Granted, as I am a Stanley Kubrick nut, the following statement is somewhat biased but having seen a lack of critical anaysis of any depth at this node, I felt I had to offer a statement as to what the film meant.

Contrary to the other opinions expressed on this node, I liked the movie. Perhaps it's not a thrill-a-minute blockbuster sensation, but neither were Barry Lyndon or 2001: A Space Odyssey., other arguably excellent movies of Kubrick's.

What then, do I find so charming about this movie? Watching it straight, going into the theater expecting just something fun to do on a Friday evening, yes, you'll find it a bit slow. By the same reasoning, reading War and Peace on the Subway on your way to work might drag a little. The fact is, this movie is made to be looked into and thought about, seen again, puzzled over.

Enough rant. Eyes Wide Shut is a movie about consciousness and perception. He does this first and foremost by showing the main characters in various altered states, all acted out in almost campy exaggeration - filmic hyperbole: there's Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman drunk at the party in the beginning, the prostitute under heavy drugs, Cruise and Kidman on the ganja weed, the woman who's father dies experiencing Florence Nightengale Syndrome for Cruise - all of this mixed with the constant, powerfully psychologically altering effect of sex and sexual attraction - Nuala at the party, Domino when Cruise goes out, the Daughter of the Rainbow costume shop (incidentally, Nuala was going to take Cruise "Where the Rainbow ends".) and most obviously the Party.
In addition to showing how people's perceptions can be altered and the effects of that, he plays with the audience, making the watcher an active participant in the Drama of confusion. We are assaulted with ambiguous and indecipherable social situations. Like the novel, the situations with which we are presented start out mundane but gradually grow less and less real as the dreamlike state of the film takes over, culminating of course in the massive, masqued ball where no-one knows who anyone else is or what they are thinking - individuals become so obscured behind their masks that their identities and motives leave the watcher thinking What the Fuck?
We are first presented with the straightforward relationships: husband and wife, mother and daughter, parent and babysitter. However, once we get to the party, the interactions become more intense, and slightly less decipherable. While we know that the Hungarian wants Kidman, what exactly Nuala and her friend were planning on doing with Cruise remains a complete mystery. And what the host was doing with the whore at his own party is only hinted at - and assumed - by the audience. The number of unkown elements is taken up a notch. Why did Nick leave Med school? Why is he playing piano halfway across the country from where he lives - and exactly what experience does he have walking away from things?
After Cruise and Kidman fight at home, Cruise leaves for the home of one of his patients who has just died, and here we are confronted with an incredibly bizzare situation, as the daughter of this newly dead man proclaims her love for Cruise, despite her having been affianced to Karl (funny how I can remember his name and not hers). Her wild eyes and nervous manner leave us, and Cruise's character, intensely perplexed.
From here he meets Domino, a prostitute whom he pays but does not end up sleeping with, leaving with the intention of going home - but not doing it. Domino is an interesting situation - the name for the cape and mask combination everyone was wearing at the ball, one might suspect that SHE was the one who offered - inexplicably - to save Cruise's life (warning him against the ironic background playing of Strangers in the Night). But he is told it wasn't her - she contracts aids and goes away - and we are left not feeling as if we know wholly what was going on.

Which is the whole point.

The movie is largely about this perceptual limitation/ alteration that alcohol, lack of sleep, sex drive, anything really can trigger. Innumerable other examples of this exists in the film but I must return to work.

It's perfectly possible, even likely, not to like this film. However, you can't ignore its artistic merit.

Let me explain.

This is a movie whose hype overwhelmed the film. Hell, this was Stanley Kubrick. Director of, what was his last film, what, hmm, uhh, Full Metal Jacket, yeah, that's it. 12 years is a long time for a film to generate some steamrolling type hype.

The climate that the movie came out in was distinctly art-phobic. No-one noticed that the title theme was written by Dmitry Shostakovich, a man famous for writing music seemed to celebrate Communism and Stalin, but actually helped to undermine them.

"Who cares!?" you say, well, fine, then don't say it's a bad movie. The stuff's there, it's not like I'm deconstructing this here. It's a fact, eh, and if you're going to walk into a film which seems artsy and you've still got your "Me So Horny" hat on, expecting something like A Clockwork Orange, which can be enjoyed on even the base-violent levels, then you're seriously screwed in the head.

Another example: the password into the orgy, whose password is "Fidelio," Beethoven's hymn praising conjugal love. Indeed, the entire movie is chock full of Fidelio references, and other Ovid, Homer, and Christmas stuff. What about all the symbolism, comin' right on at you from before even the first frame of the goddamn movie, during the title, a Shostakovich waltz, until Alice turns off the radio.

Okay, you saw the preview, with the orgy, and you felt it wasn't erotic at all. It wasn't supposed to be, eh. There wasn't eroticism there, there was fear, authority, forced feeling. If you wanted sex, you've fallen victim to the great sex meme of marketing. Congrats. This contrived sex without love is ritual in the film, it is contrived. The fantasy of the orgy is better than the thing itself, etc. etc.

Did you notice that the pot was in a Band-Aid tin?

Did you think about a doctor's role in life? To reverse time and accidents and so on.

Did you notice the sign outside that's covered up to read "ass"?

When you're looking at the backs of Bill and Alice, what's going on? It's all sex, animalistic, and you (genearally) can't identify someone by their back.

Did you notice the masks in the prostitutes apartment? The orgy? The patient in love with Bill?

When was Bill behind bars in the film? See a lot of Christmas Trees? How do the nearly always disappointing Christmas Gifts equate with the sad excuse for an orgy?

How many pairs and double entendres can you find? (The Hungarian with the long nose and the masked big-nose fellow at the orgy is just one pair.)

Do I need to ask any more questions? Sure, you can hate the film, but you can't say it's flat and uninspired. The artist has no obligation to you. And never forget you may not be the intended audience.

I also have to say that this movie did not completely suck. I understand why many people didn't like it; it was slow-paced and had LOTS of dialog.

I enjoyed it for the art, and because it did make me think. A lot. Some of what I thought about I'll be noding at some point:
Sex is a family value
Faithful doesn't mean you're not attracted to anyone else
Communication is key.

The one place where I think this movie failed in something it attempted to do was the mystery. I knew exactly who the woman at the rich perverts' party was. I knew exactly who the two people that nodded to Tom Cruise at that same party were. Okay, I admit I didn't know that they really weren't going to hurt his family, so there's one success.

Sure, there are a lot of questions unanswered, like what is Domino going to do now, and what really happened between the owner of Rainbow costumes and the guys who were with his daughter (Leelee Sobieski) (I suspect they gave him a lot of money, but who knows). But the movie is a slice of life, not a big fat expose of it. We don't learn all these things because Cruise's character doesn't learn them. And ultimately, they don't matter; what matters is his adventure, and his wife's dream, and how they deal with them after.

A personal complaint is that I kept waiting for Nicole Kidman to be a part of the story again, but she wasn't really. She was a catalyst; he would never have done what he did that night if she hadn't told him about the Naval officer she'd been so attracted to. On the other hand, I think if she'd told him in the first place (instead of months later while smoking pot), they would have had some great sex together and put it behind them, as they were planning at the end of the film.

Masterpiece

Stanley Kubrick 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.

Characters

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.

Dialogue

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.”

Juxtaposition

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.

Music

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.

Acting

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.

Conclusion

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.

 For people who haven't seen the movie, it's all about the sex.
For those who have, it's all about religion, or cults, or what in the heck were they doing at that orgy?


 What most people who have commented on this film seem to have forgotten is that EWS is based on a novel by Austrian author Arthur Schnizler, and had been a pet project for Mr. Kubrick since about 1960. This accounts for some of the anachronisms in the film: in Austria in the Twenties, when the book was written, it would have been a rather ordinary thing to go to a private ball or a masquerade, everyone knew a good deal about Beethoven, including at least the plot of Fidelio and secret societies, especially among the upper classes, were a much-discussed, but seldom-seen, part of life in Vienna. (The Hapsburg Empire had a secret police that was the lineal ancestor of Stasi, Mossad, the KGB, and the SS -- quick, efficient, direct and sometimes not too heedful of the niceties, hence, people who had odd political ideas, or other quirks, tended to keep things under wraps.) OK, so it's got something to do with the Bavarian Illuminati...your point? In Vienna, it would be like saying it had to do with the Elks, the Jaycees, or the Odd Fellows -- they had much larger fish to fry.  He wanted it to be set in 1960's New York, but as time went by, he found it harder and harder to sell it as a 'period' film, thus the somewhat pieced-together version we have now.


 Of course for a family like the Harfords (who were originally a middle-class Jewish family, not unlike that of Schnizler's pal Sigmund Freud) a ball such as Ziegler's would have been a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, and the more lurid portions would have been part of a world they perhaps saw, but preferred to pretend they hadn't. Yet, it's interesting to note how much of what seems "modern" in the film, would have been even more apropos in the era between the wars.

Cocaine and heroin were cheaply and plentifully available from pharmacists and less respectable sources well into the twenties, especially in Europe. Also in the Twenties, the evangelical/Pentacostal/Fundamentalist strain of Christianity was considered a bizarre, regressive fringe...progressive, forward-thinking people were vegetarian nudists who read Nietzsche and the Bhagavad-Gita. Cult religion, from nature worship to the O.T.O., was about as unremarkable as it is now -- Christianity was intellectually on the ropes, and had even less authority back then than it does today, and it's to be noted that at one point, the Bauhaus design school (in neighboring Germany) seriously contemplated instituting long red robes (like academic gowns, but closed) with pendant necklaces and cropped hair as a school uniform. (However, to clarify, Mr. L. Frank Baum was a Theosophist -- a Westernized form of Buddhism -- not The Golden Dawn, certainly not "several occult groups" and he would have been somewhat shocked to think that anyone would think of him as a Satanist, or exponent of sex magic.) 

 But what were they doing?

 Short answer: Kubrick made the ritual up himself, out of whole cloth, after asking Jocelyn Pook for some "weirdo" music (his words). She handed him a tape she'd made of a Roumanian priest chanting an Orthodox prayer that she'd backmasked and accompanied by her violin playing, she'd titled "Backward Priests". Cleaned up and made a bit longer, it's called "Masked Ball".  Twenties-period erotica was heavily into fantasies involving masks, blindfolded servants, and people dressed in ecclesiastical clothing, often in luxurious settings -- all Kubrick did was to take these and ramp them up a bit.

 Longer answer: In the original, the woman who "redeems" Dr. Harford is dressed as a nun, and there was a strong religious component in the story. He's Jewish, and is dragged before a man who resembles God the Father. His wife's dream, which is sketched in broad terms in the movie, in the book runs to some pages and was supposed to have closely followed the events of Harford's night of horror -- a woman begs to run away with him, a group of students (read cadets, who liked cutting up each other with sabres) gay-bash him, he visits a prostitute, he gets caught up in a bizarre party attended by monks and nuns -- and gets crucified, while all the while, she's popping corn (so to speak) with a variety of strange men. Unlike the movie, the book ends with him trying to decide whether to tell his wife.  Since few backers could stomach the idea of a crucified Cruise, he was forced into dragging out the action into a long weekend, and the orgy got turned into the Carnival in Venice/ritual heirogamy that you see on screen.
 
Just for kicks, here's the text of the prayer:
 
"And God told to his acolytes...I give you a command...to pray to the Lord for the mercy, life, peace, health, salvation... and the forgiveness of the sins of God's children. The ones that pray, they have mercy and they take good care of this holy place."

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