NOTE: There is nudity in this post because some of the movie takes place at an ORGY...
I have a confession to make: I completely and utterly love Eyes Wide Shut. Yes its true. Somewhere past the age of 14 when I stopped watching it solely for the orgy scenes, I realized that the film had the unbelivable power to fully creep me out. Before I had seen it, my older sister had seen it in the movie theater, and came home to exclaim that she didn't think it was necessarily bad--it was just...weird. She described a haunting piano note (one note!) that caused her a great deal of trouble, as well as a lot of sex and naked women, plus Tom Cruise. Being young and easily infatuated with naked people of all kinds, I decided that once it was released, I would stay up late and watch it. My experience went as follows: boring, boring, boring, NICOLE KIDMAN'S BOOB, boring boring boring, holy shit, PEOPLE HAVING SEX, boring, boring, that was it? I had brushed it off instantly as a movie much like Showgirls, that was created for the sole purpose of a teenager's curiosity and gratification. I definitely did not want anyone to know I had seen it, and I was pretty positive I was going to hell.
Fast forward a few years to when my movie watching skills had greatly improved. I became entranced by Kubrick and finally had watched A Clorkwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket. I began noticing patterns in his films, and being able to pick them out was thrilling. One night Eyes Wide Shut was once again playing in the absence of HBO's regularly programmed Real Sex, and I decided to once more give it a go. What I found was a haunting film about a man grappling with the idea of committing adultery and how he and his wife's relationship could potentially be ruined based on assumptions and jealously. Did I understand that immediately? Of course not. Like most Kubrick films, it becomes difficult to digest its meaning right away, and for the most part you'll never fully digest it to begin with. For example, I can still watch The Shining today and not fully understand everything about it--but that's what makes me love the complexity of Kubrick's films.
There are several theories as to what exactly Eyes Wide Shut is about. The most frustrating thing about it perhaps is that Kubrick died before the film was even released--not that he would come clean about its exact meaning-- but still, it would be nice to have a hint. Theories range from the "it was all a dream" theory, to the conspiracy behind the cult, to the all inside Bill's head theory. I can't say I agree with any one of those necessarily, but like many before me I have noticed some startling things.
I think the majority of the film is mostly a metaphor rather than a full standing theory. A metaphor for fidelity and infidelity--a joining of two seemingly opposite things. The film's title similarly reflects this idea as it is sort of impossible to have your eyes wide shut. It implies a seeing and a not seeing. If you take this idea of duality and the constant juxtapositions, you can sort out that everything that happens in the first part of the film is mirrored in some way by the second part. The swanky party at Victor Ziegler's house is easily juxtaposed with the swanky orgy. The party representing the Harford's fidelity and the swanky orgy, their infidelity.
Take for example these screen shots of both situations where startling mirror images exist.
The swanky party is filled with men leading their women around to different rooms. People are often seen walking in pairs while at each doorway is an attendant.
(See the couples in the background)
At the orgy--women are leading their men around, while attendants also wait by the doorways.
At the swanky party, Nick Nightingale plays the piano.
Nick Nightingale also plays at the orgy--this time blindfolded.
The main ballroom at Ziegler's party is filled with people dancing.
The main ballroom at Ziegler's is also used for dancing---except it's naked dancing and sometimes *gasp* men are dancing with men and women with women!
At the party, Bill is called away by an attendant to assist Ziegler with a drug overdosed hooker. You could say in the larger scheme of things, that Bill is called away to save her life.
At the orgy, Bill is called away by an attendant to the great hall where he is exposed. It is here that the overdosed hooker saves Bill's life.
Using this evidence it is quite easy to deduce that Bill could have simply dreamed the second part of the movie. Things like the two girls at the party telling Bill that they are going "Where the rainbow ends"
for example and then having the costume shop that Bill later goes to called,
"Rainbow Fashions" is another way to support that theory.
I personally hate dream theories because I feel like it discredits a large portion of the film. I much prefer the theory of the parallels. The theme of fidelity vs. infidelity is evident in all of the film, take for example the password to gain entry into the orgy:
There are of course other examples where an opposition of fidelity and infidelity exist apart from the two parties. For example--when Bill first meets Mr. Milich the costume store owner, he is outraged that his daughter was sleeping with the Japanese businessmen.
The next time we see Mr. Milich he is gladly prostituting his daughter to the businessmen in exchange for some kind of deal. A fidelity and an infidelity.
Early on in the film, Bill is practically jumped by the daughter of one of his patients who lay dead on the bed behind them. Bill turns down this woman's offer and leaves. Later that night Bill is approached by a hooker on the street. He accepts her offer to go back to her apartment--although later leaves before doing anything.
So you see, the idea of fidelity vs infidelity runs strongly throughout the film. The most perplexing question is what can you conclude from this. One thing that I've always thought about is the importance and the presence of the masks. At the beginning party presumably where fidelity runs deep, everyone's faces are out in the open. It is here that both Alice and Bill are tempted to be unfaithful, but remain faithful--perhaps because they can see.
At the orgy, all faces are kept masked. This suggests of course a hiding and a dishonesty--which is expected when speaking of infidelity. But it also I think, suggests a seeing and a not seeing aspect very similar to the film's title. Masks have the ability to both allow vision and detract from a clear vision. I'm not sure how many of you have tried putting on a mask and running around--but it is extremely difficult because you are experiencing a great loss of peripheral vision. This therefore can suggest that when the masks are on a major ability to see becomes hindered. If Bill is at the orgy and yearning for infidelity he is failing to realize or see the MOST important thing about Alice's infidelity----that it never actually happened. Bill's jeaously goes merely off what he imagines Alice would have done with the young naval officer had she been given the chance. We and Bill however know that in reality, Alice did nothing with the naval officer. This is ultimately the idea behind the two worlds. In one version fidelity is tested and passes, and in another it is tempted and almost loses. And this goes for Alice as well, because in reality--Bill actually does nothing to remain unfaithful except for his yearning and desire to try, which is in most ways exactly like Alice's situation. In fact they are both pretty much equal by the film's end, yet they sort of fail to realize that.
At the film's end--Bill finds his mask lying on the pillow next to Alice, causing him to come clean about everything. The mask fully slipping.
I realize this means nothing to anyone who has not seen the film so I respect any loss of interest you may have suffered. I guess I should probably switch to the major reason why I love this film. The scenes of the cult performing the rituals,
and the later unveiling of Bill in front of the cult
are two of the most wonderful scenes I've ever witnessed.
There's just something about the creepiness of the backwards chanting, and the piano music and of course that one note of absolute dread and fear that really sends shivers down my spine.
The piano is just SO menacing and staring at all those masked faces just plain freaks me out every single time.
If I had to only watch one scene in a movie over and over again it would definitely be when Bill goes to the mansion. Even walking through the different rooms and seeing all that sex is done pretty damn well. A lot of people tend to hate this movie because of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman---but since neither of them really talk during this scene you can't use that as an excuse. Please agree that these scenes are completely amazing. Please.
I will conclude in saying that a lot of people HATE Eyes Wide Shut and I can understand it. It took me a few viewings to even come remotely close to gaining an understanding and what's more---an appreciation. It is a much more intimate film from Kubrick than we've seen in the past, but his complexities still remain and of course his signature touch of adding just the right amount of creepiness and unease.
I would recommend both a first viewing or a second viewing to anyone that feels differently. Try to ignore the seemingly bad acting of Nicole Kidman and her awful attempt at being stoned (she seems more belligerently drunk and it makes me cringe when she talks in baby talk) and instead think about the movie as a whole--and what it is symbolizing in terms of Alice and Bill's relationship. You will find something different from what I find I'm sure--but it makes the film so much more interesting when after multiple viewings you can still find something to talk about and discover.
Oh and P.S. Tom Cruise wears UGGS in this...
Andre, you rule! I thought I was the only person fascinated by this film. People look at me like I'm nuts when I sing it's praises. I think it is endlessly readable and it always haunts the hell out of me! Did you notice the crazy tagged mailbox that keeps appearing or that Cruise takes a taxi ride only to end up across the street from where he was? Some say these are goofs or continuity errors but I say it's pure Kubrick. This movie is crazy brilliant!
Yay! I did not notice the mailbox but I DID notice how he took a cab to end up on the other side of the street. I totally thought it was a goof but now it just makes it seem so creepy. I'll really have to check the mailbox thing out. Hooray I knew I wasn't alone!
I actually went to see this in the theater only after trying to see Blair Witch Project, which was sold out. I had read some of the negative reviews and was hesitant, but when I actually watched it, I was both enthralled and floored, thinking I had just seen the best movie ever made. I don't see how someone can claim to be a Kubrick fan and not love this film. I do understand how a teenager would find it boring, though (I guess I was 18 or 19 when I initially saw it).
Anyway, great write up, and an interesting point with the infidelity stuff. I've seen the movie many times and pretty much take it at face value (instead of using a dream interpretation). I think the key for me in evaluating the film is the last scene, where Nichole claims they will have learned from this experience, opening their eyes, if you will, but nothing has really changed. There are slaves to a marriage (and life) of convenience. Or something like that.
p.s. what the fuck are UGGS? I guess they are goofy looking snow shoes that Tom Cruise wears.
This is also one of my favorite Kubrick films. A sorely underrated movie that hopefully will be counted among his classics one day. Thanks for the great write-up!
Hah UGGS are the quintessential annoying fashion trend of the decade....FOR GIRLS. They also happen to be really warm so I have some but I accept my foolishness.
I loved this film to death, re-watched it recently (and reviewed it on my blog) and ended up being a very gratifying watch, very rewarding.
To me its just a comment on human sexuality, the depravity we can go to, and the dangers we can circle around if we are not carful. That scene where Cruise finds out he almost got AIDS was chilling!
It has to do with the masks people where in society, how we might be one way to some, and another way entirely to others.
And how all this abherrant sexuality in the world can threaten your relationship and marriage.
You know after reading your thoughts on this I think I'm going to give this film another viewing. I was bored by it the first time seeing it and any other time I saw it on cable I usually skipped watching it. But I think you make some great observations here and it's kinda got me intrigued.
So wait, are you saying that Tom Cruise ISN'T a girl? Hold the phone!
I love this movie, too. It has such a chilling, hypnotic atmosphere that I just love WATCHING it.
I don't think there's a boring second in it. Every frame is just so captivating.
And I've always loved how Kubrick used the full frame, especially in THE SHINING and this.
Superlative Piece on a difficult piece of work.
My hats off to you.
This film struck me so forcefully because my girl and I watched it while our relationship was falling apart. I couldn't imagine what anyone would get from the film as a teenager, but that shot with Tom slamming his fist into his palm walking, was me. He was losing her, and he was starting to lose it. Kubrick's most horrifying film, because it was realistic, minus the ignorant pointless orgies. In one place a hooker O.D.'s and you go home and your wife offers you a joint and basically tells you you're bourgeois and boring and you're already disgusted with yourself in thinking you could ever escape that existence in the first place. In a way the film has a somewhat hopeful message because it presents all that secretive shit as a hollow rotten core that people of money and influence dance around trying to convince themselves it all actually means something
I basically forgot all the weird stuff in the movie, as you can tell from my previous post, I'm sure. They have always seemed to me a weird soup that allowed the bedroom/home scenes to stay afloat and have even greater resonance, because those scenes were so honestly chilling and impactful.
Great post. I too love Eyes Wide Shut... the idea of the whole film and what I felt after watching it made my thoughts twist all over the place.
I don't think those were the best scenes. The ritualized and prescribed nature of the sex acts and their observers scared the shit out of me I must say. This is supposed to be a movie for Christ' sake; not a porno. I saw the uncut version unfortunately, and it was utterly disturbing. However, it was for this reason that I was prompted to research the intentions behind such an orgy prefaced with incantations and found that the role of satanic sex rituals is to release repressed sexual guilt brought upon by Christianity and therefore Christian-influenced society. Another goal is to recognize the human as an animal and to act accordingly. Basically being as evil and sick as possible since that supposedly what lurks inside, and to deny it is the true sickness...according to these sickos.
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