Eyes Wide Shut review by Tom Blain
Eyes Wide Shut: Short Discussions on Themes and Theories
I definitely remember when I first saw Eyes Wide Shut. I had been waiting more than a year to see Stanley Kubricks latest masterpiece and on the day it entered theatres I took a day off work and saw it twice. Of course not everyone liked it; it was probably a bad move on my part to drag friends to see it the second time. Like all of Kubricks other films, its a bit long and deliberately paced. His methods of story telling do not follow any sort of traditional fairy tale structure so its a bit tough to digest. There were certain expectations going into this since it was Kubricks final film. For me all expectations were met. What I found in Eyes Wide Shut was a mysterious film that stuck with you and could be discussed on many levels.
The movie parallels a book by Arthur Schnitzler called (in English) Dream Novel. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) goes on a voyeuristic journey through New York after coming to the startling revelation that his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) has had deep sexual thoughts about other men. This drives Bill to walk around New York for a couple crazy nights, sulking in his jealousy. Many questions come to the surface in Eyes Wide Shut and by the end few of them are traditionally answered. After a few years of watching, re-watching and mulling, I put together a short list of themes and theories that may help in understanding what Eyes Wide Shut is all about.
Sexual Equality of Men and Women
This is one of the more straightforward themes of the movie. Alice and Sandor (the dirty Hungarian) setup discussion of this theme during the holiday party. They begin talking about historical differences between polygamous sexual relations and marriage. Of course Sandor just wants to get Alice upstairs and undressed despite her husband. She resists all of his urges due to her marital obligations. Meanwhile, she watches Bill flirt with a few models.
Later the next night, Alice picks a fight with Bill. He has this idea that men have sex with many women on their mind at all times and that women are more or less devoted to one man. But Alice brings down Bill's world during her pot-induced rant about not being able to get this image of a Navy man out of her head during one of their vacations. Just the thought of her thinking about another man for a single day drove him nuts.
This idea is what drives Cruises character to go on his exploration of New Yorks sexual underground that includes:
- The woman so shaken by the death of her mother that she wants to have sex with Bill.
- The run-in with a hooker, who later is found to have HIV.
- The young girl who is having experiences with two little Asian men.
- The crazy secret house party
- Alan Cummings
In most of these cases Bill experiences feminine sexual initiation; not masculine. This theme brings the movie to a close; it is Kidman's character, the woman that says what needs to be done in such brutal terms to save their marriage and not the man.
What rich people do with all their money...
The two things that are linked throughout the whole movie are money and sex. Harford seems to have an endless supply of $50s and $100s and uses them to get from point A to point B in his voyeuristic sexual escapades. Cab rides, costumes, money spent on a prostitute, etc. Even though he never gets to point B, he seems to spend at every step along the way with that final destination in mind. So what is Kubrick saying by this? That money doesn't rule the world, its only fueling sex? This point is also proven in the secret society. Bill hears later that all the people there arrived in limousines and that he would be shocked to hear 'who' was at that party. So at a party where the richest people were located, the most sex was occurring.
If you think within these terms you might get a little creped out during the scene where Alice is teaching their daughter math. They go through a story problem where 'Man-A has $A and Man-B has $B, how much more does Man-A have?'. Within the context of this theme, it feels as if she is teaching her daughter early on to live within this society.
The short synopsis of Fidelio: A woman poses as a man in society to get a job in a jail where her husband is locked away, so that she can set him free. In Eyes Wide Shut Bill Harford (the husband) gets himself into trouble by masquerading at a secret society party he was not invited to. The password he used to get in was "Fidelio" (a Beethoven Opera). The two stories parallel as once again, the man is saved by the woman in costume. The movie shows us that the woman who saves Harford is one a hooker; the same one he saved from a drug overdose earlier in the movie.
This theory could be taken another way, however. In Fidelio, it is after all the wife that is in costume who saves the husband. What if it was actually Alice Harford who saved Bill at that party? Who is to say she wasn't there? It was never said in the movie but there are many clues that point to this. Lets go back to the holiday party that Ziggler (Sydney Pollack) hosted. Could this have been a pre-cursor to the secret party? Ziggler after all was at both, as was the hooker that 'saved' Harford. I'm sure the dirty Hungarian that was hitting on Alice was there. The couple even say that they know "not a soul" at the party and wonder "Why does Ziggler invite us to these every year?" Ziggler has his eye open for Alice, so there is a good chance that Alice was invited to the secret party and never told Bill. Or maybe that she had been living a double life for a long time and the reason that they were invited to the holiday party was because "she" was a part of the society.
The same night Bill gets back from the secret party, Alice is in bed and complains of dreams where events occurred that were similar to the party. How could she dream the same thing that Bill saw that night? It seems highly unlikely (outside of the movie-world scope), unless she was actually there. In the last scene he even remarks that "no dream is ever just a dream". Then the next night, she has the mask that he left behind. They talk, but the camera never shows you what they say. It can be 'safely' assumed that what they were talking about had to do with Bill's journeys through the sexual underworld of New York. But they could have also been talking about Alice's exploits as well. While they are shopping in the last scene she remarks, that they should be "grateful we survived all of our adventures whether they are real or a dream." She doesn't say that "he" survived "his" adventures. This line almost hints that she shared something as well.
Desires, Dreams and Reality: All the same beast
By the end of the film, both Bill and Alice are upset at each other. Neither one had really done anything physical. Bill went from place to place but was only an outside participant in his little journey. He never once cheated on his wife despite possible intentions. Alice, if you believe that she wasnt at the masquerade party, is only guilty of dreaming about having sex with another man and of course divulging her vacation fantasy.
So if nothing physically went on why are they so bent out of shape? Stanley Kubricks films often reveal the flaws in humanity and how our societal structures break down due to our own sinful actions. Alices one-day desires, despite her love for her husband, show her weakness. Bills weakness is revealed in his jealousy and attempted revenge. Both are upset at each other since their dreams and desires (although not leading to anything physical) disrupted their individual perfect worlds. In this case, the dreams and desires of each had just as great an effect emotionally as would the reality of something happening.
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Eyes Wide Shut
IMDB Link: Eyes Wide Shut
DVD Relase Date: 2000-03-07
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
DVD Extras: Interviews with Spielberg, Cruise, Kidman (skip the last two)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
- The Color of Money
- Minority Report
- Top Gun
- War of the Worlds
- Cold Mountain
- The Stepford Wives
- Mission: Impossible III
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