EYES WIDE SHUT: HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
An In-Depth Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s Misunderstood Masterpiece
PROLOGUE: AUTHOR'S NOTES
Eyes Wide Shut, more than any other movie, gave rise to my interest in cinema as a compelling storytelling medium. I've been haunted by the film since I first saw it upon its release in 1999, and have studied it in an attempt to understand it. So, this article is my contribution to the ongoing Stanley Kubrick film analyses swirling around out there. While written purely from my own interest and not for profit, I've excluded many ideas with the intention of expanding it all into a book—which would be for sale—so, stay tuned.
To avoid rehashing what's already been extensively discussed by others, I've focused primarily on my own observations and interpretations—although much research was required to understand the film's many facets. I'm continuing to add links and citations, but I wanted to put out what I have—which is still quite thorough—in time for Eyes Wide Shut's 20-year anniversary.
This anaysis is for people who like to think deeply about works of art—movies, music, literature—and draw comparisons to our own real world so that we may evolve to navigate through it with greater wisdom and understanding. It's been an education working on this essay, because as you'll see, the movie's reach goes far and wide. Watching Eyes Wide Shut has opened my mind and eyes, but writing about it has opened them even more.
Nik Dobrinsky / Boy Drinks Ink
— July 16th, 2019
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION: A MISUNDERSTOOD MASTERPIECE
2. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: YOU’RE NOT EVEN LOOKING AT IT
3. MISE-EN-SCÈNE / MISE-EN-ABYME
4. META-DIALOGUE: COMMUNICATION & UNDERSTANDING
5. SKULL & BONES, FREEMASONRY, & SCIENTOLOGY
6. EYES, STARS, & MIRRORS
7. CHRISTMAS TREES, LIGHTS, RAINBOWS, & MASKS
8. DREAMS & ALTERNATE REALITIES
9. DUALITY & DOPPELGÄNGERS
10. TWINSHIP & NAMES
11. PERIPHERALITY & PARALLELISM
12. ROSEMARY & ROMAN
13. HELENA, MARIE, & MARIE-HÉLÈNE
14. SABRINA & COMUS (A MASQUE)
15. CARLOTTA & GISELLE
16. SHADOWS, WINDOWS, & TELEVISION SCREENS
17. THE MUSIC: BABY DID A BAD BAD THING
18. STANLEY KUBRICK IS IN THE MOVIE
19. TOYS IN A TOYSHOP: PLAYTHINGS OF THE WEALTHY ELITE
20. A HAPPY ENDING?
21. CONCLUSION: THEATRE OF THE MYTHIC
22. WORKS CITED
INTRODUCTION: A MISUNDERSTOOD MASTERPIECE
Eyes Wide Shut is the last work of famed movie director Stanley Kubrick, and like many of his films it contains layers of meaning not easily deciphered or understood on first viewing. Released in 1999 to mixed responses, Eyes Wide Shut has since garnered considerable interest and has come to be regarded as one of Kubrick's finest works. He died of a heart attack at age seventy at his home near London, England, just a few days after completing the final cut.
Early reviews described Eyes Wide Shut as an "erotic thriller" and "sexual odyssey", using words like "Freudian", "dreams", "fantasy", and "guilt". Sex is indeed a focus of the film, but just as significant are the subjects of class, capitalism, the world's ruling elite, and powerful secret societies. And not always as immediately apparent are seemingly endless allusions that extend across the fields of literature, music, opera, ballet, mythology, religion, politics, history, etymology, cinema, and even Kubrick's own personal life. There's a very odd quality of transtextuality to this film wherein close examination of any aspect results in a rabbit hole maze of cryptic symbolism, bizarre linkages, and cross-references to other elements within the film, other works of art, and real life. Countless details initially pass unnoticed, only for deeper contemplation to unveil profoundly resonant interconnectedness.
Many regard Kubrick as the greatest filmmaker of all time. Reputably obsessive and meticulous, he oversaw—with painstaking attention to detail—every aspect of his films. A perfectionist and workaholic, he commanded total control of his movies down to the selection of books on shelves appearing onscreen in the background. We're looking at the foreground, but there's lots on the outskirts that we don't know we're seeing because we don't understand it, unless we have tangential knowledge. Things in our peripheral vision are in fact—as I'll show in this essay—incredibly relevant to the themes presented in the forefront; functioning as meta-commentary on the film itself. Numerous details in Eyes Wide Shut connect—in some surprising and strange ways—to things in the real world, in curious coincidences that can only be explained as examples of how far Kubrick's vision reached, whether conscious or subconscious on his part.
Kubrick was often accused of favouring technical precision and lofty intellectualism to the detriment of emotional impact. Indeed, his films generally aren't for those who seek light entertainment or lack a cerebral temperament. Many of his movies have a cold, clinical quality and seem, at least on the surface, to espouse a thoroughly pessimistic view of humanity. His technical innovation in the world of cinema is unparalleled, as each of his works has an aural and visual sharpness, an exacting use of camerawork, framing, lighting, positioning, special effects, music, and so on. One thing is certain: Kubrick films always look and sound amazing. The stories, however, are often controversial, with polarized reactions. The ways that his narratives unfold subvert cinematic storytelling conventions, with bold, grandiose strokes that are sometimes so extreme as to leave audiences perplexed or infuriated. Kubrick films are challenging because he tells stories in ways we're unaccustomed to receiving them, to peculiar and often unsettling effect.
Although his movies sometimes have a brash and brassy quality, Kubrick was actually a master of narrative subtlety—methodically calculating the most minute detail. He was a creative genius when it came to carefully constructed ambiguity, which is why his films are so often subject to controversy; different viewers see different things in them. As a result, Kubrick films were often misunderstood, receiving mixed or outright negative critical reviews upon release. Over time, however—sometimes decades—many of his movies that initially received less than favourable reviews eventually end up on numerous Best Films of All Time lists.
Stanley Kubrick was, among other things, a satirist. A harsh, unapologetic one. This is profoundly clear with his movies Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), and A Clockwork Orange (1971)—three of his most celebrated works, and all three black comedies (about pedophilia, nuclear war, and violent crime, respectively). It's generally agreed upon that 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is his number one—is it satire too, of science fiction? It definitely reinvented the genre in ambitious fashion. Paths of Glory (1957) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) are less obviously satire than they are antiwar films. But Paths of Glory is an ironic title given that the film condemns war's gross irrationality, courageously deglamorizing depictions of glorified war victory common in American cinema at the time. And a case could be made for The Shining (1980) as a sendup of slasher-horror films, a commentary on violence against women and the murderous madness of colonial patriarchy. Kubrick liked pushing the boundaries, and overamplification and exaggeration are elements of satire.
So, is Eyes Wide Shut satire? Of pornographic film, of sex and power in Hollywood? An ironic take on the Erotic Thriller genre, the Murder Mystery, or Film Noir? It stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a married couple, who were a married couple in real life, both major Hollywood celebrities, and sex symbols—which adds to the brilliance of their casting and the film's metacinematic (i.e. metafictional) qualities. And them being well-known Scientologists enhances the film's commentary on wealthy power organizations. In an interview at the time, Cruise said he didn't think he and Kidman would've been able to handle being in the movie if they were in the early part of their marriage because of the intense issues around intimacy, monogamy, and sex that the film addresses. But they broke up a year after Eyes Wide Shut debuted, and divorced shortly thereafter. So maybe they couldn't handle it anyway, and perhaps their time spent working on the film—and the marital issues it examines—was a factor in their separation. Interesting to view Kubrick films through the lens of satire, whether they are overtly so, or more subtly. And when more subtly—as in Eyes Wide Shut—the audience is perhaps less clear on the message or intent.
I myself have often finished watching a Kubrick film for the first time and felt confused or exploited as an audience member, an unknowing participant in an inside joke between Kubrick and himself. A few Kubrick films I liked immediately, but others confounded me. My knee-jerk response would be to want to write him off as heavy handed, pretentious, and self-important. But something about each movie was incredibly compelling. I've been increasingly baffled since I first saw Eyes Wide Shut in the theater in 1999, initially really liking it, but also kind of bothered by it. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn't identify exactly what it was—and that was compelling in and of itself. So, over the last twenty years I've been drawn back to watch Eyes Wide Shut again and again, studying it in an attempt to figure it out. And each new trajectory of exploration reveals increasingly captivating details and unexpected layers of meaning…to mind-blowing degrees.
Stanley Kubrick was a lifelong chess player, reportedly playing the game virtually daily since childhood; watching Eyes Wide Shut indeed feels like witnessing a series of strategic orchestrations within an Escheresque chessboard dream labyrinth. The film is extraordinary in the almost inconceivable interconnectivity within its broad scope of themes and subjects. One thing I've concluded about Eyes Wide Shut is that I'm not sure we're supposed to fully understand it. The impossibility of the title says it. The overwhelming contradictions inherent in humankind. Among other things, it's a Dream Story. And how well do we really understand our dreams?
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: YOU'RE NOT EVEN LOOKING AT IT
Stanley Kubrick began his career behind the camera as a still photographer for Look, a photography magazine in New York City, which makes sense given the emphasis on image that comes through in his films. Viewing Kubrick movies with this in mind—Stanley as the photographer—reveals how he considered the medium a visual/sensory experience foremost, and why his movies—even if you're not sure about the story—always look so good.
Kubrick made numerous statements in interviews over the years that provide immeasurable insight into how we might regard his films. In 1968, when asked to comment on the metaphysical significance of 2001, he replied: "It's not a message I ever intended to convey in words...I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content" ("The Playboy Interview", 1968). When interviewed by biographer Michel Ciment in 1980 (printed in full in Ciment's book Kubrick), Kubrick made a statement that applies perfectly to Eyes Wide Shut: "Realism is probably the best way to dramatize argument and ideas. Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious" (Ciment, 181, emphasis mine).
In Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films, Paul Duncan discusses the interpretive quality of Kubrick's pictures, stating "he was very careful not to present his own views of the meaning of his films and to leave them open to interpretation" (Duncan, 10). Kubrick commented on this early in his career:
One of the things I always find extremely difficult, when a picture's finished, is when a writer or a film reviewer asks, “Now, what is it that you were trying to say in that picture?” And without being thought too presumptuous for using this analogy, I like to remember what T.S. Eliot said to someone who had asked him—I believe it was The Waste Land—what he meant by the poem. He replied, “I meant what I said.” If I could have said it any differently, I would have. ("The Odyssey Begins", 1960 Horizon interview)
The phrase "hidden in plain sight" applies to Kubrick's filmmaking methodology in which everything onscreen is purposefully chosen, even if the audience doesn't notice or understand the relevance. The saying is an almost exact synonym for "eyes wide shut"—a contradiction in terms suggesting something about perception filters of the mind, denial vs. awareness, conscious vs. unconscious vs. subconscious processes, etc. It's this quality of objectivity that contributes to such a broad range of interpretations of Kubrick films. Is Eyes Wide Shut an indictment of capitalism? It certainly doesn't seem to be endorsing it. Is it misogynistic, chauvinistic, bourgeois, and pretentious? Or is it condemning misogyny, chauvinism, materialism, and pretentiousness?
Perhaps Eyes Wide Shut is many things at once; a disturbing satire, scathing indictment of the grotesquely wealthy and those with sleazy bourgeois values who seek to be like them, a fantasy story, and a sincere, thoughtful study of intimacy, monogamy, sex, and class, how these subjects relate to human perception and emotion, and the often unseen or imagined forces that drive us all. Eyes Wide Shut is not just a stylized marital drama, but also an alternative Love Story as much as it is an alternative Christmas Movie as much as it is a Dream Movie. Stanley Kubrick was perhaps the world's most successful maker of mainstream art films. That is, he found a way—like few before him or since—to make interpretive movies that are commercially successful in popular culture while simultaneously appealing to cult film audiences, intellectuals and academics, cinephiles, critics, artists, and fellow filmmakers.
Amidst an onslaught of negative early reviews, essayist Tim Kreider gave a favourable, detailed critique of Eyes Wide Shut with his article Introducing Sociology. Kreider wrote that the film's initially poor reception was "generally blamed on a miscalculated ad campaign". It was promoted as a movie about sex, featuring two of the era's biggest sex symbols and movie stars in the world—Tom Cruise as Bill Harford and Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford, a real life married couple playing an onscreen married couple—and therefore people expected the movie to be sexy. But Kubrick mocks this preconception from the very first shot, showing Alice as she "shrugs off her dress and kicks it aside". Kubrick gives the audience a few seconds of what many came to see the film for, "a big-time movie star naked", as if to get it out of the way in order to move on to the serious stuff. Then the screen cuts to black and the paradoxical main title appears, "telling us that we’re not really seeing what we’re staring at. In other words, Eyes Wide Shut is not going to be about sex" (Kreider, Introducing).
But Eyes Wide Shut actually is very much about sex. So, what I take from Kreider's point is that it's just not only about sex—it's also about class, capitalism, psychology, communication, and so much more. Kubrick (and co-screenwriter Frederic Raphael) adapted Eyes Wide Shut from a 1926 novella by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler; the original German title of this source material is Traumnovelle, which translates as Dream Story. So, maybe Eyes Wide Shut is more about dreams.
The movie in fact touches on many subjects and draws parallels to works of art that span thousands of years, including: the ancient myths Helen of Troy and The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, Beethoven's opera Fidelio, the 19th-century ballet Giselle, John Milton's 17th-century masque Comus, and classic children's fantasy stories such as L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. There are also links to Kubrick's own films, and unexpected connections to a diverse range of other movies, such as Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968), Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), Paul Mazursky's Blume in Love (1973), and Hans Richter's Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947)—which is not only appropriately titled in relation to Eyes Wide Shut's storyline, but is also widely recognized as the first feature-length art film, and happened to star Kubrick's second wife in a minor role.
And there are stunning metacinematic elements wherein personal, real life details surrounding Stanley Kubrick, his family, and others associated with Eyes Wide Shut are filtered through the movie and interconnected in often uncanny ways. Which or how many of these connections were consciously orchestrated by Kubrick versus which are coincidental is largely inconsequential. Some linkages are highly meaningful, and others more nuanced or supplemental—but because of Kubrick's well-documented obsessiveness about every aspect of his movies, it can be assumed that little to nothing that appears in Eyes Wide Shut is happenstance.
MISE-EN-SCÈNE / MISE-EN-ABYME
Mise-en-scène is a French cinematic term, meaning "placing on stage", and refers in film production to everything that appears before the camera; the selection and arrangement of every visible object within the frame, the placement and movement of the objects and actors, the set design, costumes, etc. Kubrick was an unparalleled master of mise-en-scène, with an acute sense of framing and positioning.
While some footage was shot in real locations in New York and England, much of what is supposed to be 1999 New York City was constructed on soundstages in London, UK. Examining the mise-en-scène in Eyes Wide Shut reaffirms Kubrick's understanding of the art of cinema as a visual storytelling form, not only with the placement of objects but the selection of them; books titles on shelves, signs on buildings, pictures on walls, and movies that play, within the movie, on television screens in the background—all prove to be profoundly relevant.
Conversely to mise-en-scène is the art term mise-en-abyme, meaning "placing into abyss". It refers to a technique of placing a copy of an image within itself and/or of inserting a story within a story. An abyss is a deep or bottomless chasm that in mythology leads to an underworld—and the phrase mise-en-abyme is described as capturing the visual experience of standing between two mirrors, suggesting an infinitely recurring image or sequence. The term derived from heraldry and is also called the Droste effect, in which a picture appears within itself. Mise-en-abyme can likewise occur in film, literature, and other media, resulting in a recursive, reflexive, and/or metafictional effect, involving details within the work mirroring each other and sometimes referring to the medium itself.
This mise-en-scène/mise-en-abyme, house-of-mirrors scheme reverberates throughout Eyes Wide Shut with its time structure in relation to story events, duality and mirroring themes, the contradiction in the title, metacinematic elements, and real-life Kubrick associations. The story involves the main character's descent into an "abyss" of sorts, with seemingly endlessly meaningful symbols, images, objects in every frame.
What results is a kind of artistic Rubik's Cube—a Kubrick's Cube—or more accurately, Kubrick's Parallelepiped or something. A many-sided, prismatic tesseract of multidimensional meaning; a phosphenic crossword puzzle, strange loop of interconnectivity that transcends across numerous frequencies in a vast, complex narrative web. A work of art.
META-DIALOGUE: COMMUNICATION & UNDERSTANDING
The story starts in earnest with the first line of dialogue, spoken by protagonist Bill Harford: "Honey, have you seen my wallet?". This establishes what will become a recurring theme; Bill as the consumer. A comfortably wealthy medical doctor though not a member of the elite ultrawealthy class, Bill fancies himself capable of buying his way into anything. But as we discover throughout the film, he is a mere midlevel servant to this powerful upper class, someone who has himself already been bought. Bill speaking this line to Alice, who from the next room tells him exactly where his wallet is, also sets up her role in the film as "the wife as prostitute" (Kreider, Introducing). Alice uses her appearance and sexuality to buy in, and Bill uses his money—but neither one of them can ever really join the club.
Some have criticized the dialogue in Eyes Wide Shut (hereafter, EWS) as being flat and unrealistic—but this is no doubt intentional on Kubrick's part. The measured manner in which the characters often speak—especially Bill and Alice—contributes to the dream atmosphere, giving us time to observe the surroundings wherein symbolic meaning abounds, and allowing space to contemplate how virtually every line resonates on multiple levels. Kubrick's characters themselves are part of his mise-en-scène—mechanisms of his "visual experience"—in the deliberate way they move and talk. Much dialogue functions as not only character communication within the story but also as commentary on the film itself; one of its primary themes being that the ultrarich treat everything—even people—as commodities. Largely in denial or ignorant of this, those who aren't members of the wealthiest ruling class often strive, in whatever unconscious ways, to be part of this same power class that controls them. A lot of EWS dialogue is indeed relevant from the perspective that the characters are not only speaking to each other but to the audience directly, about the film.
For example, one of the first lines spoken by Alice, in their apartment, as she and Bill are getting ready to go to their "friend" Victor Ziegler's (Sydney Pollack) party, is "You’re not even looking at it". In one respect this is simply her reaction to her husband's lack of attention when she asks him how her hair looks (he's looking at himself in a mirror in that moment), but it also speaks to the characters' blindness to class and consumerist influence in their lives, and of many audience members' blindness to the deeper meanings of the film itself; as Eyes Wide Shut—arguably the greatest title in the history of cinema—also suggests.
Ziegler, in his final confrontation with Bill, says, "Suppose I said that all of that was staged". Within the film, the line refers to the events at the mansion's masquerade ball. But it also applies as a comment on the film's multilayered fabric; how the very surface appearance is indeed meticulously staged to be the center of attention, as a sort of misdirection from the deeper issues of the film and thus mirroring the real life misdirection orchestrated over people by the ruling class, corporate superpowers, and governing agencies—and by Kubrick over his audience.
Another example of how dialogue is used in this way is when Bill says to the prostitute Domino (Vinessa Shaw), "So…do you…do you suppose we should…talk about money?" Again, on the surface this line is about their impending sexual transaction, but it's also a prompt for what we, the audience, should be talking about as one of the main themes of the film: money. Throughout Bill's odyssey he spends large amounts of cash without scarcely batting an eye, offering up hundreds of dollars to a prostitute, a cab driver, and a costume store owner. His name, after all, is "Doctor Bill"—a pun, like "dollar bill" as a form of currency, and/or a "bill" as a receipt of a financial transaction—as if he himself is just another instrument of the wealthy elite.
Then Bill asks Domino—again ostensibly about their sexual transaction—"What do you have in mind?" She answers, "I'd rather not put it into words". These lines function as further commentary on the film itself, and how Kubrick thought movie-watching should be foremost a visual experience "that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious". Kubrick is again telling us to try to think differently, to open ourselves to receiving this film (and all his films) in ways we are unaccustomed to. In this way the movie might be seen to be all about communication, between Bill and Alice, between Bill and himself, and between Kubrick and the audience. As Bill says on the phone to Alice, from Domino's apartment, "It's a little difficult to talk right now". Then later, near the end of the story when he sees the mask on his pillow and Alice wakes up, he says to her, "I'll tell you everything". But then it cuts to the next morning and we don't actually hear what he tells her.
There is in fact considerable attention given to different communication forms in EWS; how the mediums by which we broadcast our messages function in relation to understanding. When we understand something we say, "Oh, I see." There's seeing with the eyes, and seeing with the mind. A movie is a medium of communication, and the title Eyes Wide Shut applies as much to the protagonist Bill Harford as it does to us, the audience, and our limited ability to comprehend the vast, often contradictory complexities of the world as reflected in this film. So, in addition to the dialogue, there are many other means of communication in EWS; written notes on paper, paintings and signs on walls, movies playing on television screens, and telephone calls.
During Bill's nighttime streetwalk, a man on a pay phone glances at him while saying, "Oh, I see, I'm taking care of it baby". Alice calls Bill on his cellphone when he's at Domino's. Bill calls Marion from his office only to hang up when Carl answers. Nick Nightingale receives a call from the mansion folk while he sits with Bill at the Sonata Café. Bill receives a call from Ziegler's people when he's at the hospital. And immediately after Alice's revelation about her sexual fantasy with another man, Bill gets a phone call at home, ostensibly to inform him that a patient has just died. He hangs up and says, "I think I have to go over there and show my face". Superficially, he's telling Alice what the call was about, but he's staring off into space as he utters the line, as if saying it to himself more than her. This begins Bill's odyssey, and later on that night he ends up at the mansion party where he's exposed as an impostor, threatened, told to remove his mask, and show his face. So, when he speaks the line to Alice, Bill has already entered his own internal dream reality, and is not just talking about paying a professional visit to his client, but rather about going to the dark side to show who he really is.
There are also numerous instances of written messages on paper being passed around: Nick writes the mansion password—"Fidelio"—on a paper napkin at the Sonata. The mansion gateman hands Bill a threatening letter when he revisits the location. Bill flashes around his medical license card every chance he gets. Bill buys a newspaper and sits in a coffee shop to read it, and later shows a torn-out article from it to Ziegler. And so on.
Multifunctional dialogue, phone calls, notes…it all feels like a series of muffled, muted attempts at communication. But it's hazy and isn't quite connecting, because it's all about Bill, and he's not being honest. Communication is, experts say, the number one requirement for a healthy relationship.
SKULL & BONES, FREEMASONRY, & SCIENTOLOGY
Among Eyes Wide Shut's many themes is an examination of ruling class decadence; capitalism's designation of all things, even people, as objects to be bought, used, and discarded by the world's wealthiest crooks. This includes alternately conspicuous and obscure allusions to the Freemasons, Skull and Bones, Scientology, the CIA, and other related agencies and secret projects, as connected to history, literature, occultism, and mythology. Kubrick isn't just exploring the sexual psychology between a husband and wife, but also the powerful role that socioeconomic class and the culture of the ultrawealthy elite play in shaping aspects of society—including the sexual psychology of everyday people—in often unseen ways. But the people can still overcome the powers, if they open their eyes.
In this regard, critic Adrian Mack offered insightful analysis of EWS upon its 2007 DVD rerelease (The Nerve magazine). Mack observes that the opening shot shows Alice framed between two Masonic pillars and in front of a window with the blinds drawn in the shape of a triangle—the pyramidal crest of the Freemasons. In this first few seconds, much is implied about the weighty concepts the movie explores; a naked woman's body (with her back to us, so we can't see her face) immediately objectified between visual symbols of one of the world's oldest and most powerful secret societies of men. At one point Bill is accosted on the street by a group of young men—some of who wear "Yale" varsity jackets—who hurl homophobic slurs at him. Mack notes that Yale University is "the home of Skull and Bones, which is apparently bound by a circle of mutual, sexual blackmail. Those future Presidents like to nail each other in coffins, I hear" (The Nerve, 20)—referring to the hazing and initiation rites of secret societies and fraternities.
In Fleshing Out Skull & Bones, Kris Millegan outlines the historic role of this organization. He describes the roots of Skull and Bones as beginning with Yale graduate Nathan Hale, a member of the Culper Ring, "one of America’s first intelligence operations" which was established by George Washington during the British occupation of New York City in the American Revolutionary War. The membership of The Order of Skull and Bones has included numerous powerbrokers and US Presidents since its official birth in 1832 (Millegan, 1-12). Three generations of Bush males were members of S&B: George W. Bush (former US president), George H.W. Bush (former US president, vice president, and director of the CIA), and Prescott Bush (a banker and later US Senator involved in funding Hitler's regime) (7-15, 676). Some allege S&B was connected with the secret program known as Project Monarch, a "mind-control project…which started in Nazi Germany" (Millegan, 15). Given the history of Skull and Bones—born out of Yale, a school of the elite, and parent organization to the CIA—and its membership of men in positions of extreme power, Kubrick's reference to Yale is surely no accident.
Nor are visual references to the Freemasons, a secret society dating back centuries, with symbols and traditions that have infiltrated modern culture through art, architecture, literature, and politics. The Masonic pillars and pyramidal crest shape of the opening shot appear repeatedly in EWS; the pillars are seen framing either side of the entranceway to the mansion, and the triangular or diamond-shaped crest is visible on buildings when Bill walks the streets. In Freemasons: Inside the World’s Oldest Secret Society, H. Paul Jeffers writes that detractors of Freemasonry have "denounced it as a seed of paganism and/or being anti-Christian, explorers of dark mysteries of the Occult, a web of Satanism" (158). Jeffers lists powerful historical figures who were Masons: Winston Churchill, John Diefenbaker, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, J. Edgar Hoover, and Ronald Reagan, among others (213-219).
The book Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry describes aspects of their secret ceremonies: "The blindfold is common to almost all secret societies…in some societies the initiate is not blindfolded, but all members in the room are masked or hooded" (235). In EWS, the mansion guests are masked and hooded, and Bill's piano-player friend Nick is blindfolded. Members of both S&B and Freemasons are exclusively men, although women are sometimes used in sex rituals, as is portrayed in the mansion scene. As such, EWS presents a disturbing commentary on misogyny, as women in the film, and in reality, (and the concept of women as objects of pleasure) are co-opted for commercialism—packaged, bought, used, and thrown out, by the men who run the world.
Another organization alluded to is the Church of Scientology. The most obvious reference is that Cruise and Kidman are Scientologists. The Church of Scientology actively courts wealthy participants in order to expand and secure its financial power base, and many American celebrities prescribe to its teachings. EWS includes a young naval officer as the subject of Alice's fantasy, and L. Ron Hubbard—the founder of Scientology—was a Naval Intelligence Officer, as biographer Russell Miller states in Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (97). Mack expands on the significance that Scientology has in connection to other secret societies, stating that in the 1940s Hubbard was a disciple of famed occultist Aleister Crowley who was a 33-degree Mason. Around this time—in the CIA's early days—Hubbard may have been involved in Project MKUltra and the related Project Monarch. Although information about Project Monarch is obscure, it "refers to a mythical mind control experiment that allowed US intelligence agencies to create sex slaves" (Mack, 20, my emphasis). Mack proposes:
perhaps…Eyes Wide Shut is about Scientology itself…Cruise, a successful but probably miserable and not very intelligent man, trapped in both his career and his mendacious public sexual persona—is made to…star in a film about himself…servant to the elite; an apparently successful man caught in a web of sexual blackmail, with a virtual sex slave for a wife…a serf who might be allowed a little more access than most, but not much. (Mack, 20)
EWS's allusions to past and present power organizations, and to symbols from antiquity, seem endless. Religion, mythology, the occult. Freemasonry, Skull and Bones, Scientology, the CIA. The Rockefellers, The Rothschilds. The Royal Family of England. The Christian Church. The Church of Satan. Nazism. One could, and several have, written whole books analyzing the motifs in Kubrick's films (see this essay's Works Cited).
EYES, STARS, & MIRRORS
Eyes are a prominent Kubrick motif, featured in virtually all his films. The "Kubrick Stare" refers to slow, zoom-in closeups of the faces of Jack Torrance in The Shining, Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, the red eye of HAL in 2001, etc. In Clockwork, Alex wears eyeball cufflinks, and has his eyes pinned open with the "treatment". In EWS, Bill examines Mandy's eyes, eye exam posters are seen in his office, the word "eyes" appears on a taxicab, eyes are focused on within the masks of the mansion party guests, and so on. In one mystifying shot, the projected image of an eye flashes onto Bill's back as he enters his apartment upon returning home from the mansion. It's very brief, but occurs at 1:30:17–1:30:19 in the film—pause the movie in this spot to see that the image is undoubtedly a large eye.
In the source novella Dream Story, the protagonist is elbowed on the street by one of several "fraternity" youths who walk by—the equivalent of the Yale guys in EWS. The one who bumps into him has a "bandage over his left eye" (Schnitzler, 22). Kubrick, however, left this out of his adaptation in this movie about eyes and seeing. In the late 1950s, Kubrick had signed on to direct what would become One-Eyed Jacks (1961) starring Marlon Brando—only to abandon the project due mainly to disputes with Brando, who ended up directing it himself (Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, 164). Leaving Dream Story's one-eyed, eyepatch-wearing guy out of Eyes Wide Shut parallels Kubrick leaving One-Eyed Jacks out of his film repertoire.
At Ziegler's party, a woman Bill flirts with says she remembers him from when they previously met, when she had something caught in her eye at Rockefeller Plaza and he assisted her. Site of the iconic giant Christmas tree—another of EWS's recurring symbols—New York City's Rockefeller Plaza was built by the Rockefellers, one the wealthiest families in history. The mansion used in EWS is Mentmore Towers, a 19th-century English country house built for the Rothschild family, another of the world's biggest banking empires.
The eye is another symbol used in Freemasonry, and appears on American money. The inner-mind's eye. The all-seeing eye. The surveillance aspect of the ruling elite, in which they seem to know Bill's every move—like at the mansion's gate when he looks up into the eye of the security camera—recalls George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which the totalitarian state "Big Brother", with its "Thought Police", watches everyone: "…the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption ran beneath it" (Orwell, 5).
Stars are another prominent symbol in EWS. Five-pointed stars—pentagrams—feature prominently in the background; as decorations at Ziegler's party, as Christmas ornaments in the diner, at the toy store, and so on. The pentagram has numerous historical uses, from mathematics—the symbol for the "golden ratio"—through Western, Eastern, religious, and occult symbology. Inverted, it's used by the Church of Satan as its logo, and by Aleister Crowley who claimed it represents the descent of spirit into matter.
The book Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia describes eight-pointed stars—which also appear in the background at Ziegler's—as an ancient symbol called the Star of Venus (or the Star of Ishtar) that originates from Assyrian, Babylonian, and Phoenician goddess-worship cultures as a representation of Venus (169-170). In Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of love, beauty, desire, sex, and fertility. The Venus astronomical symbol is the same one used in biology to denote the female sex; a circle with a small cross underneath it, a representation of femininity, and is also the symbol for copper in alchemy. Polished copper was used to make mirrors in ancient times, and so the symbol for Venus has also been interpreted as representing the mirror of the goddess. Copper is used today in intrauterine birth control devices; copper ions kill sperm or render them immobile. With all the mirrors around, no wonder Bill is so flaccid.
Mirrors are all over the place in EWS; at Ziegler's, Domino's, and the Harfords', with characters peering into them at the reflections of themselves—especially Alice. Frequently told how "beautiful", "stunning", and "amazing" she looks, Alice's identity is validated by others according to her physical appearance. In the scene where she and Bill start to make love, his attention is focused solely on her, but she is looking at herself in the mirror, a moment "of clearest self-recognition, an uncomfortable glimpse of what she really is" (Kreider, Introducing). The mirrors also invoke Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, about a girl named Alice who climbs through a mirror into a fantasy world of inverted logic. Like the masks that also appear in numerous places throughout EWS, the mirror symbolizes the characters' exploration of self, their image, and their secret identities in contrast to how they appear to the outside world.
Fascinatingly, the film itself is also a kind of mirror, structurally. The climactic mansion scene falls in the exact middle; it commences at 70 minutes in, lasts for 20 minutes, and ends with 70 minutes remaining in the 160-minute-long movie. When Bill's cab pulls up to the mansion, the "Somerton" sign is to right of the driveway, but a few seconds later the sign is on the left. When he returns to Somerton the next day, he drives up to the gate from the opposite direction than the cab approached from. Leading up to the mansion orgy scene, Bill engages in a number of scenarios—at Ziegler's, his office, his patient's house, Domino's apartment, the jazz club, the costume store, etc. And following the mansion scene, he revisits each location. This near-perfect mirror structure of the Eyes Wide Shut narrative arc reinforces the mirror as a symbol, of duality and alternate dimensions, as reflected through the shape and time of the film itself; mise-en-abyme. It shows Kubrick's tendency for unorthodox story structure, as conventional films follow a narrative trajectory in which the climax occurs in the last third before a brief conclusion. Yet he was always one to reinvent, transcending the usual storytelling constraints of traditional cinema to create something thoroughly unique.
CHRISTMAS TREES, LIGHTS, RAINBOWS, & MASKS
Another example of meaningful visual symbolism in EWS is the inclusion of a Christmas tree in every single scene, except one—the masquerade ball. In this scene, however, although there is no Christmas tree adorned with ornaments and lights as in every other setting, an evergreen forest surrounds the mansion itself, and unadorned Christmas tree-sized pines frame the entranceway in front of Masonic pillars. Most of Eyes Wide Shut was filmed at London's Pinewood Studios.
Some Freemason rituals derive from paganism, an element of which is nature and goddess worship. Many Christmas practices, such as decorating trees, originate from pagan associations with nature, femininity, and fertility; the evergreen tree was regarded as a phallic symbol of fertility worship, representing an erect penis—like to build a highrise building, or put up a Christmas tree, is to "erect" it. Decorative balls and tinsel represent testicles and semen, and the wreath is a yonic symbol, representing a woman's vaginal opening with the red bow symbolizing childbirth blood. This was adopted by Christianity from the pagan winter festival named after the Roman sun god "Sol Invictus" ("Unconquered Sun") which celebrated the lengthening of the sun's rays at winter solstice, the victory of light over darkness (Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, 155).
There are a whole lot of lights in the darkness in Eyes Wide Shut. Our protagonist, insecure about his sexual inadequacy, travels through a realm where his environment is bursting with symbols of fertility worship—Christmas trees, decorations, lights. Near the end of the movie, after his second visit to Ziegler's, Bill returns home and switches off the Christmas tree lights. What does this mean? That Bill is impotent, can't climax? Psychologically, at least. Or perhaps he's finally come to terms with his sexual insecurities. Manhattan's Rockefeller Center is the site of a massive Christmas tree that is erected and lit in public ceremony annually. So if it's a phallic symbol, when that woman at Ziegler's mentions the location to Bill, it's sexual innuendo—as if they're talking about a giant phallus.
In Traumnovelle, the time setting is "just before the close of the Carnival season" (4). Kubrick transplants the source novella's time and place—1920s Vienna—to 1999 New York City during the Christmas season; the high point of indulgence and consumerist decadence in North American society. The Carnival tradition developed as an end-of-winter celebration before the Christian season of Lent—a time of fasting and abstaining from various luxuries. In contrast, the Carnival typically involves celebratory practices that include consumption (of alcohol and other substances), feasting, parades, and wearing of masks and costumes. Other common carnival features include theatrical displays of social satire, mockery of authorities, grotesquely exaggerated sexual behaviours, and generally debaucherous and degrading acts.
In the novella it's implied that the couple are Jewish, as author Schnitzler was. Kubrick was also of Jewish descent, but reportedly said he wanted the couple to be "vanilla" and that Bill should be a "Harrison Ford-ish goy", although Ford's mother was Jewish (The Wolf at the Door, 29). So, the surname Harford is a portmanteau of HARrison FORD, an allusion to the actor. Kubrick's transposition of the novella's European-Jewish protagonist to an all-American, upper-middle class WASP fits with the parallel substitution of Carnival with Christmas, magnifying the commentary on American capitalism. But many aspects of the Carnival are still present, particularly in the masked orgy scene.
The masks Kubrick uses are Venetian, which furthers the themes of commerce and consumption, as Venice was long a center of mercantilism and eroticism. Masks hang on the walls of Domino's apartment, and "domino" is indeed a style of Venetian mask. Masks serve throughout the film as a prime symbol of identity; our own self-perception versus the perception of others. Disguises we wear in different scenarios. The roles we play. The stories we tell.
For many, Christmas represents indulgence, temptation, desire—for parties, food, liquor, chocolate, or bigger and better material possessions that often don’t satisfy. Just as Bill Harford is continually sexually tempted throughout the film, without ever actually engaging or achieving satisfaction. The consumption aspect of Christmas has, for many, supplanted religious practices associated with it, and as such it's an appropriate season in which to set this story that contains so many ancient symbols and practices that have been co-opted and deformed by power structures throughout history. Christmas itself is a multifaceted subject encompassing elements of cultural anthropology, mythology, capitalism, religion, nature worship, and paganism. The "Christmas Movie" mixes in with other aspects of Americana, contributing to the holiday atmosphere for many who seek not only celebration of materialism and sensual decadence, but also comfort and a sense of wonder.
Christmas has been marketed to children as a fairy story full of magic. But Kubrick projects it through a dark, twisted lens, invoking a sense of satire and qualifying EWS as an unconventional Christmas Movie in its own right. In the holiday favourite It's a Wonderful Life (1946), an angel descends from heaven at Christmastime to help a depressed man appreciate his life by showing him a terrifying alternate reality in which he had never existed. As an alternative Christmas Movie, EWS parallels It's a Wonderful Life in that both stories depict a man who undergoes a frightening journey through a dystopian nightmare world, during the Christmas season. EWS draws parallels as well to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) in that both protagonists are also shaken to the core when they're exposed to disturbing alternate plains of existence. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Kubrick described The Shining as "a ghost story", and while EWS is not clearly in the same category, there are plenty of clues indicating that many of the events and characters we witness are not real, leaving a haunting effect of its own.
Another popular Christmas story is the classic children's book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) by Dr. Seuss, seen in EWS on the kitchen table when Alice and Helena are having breakfast. Later at the mansion orgy, a naked party guest wearing a very Grinch-like mask is seen banging a masked woman. It's another example of parallels between different aspects of Bill's life; his home life and his fantasy life, his external and internal worlds—and further implies that much of what we see unfolding is in fact in Bill's mind. But where fantasy and reality start and end isn't concrete, it's all swirling together concurrently, enigmatically, paradoxically. On a side note, in real life Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were married on Christmas Eve; December 24th, 1990.
The Christmastime setting also provides Kubrick with an opportunity to create a sumptuous visual feast for the viewer. The entire movie is saturated with a dreamlike array of colours and lights; sometimes to an almost obnoxious degree, in echoing the theme of Christmas season excess. This lush multicoloring reflects the multilayered narrative fabric of EWS, and connects it with another recurring symbol in the film: rainbows. The movie itself, both literally and figuratively, contains layers of different colours, connected and forming one greater whole, a thing of wonder.
Rainbows are first referenced at Ziegler's party when Bill flirts with the two women who seem to be leading him away. When he stops them to inquire where they are going, the women reply, "Where the rainbow ends". At this point Bill hesitates, unsure if he wants to go where the rainbow ends. In popular mythology, what's at the end of the rainbow? A pot of gold. This once again symbolizes money, wealth, desire, and the illusion of an unattainable goal. The reluctance of Bill to pursue the "pot of gold" in this instance, even though he's obviously flirting with the women, parallels his pursuit yet hesitancy at later times in his adventure, as he seeks out sexual opportunities without ever actually having sex—hence the character's blindness and confusion over his self-identity, and the paradox the title suggests.
The rainbow reference returns with the store Rainbow Costume Rental, which also happens to be situated over another store named Under the Rainbow. According to Adrian Mack, "The rainbow references are rooted in The Wizard of Oz, which is important to the mythology of Project Monarch" and "In the '70s, the codename for L. Ron Hubbard's top secret base…was 'Over the Rainbow'" (The Nerve, 20). One of the women is named Gayle, which connects to Bill's friend Nick Nightingale and to Dorothy Gale, the protagonist of The Wizard of Oz. And The Wizard of Oz's theme song "Over the Rainbow" includes such lyrics as "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."
DREAMS & ALTERNATE REALITIES
Dreams, as discussed by Martin Scorsese in his introduction to Michel Ciment's book Kubrick, are another of Eyes Wide Shut's central themes. Scorsese emphasizes that the English translation of Schnitzler's German-titled Traumnovelle is Dream Story. He attributes the film's initial widespread negative reaction to, among other things, the fact that "audiences really had no preparation for a dream movie that didn't announce itself as such, without the usual signals—hovering mists, people appearing and disappearing at will or floating off the ground" (vii).
EWS has a subtly antithetical design, conveying a story in a way that people are unaccustomed to receiving stories, leaving many audience members scratching their heads. But, Scorsese says, Kubrick was a visionary: "like all visionaries, he spoke the truth. And no matter how comfortable we think we are with the truth, it always comes as a profound shock when we're forced to meet it face-to-face" (vii). One of the supreme truths in this film being that not only is extreme wealth not sexy, but in fact grotesque and nightmarish.
Scorsese's note about EWS being a dream movie that isn't presented with the usual markings of such is an important point in understanding how to regard it, and perhaps why many find it so confusing or an outright failure. But when approaching the movie with this in mind, a lot of things make sense from the perspective that the actions we see are not actually happening, except in Bill Harford's imagination. The illogical seems more logical then. Although it might not be readily apparent, much of what we're witnessing may in fact be a dream.
Several times throughout the film Bill shows his medical ID card to people he meets on his adventure, as if to continually confirm his status, identity, and verify his existence—to himself perhaps more than to others. "ID" is of course the abbreviation for "identification", and also the spelling of the "id", which according to Sigmund Freud is the unconscious part of the mind that contains a person's primal, instinctive impulses, including the libido (i.e. sex drive):
It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the dreamwork and of course the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego…It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. (Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 105-106)
When Bill offers to show his ID (to Mr. Milich, to Sally, to the diner waitress, etc.), he's in effect saying—from a Freudian standpoint—"Let me show you my id". Freud says that in the id: "contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out.…There is nothing in the id which corresponds to the idea of time" (New Introductory Lectures, 106). When Domino approaches Bill, we see an XXX video store across the street. She asks him for the time and he says it's "Ten past twelve." A moment later in her apartment, Domino says "Don't worry, I don't keep track of the time". Then Alice calls Bill asking how much longer he will be. Bill: "It could be awhile." Alice: "Any idea how long?" Bill: "No, I don't really know." It's dreamtime.
Labelling EWS an erotic thriller isn't really an accurate description except as the most basic, superficial categorization of such a complex film. Yes, sex is a subject in the movie, and yes it's suspenseful at times, but the only sex we're shown is in a situationally gratuitous context at the mansion scene, and it's less erotic than it is detached and voyeuristic since we're seeing through the eyes of the protagonist who doesn't actually engage sexually himself.
It might more fittingly be described as a slipstream fantasy—slipstream being a subgenre of speculative fiction in which characters inexplicably "slip" in and out of alternate timelines, parallel dimensions, and/or streams of consciousness in which some similar qualities persist while others are skewed or inverted. Loops in time. Characters' traits transposed. Illogical scenarios. On one hand the genre prescribed to a story doesn't matter much, and is merely an attached label by which the work can be advertised. But on the other hand this label can be important, as it is in EWS, because it can frame the work in a certain context and thus prepare the audience for a particular mindset through which to receive the story. But whatever the genre, EWS is certainly a visually and aurally dazzling, thought-provoking work with seemingly infinite, intertwining layers, symbols, and allusions—worthy of considerable debate.
Kubrick was always very involved in his films' promotional campaigns. But since he died four months before EWS was released, who knows how much say he had in it in this case. Although it's now largely agreed upon that EWS marketing was flawed in portraying it as an erotic thriller, in retrospect it's actually fitting for the film to be billed as such; it feeds into the aspect of it being a satire in that it's more cold and creepy than hot and steamy, and so perhaps appropriately misunderstood. A sex movie where the protagonist never has sex. A dream movie that isn't obviously one. Kubrick even kind of parodies the clichéd "it was all a dream" endings with the last bit of dialogue between Bill and Alice; she says they should be grateful that they've survived all of their adventures, "Whether they were real or only a dream", to which Bill replies, "And no dream is ever just a dream".
DUALITY & DOPPELGÄNGERS
Eyes Wide Shut is filled with doppelgängers, duality, doubling, twinship; multiple characters and symbols alluding to aspects of each other in a story comprised of what may be a series of illusions.
Following his wife's revelation of her sexual fantasy about another man, Dr. Bill Harford begins his odyssey by going to his patient Lou Nathanson's residence. In this scene there are visual cues that he has passed into a fantasy of his own, starting with the arrangement of objects in the lobby; he enters a room full of paired objects, framed on opposite ends of the screen (potted plants, stools, etc.), and proceeds into the interior of the house through this picture of duality, as if entering into a mirror. Bill then walks down a hallway into the room where his recently deceased patient lies, whose daughter Marion (Marie Richardson) sits by the side of the bed. She suddenly kisses Bill and tells him that she's in love with him. She's engaged to be married, she says, but would gladly leave her fiancé for the chance to be with Bill, or at the very least to live near him. Harford declines her offer, and soon after the fiancé arrives.
Marion offering herself to Bill mirrors his own wife's fantasy, who described herself as having been willing to give up their life together for a chance to have sex with a man she didn't know. And here's where another fascinating metacinematic element is presented. The fiancé, Carl, is played by another actor named Tom: Thomas Gibson, who was born on the exact same day, month, and year, as Thomas Cruise—July 3rd, 1962. The two actors bear a resemblance, with similar heights and build, same hair colour, and same hairstyle—and in the film, Thomas Gibson's hair is parted on the opposite side of his head than Tom Cruise's hair is parted. Carl is a "math professor", meaning he has a PhD and is therefore a "doctor", and Bill is a doctor of medicine. In real life, they have the same birthday, the same first name, and a similar boyish all-American look. Gibson's character's name is Carl Thomas; initials C.T., the reverse of Tom Cruise's initials T.C.
And it gets even more interesting when looking at the the etymology of the name Thomas; the Anglicized form of the Italian Tomasso which itself is from the Aramaic toma (t'om'a) which means "twin" (Dictionary of First Names, 260). The first name of the actors Thomas Cruise and Thomas Gibson, who in real life have the exact same birthdate, and play alternate reality versions of each other in EWS—their name means "twin". And the name Thomas is etymologically linked to the word mason—as in the Freemasons—meaning "one who works with stone"; mason is from maso, which is also shortened from Tomasso. And Saint Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, was known as "Doubting Thomas", which fits the character of Bill. The Nathansons' housekeeper refers to Carl as "Mr. Thomas"—that is, "Mr. Twin".
I'd always wondered how Thomas Gibson, known primarily as a television actor, got this bit part in a Kubrick film. In addition to playing a doppelgänger (German for "double-goer") of sorts to EWS's Bill, Gibson previously starred in another movie with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman; Far and Away (1992), in which he played the rival of Cruise's character vying for the affections of Kidman's character. Far and Away was the second film Cruise and Kidman appeared in together, the third and last was Eyes Wide Shut. The sitcom Gibson starred in at the time was set in a kind of a parallel universe to EWS; Dharma & Greg, in which he played a lawyer (rather than a doctor) who is also in a yuppie marriage with a thin blonde woman.
Bill has slipped into a slanted version of his wife's fantasy, reflected through his own mind, wherein he has taken the role of the stranger his wife desired, Carl is him, and Marion is his wife Alice. It's fitting then that Kidman's character is named Alice, calling to mind Lewis Carroll's heroine in Through the Looking-Glass. But here it's Bill who goes through the mirror—in another slipstream, dreamlike quality of gender role reversal. Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) are considered among the best examples of "literary nonsense". As defined in An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (1988), it's a genre of fiction that combines the logical with the illogical, balancing "a multiplicity of meaning with a simultaneous absence of meaning". Elements of literary nonsense "are primarily those of negativity or mirroring, imprecision or mixture, infinite repetition, simultaneity, and arbitrariness" (47). These descriptions apply incredibly well to EWS. In this segment, Bill steps through the looking-glass, and from then on much if not all of the story takes place in a nonsensical dreamworld. Inside the mirror of his wife's disclosed fantasy, Bill's internal landscape, his emotional state of jealousy and sexual guilt, are reflected externally.
The tilted way this scene mirrors Alice's fantasy serves the film's enigmatic quality, giving us something to decipher and contemplate. The clues are there, but Kubrick skews elements just enough so that it isn't all obvious at first glance. Only close inspection reveals that Nathanson's bedroom wallpaper and the Harfords' bedroom curtains have the same fleur-de-lis pattern. Richardson is eight years older than Kidman, has a Swedish accent, and other than both having blonde hair they share only a moderate resemblance. Likewise Gibson resembles Cruise somewhat but not enormously. Near-exact parallels abound throughout the film, but exact parallels aren't immediately apparent. After Bill returns home from the mansion, Alice describes herself as having a dream in which many men are "fucking" her. At the mansion, many men were fucking many women, though Bill himself didn't engage sexually—so here, in a way, Alice has entered and become a character in Bill's fantasy, filtered through her own dream, just as he became a character in her fantasy, filtered through his.
Another noteworthy thing about the Nathanson scene is the presence of the recently deceased old man lying on the bed throughout. The character's last name is a possible allusion to the aforementioned Nathan Hale, a Yale graduate and spy recruited by George Washington during the American Revolution for independence from the British. Hale was hanged after being caught undercover across enemy lines in New York City; the same city where EWS's Bill likewise becomes kind of a spy who goes undercover into hostile territory when he sneaks into the mansion in disguise. Naming Bill's wealthy patient Nathanson is another connection to power hierarchies—in this case to historical colonial conflicts, and Yale, the birthplace of Skull and Bones and a school of the wealthy elite.
The name Nathan also links to the Rothschild family; there were several Nathan Rothschilds over several generations, including Nathaniel de Rothschild, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, and Nathan Mayer Rothschild—who was once the wealthiest man on earth. It was this latter Nathan's son, Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, who in the 1850s commissioned the building of Mentmore Towers, which serves as the Somerset mansion in EWS. Bill's patient Lou Nathanson has just died, and later that night he goes to a mansion built by Nathan's son—the son of the wealthiest man on earth.
At the mansion Bill is confronted by a masked master of ceremonies credited as "Red Cloak", who sits on a throne ornamented with what appears to be a two-headed snake. In Egyptian mythology this is a creature named Neheb Ka who binds aspects of the soul—the ka and ba—together after death. Ancient Egyptians believed the ka—meaning "double"—and ba—meaning "personality"—exist along with the physical human body. Neheb Ka guards the entrance to the underworld Duat, depicted in ancient Egyptian artworks as a "doubleworld" represented by the hieroglyph of a five-pointed star inside a circle—like the decorative stars at Ziegler's. The glyphs in the name Neheb Ka resemble a double-headed snake, so it was portrayed as such, referring to the spiritual double of a person that leaves their body upon death—the vital essence which distinguishes a living body from a dead one (The Ancient Gods Speak, 181). The surname of the actor who plays Red Cloak, Leon Vitali, means "life" in Latin (Latin and English Dictionary, 452). Vitali played a role in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) before becoming his personal assistant and/or casting director on all his following films. In another case of meta-duality, Leon Vitali has the same birthday as Stanley Kubrick: July 26th—1948 and 1928, respectively.
Stanley Kubrick had a kind of real life doppelgänger of his own; Alan Conway was a British conman who impersonated Kubrick for years throughout the 1990s, claiming to be the famous director in London's wealthy socialite circles in order to gain favours, free hotel rooms, dinners, and drinks, etc. By this time the real Kubrick had long withdrawn from media attention, so Conway succeeded in fooling many—including some film critics who contacted Warner Brothers to set up an interview with this "Kubrick". Warner Bros already knew of the scam but had been unable to identify the impostor, and Stanley Kubrick himself was then apprised of the situation by his lawyer. Kubrick was said to have been fascinated by the idea. His wife Christiane was less impressed, as she reflected in a 2005 interview with The Guardian: "It was an absolute nightmare. This strange doppelgänger who was pretending to be Stanley. Can you imagine the horror?"
Conway was tracked down by an assistant to Kubrick, Anthony Frewin, who then detailed the whole affair in a screenplay for what became the movie Color Me Kubrick: A True…ish Story (2005), wherein John Malkovich plays Alan Conway posing as Kubrick. The movie was directed by Brian W. Cook, who had worked as assistant director on Barry Lyndon and The Shining, and as a producer and assistant director on Eyes Wide Shut—and appears in it as the "Tall Butler" at the mansion. Alan Conway died of a heart attack three months before Stanley Kubrick died, also of a heart attack.
TWINSHIP & NAMES
Intriguing examples of duality—and plurality—also revolve around the character Marion. She only appears in that one scene—when Bill tries to reach her later, she's disappeared. This is a pattern, of people vanishing when Bill looks for them again on his second day out; Marion, Domino, Nick. Bill rebuffs Marion's advances just before her fiancé Carl arrives, and when Bill calls Marion's the next day, Carl answers the phone. And Bill hangs up. Carl is an alternate Bill, so it's like Bill tries to call an alternate version of his wife, but she doesn't answer, and he hears himself pick up on the other side, but he doesn't want to talk to himself. Then maybe after Bill hangs up the phone, offscreen in the looking-glass world Carl says to Marion, "I think I have to go over there and show my face", after she just finished confessing her fantasy to Carl, of running away with Doctor Bill. As if it's a dreamtime loop, and it was Carl who called Bill at home that night just as Bill now calls Carl. And it carries on, mise-en-abyme, into the abyss…
The character's name is Marion Nathanson, the actress's name is Marie Richardson; Marion is in fact a portmanteau of MARIe richardsON, as Harford is of HARrison FORD. The character's name in Traumnovelle is "Marianne". Tom Cruise's sister is also named Marian (with the variant spelling), and his mother is Mary. Nicole Kidman's middle name is Mary. Stanley Kubrick's sister was named Barbara Mary Kubrick. Marie Richardson acted in several Ingmar Bergman films—who Kubrick greatly admired—including her credit immediately prior to EWS, In the Presence of a Clown (1997), opposite a character also named Carl. And—curiously, in relation to female character names in EWS—among Marie Richardson's pre-EWS roles she played characters named Marianne (Marion), Elise (Alice), and Helena Hansson (Helena Harford).
One of the Yale punks slams into Bill as he walks by, and says, "Merry Christmas, Mary!"—mary being a homophobic slur, and sharing common etymology with merry. This of course connects to Christmas, Christianity, the biblical characters of the Virgin Mary mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, and also evokes the Catholic Church's longstanding antigay stance. Amanda (Mandy) means "lovable" from the Latin amāre, "to love"—in relation to the English merry and mary, which some derivations also define as "beloved, delightful", from Hebrew, Syro-Aramaic, and Egyptian (Miriam, Miryam, Maryam) with variations in Celtic, French, Greek, Slavic (Meara, Marie, Maria). Other diminutive forms are: Mira, Miri, Mariah, Molly, and Polly (from Dictionary of First Names, 13, and Celtic Names, 84). The name of the cat painting at the Harfords' is Polly, by Kubrick's daughter Katharina, which calls to mind a stuffed tiger seen on Domino's bed, and the term "sex kitten". Polly becomes a nickname of Mary from Molly, and is also considered a nickname of Dorothy from Dolly. As in Dorothy Gale from Oz, which connects to Nick Nightingale, Gayle the model, Gay meaning "merry", Gayle rhymes with Yale, Yale punks accuse Bill of being gay, etc.
At Ziegler's party, Bill flirts with two women, one of whom is introduced as Nuala Windsor. The name Nuala means "beautiful, fair", a fairy queen in Irish mythology (Celtic Names, 117). And Windsor identifies with the Royal Family of the United Kingdom, the House of Windsor, where bloodlines of the elite still hold power to this day. The other woman—of course there are two; twinship, doubling—says her name is Gayle. But Nuala sounds like she's American and Gayle is the one with the British accent, in another example of slipstream characteristic-swapping and New York, US-London, UK couplings. Gayle is a variant of Gail, shortened from the English name Abigail, with Hebrew origins; an Old Testament character married to a wealthy man until he dies and she becomes a king's wife (Dictionary of First Names, 1)—so, a woman of high socioeconomic status. The actress who plays the "Mysterious Woman" at the mansion/Mandy's double is named Abigail Good. Kubrick's daughter Vivian, a filmmaker and composer, has been credited under the pseudonym Abigail Mead. Gayle/Gail etymology also attributes the meaning as "jovial" or "merry", the same origin as the word "gay" which meant just that, before meaning homosexual. Kubrick chose to spell the character's name as Gayle and not Gail.
Gayle refers to previously meeting Bill "on a very windy day". A gale is a "very strong wind", in connection with Windsor. It is a very strong wind—a tornado—that whisks Dorothy Gale away to the fantasy land of Oz. Gayle and Nuala attempt to lead Bill away from the party to "where the rainbow ends", and Dorothy Gale sings "Over the Rainbow" in the 1939 movie, where "dreams that you dare to dream really do come true". Bill doesn't go with Gayle and Nuala, but he does go upstairs a moment later when summoned by Ziegler to tend to his dirty work. And he later goes to Rainbow Costume Rental, which is situated over a store called Under the Rainbow. Remember that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had a secret base in California codenamed Over the Rainbow? And Tom Cruise is a Scientologist. It’s all connected.
EWS's central female characters are all portrayed in sexual contexts. There are numerous clues to Alice's place in society as a toy, like her husband, both of whom are paid for in full by the real owners of the world, those like Ziegler and his mansion buddies. There are multiple parallels between Alice, Domino, Mandy (Julienne Davis), and Sally (Fay Masterson). The names Amanda (Mandy) and Domino have the same number of letters, with identical consonants. Alice and Domino are associated by the colour purple of Alice's sheets and Domino's dress. Three women characters' names are near-exact aural anagrams: Alice, Sally, and Lisa (Bill's secretary). Lisa is played by the same-named Lisa Leone, and Ziegler's wife Illona is played by Leslie Lowe, as if the two actresses' and characters' first and last names are composites of both their own and the other's (Leone/Illona also connects to Leon Vitali). And Illona is a linguistic variant of Helena, the Harfords' daughter.
Alice became a popular girls' name due to Alice in Wonderland, from Old French and Germanic for "noble" (Dictionary of First Names, 3, 9). And Bill is shortened from William, which has etymology rooted in the German Wilhelm; from wil meaning "will, desire" and helm meaning "conceal, protect", as in helmet (Dictionary, 276). So, Bill's full name William translates as "conceal desire". The name Victor Ziegler also has revelatory etymology. Victor is from the Latin for "winner" (Dictionary, 271). As a super-rich guy who has his way with everything, he's clearly a victor in this society. And Ziegler is from the German ziegelbrenner which means "brick maker" (German-English Dictionary, 291), connecting to freemasons and to "Kubrick". A mason is a builder or layer of stone, and Freemasonry as a secret society evolved out of organized bodies of stonemasons—those who work with stone—thousands of years ago. And the "free" part indicates that the mason is not enslaved. So, Victor Ziegler's name—and character—reflect a person who is at the top of the pyramid, a member of an ancient secret society of wealth and power-seekers. And Stanley itself also means "stone" ("stan"), plus "wood" ("leigh"; woods or a meadow) from Old English (Dictionary of First Names, 252).
The etymology of mason—"one who works with stone"—shares the same origins as the name Tom: from the Italian maso, shortened from Tomasso, which itself is from the Aramaic toma, which means "twin". The Anglicized form of Tomasso is Thomas; Tom Cruise, Tom Gibson, who in real life have the exact same birthday, and play alternate reality versions of each other—their name means "twin", which shares the same root as the word "mason", which refers to freemasons, and means "brick maker", which translates from Ziegler. There is also a line of highly-sought-after Japanese-made collectible toy figurines called "Kubrick Toys", named after the director and launched in 2000, shortly after his death. Ku translates from Japanese as "nine", and each Kubrick figure (which resemble Lego figures), is made up of nine body parts that toy collectors call "bricks".
Also note the aural and visual similarities in the names Stanley Kubrick and Sydney Pollack. Both first names start with "S" and end with "–ey". Both last names are seven letters, with the identical number of consonants and vowels in the exact same positions, ending with "–ck". And this is really weird: the last two letters of the first word spoken in EWS are also "–ey"—"Honey"—and the last two letters of the last word spoken are "–ck"—"Fuck". The name similarity of Stanley Kubrick and Sydney Pollack is one thing, but "–ey" and "–ck" being the last two letters of the first and last words spoken in the movie and the last two letters of the first and last names of the director Stanl–ey Kubri–ck seems an unbelievable coincidence.
But given Kubrick's infamous—some have said tyrannical—control of all his filmic details, surely much of this is no accident. Nathanson, Nathan Hale, Nathaniel Rothschild. Tom, Thomas, "twin". Alice Harford, Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Illona, Helena. Harrison Ford, Harford, and Hertfordshire—the county outside of London, UK, where Stanley lived (and died)—meaning "the land of people named Hertford".
PERIPHERALITY & PARALLELISM
A multitude of details in the background, and foreground, continually reinforce the film's intersecting thematic elements. When Gayle reminds Bill they'd met before, he recalls, "You had something in your eye". She responds jokingly, "about half of 5th Avenue". The next night, Bill traverses what looks like an imagined rendering of New York City's Greenwich Village, with a visible street sign reading "3rd Ave". Some shots are real locations in New York and England, but most of the street sets were constructed on soundstages in London, designed to resemble an alternate universe version of 1999 NYC. Outside the costume store the Gillespie's diner neon sign is visible behind Bill, which in the previous scene neighboured the Sonata Café. But Bill arrives at the costume store in a cab. Various other buildings and storefronts appear to change location throughout the movie (as do other objects). It's like Bill is going in circles, wandering the same three- or four-block radius over and over, with elements repositioned upon each pass-through of Dreamcity. Maybe he's travelling across "half of 5th Avenue" over and over, because he now has "half of 5th Avenue" in his "eye"—that is, in his mind's eye.
Bill says to Alice, "I don't think it's quite that black-and-white"—colours of a "domino". And Bill's imaginings of Alice having sex with the naval officer are in black-and-white. Nick wears a white suit jacket and Bill wears a black one. Two mannequins in the Rainbow store display window wear the same suits that Bill and Nick do. For most of the movie Bill is dressed in black; on his late night outings he wears a black suit and tie and white shirt, a black overcoat, black boots, and black gloves. A skewed film noir antihero (film noir meaning "black film"), the man in black, descending into the shadow realm.
Scenes of Bill in taxicabs at night have cut-out, rear-projected backgrounds whizzing by outside, like old movies—as if he's driving into his his own imagined dreamworld. There's the shot of Bill walking down the street facing the camera, when he smacks his hands together, in which he appears to be superimposed in front of the nighttime cityscape background—which is indeed the case, as behind-the-scenes photos show Cruise walking on a treadmill in front of a screen. He looks like a cutout, and he is, his surroundings visibly manufactured. As if he's not really even there. Shots orchestrated like this are as if to remind us that we're watching a movie, as if announcing that it's the Hollywood celebrity Tom Cruise just playing a role. So again, is this film about the sexualization of movie stars? About using sex to sell movies?
In addition to Yale's relevance to Skull and Bones and the CIA, the Yale students who accost Bill are reminiscent of the Clockwork Orange hoodlums. They also represent a younger Bill and Nick when they attended medical school together. Remember how thrilled they are to run into each other at Ziegler's party after ten years? They enthusiastically hand-shake and back-slap and man-hug with an immediate college frat bro-like camaraderie and good ol' boy intimacy, as if recalling those debaucherous days back in college. Bill running into the Yale students is like running into a younger version of himself, the memory of he and Nick as college students projected onto his environment.
What we hear the Yale guys say before they direct their attention to Bill: "…my face! She had a red rose in her mouth. She was doing a Mexican lap dance right in my face. I'm serious. I've got scars on the back of my neck!" This reflects things that appear onscreen moments before as Bill walks down the New York streets: he passes a Mexican Restaurant "Conchita's", which links as well to the cartoon playing on TV at Bill and Alice's; The Fright Before Christmas featuring the Mexican mouse Speedy Gonzalez. The college kid sees Bill and says, "Hey, hey, hey, what team's this switch hitter playing for? Looks like the pink team. Faggot!" Bill had just walked past a lingerie store called "Pink Pussycat Boutique" which had two headless mannequin torsos—a male and female—in underwear, in the display window.
Bill also passes a flower shop named "Nipped in the Bud" with a rose logo on its door sign and twin red rose neon lights, one in each window on either side of the door. The rose is a yonic symbol, and Bill's sexual attempts are repeatedly "nipped in the bud". The Latin version of the name Marion means "rose petal". Actress Mariana Hewitt plays the Nathansons' housekeeper Rosa (from Spanish, Italian), who connects to the character of the Harfords' babysitter Roz (from Polish). Both Rosa and Roz are in servant roles with names derived from the same meaning: rose. Inside the shop are bouquets of red flowers, Christmas lights, and a Santa Claus statuette looking out at Bill. Outside, a man and woman are leaning against the store kissing—the man is all in black (like Bill) and the woman wears a plush white coat and red pants (Santa Claus/Christmas colours). The Saint Nick statuette overlooking the scene connects with Nick Nightingale, and also with Nicole Kidman who we saw wrapping presents as Alice. Cruise often referred to Kidman as Nic in interviews at the time.
After taunting Bill with a few more homophobic slurs and mocking his sexuality, the punks' last discernible line is "Go back to San Francisco where you belong, man!" Besides the obvious connection of San Fran's reputation as an epicenter of gay rights, it also evokes Saint Francis, after whom the city is named. Francis was, among other things, associated with birds, and Bill speaks with at least one "bird", Mr. Nightingale, who whispers a secret in his ear… The homophobic slurs reflect Bill's own insecurity about his manhood and sexuality, and also refer to Tom Cruise himself and the real life rumours popular at the time that he was secretly gay. Alan Cumming's scene as the hotel clerk, with his overt homosexual flirtations with Bill, further invoke the "Tom Cruise is gay" gossip. Kubrick riddles EWS with in-jokes, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction.
There's a lot of interesting stuff about that newspaper Bill reads. The article about Amanda Curran states that she had modelled for, and was rumoured to have had an affair with, London fashion designer Leon Vitali. The real life name of the actor who plays Red Cloak is in the fake prop newspaper in the movie. The diner's name is Gillespie's, which means "bishop's servant" (Celtic Names, 231). Is Red Cloak the bishop and Mandy the servant? The newspaper linking Mandy to Vitali implies that she had a relationship with Red Cloak—and we know that she had one with Ziegler—evidence that Red Cloak and Ziegler are conjoined psychological archetypes. They're also linked by the colour of Red's cloak, the red carpet in the mansion ceremony, and Ziegler's red pool table. And the masked Mysterious Woman is played by a different actress than Mandy, even though it's implied to be her. So, Bill's odyssey is—at least in part, if not all—a dream sequence of imagined scenarios.
Fidelio is Beethoven's only opera, and the password for entry to the masquerade ball. It's an Italian male name meaning "fidelity, faithfulness"—especially sexual faithfulness to a spouse. The opera's original title was The Triumph of Married Love, featuring the female protagonist Leonore (in connection with Leon Vitali) who disguises herself as a man named Fidelio in order to rescue her husband from a political prison. The name Leonore is French for "shining light", significant because of EWS's lights motif. The mansion's Mysterious Woman who sacrifices herself to save Bill—supposedly Mandy with a mask on—is like Leonore risking her life to save her husband by masquerading as Fidelio. Mysterious Woman and Leonore also identify with Alice who, in her own dream as she recounts it to Bill, is in an orgy scenario in which she is "fucking all these men". But Alice laughs at Bill in her dream, while in his—if the mansion scene is indeed Bill's dream—she sacrifices herself to save him.
ROSEMARY & ROMAN
There is so much in Eyes Wide Shut that I didn't initially notice, whether in the etymology of character names and the actors playing them, the mise-en-scène, colour correspondence, or other visual and aural cues. But deeper examination opens up a world of parallels that now seem too obvious too ignore—to the point I wonder how I ever could've missed them in the first place. One such example is what may be a Kubrickian reference to the film Rosemary's Baby, with the conspicuous appearance of a baby buggy in EWS's toy store scene. The antique-looking stroller indeed closely resembles the iconic Rosemary's Baby carriage as it appeared in the 1968 film and its poster.
Rosemary's Baby is a psychological horror film written and directed by Roman Polanski, starring Mia Farrow. It was adapted from a novel by Ira Levin, who also wrote The Stepford Wives (1972), about brainwashed housewives, which was likewise adapted into a movie (1975) and later remade (2004) starring none other than Nicole Kidman. Like EWS's Bill and Alice, Rosemary's Baby is about a bourgeois American couple living on Central Park West in Manhattan's Upper West Side; they literally conceive the devil's offspring for a satanic cult in order to secure higher social status. Rosemary's Baby also involves perception and paranoia and there are times in both movies when it feels as if much of what we're seeing is allegorical, projections from the minds of each protagonist, Bill and Rosemary. And both movies explore themes of misogyny, sexual abuse, and the sexual autonomy of women. Given the similarities—including the names Rose and Mary as described earlier—it’s quite possible that EWS's baby carriage is Kubrick's intentional nod to Rosemary's Baby. In the 1980 Michel Ciment interview about The Shining, he asked Kubrick, "What kind of horror films do you like? Did you see Rosemary's Baby?" To which Kubrick replied, "It was one of the best of the genre".
A year after Rosemary's Baby was released, Polanski's wife—actress Sharon Tate—was murdered by a group of mostly female Charles Manson cult followers who reportedly practised satanic worship. In 1977, Polanski was scandalized and fled the US to Europe (where he remains in exile to this day) following his arrest at age 43 for the rape of a 13-year-old model at Jack Nicholson's house, though Nicholson wasn't there at the time. Polanski's first film following the incident was Tess (1979), adapted from Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), about a young peasant girl raped by a wealthy nobleman. Soon after, Jack Nicholson starred in Kubrick's The Shining, and was previously in Polanski's Chinatown (1974), which itself is about—among other things—a rich old man raping his daughter.
Subjects popular in Roman Polanski's life and works parallel those in EWS. Rape. Murder. Satanic cults. Rich old men preying on very young women. Polanski's later wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, was 22 at the time she married the 55-year-old Polanski. Mia Farrow was married to Frank Sinatra at the time she was cast in Rosemary's Baby. She was 21 and Sinatra was 50 when they wed, and divorced within two years. Farrow later married filmmaker Woody Allen, only to also divorce him and accuse him of molesting her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who Allen later married—when she was 26 and he was 61. Another adopted daughter of both Farrow and Allen—Dylan Farrow—accused him of molesting her when she was 7. Allen was never convicted or sentenced, but was legally denied custody rights. Then in 2013, another of their adopted children, Moses Farrow, announced that he'd been physically assaulted by Mia, and defended Allen. Soon-Yi also publicly defended Allen in 2018. One of Farrow and Allen's biological children, Ronan Farrow, is a journalist whose articles in The New Yorker helped expose sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and CBS executive Les Moonves—both of whom resigned as a result.
Kubrick was a big fan of Allen's work, particularly Annie Hall, Husbands and Wives (which also stars Sydney Pollack), and Manhattan—a black-and-white comedy about a 42-year-old man dating a 17-year-old girl. On a strange side note in connection to EWS, Allen's best friend in the movie is the character "Yale Pollack". Yale. Sydney Pollack. Weird. At one point Kubrick considered casting Allen in the lead role of EWS, which is also set in Manhattan and features many older men with young women. According to Stanley's brother-in-law Jan Harlan (who executive-produced Kubrick's last four films, as well as A.I., and directed the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures) in a 2014 Sight & Sound interview:
Did you know that his (Kubrick's) first contract with Warner Bros. was for Traumnovelle in 1970? The film that became Eyes Wide Shut almost 30 years later. He postponed it because he wasn’t happy with his script and A Clockwork Orange came along…Much later, before The Shining, he was on cloud nine with the idea of doing Traumnovelle as a low-budget arthouse film in black-and-white with Woody Allen in the lead—filming in London and maybe Dublin to mock New York…Woody Allen, straight, as a Jewish doctor in New York: that was his plan. He abandoned it again because he was not satisfied with his script. I am very happy to know that he considered Eyes Wide Shut his greatest contribution to the art of filmmaking—and I think he is the only judge that matters.
There are numerous instances in EWS of old men with young women/girls: Sandor Szavost with Alice at Ziegler's party—he appears to be at least 20 years older than her. Ziegler with the prostitute at his party—he's almost 40 years older than her. Milich's associates with his daughter—she's 15 and they're in their fifties. And Kubrick directed Lolita, about a man in his fifties who is obsessed with a 14-year-old girl. A lot surrounding Rosemary's Baby very readily relates to common Kubrick themes of power and misogyny.
This all gets into EWS's darkest aspects; sexual abuse of women. Remember how the shirtless Ziegler is still zipping up his pants in front of a passed-out Mandy when Bill enters the room? And how inconvenienced and irritated he is when Bill says she should stay there for another hour to recover from her overdose when Ziegler wants to shuffle her out the backdoor right away? And darker still; pedophilia and the sexualization of children. The costume store owner Mr. Milich prostituting his daughter is the most blatant example. With the Lewis Carroll linkages, it's also mentionable there have been allegations he was a pedophile, having painted nude portraits of female children. And with the Catholic Church's systemic child sexual abuse, religious allusions in EWS are also disturbingly relevant. It all invokes conspiracy theories about child trafficking and prostitution rings run by powerful elites, the world's wealthiest criminals. Leaked accounts of the CIA's secret MKUltra mind control program describe experiments that involved psychological, physical, and sexual abuse—but whether children were used is disputed and controversial.
Eyes Wide Shut is now twenty-years-old, but the serious themes it explores remain relevant to our time, with the MeToo and Time'sUp movements exposing sexual assault and predation by men in high positions of authority. The newspaper article about Mandy states that "her agent" notified hotel security when she didn't answer the phone; is Ziegler her agent, à la Harvey Weinstein? Bill refers to the two women at the party as "models"… This all brings me to another key female character in EWS who I haven't discussed yet: Bill and Alice's daughter Helena Harford.
HELENA, MARIE, & MARIE-HÉLÈNE
Helena is a form of Helen, of Greek origin, meaning "light" or "shining bright" in fitting with the lights motif in EWS—and like Fidelio's protagonist Leonore, from French meaning "shining light". The name Helena is most famously from the character Helen of Troy in Greek mythology. Helen was known as the most beautiful woman in the world, who is said to have "launched a thousand ships" as men started wars over her affections. As the story goes, Helen was a queen who left her monarch husband for a Trojan man named Paris. Some accounts describe it as an elopement, as Helen being equally in love with Paris as he was with her, while other versions describe it as an abduction wherein Paris took Helen against her will (Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 119, 193).
Some etymologists link Helen of Troy to "sun goddess" legends, and the story of her elopement or abduction by Paris as relating to "marriage drama" myths of ancient Indo-European cultures. The etymology of the Old Greek spelling of her name has a "v" to possibly represent Venus, the goddess of love, beauty, desire, sex, seduction, and fertility. This connects again to the Star of Venus from goddess-worship cultures and the Venus astronomical symbol used in biology for the female gender—a circle with a small cross underneath it. The "v" appearing in the old spelling of Helen suggests her character shares common mythological origins with Venus; that they both represent aspects of femininity.
Venus is very much involved in Helen of Troy's story; she granted Paris the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen, if he would proclaim that she, Venus, was the most beautiful goddess in all the universe. Paris did so and then ran off with Helen, which started the Trojan War. The duality theme is again displayed in this story of Helen and Venus—a human woman and a goddess, one the most beautiful on Earth, the other the most beautiful in the Heavens. Themes of twinning and pairing prominent in EWS are reflected throughout many tales of twinship in Greek mythology. Helen had a twin sister Clytemnestra, and they had another pair of half-brother twins named Gemini. So, Helen of Troy is a pair of pairs, linking to the duality embodied through the character Helena Harford: she has double-H initials, her father is played by an actor whose name means "twin", and there’s another character named Illona—an Eastern European version of Helena—the same name.
Helen of Troy relates to another classical myth, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, which many modern fairy tales are rooted in. It has been portrayed in various media, from poetry to paintings to popular culture, with Cupid imagery on everything from wallpaper to greeting cards. Cupid is commonly depicted today as a winged cherub equipped with a bow and arrows—anyone struck by his arrow will fall in love. In EWS, a statue of Cupid and Psyche can be seen at the bottom of the staircase in Ziegler's house, and a Cupid card hangs in Domino's apartment.
Cupid, meaning "desire", was the Roman god of love, desire, and eroticism. His Greek counterpart is Eros, which is also a word on a sign behind Bill outside the costume store. Cupid was the son of Venus (Aphrodite, in Greek)—goddess of love, passion, sex—and Mars (Ares), god of war; an allegory, perhaps, of the extremes of human behaviour; love and war, creation and destruction. Psyche is from the Greek for "life" or "breath", with derivative meanings "soul", "spirit", "ghost", and "self". In psychology the psyche is the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious. Psyche was a princess of stunning beauty, herself said to be the second coming of Venus. She became Cupid's wife, and mother of their daughter Hedone (meaning "pleasure", in Greek), also known as Voluptas ("pleasure", in Latin) who was herself the goddess of sensual pleasure. The English word "hedonism" is derived from Hedone, and "voluptuous" from Voluptas. The themes of The Tale of Cupid and Psyche center on love, lust, sex, and death.
The Tale of Cupid and Psyche was written in the 2nd Century (circa 158-170 A.D.) by Lucius Apuleius, a Platonist philosopher and writer. It's an episode in his most famous work Metamorphoses, wherein the protagonist and narrator is named Lucius; establishing the story's framework as told through the eyes of a fictional version of the writer Lucius Apuleius himself. In real life, Apuleius was accused of using magic to seduce a wealthy widow, which sounds a bit like elements of EWS rearranged; Szavost, Ziegler, Mandy, Alice, Bill—a protagonist/actor playing a fictional version of himself. Most remarkably, just as the mansion scene occurs in the exact middle of EWS, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche occurs in the midpoint of the novel Metamorphoses. As a structural mirror of the overarching plot, it's an example of mise-en-abyme, occurring within a complex narrative frame as a story within a story, like EWS and its mirror structure endlessly reflecting aspects of itself.
The Cupid and Psyche story alludes to "mystery religions" which were a kind of early cult involving "initiates" called mystai (mystics). Apuleius was himself an initiate of several cults and mystery religions. Mystery has origins in the French mistere ("secret, hidden meaning"—and in a theological sense, "hidden spiritual significance, religious truth"), Latin mysterium ("secret rite, secret worship"), and Greek mystērion ("secret doctrine, secret ceremony"). In etymological relation, mystic comes from the Greek "to shut the eyes and mouth, in secrecy", to be initiated into the "mystery revelation" (Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 307). It all sounds similar to what Bill experiences at the secret mansion party; before going there he asks Nick, "What's the big mystery?" In this context of the ancient initiatory rites of the pagan mysteries, EWS is about mysteries. And the movie itself might qualify as an anti-mystery, because nothing is answered with certainty.
Dated about 150 years before Apuleius' Metamorphoses is another classic Latin literary work also entitled Metamorphoses (8 A.D.) by Roman poet Ovid. Considered his masterwork, it's an epic narrative poem of 250 myths. At Ziegler's party, Sandor Szavost attempts to seduce Alice by citing Ovid’s The Art of Love. When she tells him she's married, he replies that in ancient times women got married because it was the only way to be free to sleep with other men. Really? I thought monogamous marriage evolved as a property contract for men to secure their wealth succession and lineage by having women bear them offspring. The word "woman" in fact comes from the Old English wifman, from wife of man (Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 544). Two ancient books connected to EWS—a movie with mirroring and duality themes—have identical titles: Metamorphoses and Metamorphoses. Incidentally, the famous story The Metamorphosis was written by Franz Kafka (born 1883), who shares a birthday with Tom Cruise—July 3rd. Bill undergoes a metamorphosis of sorts, doesn't he?
Helena plays with the baby buggy in the toyshop, and a baby stroller is visible in the hallway of Domino's apartment building, seemingly abandoned in the corner outside of her suite door—which links Helena and Domino. Also in the toy store, stuffed tigers fill a shelf behind Alice—one of which is seen on Domino's bed, linking the two of them. This all invokes the possibility that not only is Domino some kind of alternate version of his wife Alice, but also of his daughter Helena; the same characters transposed in alternate, imagined timelines. Is this perhaps part of Bill's sexual hesitancy with Domino? Maybe she's a future representation of Helena, a possible fate that Bill has been complicit in by his unconscious contribution to capitalism and misogyny. Milich prostituting his young daughter is another version. And Ziegler's wife is named Illona, a version of Helena. Domino is a prostitute, and Illona is the wife of a super-rich guy who routinely has sex with prostitutes. And Helena is the daughter of Bill, a somewhat rich guy who thinks he wants to have sex with prostitutes, but doesn't.
In further connection to Helen/Helena, and to Marie/Marion: Marie-Hélène de Rothschild was a wealthy socialite and member of the Rothschild banking family, who died in 1996 around the time EWS was in the early stages of production. Her paternal grandmother was Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. The most notable Rothschild reference in EWS is that the UK's Mentmore Towers—which serves as the Somerset mansion in the movie—was commissioned to be built in the 1850s by the son of Nathan Rothschild. Bill's patient is Nathanson. The Rothschilds' bizarre, extravagant parties have been documented, including a masquerade ball that Marie-Hélène held at another Rothschild mansion called Château de Ferrières, in France. It was built around the same time as Mentmore for another family member—Baron James de Rothschild—who, upon seeing his cousin's impressive mansion told the architect, "Build me a Mentmore, but twice the size" (The Rothschilds: A Family of Fortune). Marie-Hélène took over the mansion in 1959, refurbished it, and it soon became the epicenter for European high society, with everyone from royalty to Hollywood celebrities in attendance.
Marie-Hélène's party was called the "Surrealist Ball", and while this particular gathering wasn't a massive sex orgy (at least not as popularly reported), it does have numerous eerie parallels to EWS, too similar to be ignored. It was held on December 12th, 1972—the Christmas season. The invitations were printed backwards, only legible if held up to a mirror; backwards text and inversion of traditional symbols is a common practise in occult rituals. When Bill enters the mansion, the music composition heard is "Backwards Priests", a Romanian Orthodox liturgy played in reverse. Marie-Hélène's party guests were required to attend in costumes and masks with a surrealist theme—one of the EWS party attendees wears a Cubist mask. The ball also had food served on the body of a life-sized mannequin lying down—perhaps inspired by the nude mannequin tables in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, which had come out a year earlier?
Among the notable celebrities in attendance were artist Salvador Dali, movie star Audrey Hepburn, and model-turned actress Marisa Berenson, who a few years later starred in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975)—another movie about royalty and wealthy elites. In a 1974 New York Times interview Berenson said "I was once one of the highest paid models in the world" ("About New York", with John Corry). Her attendance at the ball resonates as an ominous foreshadowing of EWS. By 1972 Kubrick had acquired the rights to Traumnovelle and was already researching for it, so he likely questioned Berenson about Marie-Hélène's masquerade ball. At that time Kubrick was among the world's most famous filmmakers, so maybe he'd even attended such similar parties.
Another connection to the name Helen is that actress Helen Mirren starred in 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)—the sequel to Kubrick's 2001. Her character is Tanya Kirbuk, an obvious homage to Stanley Kubrick as an aural anagram and near-exact reversal in spelling of his surname. 2010 was adapted by writer-director Peter Hyams from original 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke's 1982 sequel novel. Kubrick wasn't involved, but Hyams got his and Clarke's blessing to make the film. In addition to the Mirren character's name (which is different in Clarke's book), Hyams pays tribute to 2001 by featuring Clarke in a cameo as a man on a park bench, and a fake version of Time magazine—about US-Soviet tensions—appears in the film with a cover picture of Clarke as the US President and Kubrick as the Soviet Premier. Helen Mirren was born on July 26th (1945)—the same birthday as Stanley Kubrick (1928), which is the same birthday as Leon Vitali as Red Cloak (1948), and also the same birthday as Peter Hyams (1943). EWS's Mr. Milich is played by Rade Šerbedžija, whose birthday is July 27th (1946)—one day after Kubrick et al. These birthday coincidences are another example of the seemingly infinite expanse of the EWS multiverse.
The Hélène part of Marie-Hélène relates to: Helena Harford, Helen of Troy, Illona, Helen Mirren, Mentmore Towers, the Rothschild family, wealthy elites, decadent mansion parties, Marisa Berenson, Barry Lyndon. And the Marie part of Marie-Hélène relates to: Marie Richardson as Marion, Tom Cruise's sister's name Marian, his mother's name Mary, Nicole Kidman's middle name Mary, the Yale punks taunting "Merry Christmas, Mary", and actress Mariana Hewitt as the housekeeper Rosa, which connects to the babysitter Roz, which means rose, which all connect to the name Rose-Mary through the Rosemary's Baby carriage appearance. Such cross-connections between names and associated substories further exemplify the scope of Kubrick's artistic vision.
SABRINA & COMUS (A MASQUE)
In the toy store, Helena says to her parents, "I can put Sabrina in here" as she gestures to the antique-looking Rosemary's Baby carriage—ostensibly referring to a doll of hers. Alice replies, "It's old-fashioned". Knowing Kubrick, there must be a reason he chose that name. What might Sabrina signify in this context?
Sabrina is a water nymph character with origins in English and Greek mythology. Her story is linked to Helen of Troy's, as Sabrina is said to descend from Brutus of Troy and the Trojan War hero Aeneas who is also a son of Venus and a cousin of Paris. In English legend, Sabrina was a girl born to the mistress of King Locrine. He acknowledged Sabrina and her mother and rejected his wife Gwendolen, who then waged war against him and won—killing Locrine in battle and ordering Sabrina and her mother be drowned in the Welsh-English River Severn. Severn in English comes from the Old Welsh Habren, which the Romans translated as Sabrina (Dictionary of First Names, 239). Various versions of the story conclude with Sabrina being saved by the river nymphs and becoming one herself. Nymphs, or Naiads in Greek mythology, are beautiful female spirits who preside over rivers, fountains, lakes, and other bodies of water.
Sabrina is a key character in a masque by English poet John Milton, entitled Comus (A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634), announced as a masque to honour chastity. Masques were an ancient form of live, theatrical entertainment and pageantry, a popular court celebration with singing, dancing and mask-wearing—with the main parts often played by nobles and the royals themselves. The etymology of the French word masque is directly linked to mask and masquerade, from the Italian mascara and the Latin masca meaning "witch" and "specter", and the Arabic maskara meaning "buffoon" (Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 283). Note the thematic relevance of the word masque to EWS and the word masquerade as commonly used today; mascara is makeup for the eyes, with supernatural connotations (as in Halloween makeup), clownish purposes, or sexual implications—disguising oneself to attract, shock, or entertain.
The story of Comus concerns a woman, The Lady, who is captured by Comus and brought to his pleasure palace where he attempts to coerce her into sexual debauchery. He accosts her, tries to drug her, and put spells on her with his necromancy—reminiscent of Ziegler and the overdosed Mandy. But The Lady holds strong against Comus until she is eventually saved and freed by the nymph Sabrina. Comus is from Greek mythology—a god of excess, festivity, indulgence, and nocturnal dalliances (Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 68). Considering Milton's Comus, it's interesting how the character Sabrina and word masque/mask apply to EWS. And The Tale of Cupid and Psyche is alluded to at the end of Comus, drawing further interconnections between EWS and other stories, with elements of each corresponding with the others.
The moment that Helena says the line about Sabrina, a woman walks by behind where Helena, Bill, and Alice stand, and glances at them. She wears pointed black boots and a long fur coat with its hood up over her head. This dark overcoat resembles the cloaks worn by the masked ball attendees, and she fits the common depiction of a witch in popular culture. Sabrina comes to mind as the name of the teenage witch from the Archie comic book series (by George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo)—but I doubt this is what Kubrick is referencing, even with EWS's Wiccan and witchcraft-related imagery. Nicole Kidman's film immediately prior to EWS is the fantasy-comedy Practical Magic (1998) in which she plays the sister to Sandra Bullock, as two magic-slinging modern-day witches (Bullock's birthday is also July 26th; the same as Kubrick, Vitali, etc.).
Rosemary's Baby features a black carriage apparently identical to the one Helena is talking about at the exact moment that a witch-like woman walks by and looks at her—further augmenting EWS associations with the supernatural, fairy tales, and horror/thriller cinema, as director Polanski made a number of other features that also fall into the category—particularly psychological horror (Repulsion, The Tenant). Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by mostly female cultists; the two met when she starred in his 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers. Tate previously appeared in the supernatural horror Eye of the Devil (1966) as a witch, and Valley of the Dolls (1967)—a critically reviled melodrama about three women friends and their drug use in the worlds of show business and high society. Polanski's next film following Tate's death was a graphically sexual and violent adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth (1971), which also famously features The Three Witches characters.
Sabrina is also the title character of a 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn and directed by Billy Wilder, whom Kubrick admired. Hepburn was one of many wealthy elites in attendance at the Rothschild masquerade ball. Sabrina was remade in 1995 starring Harrison Ford (EWS's Harfords) and directed by Sydney Pollack (EWS's Ziegler).
CARLOTTA & GISELLE
A stack of boxes in the toyshop bear a picture of a girl doll pushing a miniature toy baby carriage, with the name "Carlotta Junior". This parallels what happens a moment earlier in the same scene; a girl, Helena, with her hands on the push handle of a baby carriage, reflected in the picture on the box. What does the name Carlotta signify here? Etymologically, Carlotta is the Italian feminine form of "freeman" (i.e. "freewoman") or "free peasant"—Helena is Carlotta Junior, the daughter of a free woman? Carlotta and Charlotte are the female variants of Charles and Carl (Dictionary of First Names, 52)—and yes we do have a Carl in Eyes Wide Shut, don’t we? Who is Carl Junior? The future unborn child of Carl and Marion? A duplicate, dream-toy-doll version of Helena, reproduced and sold in a store in boxes upon boxes, like a house of mirrors.
When exploring peripheral Carlotta links, deeper meaning emerges. Carlotta Grisi was a famous 19th-century Italian ballerina known as the first star of the romantic ballet Giselle, in her "greatest role" as the title character. Giselle is a ghost-filled story about a young peasant girl who dies of heartbreak when a deceitful, disguised nobleman betrays her love. She's summoned back to life by supernatural female beings, spirits of virgin girls who exact revenge on abusive men by engaging them to dance until they die of exhaustion. Giselle recalls the tale of Sabrina and Comus, which also has female spirits assisting women who are wronged by men, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, about a young peasant girl who is abused by a wealthy nobleman, and Fidelio, about a woman in disguise.
The name Giselle is from the German gisil which means "to owe, a pledge" and it was a practice in the Middle Ages for rival factions to offer a person, often a child, to each other as a pledge of peace (Dictionary of First Names, 111)—as in Rosemary's Baby, and also like Mysterious Woman in EWS, who offers to sacrifice herself to save Bill. Is she then like Giselle, and Bill the disguised nobleman? Or is Ziegler the deceitful nobleman, and Giselle is Mandy, the peasant girl? Carlotta Grisi had two daughters (named Marie and Léontine), one by her dancing partner and one by Prince Leon Radziwell (in connection with Leon Vitali). So, in this interpretation, Helena is Carlotta Junior, the daughter of a woman who marries a Prince—and is also Giselle Junior, the daughter of a woman who dies from heartbreak by a nobleman and becomes a spirit avenger.
Kubrick knew about things like ballet, Carlotta Grisi, and Giselle. His second wife Ruth Sobotka was a ballerina, dancer, choreographer, art director, and actress. She appeared in a small role as the ballerina Iris in Kubrick's first official feature film Killer's Kiss (1955), as well as serving as art director (which she did again on Kubrick's next movie The Killing, 1956). Iris is the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Sobotka was the Austrian-born daughter of immigrants; her mother was a Viennese actress named Gisella, and it was Ruth who introduced Stanley to Austrian literature, including Schnitzler's Traumnovelle.
Ruth Sobotka's first appearance as a movie actress was in the experimental Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947)—widely considered to be the first feature-length avant-garde film. Hans Richter is credited as the producer, co-director, and co-writer of the movie, which is comprised of six surreal, dream sequence shorts. Each segment was written and directed by a prominent Dadaist and/or Surrealist artist of the day, including Man Ray, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Richter. Dadaism was an early-20th-century art movement that employed montage, collage, sound-poetry, cut-up writing, and found object art, with links to Cubism, abstract art, and anti-art movements. Dadaists believed in anti-bourgeois protest through art; rejecting capitalist aestheticism, mocking social conventions, and emphasizing the illogical and absurd. In EWS, Bill leaves the hospital morgue and walks down a hallway bizarrely adorned with abstract paintings, as if a Surrealist art gallery—recalling his apartment hallway gallery likewise filled with colourful paintings.
Dreams That Money Can Buy tells the story of a man who can see into his mind while looking into his own eyes in the mirror. He concludes to apply his gift to others and sets up a business selling actual dreams—the contents of which bear similarities to EWS; there's a young couple, a blind man, mannequins, toy figurines that come to life, a masked face, and so on. Ruth Sobotka appears as "The Girl" in Man Ray's segment "Ruth, Roses and Revolvers". Note the Roses in the title in relation to EWS imagery, and the metacinematic use of Ruth the actress and character's name (like Jack Nicholson as "Jack" and Danny Lloyd as "Danny" in The Shining). Knowing Kubrick's reputation as a completist, that his ex-wife acted in the experimental Dreams That Money Can Buy, and that he's ultimately an experimental filmmaker himself, one can assume he saw the movie and that its conceptual parallels to EWS are no accident. Stanley Kubrick and Ruth Sobotka divorced in 1957, and she died ten years later at the age of 41, on June 17th, 1967—three days before Nicole Kidman was born on June 20th, 1967.
Carlotta is also a character in the classic Gothic novel The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l'Opéra) by Gaston Leroux (1910), and subsequent adaptations. She's the prima donna of the Paris Opera House, in another story that bears noteworthy similarities to EWS; The Phantom character would've fit right in unnoticed at the masked mansion party, for starters. The narrative also includes a masquerade ball, a mirrored room, and again recalls the deceitful nobleman of Giselle, the villainous title character of Comus, and the disguised protagonist of Fidelio. Kubrick liked ghost stories—phantoms—as in The Shining, and both Sabrina and Giselle become spirits. The Phantom of the Opera is a creepy tale about a masked, cloaked figure who is out of place in high society, like Bill, and also identifies with EWS's Red Cloak, as The Phantom is usually depicted wearing a red cloak or cape.
But perhaps the most most notable connection to "Carlotta Junior" is that Charlotte is the name of Lolita's mother in Nabakov's book Lolita (1955) and, as played by Shelley Winters, in Kubrick's film adaptation. So, Carlotta Junior is, then, Lolita. And Lolita is a diminutive of Dolores, which means "sorrowful, suffering" in Spanish (Random House Spanish-English Dictionary, 26). A suffering girl, contrasted by Carlotta, a free woman. Given everything the name Carlotta connects to in film, art, literature, and history, it's curious that Eyes Wide Shut features it in this context.
SHADOWS, WINDOWS, & TELEVISION SCREENS
When Bill is in Domino's bedroom, his cell phone rings. He puts his finger to his lips motioning for her to be quiet, walks to the side of the room, and answers his phone. Cut to Alice sitting alone at the kitchen table in their apartment. She asks Bill how much longer he will be, and he lies to her, pretending he's still at the Nathansons'. Alice sits at the table in front of a television. The movie playing on the TV is Blume in Love, particularly relevant as it is about a divorce lawyer whose wife divorces him after catching him cheating on her. The movie's tagline A Love Story for Guys Who Cheat On Their Wives could function as a subtitle for Eyes Wide Shut, too. Although Bill doesn't fully cheat, so his tagline would more accurately be A Love Story for Guys Who ALMOST Cheat On Their Wives.
Blume in Love (1973) is written and directed by Paul Mazursky, an early Kubrick collaborator. Before becoming a writer-director himself, Mazursky appeared as an actor in Kubrick's first feature film Fear and Desire (1953)—a title that also applies to Bill Harford. An antiwar film, Fear and Desire displays early warning signs of what later become common themes throughout Kubrick's filmography; Mazursky plays Sidney, a soldier who kills a local peasant girl while he's stranded in enemy territory. The movie disappeared after limited distribution because Kubrick was unhappy with it and discouraged its rerelease, so Killer's Kiss was long considered Kubrick's first official feature-length film—until Fear and Desire was finally released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2012.
The scene cuts back and forth between Bill at Domino's and Alice at home. Bill stands in Domino's bedroom beside a mirror on the right side of the screen. A fragment of his reflection is visible in the mirror, as is half of a mask that hangs on Domino's opposite wall. Behind him is a window with partially drawn blinds. Seen a moment earlier but now out of frame was Domino's television, turned off. We also just saw another mirror on Domino's wall opposite the one Bill is standing beside. Alice sits at the table with the television on the right side of the screen, and behind her are glass cupboard doors on the wall, like a window. Alice's reflection flickers faintly on the TV screen, which is reflected on the window behind her. A reflection of a reflection of a shadow on a screen. Back to Bill, where visible directly under the mirror is a book entitled Shadows on the Mirror. The television screen and mirror function as windows between the characters' environments, gateways positioned in the same place in relation to Bill and Alice in their respective surroundings.
A husband, attempting to cheat on his wife, talks to her on the telephone while he's positioned beside a mirror. The wife talks to her husband on the telephone while she's positioned beside a television, which is playing a movie about a man trying to win his wife back after cheating on her. And that movie is made by Kubrick collaborator Paul Mazursky, and also features an actor who Kubrick worked with—Lolita's Shelley Winters. Blume in Love alludes to Lolita, which is perhaps at least in part why Mazursky cast Winters, and is yet another example of how mediums of expression and communication in EWS (telephones, notes, television screens, paintings) function as messages for the audience, right there for all of us to see even if many of us don't. Eyes wide shut.
Blume in Love has mirroring and duality themes of its own. Parts of the story take place in Venice, Italy, and parts in Venice, California. EWS links to Venice, Italy—a historic merchant hub—in using traditional Venetian masks. Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice (1912) is about a man in his fifties who travels to Venice and become increasingly obsessed with a 14-year-old boy he meets there. So, while originally published over forty years earlier, Death in Venice has obvious similarities to Lolita. Thomas Mann was, like his contemporary Arthur Schnitzler, influenced by Sigmund Freud and his views on dreams; Schnitzler was indeed regarded by Freud as his literary doppelgänger. You better believe Kubrick was well-read, so knew all of this.
The particular Blume in Love scene that's shown in EWS is relevant too, as Juli Kearns observes in her shot-by-shot analysis: "The camera pans right over a young blond man who had been eyed earlier…by a much older man…and had spurned his glance, the scene an obvious reference to Death in Venice in which a composer goes to Venice and falls in love with a preteen boy…Unlike Lolita, however, nothing happens between the pair in Death in Venice"—like nothing happens between Bill and any of his sexual prospects. Kubrick provides commentary about EWS within the film itself, through the Blume in Love scene showing characters alluding to Death in Venice, which connects to Lolita, and back to Kubrick. With all its links to other creative works, EWS resonates on a metatextual level. Movies within movies, stories within stories. The Death in Venice protagonist visits a part of the city called "the Lido"; the same area that hosts the Venice Film Festival—the oldest, and one of the biggest (next to Cannes and Berlin) film festivals in the world—where Eyes Wide Shut made its European debut.
Mazursky himself plays a role in Blume in Love, as a character named Hellman. This recalls EWS's satanic ritual themes with its occult and Wiccan imagery, pentagrams and inverted stars symbology, Red Cloak, etc. Alice sits at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette, with a glass of milk and a box of "SnackWell's Devil's Food Cookie Cakes" laid out in front of her. Earlier, Alice and Helena sit in front of their TV that plays a cartoon; The Fright Before Christmas—a segment from 1979's Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales—featuring the Tasmanian Devil drinking milk and eating devil's food cake (like Alice), masquerading in costume (like Bill), and much Christmas imagery.
One visible book title in Domino's apartment is Introducing Sociology (first published in 1996), a real introductory textbook for university sociology students. Sociology is, broadly, the study of human behaviour—and more specifically, how human spheres of activity are affected by intersecting influences of economic class stratification, political systems, laws, religion, sexuality, gender, etc. Film analyst Tim Kreider borrowed the title Introducing Sociology for his EWS essay, wherein he makes more compelling observations. The other book on Domino's shelf, Shadows on the Mirror, appears directly under a mirror. Kearns describes it as "a kind of thriller about a female lawyer whose husband was unfaithful, then when widowed she goes about having brief affairs with men, restoring their confidence…But one 'vicious misogynist' of a client stalks her, and 'keeps her under surveillance as a possible replacement for his missing wife'."
Kearns also notes that Chris Isaak's "Baby did a Bad Bad Thing"—a song featured in EWS—is from "the album Forever Blue which also had the song 'Shadows in a Mirror'. The lyrics have two lovers who have split up, one hoping that they will get together again, but the shadows in a mirror tell the person they're wrong and that they are instead finished" (Kearns). The shadow motif also connects to the movie adaptation of the Greek myth, Helen of Troy (1956), in which Paris at first mistakenly thinks Helen is actually Helen's beautiful slave, so she poses as such and "speaks of herself as Helen's 'shadow'. The movie continues with the idea of dual personas for both Paris and Helen" (Kearns). Helen of Troy is played by actress Rossanna Podestà, who has the same birthday as Nicole Kidman (June 20th, 1934 and 1967, respectively).
The shadow theme also links to the book we see Helena read at bedtime: "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of him is more than I can see. He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head, and I see him jump before me when I jump into my bed". Eerily, this poem excerpt has vaguely sexual connotations in this context, as Alice is in bed reading along and encouraging Helena, getting particularly gleeful when Helena reads the end, as Bill looks on silently. It might play differently if the pronoun was she/her. But here it's as if Alice is coaching her daughter to be what her own idea of a woman is; a counterpart to a man, as in another scene where Alice helps Helena with math homework calculating how much money boys have. The poem is "My Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson, whose most famous work is the Gothic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—another tale that explores the dual nature, the light and dark sides, of man.
Carl Jung was a one-time Freud collaborator, a psychoanalyst whose shadow theory relates to Freud's ideas about the id. In Jungian psychology, the "shadow" is a person's unknown dark side, personifying "everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself" (Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 284). Instinctive, irrational, and prone to psychological projections, the shadow embodies unconscious, sexual, animal impulses that often appear in dreams and visions. Jung said that when "an individual makes an attempt to see his shadow, he becomes aware of (and often ashamed of) those qualities and impulses he denies in himself…such things as egotism…unreal fantasies, schemes, and plots; carelessness and cowardice; inordinate love of money and possessions" (Jung, Man and his Symbols, 174-175).
In relation to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jung said "it must be Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow…and not vice versa. Otherwise the conscious becomes the slave of the autonomous shadow" (Archetypes, 123). As the process of integration continues, "the libido leaves the bright upper world…sinks back into its own depths…below, in the shadows of the unconscious" (Psychology of the Unconscious, 181-182) and emerging to the forefront is "what was hidden under the mask…the shadow" (Psychology, 238-239). There's been a lot of talk about EWS as Freudian, but Jung's descriptions of the "shadow" apply stunningly well to EWS. Note the character Carl…another of Bill's shadow projections, pointing us to Carl Jung?
THE MUSIC: BABY DID A BAD BAD THING
Among Stanley Kubrick's contributions to the cinematic arts, he was noted for his effective use of music—most famously for the 1896 composition "Also sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss, in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Eyes Wide Shut's soundtrack is comprised almost exclusively of orchestral instrumental music. Contemporary composer Jocelyn Pook recorded four pieces for the score, much of it based on her previous compositions; the masked ball features a reworked version of Pook's "Backwards Priests" which contains a Romanian Orthodox divine liturgy played backwards (retitled as "Masked Ball"), and Pook's "Migrations"—a haunting piece based on a Tamil song—plays during the orgy.
The one vocal number on the soundtrack is Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing". To help Kidman relax during nude scene rehearsals Kubrick encouraged her to play her own choice of music, which included Isaak's 1995 album Forever Blue (appropriate given all the blue light in the movie) with this song on it—and Kubrick decided to use it. Other songs are used in ironic ways; "When I Fall in Love" and "It Had to be You" are played by the band at Ziegler's house party while Bill and Alice are shown flirting with other people. And an instrumental arrangement of "Strangers in the Night" plays at the mansion's ballroom dance; vocal versions of the song feature satirically-relevant lyrics to EWS, such as "something in your eyes was so inviting".
The classical music compositions include "Waltz No. 2" from "Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra" by Dmitri Shostakovich, which bookends the movie as the opening title and closing credits theme. A section from Mozart's Requiem, "Rex tremendae", plays as Bill enters the café and reads of Mandy's overdose. Soon after, he discovers she's died; a "requiem" is a religious musical composition to lay the souls of the dead to rest. And "Grey Clouds", by 19th-century Hungarian composer Franz Lizst, is heard in the morgue scene.
The most prominent piece of music in EWS is a recurring, haunting 4-note piano motif from "Musica recircata (2nd movement)" by György Ligeti (written circa 1950). Ligeti was a Hungarian-Austrian composer, born in Transylvania, Romania—like where Dracula lived. At Ziegler's party, the mysterious older man who Alice dances with introduces himself as "Sandor Szavost". At first I thought this might be a reference to Anton Szandor LaVey, the founder and High Priest of The Church of Satan. Szavost's presence as a sleazy older European man who hits on Alice serves as a reminder that she and Bill are partying with people tied to an upper echelon satanic cult. Evoking Dracula-esque qualities with his creepy attempts at seducing Alice, Szavost says "I'm Hungarian"—because Romanian would be too on-the-nose of a comparison, and Kubrick rarely gives it to you straight. But Szavost is certainly reminiscent of the famous bloodsucking count and his seductive powers.
But coded meanings in EWS continually interconnect in fascinating ways, because I discovered that György Ligeti's parents were Dr. Sándor Ligeti and Dr. Ilona Ligeti, paralleling the EWS characters Sandor Szavost and Illona (spelled with one more "l" in the credits than Ligeti's mom's name), which of course translates as "Helena"—and György Ligeti himself also has the middle name Sándor, after his father.
Kubrick used Ligeti's music in three of his films: 2001 has excerpts of four Ligeti pieces, The Shining uses portions of one Ligeti piece, and EWS uses that one segment from Ligeti's "Musica recircata" at key moments in the film. The composition has been associated with freedom of expression, written as a protest against fascism. Most of Ligeti's family was killed by the Nazis in World War II. At the German premier of EWS, Ligeti accompanied Kubrick's widow Christiane, whose uncle was a Nazi propagandist.
STANLEY KUBRICK IS IN THE MOVIE
Stanley Kubrick died within a week of showing the finished version of his last ever film to a small group of people in his inner circle. There are those of his detractors who say Eyes Wide Shut is not truly a Kubrick film because he didn't live to fully complete it. But those closest to him say this is the movie he wanted to make, and that he died—of a heart attack, in his sleep, at his home—because he finally relaxed after finishing the final cut of this exhaustive, years-long project. His final masterpiece. At Kubrick's request, EWS was released on July 16th, 1999—the day he had calculated as having the highest viewership probability for a summer movie release. It was also, by chance, thirty years to the day of the Apollo 11 Moon mission launch—a funny coincidence given his celebrated outerspace epic 2001 features a Moon scene—and a nod to conspiracy theorists who say Kubrick secretly filmed a fake Moon landing for NASA and the CIA so that America could claim a Cold War victory in the Space Race with Russia.
To honour Stanley Kubrick's contribution to science fiction cinema, the largest mountain range on Pluto's moon Charon was named "Kubrick Mons" in April 2018. The mountains rise out of depressions in craters, referred to by astronomers as "Moat Mountains"—a contradiction in terms like the similarly paradoxical "Eyes Wide Shut", and so a suitable tribute to Kubrick's enigmatic genius. Charon is from Greek mythology, the name of the ferryman from Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divide the world of the living from the world of the dead (Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 58-59). The etymology of Charon is from Greek meaning "keen gaze" and "fierce, flashing, or feverish eyes" (Greek-English Lexicon, 202-203). A coin was paid to Charon as a crossing fee—like Bill paying the cabbie who drives him to the mansion. Then what is the significance of Bill ripping the $100 "bill" in two and giving half to the driver—saying he'll get the other half if he waits for him—before he enters the mansion?
Eyes Wide Shut is in many ways Kubrick's most personal film. Stanley was born in New York City to Jewish parents, and grew up in the Bronx. His mother was an auto-didact; self-taught, like Stanley, and his father was a successful medical doctor. So, it's evident that Bill and Alice, a New York doctor and housewife, are based at least in part on Kubrick's own parents, a New York doctor and housewife. And Kubrick indeed modeled the Harford home after his own Manhattan apartment prior to moving to England.
EWS was coproduced by the US and UK—the two places where Kubrick lived his life; first in New York, then at about the halfway point of his life (age 35—he died at 70), he moved to England where he lived until his death at his home outside of London. The first six of Kubrick's twelve official feature films were made while he lived in America, and the last six while he lived in England. It's another example of meta-duality, and fitting—given the power themes in EWS—that it's set in New York City but filmed in London; the UK and US, the two biggest capitalist, colonial empires in history.
Among other personal touches that Kubrick put on EWS are appearances by his two main assistants for decades: longtime production assistant and casting director Leon Vitali as Red Cloak, and personal assistant and chauffeur Emilio D'Alessandro in a cameo as the newspaper vendor. D'Alessandro's involvement with Kubrick is detailed in the documentary S is for Stanley – 30 Years Behind the Wheel for Stanley Kubrick (2016), as Vitali's is in Filmworker (2017). It's been rumoured that Kubrick himself has a cameo; sitting at a table in the Sonata Café is a man who looks like Stanley Kubrick did at the time (appearing from 55:55–56:07 and 56:57–57:09). It could be him, but it's dark and hard to say for sure. The man in question glances at Bill and looks briefly at the camera—something you are never to do unless of course the script calls for it, and surely Kubrick would notice this and never allow it from an extra? But as much as I wish it was him, I don't actually think it is Kubrick here; at best, perhaps a lookalike, a stand-in that Kubrick planted to give a doppelgänger's final farewell to his audience.
Alice mentions having formerly managed an art gallery, but is now unemployed. Christiane Kubrick is an accomplished artist, and many of her paintings (and some by her daughter Katharina from her previous marriage—Stanley's adopted daughter) appear in EWS. Stanley met the young actress Christiane Harlan when he cast her (in a memorable role) in his Paths of Glory, and they remained married for forty years, until his death. The parents of Christiane Kubrick and her brother Jan Harlan were both opera singers—in relation to Fidelio. Their uncle Veit Harlan was a German director of Nazi propaganda movies, including one of the most anti-Semitic films of all time, Jud Süß (1940). Another of Veit's movies was Die Rothschilds ("The Rothschilds") which negatively depicted the Rothschild family during the Napoleonic wars. Christiane Susanne Harlan was ashamed to come from "a family of murderers" and so used the name "Susanne Christian" when she acted in Paths of Glory—but she was relieved when Kubrick's Jewish family accepted her despite her Nazi ties (Christiane Kubrick interview in Haaretz, 2005).
Stanley Kubrick's three children—Katharina, Anya, and Vivian—were all involved in his film shoots, especially Vivian; she had cameos in his movies, filmed the behind-the-scenes documentary "The Making of The Shining", and composed the score for Full Metal Jacket. Stanley had also wanted Vivian to compose the music for EWS, but by the time it began production in the mid-'90s, she'd become increasingly entangled with Scientology and had started disconnecting from her family. As Christiane told The Guardian in 2010, Stanley was unsurprisingly upset by this: "They had a huge fight. He was very unhappy. He wrote her a 40-page letter trying to win her back. He begged her endlessly to come home…I'm glad he didn’t live to see what happened." Katharina told the Daily Beast that her sister had cut off communication with the family, recounting the time Vivian showed up to her father's funeral accompanied by a Scientology handler: "The person sat on a bed, saying nothing, while Vivian complained of back pain that she said had been caused 10,000 years ago".
Considering that Eyes Wide Shut refers to Scientology in ways it would be hard to argue are flattering, is the movie in some respects about Stanley Kubrick himself? His relationship with his wife and his daughter Vivian, and losing her to a wealthy cult? Helena Harford, with the double initials, is quite possibly an embodiment of Vivian Vanessa Kubrick. It's inevitable that elements of an artist's real life will be reflected in their work, but which elements are deliberate, and which stem from the subconscious?
TOYS IN A TOYSHOP: PLAYTHINGS OF THE WEALTHY ELITE
Eyes Wide Shut touches on a variety of sexual manifestations: heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, group sex, voyeurism, marital sex, adultery, prostitution, pedophilia, necrophilia. Just as persistent are its messages about class, capitalism, wealth and power, and connections to historical, literary, psychological, and mythological concepts and images. Just as the first line of dialogue ("Honey, have you seen my wallet?") is a direct supposition of the association between sex and class, so is the final scene. It occurs, of all places, in a shopping center, where Bill and Alice are discussing the future of their relationship following his confession to her of all that has happened in the previous couple of days. They've taken their young daughter Helena shopping for Christmas gifts at a toy store. She runs around excitedly examining different items—already an enthusiastic consumer herself.
In this setting the Harfords are surrounded by a kind of decadence perhaps just as pornographic as any of the film's sexual depictions; racks and shelves bursting excessively with toys, dolls, and teddy bears, mass-produced for consumption by the greedy people buzzing eagerly about. The scene is saturated with pagan, occult, and mythical imagery, with objects that have appeared elsewhere throughout the film: wreaths, stars, Christmas trees, and so on. The objects that appear onscreen throughout the movie are visual symbols summarized at the end as products for sale; much of what we see existing outside of the characters' physical beings may actually be reflections of their interior psychological landscapes.
Many items in the toyshop appear in some way earlier in the film. The same stuffed toy tiger on Domino's bed is seen in multiple on a rack behind Alice. The Rosemary's Baby-like baby buggy that Helena plays with recalls a stroller in Domino's apartment building. "Carlotta Junior" boxes are visible with a picture of a girl doll and a mini baby carriage, mirroring Helena with the baby carriage in the same scene. A stack of board games called "Magic Circle" alludes to the circle used in real black magic practices and like the one we see at the orgy party, and also evokes fairy rings. Helena holds up a Sugar Plum Fairy Barbie doll wearing clothes similar to the costume she wears earlier—a tutu and fairy wings—which resembles the angel ornament atop the Harfords' Christmas tree, and also recalls Cupid, Sabrina, and Giselle.
Helena holds up the Barbie doll, happily exclaiming, "Look, Mommy!" Just like her parents, she has bought into the corporate lie—the ignorant acceptance of themselves as products, as little more than expendable playthings to the rich. This fabrication is perpetrated by corrupt superpowers whose only interest is to continually undermine the personal self-image of people who are not of their class, for their own use, by any and all means—including manipulation, murder, and selling manufactured reproductions of plastic women in shiny boxes. Alice responds with a meek smile, seemingly resigned to Helena's materialism. Superficially, her reaction is due to physical and emotional exhaustion from staying up all night in light of Bill's confession, and she's distracted by their current conversation. But on a deeper level Alice is perhaps exhausted by the misogyny perpetuated throughout society, including by herself and Bill; as they stand in a toy store, realizing for the first time that they themselves are toys…or maybe still not realizing it, depending on one's interpretation.
Kubrick films have a pattern of featuring objects that falsify human body parts in some way; masks, mannequins, dolls, costumes—synthetic, artificial people. In A Clockwork Orange: the eyeball cufflinks, the penis sculpture, nude women body-tables, masks that Alex and his cohorts wear, and his one eye done up with doll-like false eyelashes. Killer's Kiss has a memorable climactic fight scene in a mannequin factory in which the protagonist and antagonist throw plastic limbs and heads at each other. In The Killing, the thieves wear clown masks during the robbery. Barry Lyndon employs elaborate costumes and wigs extensively. Masks hang on the hotel walls in The Shining. 2001 famously features HAL, an artificial "intelligence". And Eyes Wide Shut has the masks, cloaks, costumed mannequins in the costume store, dolls in the toyshop, etc.
The Kubrick-developed, Spielberg-directed film A.I. Artificial Intelligence also involves the "synthetic person" theme, with a Pinnochio-like story about an android child who desires to be human. Loosely adapted from Brian Aldiss's short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long", Kubrick spent years developing the concept and story outline after buying the rights in the early 1970s. At one time intending it to be his next movie after EWS, Kubrick had envisioned A.I. to be the most spectacular special effects film ever made. It was rumoured that he'd been waiting for technology to progress to the stage where he could construct an actual robot to play the lead part of the android boy. But he ultimately concluded that he'd be too old by the time this was the case, and in 1995 handed the project to Steven Spielberg to complete as he saw fit. The sequel to the original story, also by Aldiss, is "Supertoys When Winter Comes".
We first see Helena wearing a fairy princess costume, and she asks her parents if she can stay up to watch The Nutcracker—an 1892 ballet with a fantasy narrative about toys that come to life, and includes the character "Sugar Plum Fairy". Considered a Christmas classic, it's been adapted numerous times throughout various media—like the 1903 fantasy operetta Babes in Toyland, by the same guys who first adapted The Wizard of Oz book into a stage musical. A fairy tale involving nursery rhyme characters and Christmas themes, the original stage version of Babes in Toyland involves some rather dark plot elements. A pair of orphan siblings escape being killed by their wicked uncle and end up in the magical fantasy world of Toyland where they encounter the Master Toymaker, an evil genius who plans to create toys that kill. But the demon toys turn on the toymaker and kill him. And there are more deaths. But also lots of dolls and marionettes.
Over the years, subsequent stage and screen versions of Babes in Toyland greatly toned down the darker elements, dialed up the family-friendly Christmas fantasy elements, and the Master Toymaker evolved into a kindly old man. It includes the songs "Toyland" and "Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep", and characters Contrary Mary, Tom Tom, The Spirit of the Pine, and yes, The Master Toymaker—who "designs all the toys of the world". The ending scene in Eyes Wide Shut was filmed at London's famous, centuries-old toyshop Hamleys—which rhymes with Stanley's, as if he is the toymaker, the puppetmaster pulling all the strings. Mary…Tom Tom…Spirit…Pine; Mary/Marie/Marion, double "Toms", spirits—remember that EWS was filmed in London's Pinewood Studios (Christmas Trees)?
The final toyshop scene—at Christmastime—ties together images that appear throughout Eyes Wide Shut by way of the Kubrickian motif of synthetic beings. As if everything in the movie is a toy, everyone a doll, a dummy playing a role, a piece in a game, inside a snow globe, a product sold in a store—like the movie itself, a story about stories, from the world of Wonderland, a fairy tale... coming soon to a theater near you.
A HAPPY ENDING?
Modern-day, Disney-like versions of fairy tales usually have happy endings…"and they lived happily ever after". But many of these stories originate from macabre ancient tales. In context of Bill's psychosexual issues, certain connotations arise with the very phrase "happy ending"; a slang term for a prostitute bringing a male client to climax following a massage in a "massage parlour". The end of EWS evokes this, and Bill's sexual frustration; just as he goes through his odyssey without ever actually having sex, many thought the ending overly ambiguous and inconclusive. Some, like Martin Scorsese, saw it as an uplifting conclusion, a story about a husband and wife growing closer through emotional intimacy. And others thought it a thoroughly cynical, even tragic story of characters who begin with their "eyes wide shut" and end with their eyes still closed, having learned nothing.
Eyes Wide Shut ends with the best last line of any movie I can think of. The final piece of dialogue is between Alice and Bill, as they stand in the store.
ALICE: And, you know, there is something very important that we need to do as soon as possible.
BILL: What's that?
Returning to the article Introducing Sociology, Tim Kreider favours the perspective of the film as a savage critique of yuppie marriage. He writes that Alice and Bill "casually pimp their own little angel out to the world of commerce", with an ending intimating that "the Harfords' daughter is, just as they've resigned themselves to being, fucked." So, while fitting the prescription of a slipstream dream movie, EWS might also appropriately be characterized as satire—a sardonic look at an upper-middle class couple's misguided attempts to become members of the freakish ruling class. However, years after his initial review, Krieder added an afterword describing EWS as espousing a more positive perspective of humanity: "a film about intimate, domestic life, about a blindly complacent but basically happy marriage, testing its fault lines of temptation, jealousy and resentment and leaving it stronger and more truthful".
One particular detail in the ending has emerged as the focus of extensive debate. Two men seen briefly at Ziegler's party—sitting at a table below a Cupid and Psyche statue, by the staircase that Bill ascends with Ziegler's butler—are seen again in the toyshop. We never see them very clearly, closely, or for very long in either scene, but it appears to be the same guys; in both scenes they wear black suits, one wears glasses, both are bald, greying, and sixtysomething years old—Rich Old White Men. They're seen inconspicuously browsing behind where Bill and Alice are talking, when their daughter Helena seemingly follows them behind a rack. It happens very quickly amidst the hustle-bustle of the store, but it does look like the same two men that were at Ziegler's are leading Helena away.
Helena disappears right after Bill and Alice pat her on the back, as if encouraging her to follow the men. She looks up at her father, and he and Alice both nonchalantly rub her back in mid-conversation and look down at her. Then she walks towards the two men, Bill looks back at Alice, and Alice turns her head towards Helena as if for "one last look" at her. Helena turns to look questioningly back at Alice, then follows the men. It's as if Helena is checking in with her parents, asking them, "Are you sure I should go this way?" And Bill and Alice say, "Yes, honey, go with those capitalist men. Capitalism is the best way." And they watch her go. But it cuts back to face closeups of Bill and Alice before we see if Helena actually follows the men all the way around the corner, leaving her fate ambiguous. At this moment, a shelf full of stuffed tiger dolls lines the right side of the screen behind Alice—the exact same tiger stuffy seen earlier on Domino's bed. The leopard/tiger print pattern has remained popular in female fashion for decades, sexualizing women as exotic wild creatures.
Bill and Alice are still blind to the horrific sex abuse powers of the rich, or are still wanting to buy in, so they give their daughter up to the pedophile ring—linking to the Rosemary's Baby theme of sacrificing one's child to a powerful cult in order to gain access. They seem oblivious or surrendered or even supportive of Helena going with the men—the same two seen at Ziegler's? Henchmen of the wealthy elite? What are the implications of this in relation to Rosemary's Baby, satanic ritual sacrifice, wealthy elites running child sex trafficking rings, systemic pedophilia in the Catholic Church, etc.? That is to say, a very dark and unsettling ending. After all they've just experienced, Bill and Alice give up their child to the upper echelon sex cult to buy their way in, and just want to "fuck". Is this a horror story, a tragedy? An indictment of Scientology? A brazen condemnation of capitalism? A scathing satire of the immorality of the ultrarich?
As satire, this interpretation fits with other aspects of the final scene, and the movie at large. Bill and Alice willingly sell their daughter to a child-trafficking sex ring to secure their own entry into the wealthy cult. Or they are completely unaware of the ultrarich elite's influence on their lives and still have their "eyes wide shut". I'm struggling with this idea, but I admit that it looks like the same two men who were at Ziegler's party are in the toy store, leading Helena away. It also applies to what was happening with Kubrick and his daughter Vivian at the time EWS was being made; she'd become estranged from the family, seduced by Scientology. As if Kubrick is saying that he and his wife, like Bill and Alice, were so preoccupied with their own lives that they barely noticed their daughter being dangerously led astray, or surrendered to their own powerlessness in preventing it.
If the names Helena, Sabrina, and Carlotta are intentional references, what does it mean? If Helena's comment "I can put Sabrina in here" applies to Comus's Sabrina and the black buggy is the Rosemary's Baby buggy; is Helena recognizing herself and her parents as inevitable victims of the rich elites' sex-trafficking ring? In effect saying, "I can sacrifice the female spirit who protects feminine virtue from abuse by predatory men by putting her into this demon carriage—and by doing so I will gain access to, buy myself into, an elite status." And she does it unconsciously, repeating the patterns of cultural energy that swirl around her, the demons that infect her; the Barbie dolls, the stuffed tigers, the Disney fairy tales, the Savior Prince. Bill and Alice teach her these things because it's what they were taught. Alice, the Beautiful Bored Housewife with the Rich Doctor Husband, who flirts with creepy older men at lavish parties. Bill with his Old Boys' Club desires, the scotch, the hookers, his ol' college buddy. They're all trying to live out some version of themselves that advertisers made up to sell stuff. They themselves are the toys in the toyshop. It's a dark examination of the worst side of human nature, and The Capitalist Manifesto.
But on the other hand, little to nothing that we see happen in this movie is real. With this in mind I tend toward the interpretation that it's a genuine happy ending—to an alternately ironic and satirical, sincere and dramatic, adult Christmas Movie. An unlikely fairy tale. Bill and Alice pat Helena on the back as if to tell her that everything's okay, that those two men don't really exist except in their own minds, that Helena is safe, because they now know evil is an illusion that only exists within themselves, which they are now facing up to and so it no longer holds power over them.
There's no film credit for the actors who play the two mysterious men—no evidence…not a trace they ever existed. They sat by a winged statue, and Helena wore fairy wings. Are they all spirits? What if the two men aren't sinister agents at all, but rather kindly guardian angels in the vein of It's a Wonderful Life? The story in which an angel at Christmastime helps a depressed man appreciate his life by showing him a dark alternate reality. Maybe the doubled old guys are like Clarence the Angel from It's a Wonderful Life, or The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future from A Christmas Carol. And it's Helena's turn to be shown the mirror realities, the possible alternate timeline versions of herself as Victor's wife Illona or the prostitute Domino, to forewarn her so that she might avoid the fate of succumbing to misogyny and "wake up" as her parents finally have. Maybe the twin old guys are there to watch over Helena at the end, as they were there to watch over Bill and Alice at Ziegler's party to make sure that neither of them actually cheated—and Bill and Alice now realize that the secret society isn't real, so is no longer a danger to them.
And there's Alice's dream—a dream within a dream? And the Through the Looking-Glass connections, and The Wizard of Oz..."the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true". There's just as much if not more evidence that it's all a figment of Bill's imagination than that it's actually happening as we're shown. Projections from the unconscious…the Freudian id, the Jungian shadow. Given the multitude of clues that much if not all of Bill's odyssey originates in his own fantasies, nightmares, fears—when and where do the dream segments start and end? There is no clear delineation between the fantasy and reality aspects of the movie, within the movie and between the movie and our external reality—like the connections that abound with Leon Vitali, the newspaper article, Scientology, Cruise and Kidman, Kubrick's own life, etc. Which parts are fantasy or exaggeration and which details exist in the story's "reality"?
As far as we know, the Harfords are all okay in the end, no? Better off than when they started? It's just a toy baby buggy. It's just a doll. A dream. Bill and Alice share a kind of intimacy that they haven't in years, if ever. They tell the truth to each other. Neither of them actually cheated. They're still alive, and rich. The threat is over, if even there ever really was one. Maybe the twin old men represent both good and bad qualities of patriarchy; how men can concurrently care for and oppress women, embodying the worst evil of corruption and abuse and the protective, comforting strength of fatherly or husbandly guidance. How can we be sure about the ending, and what is "real" or not? We can't be sure, and this is why Kubrick films are both exasperating and enlightening, but ultimately transformative; he made works of art that challenge us to penetrate the deepest recesses of our own hearts and minds to draw out meaningful reflections about life.
Bill starts out in denial, naïve about his wife's sexual desires, and his own. But as Alice says, now that they're "awake" they can finally, in a more intimate way than ever before, "fuck". That is, acknowledging fantasies with sexual partners allows for more meaningful connection in reality, rather than remaining fantasy which only briefly, superficially fulfills, if at all—or can be dangerous and destructive if blindly pursued. The quest for wealth is a terrible lie manifested from our own unacknowledged insecurities. But to explore one's dark side, the shadow, through the mirror of a spouse, and as such face oneself, can result in overcoming fear and temptation to live more honestly and fully. So, maybe it is a hopeful ending, saying that evil is an illusion. That seeking material wealth and power over others is what is evil, and recognizing this liberates us from the demon spirit forces that swirl around, inside and outside of us. Is there a difference between what's inside and outside of us?
Eyes Wide Shut is really all about perception. Kubrick is talking about conquering the biggest weapon wielded by the ruling class—fear. The things you fear most don't actually exist—unless you fear them. This is the paradox in the title, describing the movie's thesis; it can't be explained in words. As we know, Kubrick understood the movie medium as an experience that "directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content". EWS is a Dream Movie. An old-fashioned fairy tale. An alternative Christmas Movie. A Love Story. A satire of pornography and Hollywood sexism. And with its displays of sexual abuses of power and capitalist decadence, simultaneously a kind of alternative horror film and an antihorror film—in the sense that there actually is a lot to fear, but only if you fear it. Only if you seek it—that is, only if you go into the darkness of yourself unknowingly, in denial, blind. There's nothing to be scared of, except yourself. This is both comforting and frightening. Like that saying "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are". Or that other one, "We see what we want to see."
CONCLUSION: THEATRE OF THE MYTHIC
Kubrick wanted to make a film about sex since the early 1960s. Biographer John Baxter says Stanley had an interest in directing a pornographic film based on Blue Movie—a satirical novel by Dr. Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern—about a director who makes Hollywood's first big-budget studio porn film. But Kubrick concluded he didn't have the temperament to research the pornography industry, and Southern described him as "too ultra-conservative" to have gone ahead with it, although he liked the idea (Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, 195, 248). A filmmaker interested in all aspects of the medium, Stanley Kubrick's works span a wide range of genres; science fiction, crime film, historical epic, horror, comedy, political satire, and war film. And at one time he conceived A.I. as a kids' movie. So, the idea of Kubrick wanting to make a big-budget porn film under studio conditions makes sense. And EWS might be just that—but more so a satire of pornographic films, and of sex in movies in general, as Cruise's character repeatedly faces sexual propositions in increasingly illogical contexts, as in porn, without actually having sex.
Every Kubrick film features at least one killing, and sexual abuse of women/girls is prominent in several. As such, he's been accused of glorifying violence and misogyny. He was into exploring the dark hollows of humankind—often with a cynical tone—but for positive intellectual stimulation and reflection, not out of some kind of sadistic revelry as his disparagers claim. Satire requires exaggeration of lies to emphasize the truth. What Kubrick detractors miss is that he was an artist—in contrast to an entertainer—who investigated existential extremes so that we may all learn something about ourselves. It might not be something we want to face, but there it is. As I see it, Eyes Wide Shut espouses a thoroughly feminist, anticapitalist ideology in exposing the corruption and abuse of women as directly linked to the corruption and abuse of economic wealth.
Besides being celebrated as a brilliant artist, Kubrick was known as an innovative marketer and promoter of his films. His infamous attention to detail and obsessive work ethic is solidified as cinema legend, and this extended to all aspects of his films, including advertising. He devised formulas whereby he could guarantee to major studio funders of his pictures that his films would make money. His marketing scheme involved approving the posters to be produced and locations where they were to be displayed, and mathematical equations about the number and location of theaters his movies were to be shown at. As such, Kubrick movies always made a profit despite usually unfavourable early reviews—only to end up years later on many favourite films lists.
A tireless researcher, Kubrick's holistic oversight of all aspects of his movies has rarely been matched by any filmmaker in history. As a result he was given all the time he wanted on any given project. Kubrick spent decades developing the Eyes Wide Shut script, and approximately five years on pre- through post-production; it holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot, at 400 days. While some directors might do twenty-something takes of a scene at most before they feel they've gotten it right, Kubrick would sometimes do over a hundred. It's a practice that notoriously drove his actors crazy. But because of this his films reach a strange plain of discovery, operating on a nonliteral frequency.
Eyes Wide Shut, like most Kubrick films, necessitates repeated viewings. And what results is so layered, complex, and interpretive that it's like a different movie every time you see it. In some respects, Tim Krieder's initial conclusion of Bill and Alice and their daughter being "fucked" by the ruling elite superpowers who control them and all aspects of life, seems insightful and accurate—making it a thoroughly cynical, satirical ending. They're total slaves to the wealthy elite, playthings that, while they may aspire to be owners, will always be midlevel servants, trapped in the image of themselves and each other that's sold to them, about their sexuality, through the system of capitalism.
But recurrent viewings unveil an ultimately positive and uplifting message overall. While it may be true that the characters have been unwittingly manipulated by the ultrawealthy, treated as servants and sexual objects, as commodities—despite all these psychological, political, biological influences—a couple can still work it out. Even with the dangerous emotions that the characters face throughout the film, and the dark path that Bill in particular embarks on, he is ultimately honest with his wife, initiated by her being honest with him. Through open emotional expression, together they overcome the scariest, most powerful forces of evil lying within the darkness of humankind, and within themselves. Maybe that's what marriage, monogamy, intimacy, and love is really about.
As Alice says at the end, "We're awake now". And so while they may be metaphorically "fucked" as a man and woman living within the capitalist system, they can still metaphorically unfuck themselves by, literally, fucking—in a deeper and truer way than ever before. And so Eyes Wide Shut encapsulates paradoxes of humanity in its multilayered visual and narrative fabric, in the context of one of the most challenging yet essential aspects of human existence—intimate relationships. We're all characters in each other's dream consciousnesses; "It's not you, it's me".
What is real, and what is a dream? Eyes Wide Shut. The title really is the thesis, a description of the film and us, the audience; we're watching, but not seeing. We're seeing with our eyes, but we're not understanding. Or—because so much of Kubrick's visual detail registers subliminally—we're seeing, but not with our eyes. It's like that old joke: "'I see,' said the blind man. 'I hear ya', said the deaf man. And the mute man said nothing at all." Just kidding. But seriously though. That's why this movie is insane. It's like a Möbius strip. An M.C. Escher picture. A fractal jigsaw puzzle of infinite, interconnected, intertextual dimensions. Stanley Kubrick's best movies are like labyrinthine maps plotting human absurdity, exploring the boundaries of existence; war, violence, sex, time, space. You know, the small stuff (sarcasm).
Eyes Wide Shut is a film of vast scope and depth, unrelenting in its exploration of the effects that human evolution, history, art, and politics have on psychology, perception, sex, and relationships. Kubrick presents us with the theatre of the mythic, where fabulist inventions reflect our own darkest potential. Penetrating our psyches through the art of illusion, ancient artifacts are brought to light in the mundanity of the present. Kubrick made works of art to be dissected and discussed, not mere crowd-pleasing entertainment to be simply consumed and agreed upon. As such, Eyes Wide Shut endures, as Stanley Kubrick himself proclaimed before his death upon completion of the film, as his greatest work.
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