Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Sherbedgia, Vinessa Shaw, Lelee Sobieski, Alan Cumming, Leon Vitali, Julienne Davis, Thomas Gibson. 159 minutes.

'(It's) the story of a man who journeys off the path and then finds his way back into it, a man who almost loses himself because something awakens a darker part of him, and he follows it against his own better sense. (When) he realises that what he's lived through was about values so far below what he's lived his life for, he's devastated.' Sydney Pollack on EYES WIDE SHUT.

'It has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with fear.' Christiane Kubrick on EYES WIDE SHUT.

'I don't think it's a morality tale. It's different for everyone who watches it.' Nicole Kidman on EYES WIDE SHUT. 

EYES WIDE SHUT is well-known for a lot of things. It's known as the final film of one of cinema's most famous and respected filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick. Through it's difficult subject matter and long, strenuous shoot, it may have actually killed him, something ex-producing partner James B. Harris, and biographer Michel Ciment believe to be true. It's also known as the third and final film that paired Tom Cruise and his wife, Nicole Kidman, and as the film that possibly contributed to their break-up. And it's also known as the movie that ended Cruise's golden run at the box-office. But, unfairly, it also has a reputation for being a disappointing and very flawed film. Unfair, because if one spends the time to look deeper, it actually reveals itself as one of his most rich and rewarding pictures.

EYES WIDE SHUT is credited as being 'inspired by' the 1926 German-language novella 'Traumnovelle' (aka 'Dream Story' or 'Rhapsody: A Dream Novel') by Arthur Schnitzler. But it's actually a very faithful adaptation (note the double meaning with 'traum' meaning dream in German, and the English word 'trauma'), and artistic choices that some viewers will question in the film are simply carried over from the book . The story is set in Vienna, and concerns Fridolin Scheuer, a wealthy medical doctor, and his wife Albertina, who also have a young daughter. Fridolin's wife reveals that she once lusted after a young Danish military officer she saw when they were on a family vacation in Demnark. Fridolin himself reveals that he had been attracted to a young girl he saw on the beach during the same vacation. Fridolin is summoned to the deathbed of one of his patients, where the man's daughter (Marianne) tells him of her love for him. Walking the streets, he almost succumbs to the temptations of a young prostitute, Mizzi. Running into an old friend, Nachtigall, Fridolin is told by him that he will be playing the piano at a top-secret sex orgy that night. Fridolin gets himself a costume and a mask, and follows Nachtigall to the party, where he sees masked, costumed men having sex with various masked women. He manages to get detected, and a young woman offers her life for his. After hearing Albertine recount a sex dream which is humiliating to him, he is convinced Albertine will betray him, and decides to embark on his own sexual odyssey. He also decides to seek the truth behind the party, and find out the fate of his friend and the woman who saved his life. Returning the costume to the dress hire shop, he finds that the owner is pimping his own daughter. When he re-visits the private house where the party had been held, he is hand-given a note that tells him not to enquire any more. Fridolin looks up the dead patient's daughter, but she has lost interest in him, and he fails to locate the prostitute he almost slept with, hearing that she is sick with either syphilis or tuberculosis. Nachtigall, he learns, was taken away by two men.

Fridolin reads of a young woman's death from poisoning, and convinces himself that she was the woman who saved him at the party, even visiting her corpse in the mortuary. Crestfallen, he returns home to find the mask he wore at the orgy on his pillow next to his wife. He later tells Albertine about everything that had transpired, and promises her it will never happen again. She tells him that they should be grateful to have made it through their traumatic adventures, and to not think too much about their future.

Kubrick had been introduced to the book by his second wife, Ruth Sobotka, who was Viennese-born like Schnitzler. (Sobotka died from a brief illness in 1967, ten years after they divorced. She can be seen as the doomed 'Iris' in Kubrick's sophomore feature, KILLER's KISS from 1955.) Kubrick's favourite filmmaker was Max Ophuls, and his 1950 film LA RONDE (translation: 'The Round Dance') was one of Kubrick's favourite films. LA RONDE was based on the 1897 play 'Der Reigen' by Schnitzler. After completing her work on EYES WIDE SHUT in 1998, Nicole Kidman acted in David Hare's theatrical adaptation of the play, retitled 'The Blue Room', and directed by Sam Mendes. Her brief nudity in the play was publicised and no doubt helped ticket sales during it's run in London and New York.

The rights to the book had been bought on Kubrick's behalf by film critic turned screenwriter Jay Cocks (GANGS OF NEW YORK, 2002). The first person Kubrick worked with was the novelist Candia McWilliam, who interestingly, actually became blind from 2004 to 2006. According to Diane Johnson (co-writer of THE SHINING), 'explored' adapting 'Dream Story' as a 'comedy' with Steve Martin (whose THE JERK, 1979 he liked) in the mid-'80s. Michael Herr (co-writer of FULL METAL JACKET) revealed that he was approached, as were Johnson and novelist John Le Carre to work on this version of the movie. Martin's wife Victoria Tennant would have been his co-star, as Kubrick was interested in having a real life couple play the couple in the movie, considering other acting couples such as Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. The final collaboration was with Frederic Raphael, who despite screenwriting credits such as DARLING (1965), TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967) and FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (1967), was probably chosen because of his novel 'Who Were You With Last Night?' (1971), which David Hughes believes 'might be considered a modern retelling' of Schnitzler's novel. Raphael published a memoir of his time working with Kubrick, 'Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick' (1999) that was discredited by Kubrick's family and his friends.

Kubrick's final film would refer back to his relationship to his second wife (his first wife, Toba Metz, was his high school sweetheart), and also his last wife, Christiane (nee Harlan). Christiane remembers meeting Kubrick for the first time at a studio, shortly before casting her for the final, moving scene in PATHS OF GLORY (1958). He then went to a masked ball she was performing at. Kubrick was the only one not wearing a costume and was 'quite baffled'. EYES WIDE SHUT's most famous sequence takes place at a masked orgy.

Interestingly, it was DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) co-writer Terry Southern who might have both helped get the ball rolling on an adaptation of 'Traumnovelle', and also convince him to make a completely different film. After watching a porno film together during the making of STRANGELOVE, Kubrick remaked that 'Wouldn't it be interesting if an artist were to do this with beautiful, first-rate actors and good equipment?'. Their conversation inspired Southern to write the book 'Blue Movie' (1970), which features a film director (King B) with similarities to Kubrick, to whom the book is dedicated to. Kubrick (who praised the book as 'the definitive blow job'!) chose not to direct a film adaptation, and the film never got made, despite being set up at Warners in 1974 with Mike Nichols directing and Julie Andrews (who would later bare her breasts in her husband Blake Edwards' Hollywood satire S.O.B., eleven years later) starring. (David Lean was interested at one point!) After his ambitious NAPOLEON was cancelled by MGM close to production, Kubrick considered 'Traumnovelle', and Warners announced it in April 1971. He reconsidered however, after Southern handed him a copy of the American edition (which significantly omitted the final chapter) of Anthony Burgess's 'A Clockwork Orange' (1962).

Kubrick considered adapting 'Traumnovelle' many times over the years. Christiane (who never wanted her husband to make the film) saw that EYES WIDE SHUT was inspired by Kubrick's interest in why many marriages seemed to fail: 'over the years he would see friends getting divorced and remarried, and the topic would come up.'

My relationship with EYES WIDE SHUT has been a long and protracted one. I first saw the film at a cinema in Japan (with a Saturday night audience endlessly checking their watches). I had been in the country for less than two months, teaching English to Japanese students. It might have even been the first film I saw in the cinema in Japan. A huge movie obsessive, I was of course aware of Stanley Kubrick, seeing him (and to this day) as one of the giants of cinema. I most respected him for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), a 'forbidden fruit' in my home country (the UK) because of it's unavailability, and an unforgettable experience. I spent my teens and twenties constantly taping movies off the TV and buying VHS movies, and so I had seen all his films up to that point (except FEAR AND DESIRE, 1953, which I only recently finally saw, and BARRY LYNDON, 1975, which I saw when it was released on DVD in 2000). I had been blown away by my cinema viewing of FULL METAL JACKET (1987), being one of the most intense films I had ever seen.

Like so many (including critics), I had gotten sucked into all the gossip over EYES WIDE SHUT that, now with the Internet, was widespread. Rumours included the film featuring pornographic elements, Cruise and Kidman playing a psychiatrist couple, Lelee Sobieski playing their daughter, the story involving cross-dressing, heroin use and Cruise kissing a corpse. The most salacious rumours were that Cruise and Kidman required lessons from a sex therapist in order to make their sex scenes convincing, and that Harvey Keitel was replaced by Sydney Pollack (Cruise's director on THE FIRM, 1993) because of 'inappropriate behaviour'. It took over two and a half years for the movie to reach the screen (it began filming in November 1996 and was released in the US in July 1999 - at 400 days, it's in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest continuous shoot, though only 52 of those were filming days), and the film, Kubrick's first in twelve years, would keep Cruise (then the world's biggest star) off the screen for the same amount of time (since his Academy Award-nominated performance as JERRY MAGUIRE, 1996) and force him to postpone shooting MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II (2000). Since he was shooting with small crews at low daily rates (according toWarners co-chairman Terry Semel), he was able to simply shut down production when script problems occured. The film was on a course to disappoint.

Cruise and Kidman's participation meant that it had to be a blockbuster, which the art film it was, was not really a realistic expectation (it ended up grossing around $160 m on a $60m budget, which, followed by the small $48m gross for Cruise's next picture, MAGNOLIA, meant that Cruise's career was no longer as financially viable as it was, until the mega-grossing MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II). The 90-second teaser trailer and poster only cemented the audience's expectation that this was going to be a sexfest, as did reports that the MPAA had edited the orgy scene in order for the film to get the 'R' rating Warners wanted. (Like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and LOLITA, 1962, before it, the film had to be edited to appease censors before release.) As it turned out, the film was no sexfest at all, even taking into account the orgy scene. Even the opening scene of the actual film encouraged these expectations: Nicole Kidman undressing in full view from the back and revealing her derriere, followed by a title card. I remember my disappointment that the naked fondling and kissing scene (including a topless Kidman) from the trailer and poster was not followed by a bedroom scene.

Had EYES WIDE SHUT not been directed by Kubrick, whose films had acquired a status of legendary or mythic proportions, exacerbated by the long intervals between them (that got longer as time progressed), and not had two of the best-looking and biggest names on the planet in the leads, the film would have been received much differently, and it's important to note, more fairly. The slow, measured pace, the lengthy running time, the ambiguity of the narrative, the long, expository scene between Cruise and Sydney Pollack, and a mystery notable for it's lack of suspense, are certainly unusual for a Warner Brothers-financed blockbuster. But not an art film. People expected to get blown away by the visuals, the sex, the charisma of Cruise and Kidman. What they found was a sombre film, with a lead character confused, conflicted and frustrated throughout, and relentlessly trying to commit adultery. A character being so open about it would make people, especially men, feel uneasy. Adultery is something that rarely occurs openly. The jealousy theme of the movie, and the fact that this was a woman making a man jealous, vulnerable and deeply hurt, being 'cuckolded' by something he cannot control (the thoughts inside her head) would make men feel uncomfortable. As of course would Kubrick's idea hint that men don't really know their women at all, and only think they do. (One of the most memorable shots is of Alice smiling inscrutably from the dining room at Bill who is in the kitchen.) On top of all this, Cruise is constantly thwarted in his attempts to commit adultery, and in the masked orgy scene, made to strip naked and be humiliated for his efforts. It's interesting that for his final film, Kubrick, a man previously known for making male-dominated pictures (the only women in FULL METAL JACKET were a Vietnamese prostitute and a young sniper), made a film that attacked the male psyche regarding sex where it stood, and in doing so, created a work that was arguably more accessible to women than his previous films.

Jack Nicholson (Kubrick's choice to play NAPOLEON for him, and later the star of THE SHINING) described EYES WIDE SHUT as being about the 'dangers of married life' and 'the silent desperations of keeping an ongoing relationship alive'. Conversely, these topics are not 'sexy' in Hollywood filmmaking terms. A lot of the audience who would have seen the film initially would have been aged from 18 to 24, and a fair number of these people wouldn't have been married, been in a serious relationship, or perhaps had much sexual experience. EYES WIDE SHUT is a film made by a man who was 68 years old when he started production and had experienced three marriages. He was married to Christiane for 31 years, up until his death. He was adapting a novella that he had pondered over making for perhaps over three decades. This was going to be a mature, reflective work by a man with a reputation for facing controversial or difficult topics head on (PATHS OF GLORY; LOLITA, 1962; A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, 1971). EYES WIDE SHUT was never going to be a film that would appeal to a young audience, and Kubrick, commercially-minded as he was (he would never compromise but he wanted huge audiences), probably cast Cruise and Kidman for two distinct reasons: the audience they would bring, and the authenticity an acting couple would bring to the screen. Kubrick had always demanded his actors to be malleable, and Cruise is an actor who shines under strong directors. He was an actor fully prepared to give his all to Kubrick to the extent that he developed an ulcer. (As was Kidman who remarked that 'We want to dedicate our lives to making this film.')

Explicit love scenes between Cruise and Kidman were actually filmed but not utilised in the final cut. Kidman revealed that 'We shot a lot I wouldn't do for any other director' and that 'Kubrick wanted it almost pornographic'. The stars apparently had it written in their contract that they could veto any footage they were uncomfortable with, but they apparently didn't need or want to exercise their option. (If there is any truth at all in R. Lee Ermey's claim - dismissed by EYES WIDE SHUT actor and family friend Todd Field - that Kubrick told him 'Cruise and Kidman had their way with him', could it have been that the option WAS exercised, and that the film was intended to be more sexually explicit?)

My initial reaction to the film is not easily described. I felt like I had seen a film by a major artist. But I was ambivalent. I couldn't relate to it. I felt like it had gone over my head. The masked orgy sequence had left a huge impression on me. It was not so much erotic, as other-worldly, surreal and hypnotic. But the rest of the film? It wasn't sexy or erotic. It wasn't exciting, well-paced or compelling. The film seemed to put a distance between itself and the viewer, and it's tone kept changing. It was deadly serious and sombre, and yet humour kept creeping in at sudden moments (Alan Cumming's gay hotel clerk and Rade Sherbedgia's fancy dress store owner). Nicole Kidman, a star, a beautiful woman and a great actress, was sidelined in the film, Cruise being in almost every scene in the film. The film was extremely slow, and the repeated single piano note that would suddenly come only emphasised it. In short, the film hadn't blown me away like every other single Kubrick film had upon first viewing, and so it was easy to classify it as 'a disappointment'. But my various experiences watching EYES WIDE SHUT after my initial viewing taught me that sometimes a single viewing is not enough in order to fully assess the qualities of any film. I instinctively knew there was depth and further layers to the film that further viewings would unfurl, and so I reserved my final judgment. The one thing I definitely did take away from the film (and it is still the deepest thing I have ever gotten from the picture) was that it encouraged me to to ponder the extent to which a couple can be close. Does a couple need to keep some secrets in order to survive? Can a couple reveal EVERYTHING to each other and still remain as much as in love? As Todd McCarthy at Variety said, EYES WIDE SHUT is '...a deeply inquisitive consideration of the extent of trust and mutual knowledge possible between a man and a woman.'

One great thing about living in a non-English speaking country is that I spent a few years without any Western media (and a computer), and so I learned to form and trust my own opinions on cinema. It taught me to throw way all my baggage at the door whenI watch a film. The Paul Rowlands of pre-1999 would have had a hard time watching, for example, THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) and not comparing every little detail to Malick's previous films, to the early reviews and every piece of gossip and info on the film's production that I had read about. The 2011 Paul Rowlands had no problem doing so.

EYES WIDE SHUT taught me it's okay to say 'I didn't understand it. I need to go back to it. '. As my life changed, as I aged from 27 to 39, enjoyed and endured the highs and lows of life (including getting married and my employer going bankrupt) and as Socrates said 'The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know', EYES WIDE SHUT (amongst other films and filmmakers) has come to mean more and more to me. As Nicole Kidman told Time: 'Wherever you are in life, you're going to take away something different'. It helped foster a belief in me that sometimes we are not ready to hear or see what is in front of us at a particular time. There is a certain point in time when we can truly hear and see and take in certain things. EYES WIDE SHUT is NOT a film for everyone. It's my contention that the people it speaks to the most are patient, intelligent, open-minded viewers, who have experienced something of life.

EYES WIDE SHUT has very few important differences to the book. It transposes the story to the present day in Manhattan, New York. The couple are now named Bill and Alice Harford. They are not Jewish, but WASP. The party that opens the story in the film is not a masked ball. It's only Alice that reveals her fantasy (of a young naval officer), and Bill is devastated. It's at this point that his sexual odyssey begins. Nachtigall is renamed Nick Nightingale (Nachtigall is Nightingale in English), and they first meet (in the opening section of the film) at an elaborate pre-Christmas party thrown by Victor Ziegler, who later plays an important part in the resolution of the plot. The party is also the catalyst for the pot-fuelled argument between Bill and Alice that makes Alice decide to reveal her sexual fantasy to Bill. (She does it to make a point to Bill about how little he knows about her and women in general.) In the book, Millich is represented by the character Forbiser, and his daughter reminds Fridolin of the girl he lusted after during his holiday in Denmark. The password to the party in the film is 'Fidelio'; in the book, 'Denmark'. At the party, Bill also takes care of a naked prostitute (Mandy) who has overdosed on speedballs in Ziegler's room. She turns out to be the woman who tries to get Bill to leave the party (where Viennese masks are worn) and she later dies from an overdose, not from poisoning. The only reason he doesn't sleep with the prostitute, Domino (representing Rizzi in the film) is because Alice calls him on his mobile phone. The name Domino represents him risking his life by sleeping with her, and narrowly missing possible death by not: he fails to locate her later on and is informed by her roommate that Domino just found out that she is HIV Positive. Bill doesn't attempt to seek out his deceased patient's daughter (Marianne from the book is renamed Marion).

Martin Scorsese said in his introduction to Michel Ciment's 'Kubrick: The Definitive Edition' (1984, 'Definitive Edition': 2003):

'When EYES WIDE SHUT came out a few months after Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999, it was severely misunderstood, which came as no surprise. If you go back and look at the contemporary reactions to any Kubrick picture (except the earliest ones), you'll see that all his films were initially misunderstood. Then, after five or ten years came the realisation that 2001 or BARRY LYNDON or THE SHINING was like nothing else before or since.'

EYES WIDE SHUT's critical reputation has not significantly improved over time. Whilst in some ways being one of his most accessible films (set in the present and not the past like the under-performing BARRY LYNDON; hugely bankable stars; a story that is actually quite slight upon reflection), it's is also one of his most complex and easily misunderstood. And one reason is that he is dealing with a topic that, just after religion, is guaranteed to provoke different reactions in people. Sex.

Sex is a topic that is rarely seriously addressed in commercial cinema. When a filmmaker tries to make a serious film on the topic, inevitably what the filmmaker is trying to say is lost amongst the hullabaloo of how explicit the sex scenes are. Think of any sex-themed movie. Is it famous for what it was saying, or the level of sexual explicitness? For example, Mike Nichols' CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971) was a serious attempt to examine the sexual mores of the time, and was attacked by some local communities and critics for being 'obscene', even though it merely addressed the topic of sex in a frank manner through dialogue (there was hardly any nudity, though the film was admittedly racy for the time). Whilst garnering some strong reviews, the film was not a big success, and is rarely talked about even today, despite one of it's stars being Jack Nicholson. The indifference towards the film is indicative of the double standards when it comes to sex-themed films. Audiences DO want to see sex in films (hence the mainstream popularity of porno films like DEEP THROAT, 1972, in the '70s), but they're uncomfortable if the film itself is too serious. It makes them conscious (and embarassed) of their desire to watch sex, when they've almost fooled themselves that they were there to see the issues being presented, or a weighty, art film. LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972) was not a commercial success simply because it was a brilliant film that explored sexuality. It was partly a commercial success because people wanted to see Marlon Brando smear butter on Maria Schneider's buttocks and then bugger her. But they could kid themselves that they really went to see it because it was an art film, directed by a foreign, arty director (Bernardo Bertolucci) and starring Marlon Brando. Audiences felt comfortable watching a sexy film if Cruise and Kidman were the leads, and Kubrick the director. But they would have felt hoodwinked by a film that wasn't trying to titillate, be erotic or show the flesh of it's stars, but actually address the topic of sex seriously. As Tim Kreider says in his excellent essay 'Introducing Sociology: A Review of Eyes Wide Shut': 'The national reviewers sounded like a bunch of middle-school kids who'd snuck in to see it and slunk out three hours later feeling horny, frustrated, and ripped off.'

The orgy scene is curiously unerotic, and an element of the film where faith in the filmmaker becomes the question. Is it unerotic because Kubrick wanted to present it that way - Cruise's fantasy of this orgy being revealed as soulless, mechanical and tired - or because he had no idea how to film erotic scenes?

The same issue of faith in the filmmaker has to be applied to Tom Cruise's performance. Tom Cruise gives a fully committed, heartfelt performance, and carries a near 3-hour movie that he is in almost every scene of. His performance got a mixed reception because critics couldn't decide if he appeared out of his depth because of his lack of acting ability (Cruise has always had his detractors despite being Oscar-nominated three times, for BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1989; JERRY MAGUIRE, 1996 and MAGNOLIA, 1999), or because his character was meant to appear out of his depth. It's pretty obvious it's a case of the latter. Bill is a man who is used to being in control of his surroundings. But he's completely ill-equipped to deal with the situations he finds himself in after Alice's 'reveal'. He's an insulated man who usually has people to do things for him. He's the Fool King.

And the issue of failth in Kubrick also has to be applied to the presentation of Manhattan in the film. Kubrick and his family moved to the UK to make LOLITA (1962), and he and his family eventually decided to permanently stay, buying a huge mansion (Childwickbury Manor) in St. Albans, Hertsfordshire (approximately 22 miles/ 35 km north of central London). He hated flying, and leaving his family, and made all of his subsequent films close to his home, although he apparently considered making the cancelled project 'The Aryan Papers' (a Holocaust drama based on the 1991 novel 'Wartime Lies' by Louis Begley) outside England. Kubrick famously filmed all the Vietnam scenes for FULL METAL JACKET in the UK. Going to New York to film the scenes that represented the city in the film was not an option. It's inarguable that the New York scenes do not look like the city at all, and are unconvincing. Was this a case of Kubrick finally failing at convincing viewers a foreign location was not shot on UK soil? Or did he consciously want New York to look smaller, contained and slightly artificial? (Remember that Bill's world, following his conversation with Alice, has just gotten smaller.) Actually, both. New York is the most filmed location in the world, and he was naive to think audiences would accept his version of it. He'd have been better not naming the city at all, and letting the audience see it as a city akin to New York or any big metropolitan city. The film doesn't gain anything by having New York be the location.

The main problematic element of EYES WIDE SHUT is how literally we are meant to take it. Up until Alice tells Bill of her sexual fantasy, and then telephone ringing in the bedroom, summoning Bill to the bedside of the deceased patient, we have been watching a film that, although as stylised, distanced and almost formal as any other of his films, is arguanly meant to represent 'reality'. Bill is too conceited, too complacent in his life and in his opinions. (Kubrick hated complacency in his actors and liked to similarly unsettle them and place them under pressure.) Alice makes him lose his equilibrium, so that he begins to question everything he sees and hears. Kubrick does the same thing with the film: he settles us in the first part of the movie, and then unsettles us after Alice's bombshell. It's done to aid our involvement in the story and help us to identify with a man who through his actions, personality and class status, would otherwise be difficult to identify with. (Casting the world's biggest star in the role also helps matters somewhat.) In the taxi ride to his patient's residence, Bill tortures himself with images of his wife having sex with the young naval officer. Once he arrives at the home, however, the film takes another turn.

The patient's daughter, Marion (played by one of Ingmar Bergman's favourite actresses, Marie Richardson, who replaced Jennifer Jason Leigh after re-shoots were required and Leigh had a commitment to make David Cronenberg's EXISTENZ, 1999) declares her love for him, and Bill calmly reminds her that they have hardly ever spoken to each other, echoing Alice falling in lust with the naval officer she had never even spoken to.

It's here that the experience of watching EYES WIDE SHUT becomes a personalised one. There are many viewers uncomfortable with ambiguity, especially in a studio release like this. If this was a David Lynch film, one would have already been pre-conditioned to expect ambiguity and weirdness, and the fact that there are probably no answers, only your own reading of the film. But Kubrick's film is much more subtle, and doesn't telegraph to the audience that what we are seeing from now on in the narrative is being filtered through Bill's simmering cauldron of emotions ignited by Alice's revelation. The distanced, ambiguous tone is there to enable you to personalise your experience. Bill's eyes are 'wide shut'. He can't really see anything for the images rushing around in his brain and the feelings coursing through his body. 

So, how much is real and how much is fantasy in the narrative? Kubrick never answers the question or indicates the answer because it's his desire for the audience's questioning to remain in their subconscious, and then swim to the surface in the final scene. As Sydney Pollack said about the movie: 'the heart of (the film) was illustrating a truth about relationships and sexuality. But it was not illustrated in a literal way, but in a theatrical way'. It's my contention that art films are not to be subjected to the same laws of logic and scrutiny of every little detail that commercial films are. Kubrick is trying to address the big themes - loyalty, betrayal, sexual obsession, fidelity - and he is using whatever canvas he feels is appropriate to his vision.

Alice: '...the reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime, can (n)ever be the whole truth.'
Bill: 'And no dream is ever just a dream.'

To quote David Hughes's reading of the central message of the original book: ' there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?" Kubrick would say no. It doesn't matter. He intended this point to be reflected in the ambiguity of the narrative. Alice's dream wasn't acted out, but it had meaning. Bill tried to act out his sexual fantasies, and it's not certain how much was real. But it also had meaning. We weren't sure how much of the narrative was 'real', but it had meaning.

Kubrick is an uncompromising director who expects his audience to be as intelligent as he is. (Few of us are.) He has never been interested in 'realism'. Yes, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was violent and disturbing and felt real, but if one revisits the movie, you'll see that the whole film, and the violence in particular (hence it's great impact and controversy) was highly stylised. Part of what makes the violence in the film so fascinating is the choreography of it, the dark humour ('Singin' in the Rain'?), the hand-held camerawork, the use of slow motion, etc. Kubrick would have expected the audience to take the narrative in EYES WIDE SHUT with a pinch of salt. Just as Bill is going on his grand sexual adventure, so are we.

In the scene in the playroom in Ziegler (Sydney Pollack)'s mansion, Bill is told by him (in a scene some found too long and expository, and effectively killing the mystery of Amanda's death) the 'reality' of what happened. He's effectively telling the audience what they just saw. Which is weird for a Kubrick film, because Kubrick never explains the narrative and likes ambiguity. For some viewers, this was the point where the film became redundant. So, there was no mystery. Tom Cruise's character is a fool. He goes home to his wife and family, and he doesn't even get his end away. What was the point of the film?

The 'reality' is that Ziegler is speaking for Kubrick. Ziegler begins by saying 'Suppose I were to tell you..'. He's offering a version of what happened that he hopes Bill will accept because it is free of ambiguity and ties things up all nicely, and will allow Bill to resume the life he was leading. If, we, the viewer accept Ziegler's version of events, we too can end our experience of watching the film with everything tied up nicely and free of ambiguity. But it's only ONE interpretation of the events that transpired, and a hollow one at that. There's a deeper, more troubling, and yes, more ambiguous story to be found from the narrative, but the trouble is that it is going to be different depending on what you want to believe or can accept. Or whether you have your eyes 'wide open' or 'wide shut'.

There is no narration in EYES WIDE SHUT to tell us the tone of the story or the main character's inner thoughts. But Bill is more than our guide. The telephone ringing in Bill and Alice's bedroom after Alice reveals her secret signifies that the film has now left 'reality' (a ringing telephone is also a prevalent plot marker in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, 1983, also a film that could be considered as a 'dream story'). Look at Bill's face. He's devastated. His mind is elsewhere. The rest of the story will be seen through his eyes. Torturing himself with images of his wife and the Naval officer, Bill sinks deeper and deeper into a kind of trance. He might as well be under some narcotic stupor.

One shouldn't question whether the main events occured (meeting the different women, attending the orgy, Mandy's death, Domino getting HIV, Alice waking up from a dream and confessing it, the meeting with Ziegler, the mask appearing on Bill's pillow), because they did. The question to ask is whether they happened the way we see them happen. Bill's eyes before Alice's reveal were 'wide shut', and they are no more 'open' now. Everything is filtered through the cauldron of emotions he is carrying around with him. This is a 'dream story'. But it's a dream in the sense that although Bill is conscious, he's only seeing what his emotions are dictating he sees, as in a 'dream'. (The film has two prostitutes: it's likely they represent his revulsion towards Alice's sexuality once he hears her fantasy.)

Bill has been humiliated and deeply wounded by what Alice told him. He feels cuckolded, and he cannot avenge himself on a lover who only had sex with Alice in her mind. Like all of Kubrick's films, EYES WIDE SHUT can be described as a very black comedy in ways. Women throw themselves at him in the film to the extent that it becomes ridiculous. Marion confesses her love to him with her father lying dead in the background. A beautiful prostitute, Domino (Vinessa Shaw) solicits him moments after in the street. Sex is everywhere. There is an abundance of shots of bare-chested, big-breasted women in the movie. Bill attends an orgy where everybody is either having sex or watching. When Bill tries to see Domino again, he meets her roommate, who finds Bill attractive. If it weren't for the fact that she has to tell him that Domino recently found out she was HIV Positive, they would have had sex. Millich, the fancy dress store owner, has a daughter (Lelee Sobieski) whom we first see frolicking in her underwear with two Japanese men in drag, then it's later revealed that Millich is pimping her. There is a big hint that what we are watching is not 'literally' happening in the choice of the name of Millich's store: Rainbow Fashions. At Ziegler's party, two models try to seduce Bill and take him away somewhere. When Bill asks where they are taking them, one of them replies 'where the rainbow ends'. Bill never succeeds at getting his revenge on Alice by committing adultery. If this is some sort of a 'dream', then the interruptions could represent his conscience pricking him. Although, that said, Bill never really seems committed to committing adultery. He's looking for something, and sex seems the easy way to kill his pain and restore his ego, but he instinctively knows it is not the answer.

Kubrick allows it all to become slightly ridiculous because he never expected we would take it literally, and because there is black humour to be mined in the bizarre chain of events Bill finds himself in. (Kubrick has a very British kind of humour:, as in 'It's so terrible, I had to laugh'. As with DR. STRANGELOVE, he realised that the only way to make people listen to his ideas on the big themes, like nuclear war or sexual relationships, is to present them with lightness where appropriate.) Bill is convincing himself that these women are madly attracted to him in order to feel better about himself. Notably, it's Alice who sends Bill down the 'rabbit hole' (the title of a later Kidman drama), instead of falling down herself like in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' (Lewis Carroll, 1865). Is this an example of Kubrick's humour? (An amusing recurring joke is Bill's ease at flashing his doctor credentials to get what he wants.) As Kubrick said of the supernatural element of THE SHINING, 'If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed analysis, it will eventually appear absurd'. But Kubrick is being blackly comic or absurd, intentionally.

When Bill reads in the newspaper that Mandy (Julienne Davis) has died from an overdose, he gets it into his head that she has been murdered for trying to help him escape the orgy before being detected. Bill's emotions are at their most unreliable after seeing her corpse in the mortuary. Ziegler's explanation of what happened sounds plausible. But the point is that we don't know, because Bill was an unreliable guide, not being in full control of his senses, and seeing what he wanted to see, a la David Hemmings in Antonioni's BLOW-UP (1966), and in effect the audience too. Both Kubrick and Antonioni are not so interested in the mystery aspect of the narrative, except in the sense that it's very irresolution makes an artistic point. Bill's narrow-mindedness and repressed nature got him into this mess in the first place, and continued to make an even bigger mess when he tried to act on his desires to revenge himself on Alice by committing adultery. Living your life with your 'eyes wide shut' will always result in creating damage. And Kubrick and Antonioni also manage to criticise the validity of 'seeing' outside the text. One of the reasons many viewers (including initially, myself) have problems with EYES WIDE SHUT is because we never questioned what we were seeing, why we were seeing what we were seeing, and we never had faith in a filmmaker who has never had a history of arbitrarily placing elements in his films. Bill tells Alice that ' dream is ever just a dream'. This echoes with a truism about Kubrick's work: 'no detail is ever arbitrary'.

The film is also structured like a dream. From being told of the Naval officer by Alice, Bill is immersed, like in a deep sleep. Events quickly become surreal and heightened, reaching a crescendo with the orgy. After that, Bill is slowly waking up. The investigation represents his consciousness returning and his desire for clarity. The Ziegler conversation in the playroom represents Bill's attempts to quickly make sense of his dream as he wakes. The final scene with Alice represents an awoken Bill putting the finishing touches to what the dream meant.

In EYES WIDE SHUT, sex and death are closely linked. Bill experiences a kind of 'death' upon hearing Alice's confessions (the fantasy about the Naval officer and then later the dream that involves Bill being humiliated). Bill is summoned to look after Ziegler's sex partner, Mandy, at his party, and she is near death, having overdosed. The death of one of his patients is what interrupts Bill and Alice's conversation. Marion's dead father is in the background when Marion declares her love for Bill. Domino is revealed to be HIV Positive, meaning had Bill had sex with her he would possibly have been infected. Mandy is either killed or overdoses, and Bill goes to the morgue to see her corpse and breaks down. Ziegler tells Bill that if he told them the identities of the men at the orgy, he 'wouldn't sleep so easy', a veiled threat of death. Schnitzler's work was considered Freudian, and the film certainly is. If love and sex represent death, then love that has been hurt and the sex drive not being satisfied equal death in Bill's 'dream' state. The spectre of death represents Bill's fear that his marriage is over and reflects his emotions, part paralysis and numbness, part rage, part incredible hurt.

The ending is one that can be viewed in different ways.

Alice: 'Maybe, I think, we should be grateful . . . grateful that we've managed to survive through all of our adventures, whether they were real or only a dream.'
Alice: 'The important thing is we're awake now...and hopefully for a long time to come.'
Bill : 'Forever.'
Alice: 'Forever? Let's not use that word. It frightens me.'

Are Bill and Alice now united with their eyes 'wide open'? Have they learned from this experience, and now have a chance of survival they perhaps never had before?

Alice: 'I do love you and you know there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible.'
Bill: 'What's that?'
Alice: 'Fuck.'

Perhaps yes. Have they truly learned from their troubles if they think sex is going to solve their problems? It won't solve their deep-rooted problem: that they are living in a bubble. They have all the accoutrements of the upper middle-class - a beautiful Central Park West apartment, classical music playing on the stereo, a daughter named after Helen of Troy (the most beautiful woman in the world), invites to faceless, deathly dull parties (the Ziegler's elaborate pre-Christmas party), have beautiful art (Alice is a failed art 'dealer' and worked in 'the art game'), and huge salaries. But they are lost in the routine and surface comforts of their lives, worship power (Bill is very comfortable ordering his secretary around, even if he does it with a smile), status (Bill loves the ease of access his doctor staus allows him) and money (Bill's first words in the movie are asking Alice where his wallet is), and don't pay attention to each other anymore. When Alice asks Bill how she looks whilst they are dressing for Ziegler's party, he doesn't even bother to look, telling her 'You always look beautiful'. Bill thinks he knows what there is to see in life, perhaps bolstered by his status as a doctor, a profession in which a person can easily come to believe they have heard and seen all there is to hear and see.

Kubrick is especially tough on the men in the film. Almost all of the men in the film are defined by their love of sex and money, and their inability to talk to women. They talk or haggle about money, and tell women how beautiful they are, or use (Ziegler) or exploit women (Millich). Kubrick's ire is reserved for Ziegler, who is almost the Devil in disguise, the man Bill could easily become in his sexual odyssey, or ten or twenty years down the line. When Bill tells Ziegler he should keep the overdosed prostitute in his room another hour or so, Ziegler's inhuman response is to look at his watch to check how much this is going to inconvenience him. It's interesting that it is Alice who is able to voice what she has reflected upon and learnt, not Bill. All that Bill has learned is that his wife is more of a sexual woman than he knew. Their relationship has not necessarily been saved, but given a reprieve. Bill's eyes may be 'wide open' concerning his wife's sexuality, and it's hopeful he will no longer regard her as a possession or as a sex object or as a trophy, but as an adult woman. But his and Alice's deeper problem is that their eyes are 'wide shut' when it comes to how they live their life.

All of Kubrick's films have exhibited a fascination with the human condition. What drives us to do the things we do? What does it mean to be human? Kubrick didn't hold out much hope for humanity (Kidman: 'Stanley didn't really expect much from people'), but he believed in the importance of it's survival, and in it's great resilience. In A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Kubrick (and the book's author Anthony Burgess) argued that free will was what made us human, and anything that attempted to tamper it was morally wrong, even if tampering with free will by 'conditioning' people resulted in evil people (Alex De Large) becoming people incapable of committing evil acts. In his last film, nearly three decades later, we see a couple who exercise their free will by repressing themselves and placing themselves in a 'bubble'. They consciously choose to put themselves to sleep. When Bill exercises his free will and embarks on his sexual odyssey and murder investigation, it results in a real mess. Humans exercising their free will often result in darkness, but it also can result in light. From his 'adventure', Bill and Alice do learn something about themselves and each other, which represent the 'light'. From what we know about Kubrick's long-term, apparently very happy marriage to Christiane (Harlan) and his love for his family, he believed in marriage. He believed in actually choosing to repress one's desires, ambitions and sometimes happiness in order to maintain a secure partnership and family.Kubrick has come full circle, from violence and evil, to sex and love, to arguing for free will as the thing that makes us human, to celebrating the decision to not always exercise it. (Christiane Kubrick remarked that her husband became 'less cynical and less pessimistic' as he got older.) The irony of course is that had Kubrick read the final chapter of the 'Clockwork Orange' book (1962) that was omitted from his American edition, he may very well have ended the film with Alex, like the Harfords, choosing to exercise their free will by settling down into a stable relationship and family life. So the ending of EYES WIDE SHUT is ambiguous. We don't know what future the Harfords have. But they are both now more aware of their own and each other's sexualities, and more informed as to what they are both giving up in order to have a stable life. This is the positive element of the ending. The negative element is that the couple have other problems in the way they live that need addressing. And a shag ain't gonna solve it.

There's a positivity (not warmth) to his work that his distanced, heightened, almost cold style makes it hard to find if one doesn't look. He did note (when making THE SHINING to Stephen King) that if ghosts existed, it was proof of the afterlife. He doesn't see humanity as damned. The final scene in FULL METAL JACKET where the soldiers walk off singing the theme to 'The Mickey Mouse Club' can be seen as positive: after all the horrors they have witnessed, they are consciously regressing to infantile behaviour to maintain their sanity. The human spirit is strong. Kubrick, in his ouevre, examined the human condition from many sides, and saw it with all its flaws. Those who say he didn't care for humanity have only to look at the way he presented Humbert Humbert (James Mason) in LOLITA: he never judged him, and even felt sympathy for him, despite the fact he was for all intents and purposes, a child molester. Alex in ORANGE is a witty, intelligent, energetic and charming individual. He just happens to be a sociopath.

Four to six days after giving his cut to Warners, and Cruise, Kidman and Warners co-chairman Terry Semel having watched it, Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep on 7th March 1999, from a heart attack. He was 70 years old. The release date of 16th July was four months away, and it's likely Kubrick would have fine-tuned and re-edited the movie as was his wont (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 1968, and THE SHINING were both edited down after their first showings). The film was released without any amendments, apart from the orgy scene being made less explicit in the US in order to qualify for an 'R' rating. Tributes poured in, most notably from his two stars and Steven Spielberg, who decided quickly to take over the directorial reins on what would have been Kubrick's next picture, A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001). The film had been developed concurrently with EYES WIDE SHUT, and Kubrick was concerned that CGI wasn't good enough to accurately portray the central android character. He decided to make EYES WIDE SHUT instead. Kubrick also told Spielberg that perhaps he was the best director for the material (because of his talent with dark material, not as people expected, because of his affinity for sentimental and commercial material). Spielberg disagreed, preferring to see Kubrick's version of the movie. A.I. was like EYES WIDE SHUT, a critical and commercial disappointment, audiences and critics expecting different things from a Spielberg/ Kubrick collaboration, and the movie couldn't live up to them.

EYES WIDE SHUT seemingly had an important effect on Cruise. Many of his subsequent films were similarly dark and challenging, such as MAGNOLIA, VANILLA SKY (2001), MINORITY REPORT (2002) and COLLATERAL (2004). All of these films also involved the literal use of masks, or characters losing their metaphorical masks. Bill wears a mask in the orgy scene, and his metaphorical mask certainly slips throughout the film. Sexual jealousy and cuckolding would feature in VANILLA SKY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II. Cruise would play a self-help speaker aiming to teach men how to 'tame' women (in order to get the sex they desire) in MAGNOLIA. For the role, in which he has a tearful, powerful scene opposite his dying father, Cruise would revisit his feelings towards his own estranged father. A case could be made that Kidman had such a rewarding time making the film that it was responsible for the sheer number of films she has accepted since the movie, some of them similarly dark and challenging such as COLD MOUNTAIN (2003), DOGVILLE (2003), BIRTH (2004) and RABBIT HOLE (2010) It should be noted that after the film wrapped, the couple were reported (by People Magazine) as separating in May 1998, despite appearing as a couple to promote the film. They were divorced three years later. It's likely that whatever issues they had influenced them taking on the film, and that the film influenced their decision to break up.

Todd Field, who plays Nick Nightingale in the film (he filmed his two scenes over seven months), made his directorial debut two years later with the highly acclaimed IN THE BEDROOM. Both this film and the later LITTLE CHILDREN (2006), bear a Kubrickian influence: the slow, deliberate pacing, the brutal violence, the distanced perspective, the ability to draw brilliant performances, the subtle and blackly comic tone, and the bravery to tackle difficult topics head-on. Sydney Pollack's first film as a director after EYES WIDE SHUT was the sombre relationship drama RANDOM HEARTS (1999), which was also criticised for its slow pacing.

The film itself remains largely viewed as an incomprehensible bore by many now, or as a friend (Pat Cattigan) told it to me '...indulgent, pretentious and boring'. It has it's defenders. The film has maintained the mixed critical reception it got upon release, and has perhaps replaced BARRY LYNDON as the most divisive of his ouevre. It's well worth another look, especially if one can try to leave their preconceptions at the door and surrender to the film. EYES WIDE SHUT, the final chapter in a brilliant, uncompromising career, will hopefully, with the passage of time, be viewed as a rich and rewarding summation of the themes that drove a great artist to create a legacy that continues to astound, enthrall and provoke fierce debate.

N.B. The title was Kubrick's. Raphael had suggested 'The Female Subject'. Lelee Sobieski whispers to Bill: 'You should have a cloak lined with ermine', according to the subtitles. An ermine is a short-tailed weasel. According to co-writer Frederic Raphael's memoir 'Eyes Wide Open', Kubrick told him to remove any Jewishness from the character of Bill Harford. Yet the surname is a contraction of Harrison Ford, whom Kubrick told him Bill should resemble, and Ford's mother was Jewish (his father was a Catholic). Did Kubrick intend the character of Bill to be conflicted about his roots as part of a background we never get to learn about, but something Cruise could invest in his performance? Thomas Gibson was well-known as the latter half of the US TV comedy series 'Dharma & Greg' (1997 - 2002). He had previously made his debut as the villain in Cruise and Kidman's FAR AND AWAY (1992), and was a close friend of the couple. Rade Sherbedgia later appeared in Cruise's MISSION: IMPOSIBLE II (2000). Vinessa Shaw was signed up for two days and ended up staying 12 months, and doing 89 takes of one scene. Leon Vitali, who plays 'Red Cloak' at the masked orgy, was 'major domo' (as David Hughes describes him) to Kubrick from BARRY LYNDON (where he played Lord Bullingdon, Barry's stepson) onwards. He was 'personal assistant to the director' on THE SHINING, and performed the same function on FULL METAL JACKET and this film, as well as casting director. He also has two other cameos in EYES WIDE SHUT. Can you spot them? Vitali now collaborates with Todd Field on his films as a director.

AVAILABILITY: The uncut version of EYES WIDE SHUT is available on a 2-disc, anamorphically enhanced (unlike the original release) 2-disc DVD and single disc Blu-ray. Extras include a 3-part documentary on the making of the movie, a featurette on Kubrick's unmade films, an interview gallery, Kubrick's funny and thoughtful 1998 Director's Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award Acceptance Speech, and trailers and TV spots. A Sydney Pollack commentary was announced but wasn't included for some reason.


'The Complete Kubrick' by David Hughes, Virgin Books, 2000.
'Dream Story' by Arthur Schnitzler, Penguin, 1999. Originally published as 'Traumnovelle', 1926.
'Dream Story':Wikipedia entry. 

'Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick' by Frederic Raphael, Ballantine, 1999.
'Eyes Wide Shut': Wikipedia entry.

'Eyes Wide Shut: What the Critics Failed to See' by Lee Siegel. site.
'Introducing Sociology: A Review of Eyes Wide Shut' by Tim Kreider, 'Film Quarterly', Vol.53, no.3. Accessed at The Kubrick FAQ site.
'Kubrick: A Biography' by John Baxter, Harper Collins, 1997.
'Kubrick: The Definitive Edition' by Michel Ciment, Rinehart and Winston, 1984 (updated 2003).
'The Kubrick FAQ'. (Part 2.)

 'Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Twelve Years On: Fitting Swansong or Deathly Dull Misfire?' by 'C.D.', 8th April 2011, FilmHaze website.
'Nicole Kidman': Wikipedia entry.
'Stanley Kubrick' by Vincent LoBrutto, Donald I Fine, 1997.
'Stanley Kubrick': Wikipedia entry.
'Tom Cruise': Wikipedia entry.

Copyright Paul Rowlands, 2011. All rights reserved.

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