considered Eyes Wide Shut
his masterpiece, even while the staunchest of Kubrick’s fans consider it weak. Let us consider why he may have believed this because I agree that this is not only Kubrick’s best work, but also one of the greatest films of all time. Keep in mind, I am only utilizing a few examples that exist, or may be interpreted in this film.
Obviously, the essential ingredient to any promising story is the development of its characters. True, Eyes Wide Shut is more about Bill’s psychological state, but how many people realized that the only reason Alice tells Bill about the naval officer is that Bill went missing at the party with the two models? It may be assumed that Alice tells Bill about the naval officer, ostensibly, because she believes Bill had sex with the two models. We know he did not, and so we remit him of infidelity during his disappearance because we know he was off at Ziegler’s bathroom, where nobody at the party would be able to find him. Due to the events we know, but that Alice does not know, upon first viewing it appears that Alice is the one acting aggressive when they smoke marijuana. Yet, Alice does not know this, and if you watch Eyes Wide Shut with character motivations and perspectives in mind, the brilliance of the behavioral patterns become clearer. Thus, we have to question if the naval officer even exists because Alice, under the liberating influence of marijuana, is clearly acting out at what she sees as infidelity. She wants to hurt Bill. Due to this misunderstanding, Bill now comes to believe her naval officer story is truthful, and he is now psychologically wounded. Alice is clearly falling for the Hungarian’s troubadour sung love praises at the party, but she is merely being playful- she does not want to cheat on Bill, and we never see her with another man in the movie, while we see Bill clearly on the brink of infidelity. Great writing asks us to make deductions about its characters’ behaviors that may not be spelled out clearly. For instance, if Kubrick wrote the dialogue so that Alice later tells Bill she made up the story about the naval officer because she thought Bill cheated on her, but she would never cheat on him, it would not nearly have been as effective (or fun) as requiring us to make assumptions. Bill’s whole journey begins with a couple dubious of each other’s fidelities, though both are misperceptions.
Kubrick is obviously playing on two indelible works in the American psyche- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. If you do a little research into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it is interesting that it was written by L. Frank Baum, who was a member of a secret society called The Golden Dawn, an occult society with members such as Alistair Crowley. He was also involved in several other occult societies. The way Kubrick adorns the secret mansion with occult symbols suggests he is at least knowledgeable about occultism and secret societies, and he based this screenplay off a book written in 1916, when occult societies still flourished underground to avoid the rebuke of Christian/Societal values. It is a bit interesting that the two models tell Bill he is “going over the rainbow,” with its connection to the author’s activities, and what Bill will come to see. Bill is a Dorothy character, who will have a sexual adventure where he meets strange characters, and finally finds Oz- the mansion. Alice seems to be an allusion to Alice in Wonderland. She falls down the proverbial “rabbit hole” into a world she has never known-- the mask on Bill’s pillow, and their tenuous union at the end, which reeks of a mutual understanding of Bill’s night out, suggests either she was threatened by members of the cult, part of the cult, dreamed about the cult, or somehow found out about Bill’s night out. It is interesting that when Bill finally gets home she wakes up groggily and says “What happened” as if she actually has fallen down a rabbit hole.
In the final scene, we feel as if we went on the same journey with Alice and Bill. We are as uncertain of our feelings, motives, physicality, and existence as they are. We want to know who and what the secret society is as much as Bill does, and we are as frustrated as Bill that we can never know.
I cannot leave off without speaking a little bit about Bill’s psychological evolution. He explores his primal side, and in a David Lynch-like fashion, falls deeper into an underworld he never knew existed, and that he never cared to see. It is how this world effects Bill, rather than how this world exists- because aside from the secret society, the other experiences we are generally familiar with- that makes Bill interesting. First, there is the woman who loses her father yet desperately loves Bill. His ethical standards seem to imbue a sense of Doctor’s duty, which causes him to turn her down. Yet, after a group of kids call him “Mary,” Bill, still shaken up over his perception of betrayal by Alice, needs to affirm his masculinity. Some suggest he may actually be gay, and that is possible. Once again multiple viewings reveal different details.
Next, Bill meets a prostitute, and just when he is about to have intercourse with her, his wife’s phone call jolts him back into his ethical life. Jarred into finding a bar to ease his tension, he meets an old friend named Nick, who tells him of a sexual temptation too good to resist, and Bill finally goes for broke. He finds a costume shop to prepare for the orgy, where he finds a father prostituting his young daughter out, which again jolts his mind back into his old value system. But, he is still curious about what Nick promised as the most incredible sexual experience he will ever have.
This is a behavioral pattern. I know it is not hard to pinpoint that Bill loves his wife, but feels sexual attraction towards other women; I think both sexes experience this underlying contradiction in our psyche. It is the fact the Kubrick touches on this so deeply, and makes such a profound analytical statement—that the only way we reconcile these underlying biological urges is with the mental willpower to stay faithful to the person we have supposedly “promised fidelity.” The human urge for multiple sexual partners is a primordial, animalistic urge that exists within us, and which we reconcile rationally and mentally. Unless fulfillment can be found in one person, which both Bill and Alice were convinced existed until the night of the party.
I am certainly not the one to coin this expression, but "what is not said in a movie has more power.” We do not know what Alice knows at the end of the film. We do not know what exactly happens to Nick Nightingale.
I need only one scene to justify the hypnotic and yet ambiguous dialogue of the film. Of, course there are the ballroom scenes, and Bill and Alice’s marijuana scene, and the alienation of the unmasking scene, but after Bill finds the model’s body dead, then there is- in my humble… ok, pompous opinion- the greatest scene ever committed to celluloid. When Bill confronts Zeigler in the Billiards scene, Kubrick makes sure the magnitude of the room is felt-- this is just Zeigler’s billiard room, while Bill sits home sucking Budweiser Beer out of a can in an opulent, but significantly less stately apartment. Bill knows he is in a different world when Zeigler reveals he was at the gathering. Notice how Kubrick uses the distance between them to illustrate the tension. After Zeigler tells Bill he saw him at the orgy, Bill begins to question him in hopes of finding out what happened, or what the secret society really means. Zeigler’s dialogue is so perfectly ambiguous it is haunting. Zeigler leaves off with the words “Life goes on… it always does… until it doesn’t.”
Another sign of astute writing is a contradiction of events. For instance, in the recent release Brokeback Mountain, a magnificent film in so many ways, there are countless instances of contradictory scenes, which create a perfect tinge of reality because reality is dualistic. For instance, we see Jack Twist driving up to see Ennis Del Mar in his pick up, slapping the wheel and singing along gleefully to “King of the Road.” Then, after Ennis tells Jack he cannot be with him because he has his daughters for the weekend, we see Jack driving back in tears, but there is a sad, lonesome song by a female singer on the radio. Of course, there is the juxtaposition of the two Thanksgivings as well; where Jack had his manhood challenged and asserts his masculinity, while Ennis is confronted by Elma about his gay relationship, and in a rage he initiates a brawl with a random man, and is brutally defeated.
In Eyes Wide Shut, perhaps the greatest juxtaposition is the two different ballroom scenes. At the beginning of the movie, we see Bill and Alice getting ready together, explicitly invited to Ziegler’s party, while Bill prepares for the secret society gathering alone, and most importantly, uninvited. He does not know how to behave at the gathering, and thus is singled out by the other members, but he fits right in with Alice at Ziegler’s. Ziegler’s party is florid and majestic, there are lights everywhere, and everyone is able to see each other. People at Ziegler’s talk to each other, and play snaky aristocratic verbal games. Now, contrast this with the secret gathering, where the scenery is a stark, melancholy, old-world setting, lighted only by a sinister incandescence. The robes and morbid masks of its attendees allow that no one is able to see each other, and the romantic verbiage exchanged between the Hungarian and Alice is absent to a raw orgiastic sexuality. Yet, it is so obvious that these two worlds coexist, as we later find out that Ziegler was at the gathering as well! The model was at the gathering as well! This is a perfectly scripted, and splendidly balanced method of using juxtaposition to show how the world can be white one minute and black the next.
This is one of the most simple, but haunting themes ever utilized. It is just two notes! Kubrick could have used all the cliché horror shines, and tension building crescendos that cheap horror flicks use, but instead he utilizes one simple theme to heighten the rolling uncertainty of Bill’s journey.
Certainly, there is a large advantage here in terms of chemistry, because Kidman and Cruise actually were husband and wife in real life, and actually were experiencing acrimony in their marriage. Still, they do not share the majority of screen time together. Sydney Pollack gives the performance of a lifetime as Zeigler, and Kubrick uses the reactions of Bill to illuminate the way he feels about all the supporting characters. The rest of the cast is perfectly eerie, appearing mostly as character actors.
David Lynch created a movie called Lost Highway, which was released in 1997. Many people have tried to make sense of it, but I believe Lynch was once quoted as (paraphrase) saying “There is no answer, the mystery is more interesting.” In life, it is the reality we are unaware of that scares, intrigues and grasps us more than anything else. Kubrick is speaking to many themes in Eyes Wide Shut. The title alone suggests that we are unaware of what is really going on around us. What happens when all the sexual desires we never acknowledge openly are opened? What happens when an elite caste is discovered performing an occult orgy, but you cannot know any further than what you saw one night? What happens when you think a woman was murdered, but you cannot prove it? In the words of Carlos Castanada: “A warrior treats the world as an endless mystery, and what people do as an endless folly.