question today.
This is the Science of Fiction.
The Moon-landing hoax remains among the most popular conspiracy theories for over five decades now. It claims that no human ever set foot on the Moon, and the video recorded and broadcast was faked. It’s not the craziest conspiracies we see thrown around, but it’s annoying enough.
According to some, the video of the astronauts exploring the Moon site was recorded on Earth and directed by Stanley Kubrick.
The choice of director seems super random. Why Stanley Kubrick over other equally creative minds?
Of course, any other name associated with this theory would be equally entertaining. Think about it. If Francis Ford Coppola were asked to direct the moon landing, that would be an offer he could not refuse, right? What about Stephen Spielberg? He certainly knows his way around special effects. He could have built a bigger spaceboat.
Maybe the older ones among you already understand why. Still, it was a question I could only answer after studying the history of science from a cultural perspective. We’ll see that science fiction has a vital role in this story.
Stanley Kubrick was undoubtedly a gifted director, with many of his movies becoming must-watch classics, like Dr. Strangelove, The Shinning, and Clockwork Orange, to name a few.
One of his masterpieces, 2001: a Space Odyssey, is often cited as the best science-fiction movie of all time (see this list and this list, for example) or, in the least, ranked in the top favorite in many lists (like in here and here).
Based on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story The Sentinel, Kubrick wrote the screenplay for the movie alongside Clarke’s writing of its novelization. It is an epic SF film with lasting enduring influences on the cinema industry. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s introspective, and maybe it can sometimes feel quite dull for modern audiences, but it’s worth it.
As a testament to his excellence, Kubrick’s sci-fi movies were the first two of this genre ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards Ceremony. First Dr. Strangelove in 1964 and later A Clockwork Orange in 1971.
As a director, however, Kubrick never won an Oscar. Maybe this rumor about the moon landing conspiracy can be interpreted as a recognition of his legacy as a sci-fi master director. Silver lining.
Cinema vs. Reality
Not only the cinema industry was affected by Kubrick’s vision of Clarke’s story. 2001: a Spacey Odyssey changed the way we all think of space.
Can you truly grasp how much of a technological leap the recording and broadcasting of moving images was for early 20th-century society? The reality contained in a box could mimic our own and trick our senses into believing it was true. When everyone became more familiar with this technology, the opposite happened. Things on the TV were considered to be unreal and untrustworthy.
Before 2001: A Space Odyssey, other movies presented us with wild travels to space. Even the first of the kind, Le Voyage dans la Lune, told the tale of men going to the Moon. The universe was filled with adventures in this early depiction of the cosmos. Humans could explore exotic new planets and races that habited the deepest places of our imagination. The threat often came in the form of hostile extraterrestrial visitors attacking us.
Kubrick’s vision of space was something else entirely—a vast darkness filled with dread, a place not designed for humans. An inhospitable moon and a long, lonely journey to Jupiter did not match people’s previous adventurous conceptions about the universe. Space itself was the threat.
2001 was released at the height of the Space Race when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. competed to see who would conquer space first. The Soviet Union sent the first person into outer space in 1961. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth and came back alive to tell us the Earth is indeed round. In 1969, the United States reached the Moon.
A Space Odyssey hit the theaters a year before this, with a depiction of a Moon site eerily similar to the footage of the Apollo 11 mission. Men in space suits strolling in a desolated land with a pitch black sky above them—a scene never seen before in the big or small screens featured first in one of Kubrick’s movies and repeated in a NASA transmission. No wonder why it raised suspicion!
After all, which is most likely? For Kubrick to adjust and improve a scene he had already shot before, or scientists invent a spaceship that would take us to the Moon?
Naturally, I’m not saying that this proves Stanley Kubrick faked the Moon landing. I’m pointing to this part of the movie (below) as the origin story of this conspiracy theory.
The scene is pure genius. From the scientific descriptions of what we expected to find on the Moon’s surface, Kubrick nailed the atmosphere of the Moon before the actual mission corroborated it.
That’s it for today, folks!
I thought of writing this post while teaching about the influence of science-fiction movies on scientific endeavors. Did you enjoy it? Did you already know why Kubrick? Let me know in the comments.
See you next post,
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.