Stanley Kubrick is my idol. He is one of, if not the greatest, filmmaker of all time. My first Kubrick experience occurred when I saw The Shining. I had never seen anything like it in my life. Not only was it scary as hell, but the sheer beauty of the filmmaking stunned me. Throughout the majority of the film, Kubrick utilizes long tracking shots and zooms, which are all beautifully executed and framed. The lighting techniques are also unique. The beauty of this film is in the simplicity of how it is put together. I’ve probably seen The Shining more than fifty times.
Later on, I discovered A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket. Both of these films resembled The Shining in their meticulous attention to detail. The films were rich, not exclusively in a technical sense, but on an intellectual level as well. The best thing about watching a Kubrick film is the thought process that you go through afterwards, when you reflect on what you have seen. You get to peel back all of the intricate layers, making new discoveries on subsequent viewings. This brings me to Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut.
Principal photography for this film lasted for 400 days, and it was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the “longest constant movie shoot”. Obviously with this film, as with every other film that Kubrick made, time was no obstacle. Furthermore, Stanley was a perfectionist. He relentlessly pushed his crew and his actors, pushed them so that he could get the best that they had to offer. If the performances of some of his actors seem over-the-top or out of the ordinary, it is only because naturalistic acting never appealed to Kubrick, as he would always say, “Natural is good, interesting is better.” The “interesting” aspect would come after fifty or sixty takes of the same scene. He would bring his actors to the point where they literally had nothing else to give, and this was the take that he would use.
The thing that separates Eyes Wide Shut apart from the rest of Kubrick’s filmography could be summed up in one word: hope. Yes, you read that correctly! Eyes Wide Shut is a very hopeful film. Kubrick’s films can seem extremely pessimistic, in that they hone in on the dark side of human nature. Humans are portrayed as weak, ignorant, stupid, and beyond redemption. However, in his final film, he embraces themes of passion, commitment, loyalty, and even love. The whole film is a cautionary tale which explores the many trials that come with marriage, namely the temptation of adultery. Stanley Kubrick understood and respected the institution of marriage and was faithful to his wife until the end. Somewhere along the line, however, he felt compelled to make this film, particularly after reading “Traumnovelle”, a 1926 novella by Austrian author and dramatist Arthur Schnitzler.
Eyes Wide Shut tells the story of Dr. Bill and Alice Hartford, an upper class married couple with a young daughter. The film opens as they are preparing to attend a prestigious Christmas party that they have been invited to by one of Bill’s patients. Alice adjusts her hair and asks Bill what he thinks of it. Bill insists that her hair looks beautiful, yet he never even looks at her as he preps himself in the mirror. It is here, during the very opening moments of the film, that we are able to see Dr. Bill’s major flaw: he doesn’t really appreciate his wife. They’ve been married for years, and the act of complimenting his wife has now become routine. Once Bill and Alice reach the party, the host comes over to greet them, and we then dissolve to Bill and Alice lovingly dancing together, musing and asking themselves why they were even invited to this overblown gathering in the first place. Bill notices an old friend of his at the piano, and excuses himself. In the meantime, Alice grabs a glass of champagne and waits by the bar, where a strange and charming Hungarian man approaches her. He asks her to join him for a dance. His intentions are obvious from the start. He attempts to wear her down in her drunken state. “Don’t you think one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties?” he asks Alice. He has her cornered, and eventually, after several of his advances, she reminds him that she is married and walks away. Meanwhile, Bill walks down the hall with two models hanging on each arm. A game of seduction begins. “Don’t you want to go where the rainbow ends?” they both ask. Sensing trouble, Bill attempts to excuse himself, until he is summoned by someone else, and he leaves the two temptresses to themselves.
Later on that night, and with the help of a joint, Alice starts questioning Bill about the two women that he was with. He tells her that it was nothing, that they were just two dumb models. She also takes it upon herself to tell him of the Hungarian man who tried to seduce her. Bill tells her that it’s only natural for men to feel that way. She’s beautiful, after all. There is not much jealousy in his response. This sets Alice off into a tirade. Bill, in his ignorance, also makes the statement that women do not operate the way that men do in regards to sexual matters.
What Alice reveals next will shake Bill to his core.
Alice proceeds to tell him of a vivid sexual fantasy that she once had involving a young naval officer, who she casually glanced at while on a family vacation a few years earlier. She goes on to say that she would have been willing to give up her family and her whole life for one night with him. Ultimately, she came to her senses, but the fact remains that the thought of infidelity was on her mind, and she could have acted on it.
As a result of this confession, Bill becomes insanely jealous. He realizes at this moment that his wife isn’t just a prop. She is capable of hurting him. He wants her to feel the sting of jealousy, and so he journeys out into the night. His voyage into the sexual underworld begins. During this time, Bill is presented with several opportunities to satisfy his lust with several beautiful women, yet every attempt at consummation is interrupted. One such interruption comes in the form of a phone call from his wife. However, he carries on with his mission, determined to explore, hopeful that an opportunity to be unfaithful will present itself. Before the night is over, he ends up at a mysterious pagan orgy filled with powerful members of society. This scene, probably one of the most controversial scenes in film history, is not sexually enticing at all. It is ugly and horrific. It is a picture of hell on earth. It explicitly depicts the evil that is adultery and sexual debauchery.
In the last few moments, Bill confesses to Alice of his night time journey. His eyes are filled with tears.
The last scene takes place in a shopping mall. Bill and Alice talk amongst themselves about recent events. “The fact is that we are both awake now,” Alice says, “and I do love you.” She then suggests that they go home as soon as possible to have sex. This scene is powerful and brutally raw in its honesty. In Kubrick’s only love story, he has taught us the importance of the covenant of marriage, and how vital it is to treasure your husband or your wife. There is such a thing as healthy jealousy, and both Bill and Alice have learned this valuable lesson by the film’s conclusion. They will strive to keep each other away from the darkness, to appreciate one another, taking nothing for granted.
In a modern world that is rife with infidelity, lies, hedonism and sexual decadence, Stanley is encouraging us all to throw away our masks and take a good look in the mirror. His final and most underestimated masterpiece is a call for an end to all forms of secrecy, be they personal, social or political. – Rob Ager, from his essay, “Unseen Reflections”
Of course, there are multiple interpretations of Eyes Wide Shut. There is much more going on here than meets the eye. However, the main themes are the dangers of marriage and the importance of fidelity. According to the documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Kubrick was a family man who had watched many of his friends struggle in their marriages. Eyes Wide Shut was his attempt to explore the many truths behind those conflicts.
Tragically, Stanley Kubrick died two weeks after the release of Eyes Wide Shut. He was quite pleased with the final product. Like all of Kubrick’s films, it opened to mixed response from the critics. Over time, this film has aged like a fine wine. Every time you watch one of his films, you learn something new, or you see something that you had never noticed before. It is in this way that Stanley Kubrick left a legacy. He will never be forgotten and his films will live on, decade after decade, and will remain classics.