It has been a while since I have watched a film as intense as Stanley Kubrick’s final work Eyes Wide Shut. The 1999 erotic thriller, which stars a very young and-then married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, hinges on nudity and very intimate sex scenes to deliver not a pornographic film but a film that explores themes on sexuality, and wealth and class disparities.
Thriller with erotic elements
The opening scene at the Christmas party tricked me. I was fooled into believing that Alice would pursue a night of infidelity with the Hungarian guy but I was so wrong. I mean, why else would the ballroom scene be so long? It was not exactly unnecessary long as it served its purpose of revealing Alice’s true desire: that she wants a good fuck and this was something her house doctor husband Bill did not satisfy.
And of course, the orgy scene. The whole mandatory masquerade outfit, the mysterious soundtrack, a sex ritual which seemed to mark the beginning of another orgy, and people having sex for the satisfaction of the voyeurs while Bill drifted from room to room to dive deeper into this intricate and exceptionally unusual nighttime gathering was such an intense scene for me.
Honestly. Unlike Bill who was filled with curiosity and looked for answers even after he was ‘redeemed’ by the woman, I was genuinely afraid for Bill. Would that woman jump down and kill herself in exchange for Bill’s escape? Or will the masked and red-hooded de facto ringleader whip out a knife or gun and murder Bill for trespassing? Fortunately neither of these scenarios was realised, Bill left unharmed, but that only forms more questions: Who is that woman? Why did she save him? Is Bill really safe?
There was suspense throughout the film as we see Bill later being followed by the members of the organisation, the “Lucky to be alive” headline on the newspaper he later reads, and the “Stop” traffic sign at the street which was intentionally there to warn Bill not to probe further. Stanley Kubrick did an excellent job in sustaining the suspense throughout the film and honestly half the time I could not tell whether Bill would be gravely injured or not. In this aspect, the film does bear some similarities with David Fincher’s 1997 The Game.
Eyes wide shut: When dreams and reality meet lust
The title “Eyes Wide Shut” means different things to our married couple Alice and Bill. Both wished for their eyes to be shut but for very different reasons. Alice clearly wishes to stay in her dream while Bill wishes to shut his eyes, like his pianist friend Mike did, from the the horrors that pursued from his night at the mansion.
For Alice, having her eyes shut is nothing but a good thing, a sexual dream or escapade.
After their experiment with pot, a distraught Alice reveals that she is extremely displeased with Bill for being unable to see beyond his wife as a sex object and refusing to believe that women do have the capability of having sexual desires, for thinking that men come up to her just to have sex with her, and for implying that only men can fuck around while women focus on “security and commitment”.
Having a dream is the way to lust. After Bill returned home, we see Alice laughing in her dream only to be awoken by Bill afterwards. She then later weeps in tears as she describe the contents of her dreams but to a large extent, I would say she was lying. Alice clearly enjoys the dream. Being in the dream gives her pleasure she would not have gotten in reality, and as soon as she wakes up from it, her conscious self reminds her that she is married in the real life. As a result, her brain quickly reminds her that she should not have been satisfied with that dream and thus, processes that dream as a nightmare which ends in her crying. Had Bill not returned home, I would believe that Alice would still be peacefully and happily asleep.
Ironically though, Bill is a doctor and he should be open-minded about matters like this yet he is an ignorant husband who dismisses his wife so quickly.
As for Bill, oh boy does he wish his eyes were shut at the mansion. He is unable to accept his wife’s revelation, feels insecure that his wife has confessed to leaving him and their kid Helena if given the chance for the naval officer, and instead of facing his reality, he chooses to escape by proving his worth as a man that is by flirting and sex. Bill’s adventures soon lead him to the mansion which left him emotionally scarred and wishing that his reality would be nothing more than a dream.
Alice lusts in a dream wishing that it is the reality, while Bill lusts in reality wishing that his reality, or nightmare, is a dream.
Investigating Tom Cruise’s character
Bill is an attractive man, he knows it but he fails in maintaining a relationship with people of the opposite gender. He could not meet his wife’s needs and rather than solving their issues, he flocks off to have sexual relations with random women with the belief that it would make him better off. But it is as if the writers are trying to mock Bill as we later see his twice failed attempts at engaging with prostitutes Domino and Sally. Even at the end, Alice was the one who takes the initiative to have sex with her husband, not the other way round.
Bill also abuses his privileged position, status and handsome face to get what he wants, but fate has it against him. In Eyes Wide Shut, there were multiple times where he flaunts his occupation as a doctor and wealth to jump ropes. For instance, he lied his way through the hospital in order to verify if Mandy was truly dead only to deepen his fears. Not forgetting the times where he paid the storekeeper and taxi driver extra for their services. He was feeling generous and yes, he could afford to do so. Ironically, these were the reasons his identity was revealed as he was the only one who arrived in a taxi and in rented clothes.
But being a doctor is nothing more than just a working class member in this world as we see Bill getting humiliated by the hooded members when forced to remove his mask as he attempted to leave the mansion. Now, one has got to understand that the people who attended the events are definitely the upper echelons in the society since maintaining a secret identity is so vital to them. They are indulging in something not seen or accepted by society standards and maintaining a secret identity is vital for them. By asking Bill to remove his mask and robes, the members literally are implying that Bill is nothing more than a doctor literally hiding himself trying to blend in with the elite society.
Bill was stalked, harassed and warned by the secret society. Even the envelope was addressed to William, his real name, than ‘Bill’, further hinting that these members were capable of inflicting harm to him if they want to.
Eyes Wide Shut reminds us that no matter how high you climb, there will always be someone better than you, someone who can help you grow and even restrain you. But whether Bill learns the mistake or not is unclear.
Dr Strangelove is and will always be my favourite Stanley Kubrick’s work but Eyes Wide Shut is not far off on my list either. I liked how the film, albeit very intense at times, throws me off guard with its plot twists. Some critics have argued that it is a Christmas film — yes to some extent, the film does talk about consumerism and how everything can simply be purchased — but to me, Stanley Kubrick’s last work reminds me to be humble and never keep my eyes shut.