Fifty Five

Back to Bill. Note that there are two different rhythms undergirding this sequence: that of the cuts, and that of the music. There’s no jarring disconnection (Kubrick ain’t Godard), merely a recognition of two cohabiting emotions to match our cohabiting couple. The edits emphasize the distance between their lives  (sociology), while the music draws us back to the previous evening, hinting that what the Harfords saw, did, and failed to see or do last night is still haunting them (psychology). But the specific thematic conclusions matter less than the general sense of intertwined realities, of fates colliding and converging, of the gaps between image and reality, exterior presentation and interior self. Eyes Wide Shut isn’t a meta-film in the style of its separated-at-birth sister Mulholland Drive, but both movies work to expose the mesmerizing spectacle of moviemaking as analogous to (or even representative of) cultural norms in which beauty and wealth (treated in Eyes Wide Shut as practically synonymous) cover up abuse and alienation. Yet the ugly Real always pokes through, and Kubrick’s cinema is the ideal vessel for such disturbing hints.

It’s all about priming your audience. If I just say “Eyes Wide Shut is about an empty wealthy asshole slowly realizing the implications of his emptiness, wealth, and assholery,” that sounds trite, pretentious, and not worth watching. But, as Tolkien said, the tale grows in the telling–or to quote the agreed-upon American Tolkien, George R.R. Martin: “Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it’s the execution that is all-important.” What a movie does, how it works, what it means, and what it is are not exactly identical questions, but the means by which they interact is what separates the great movies from the bad, and even the most casual audience can tell the difference.

Anywho, Bill is examining a near-naked patient. He listens to her heartbeat (the seat of our self-sustenance in both literal and metaphorical terms), nods and removes his stethoscope. “That’s fine, you can put your gown on.”

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Oho, our Billy Boy (which I just realized is the name of the rapist rival gang leader in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, another movie about the failure of refined institutional intellect to inculcate collective morality) is quite uncomfortable! Why?

Well, we don’t and can’t and won’t know, and that’s partially the point of cinema: to position us firmly outside the characters, deprived of the direct plunging into thought offered by first-person literature. That uncertainty can be rejected by filmmakers desperate to tell and not show, or it can be super-productive and interesting, a way to illustrate a story built around gaps and ambiguities, like 2001, or The Shining, or Eyes Wide Shut.

Is Bill uncomfortable because he’s thinking about Mandy, the last naked lady he saw to? He wasn’t nearly this awkward with her. Maybe because Victor was watching, and he didn’t want to seem too into his rich client’s kept woman, nor anything less than a dependable servant. (Of course, a nurse is watching him examine the patient; Bill forever feels our eyes on him.) Mandy’s story is structurally and emotionally central to Eyes Wide Shut, despite her relative lack of screen time, because her plight is echoed throughout the movie. This mirroring suggests the extent to which Mandy’s fall represents a larger social problem–and the extent to which Bill becomes obsessed with consummating their brief relationship, mediated through class and profession as it was.

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Back at the Harford sanctum, Alice brushes Helena’s hair. The latter’s red shirt matches the prominent curtains in the background, emphasizing the littlest Harford’s harmony with her environment, as do the Snoopy clock and the picture of the sleepy panda behind her. Alice, by contrast, is dressed in cool blue; she stands out from her surroundings, but remember that blue is a color associated with Bill and his emotions throughout EWS. Alice cannot escape. Bill examines a young boy’s throat while his mom waits in the background (again, constant observation, grounding the protagonist in his cultural context) next to one of those letter-pyramid vision tests, reminding us we’re watching a film about sight and comprehension of what is seen, from the title on down. Underneath the music, we hear one of the key lines in the movie. “Looking forward to Christmas?” Bill asks his patient. The latter nods, a little smile emerging on his face. “Does it hurt?” The smile fades, and the boy mumbles an affirmation. Now, of course, Bill is referring to the kid’s throat, but Kubrick’s surgically (heh) precise dialogue hints that the “looking forward to Christmas” is what hurts. The unhealthy anticipation, the conflation of material wealth and spiritual fulfillment, the inevitable alienation and disillusionment that follows…these are all central subjects of Eyes Wide Shut, as applied to sex and status along with Christmas.

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And look what we cut to next! Alice, naked from behind, as the camera slowly tracks up to find her struggling with a bra. We have returned to the film’s first shot: the uneasy coexistence of Glamor Alice and “Real” Alice, both of whom share an uncertain relationship to IRL Nicole Kidman. Is this exploitative, a leering male gaze? Well, look at the next shot. Bill slowly elevates a patient’s leg, waiting for the pain to kick in. Suddenly, the office is shot as cramped, confining, a coffin. Again, “there’s always a nurse present,” as Bill journeys from sex to youth to death. You are being watched, either by a specific death-sex-cult or by the general pressures of society that have long since infected your own instincts. Cut to Alice applying deodorant while Helena brushes her teeth.

What are we seeing here? Bill helping bodies, Alice as a body. Both are engaged with upkeep, maintenance, appearances–we don’t see Bill delivering any diagnoses or prescribing medication, only gauging his patients’ reactions. So Bill is perceptive enough, in his own way, making his inability to comprehend Alice’s inner life all the more glaring. That Alice’s body is exposed lustfully right before we cut to Bill finding the pain-spot in an older patient grounds sexual desire in the body’s fleshy mortality; Kubrick turns us on only to remind us that all erotic bodies wither and die…unless they’re preserved on screen, like Victor’s renaissance bronzes. The shot of Alice and Helena in the bathroom, then, brings it full circle by collapsing objectified beauty and the day-to-day requirements of maintaining that beauty into the same frame. Eyes Wide Shut dares to look behind beauty, but in an insidious and non-grandstandy manner.

Fifty Four

Bill is at work. Alice is at home. We cross-cut between the two.

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For all that Kubrick pushed the film form forward (alliteration FTW), he certainly wasn’t above sturdy plot-work montages like these; Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket integrate similar scenes within their own pitiless deconstructions of character, setting, and theme. Anyone the least bit familiar with movie drama knows the score. We are witnessing the Harfords, alone, together: physically separated, but united in their adherence to routine. Alice and Helena are sitting at their kitchen table. This is the first glimpse we have of the Harford kitchen; last night was all about fleeing domesticity, if only for a few hours. The kitchen is cozy, the table small and appealingly cluttered. These scenes bring Alice down to earth somewhat, highlighting the bored housewife whose coexistence with glamorous Night Alice (also known as the public face of Nicole Kidman, blurring the line between actor and character) was only implied the night before.

But–and this is fucking crucial to the movie’s success–this disenchantment is not condescending or cruel. Eyes Wide Shut treats Alice like a human being, something you cannot say about most of the myriad suburban-exploitation flicks that cropped up in the late 90s and early 00s. The movie does not view the gap between Alice’s outer serenity and inner turmoil as a lie, or as evidence of weakness or timidity. Rather, it’s a trade-off she’s made, even one that she’s happy with most of the time…but not all the time, and she resents Bill taking her personal and professional sacrifice for granted. It’s worth noting that, unlike the eternally vapid American Beauty (all that which Eyes does right, Beauty does wrong), Eyes Wide Shut doesn’t bother manufacturing a cliched hippie-utopia life for its characters to briefly retreat to before coming to their senses. There is no comfortably circumscribed Other to provide cheap contrast for the Harfords, only the Void: all the security of ego and status and selfhood stripped away, until you are left alone (as in the end of 2001) with your animal self and a mirror. The day-in-the-life-montage provides evidence of the tipping point, as Bill and Alice’s clearly long-cemented routines are contrasted with their uneasy emotional states, riding the candle smoke of last night’s reverie. Alice is feeling resentful, toward her husband and herself. Bill is feeling something stranger, subtler, and scarier: frustrated lust, rattled ego, a fascination with the unfamiliar coupled with a deep-seated dread of the unknown (especially when it comes to sex and death).

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danny-wendy

So what are they up to? Alice is reading the paper at the kitchen table. Helena takes a bite of cereal, watching Bugs Bunny read aloud: “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” I bother with this blog because of Kubrick’s peerless ability to create little dense dwarf-star moments like these, begging to be unfurled. We have here a reference to The Shining, in many ways the Kubrick movie most similar to Eyes Wide Shut. The first appearance of Wendy and Danny Torrance in that movie is an almost identical shot: mother and child at a table in a somewhat messy kitchen, mother on the right reading, child on the left eating, cartoon noise blaring in the background. Danny asks his mother if she really wants to spend a winter at the Overlook, using his imaginary (?) friend Tony as a proxy to voice his concerns; Wendy attempts to reassure him, but her pasted-on smile hints at her own desperation and fear. The subtext to this conversation, and every interaction mother and son have throughout the movie, is the deadly terror instilled in them by the patriarchal brute Jack. It’s there in that first scene, in Danny’s chillingly blank expression (he refuses to meet his mother’s gaze, a common sign of child abuse) and in Wendy’s chain-smoking, only the most obvious manifestation of her deeply internalized fear. (The Overlook haunts the Torrances, but uses their psychoses as fodder; similar questions about individual versus systemic responsibility arise throughout Eyes Wide Shut.)

But they can’t talk about it. Wendy and Danny desperately need each other as allies, but their fear and shame keeps them apart and leaves them vulnerable to Jack and his newfound ghost friends. It’s the quiet little subplots that enrich Kubrick’s insect-under-glass worlds, and amidst all the surreal imagery and grandiose camerawork and heady ideas about madness and masculinity and Time Itself, The Shining tells the story of a mother and son learning to trust one another as their world falls apart. The Torrance trio falls apart, but is resurrected as a duo when Danny finds the courage to ditch Tony and warn his mother about REDRUM himself. Perhaps that’s partially why Kubrick shot Jack’s death as a farce–mouth hanging open, eyes upturned, frozen in a state of eternal slapstick. Not only is the monster dead, he’s been thoroughly demystified, and is no longer worthy of a role in his family’s life even as a ghost. That’s the soft-spoken optimism buried deep in The Shining‘s M.C. Escher pattern: that maybe the Overlook is a mausoleum for evil, a sort of metaphysical archive where our bloody past can be imprisoned and the women and children can walk free of the patriarchy. There’s horror in those walls, but at least it’s inside the walls.

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Eyes Wide Shut offers no such way out. Alienation, anxiety, abuse, and the Void are constantly with us, infecting every moment, and our most deeply buried impulses and desires are inextricable from the macroscopic systems in which we scurry. This scene is notable not for a failed connection between parent and child, as in that early Shining conversation, but for the lack of any attempt. Alice isn’t reading to Helena, forging a bond in the fires of Christmas; she’s delegated that job to capitalism, allowing Bugs Bunny to serenade her child. (Helena’s desire to watch The Nutcracker the previous night now seems less related to the ritual celebration known as Christmas than to the ritual celebration of consumerism…known as Christmas.)

Fifty Three

There is a painting in the elevator. Or a photo of a painting, or maybe even some stained-glass confection. Why? Who bothers with art in an elevator?

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Well, this is a doctor’s office, and people need something to distract them from the existentially terrifying purpose of their visit. One could say the same of all the myriad artworks blanketing Eyes Wide Shut, that they exist for no other purpose than to protect the characters from the existentially terrifying sight of blank walls (blank lives). But surely that sells art short! Perhaps instead those colors and shapes and lines stand in for the Great Ineffable, the divine vision to be ever-reached-for and never attained. (This is a religious concept in origin, but as the new Cosmos demonstrates, the faithful have no monopoly on the sublime.) Eyes Wide Shut, as I’ve argued before, is a story about people reaching for something new and retreating in fear. Art, then, in its ineffability, represents the mystery of totalizing forces and our unwillingness (not inability) to comprehend them. And that idea, of course, ties neatly into the engaging/alienating work of a doctor, for whom a human being is reduced to component parts, endlessly failing.

Of course, we only see the elevator’s painting/photo/window as it frames Bill’s head; could it then stand in for the wild emotions of the previous night, left behind for the sake of a sober morning? Maybe, but again, Bill’s day job brings him right back to the questions of morality/mortality he dodged the previous night. Sex and death find each other here, as much as the practitioners of both try to pry them apart.

Anyway, the camera turns and follows behind Bill as he enters the office, offering perfunctory greetings to the women who work under him (pun very much intended). Cruise’s delivery here is very mannered, in the same vein as his all-business tone with Victor and Mandy the previous night, standing in direct contrast to his chummy conversation with Nick and his pathetic attempt at flirting with Gayle and Nuala. “Please ask Janelle if she will bring me my coffee.” This is a very theatrical scene, one which needs only a few objects (desks, placards, and of course, omnipresent Christmas displays) to get across the idea of “doctor’s office,” leaning heavily on the actors’ approach to dialogue to set the tone. Of course, if this were actually a play (and I would love to see what a creative theatrical director would make of Eyes Wide Shut), we would be watching Doctor Bill stride through his office from a fixed position. He would be walking across the stage, perpendicular to the audience, who would be seeing a cross-section of the office in question. Theater is not visually limited to a camera’s aperture (a wider scope than cinema can provide) but is immobile in terms of perspective (a narrower range than cinema can provide). If this scene were “staged,” to quote Victor, we would be getting a sense of Bill’s office and how it is arranged, both physically and professionally. In a cinematic context, we follow right behind Bill, glimpsing the office and its inhabitants only as he does, yet also taking note of his surface appeal and that which he does not allow to reach the surface. This is the sort of semi-subjectivity only cinema can explore. Offering neither the full thought-immersion of first-person novels, nor the fixed perspective of the theater audience, movies exist on an uncertain subliminal plane, a non-space shaped by invisible edits, driven an Author that hides Itself. Which, of course, is all perfectly appropriate for a story about hidden truths, directed by an infamous recluse. It’s all about the form-meets-content, baby.

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Speaking of which, we are treated to our second instance of non-diegetic music (the first being “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing,” which could’ve been playing in-universe but feels much more like it’s echoing inside of Alice’s head). Yet we’ve heard this sweeping rhythm and melancholy melody before: it’s the same Shostakovitch waltz that kicked off the film 22 minutes ago. Remember, it seemed to be non-diegetic before Bill switched it off, our introduction to the uncertain, revelatory mode of Eyes Wide Shut, where reality begins to burn and curl at the edges–half psychological malaise, half sociological blindness. When Bill turns off the soundtrack, he aesthetically sets up the moral revelations to come, training our subconscious to watch for, well, subtext. Our perspective is limited, untrustworthy, and constantly shifting with new information, just like Bill’s. (Again, form meets content; the aesthetic elegantly immerses the audience in the character’s mindset without resorting to voiceover or POV.)

So what does it mean that this waltz returns now? The rhythm, as I said in one of my first posts, is of the sort generally accepted by critics as representing Life Itself. Its brisk movements speak of routine, of predictable ups and downs, of a life as precise and planned as a waltz. Certainly, we see that theme at work in Bill’s day at the office. But there’s that keening melody, emotional but rigid: tragedy at a distance, much like Kubrick’s camera, positioned at the perfect mid-distance to contextualize his characters within the physical, social, and moral hierarchies in which they move while still catching the little personal details that make the journey resonant and worthwhile. As mentioned, the snapshot of Bill’s work life builds on the theme of death introduced by Mandy’s collapse, and Death (caps absolutely intended, as required for all Big Themes), as both a personal tragedy and an objective inevitability (even necessity), fits the melody’s dichotomy perfectly. Shostakovitch, however, speaks to Alice as well. The melody is her yearning for a more fulfilling, expressive life, as betrayed in her flirtation with Sandor (and transparent boredom with Bill), and the rhythm is her choice–and it is a choice, as the movie’s ending will make horribly clear–to stay in her routine anyway. Music-dance-film-character. It all comes together in Kubrick’s always-cosmic sweep. Cinema is the delicate combination of fragile elements, the harnessing of talents for a fraction of a second burned into film. It’s about making it all work, and the waltz works.

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Fifty Two

So when Bill Harford steps forward from that elevator the morning after the Christmas Ball, Kubrick shoots it like Bill is stepping out of his own mausoleum. Is Bill a vampire? Is he emerging, not to find new victims, but rather to help them forestall Death? Or are we watching a tape in reverse, Bill’s last moments before he enters the tomb?

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Melodramas generally employ death as a metaphor for stagnation and stasis within one’s routine: the passing of a loved one who urged the protagonist to live life to the fullest, the onset of disease as a catalyst for emotional transformation. Bill’s story reverses the trajectory somewhat. His daily life is mired in death, until a startling glimpse of Alice’s inner life (which Bill, seemingly, didn’t previously know existed) strands him in an existential quandary zone, which he tries to fight off with a classic episodic journey through life in general…one which mires him right back in death, via Lou Nathanson’s corpse, Domino’s test results, and Nick and Mandy’s shared, not-actually-ambiguous fate. (Namely, Victor Ziegler has them both killed.)

The implicit question hovering behind every event in Eyes Wide Shut (though Bill finally explicitly asks it at the end, long after it has ceased to matter) is what is Bill, and thereby his audience, supposed to make of all this? How does he reconcile all the chaos and confusion that greets him with the well-heeled stability of his daily life as a death-dealer doctor? Well, he has practice: doctoring brings him right up to the edge of the abyss on a daily basis, allowing him a glimpse at the Void before retreating into Alice’s warm, previously uncomplicated embrace. Her love and their marriage are beacons of, again, Immortal Thought, the idea of love and marriage bolstering the failing body (and, Kubrick whispers, its attendant moral breakdown).

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And for Bill, the Christmas Ball served much the same function: a safe (for him, that is) purging of unwelcome thoughts and feelings, a fake catharsis that allowed him vicarious access to a self-serving world of sex and possibility (sex often serving in Eyes Wide Shut as an open-ended metaphor for all varieties of terrifying liberation). He was then able to bring that energy home to Alice and her looking glass, unburdened by her nagging alienation and resentment. Bill is a tourist in the Outside, but will be forced to try to make a home there once Alice renders the Inside alien to him.

One more note before I actually look at the scene in question. There is a phenomenon here I think we’re all familiar with: the manner in which an exciting, exceptional night out fades into the watery gray of morning. Colors don’t pop as much without the dark of evening as contrast; every interaction seems more mediated, less genuine, more real and less true. It’s the journey from Saturday night to Monday morning (with Sunday church, in this case, serving as a structuring absence), emphasizing our emotional range not as a sign of experienced maturity, but as representative of the terrifying instability of our psyches. The man who emerges from that elevator is the Doctor Bill Harford that everyone knows, the public face inextricable from Tom Cruise’s own tabloid-staple mug. Is that the same man who knew Nick Nightingale in med school? Or the man who flirted with Gayle and Nuala? Or the man who revived Mandy? Or the man who then promptly abandoned her? Or the man who turned all of that into nothing more than fodder for sexytimes with the missus?

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Who is this man?

Fifty One

The morning after: welcome to a day in the life of the Harfords.

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Our first daytime shot in Eyes Wide Shut, a film that portrays Day and Night as practically different worlds (ones which perpetually transform the protagonists as well), is of an elevator door sliding open to reveal Doctor Bill. And “Doctor” is who he is, now–away from the shady services he provided for Victor and Mandy, away from the subtle psychological unmooring instigated by Nick and Gayle and Nuala, but also away from the ego-surrender-bliss he achieved in the previous night’s sex. He is back where he belongs: “show[ing] my face,” as he will put it that night after his ego, inextricable from his looks, has taken a foundational blow. He looks right, and his personal depths (such as they are) are caught up in this surface appeal.

Isn’t that what we ask of our doctors, after all? Isn’t that why we allowed for the modernist rise of hospitals, the encapsulation of intimate, individual needs within an anonymous and impersonal system? We want to be healed, of course, but even more we want to be reassured. We want to know that what is happening to us has happened to millions of people before us, that there is an inherited wisdom, a canon, that can contextualize the terrifying chaos unleashed upon us from within. We are our bodies, as Kubrick knows well, but our bodies betray us at every turn. Where do we locate our consciousness when we are failing from within? (See also Claire Denis’ phenomenally unsettling L’Intrus, a feature-length explication of this question and one of my favorite films of the last ten years.) Bill has so far been able to integrate his premodern instincts with his modernist sense of Self, but Alice will challenge that equilibrium by the evening’s end (“Millions of years of evolution, right?…If you men only knew…”) Bill’s office, then, is both a bastion of Immortal Thought and a temple to Mortal Decay, a cultural locus where the Individual and System meet and compare notes. As such, it is the ideal vessel for Kubrick’s sociological theses, as well as a subtle parallel to Victor’s bathroom, hidden behind the scenes of the gorgeous, life- and sex-affirming Christmas Ball. What is Christmas but a dual tribute to life and death, ringing in the new year while silently affirming the passage of the old? Christ’s birth is forever shadowed by his death, and his resurrection can seem cold comfort to those mortals left behind with their questions (see also: E.T.)

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Therein lies a central topic in Eyes Wide Shut that I’ve barely touched upon. Death, appropriately enough, is the terminus of many a Kubrick production. 2001 ends on images of Dave Bowman’s death and rebirth, and that of the human race he represents. The Shining both kills Jack and preserves his ghost in hellish immortality. Full Metal Jacket achieves symbolic orgasm when its intensely conflicted protagonist murders a fifteen-year-old female sniper. Dr. Strangelove does so with the atomic annihilation of the human race (and that orgasm is barely even metaphorical). Deepest and darkest of all, Barry Lyndon crawls to a close by stating, in onscreen text, that death and the distance of time have rendered (for modern audiences trapped in their own Space-Time Corridor) the three preceding hours of rise and fall, hope and betrayal and war and ambition and loss and wealth and even love, utterly flat and meaningless: “they are all equal now.” So, too, are the soldiers marching in horrible unison at the end of Full Metal Jacket, the hideously simpatico politicians and criminals at the close of Clockwork Orange, the smiling pre-corpses trapped behind glass in our last infernal vision of the Overlook, the planet of corpses left behind by Strangelove…and, last but not least, the married couple together again as the curtain falls on Eyes Wide Shut (and on Kubrick, closing his career on his most intimate expression) somehow simultaneously transformed and untouched by their experiences, agreeing to rebuild their marriage around willful blindness and self-deceit. EWS mines a sex-death conflation not dissimilar to Strangelove, but played more as tragedy than comedy (although the latter does inevitably worm its way in there).

Death is a fall back, a default, the universe’s own fail safe. For Kubrick, death represents the failure of hope, the end of individual ambition and progress. 2001, ever ambiguous, might represent a transcendence of this pessimistic pattern, offering as it does Dave Bowman a fresh start as the Star-Child, but then again, he only earns that position by killing his evolutionary competitor HAL. As Tim Kreider says in his shattering explication of Eyes Wide Shut‘s socioeconomic theses, “was there ever a Stanley Kubrick picture in which no one got killed?”

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The murder victim in EWS is Mandy, whose story is hidden and muddied by incomplete information (a key motif in the movie, especially its opaque second half) to mirror her invisibility and powerlessness within the movie’s social hierarchy. But death will still crop up in all sorts of unexpected ways as the larger story proceeds, meant to sap existential strength from Doctor Bill and force him to re-evaluate both his own life and the larger society he supports, not as his preferred reflection-free stream-of-consciousness, but as a System dominated by forces both economic and evolutionary (not to mention the insidious connections between the two), where death is employed as threat, punishment, and inevitability. The patriarchy wields violence, but succumbs to time’s slow attack from within. Death, then, both raises Eyes Wide Shut‘s stakes and purposefully deflates the tension; all of this is mortal. This, too, shall pass.

Fifty

Fifty! Well all right then!

I’ve finally reached the end of the Christmas Ball sequence, the first of Eyes Wide Shut‘s Three Evenings. So before I move on to the next segment (a day in the life of the Harfords), let’s recap what we’ve learned.

Eyes Wide Shut is the story of a rich couple–who are nonetheless cast as the servant class to the elite-of-the-elite Zieglers. The Harfords are sexy–although they quickly meet more entrancing, alluringly unreal suitors. Bill is smug and secure within his ego-armor as husband and doctor–until he finds a foil in Nick. Alice is alienated and unhappy–but far better off than her parallel-self Mandy. They return home from the Christmas Ball refreshed and eager to reconnect via fucking–but the evening’s memory hovers like a ghost.

So Eyes Wide Shut is a film about tipping points, about  futures forsaken, about standing on the edge of revelation and turning back, afraid of both the Void and the possibility it might act as a mirror. It is about characters that insidiously reflect aspects of our protagonists, both because the director designed it that way to make thematic points and because that’s how life actually works, if we’re honest enough to abandon the Promethean dream of pure individuality. It is about, as I have said over and over, both psychology and sociology, and the contact point between the two. The psychosis of the individual and the malaise of a society become difficult to tell apart, and people and events with no explicit connections among them are revealed as interrelated cogs in a sex-based underworld economy. People (Alice, Mandy, Nick, Marion, Domino, Milich’s unnamed daughter, the nudes at the orgy, and ultimately Bill himself) are treated as objects. Any moral or existential reaction is quickly suppressed–or repressed, the latter requiring no collective action at all, so ingrained are the movements of lust and shame.

This is a world designed to demand interpretation, but implemented by men (Victor and Red Cloak) in such a way as to resist interpretation. In other words, a system that hides itself. Certainly, much the same could be said of the mysterious monolith-makers in 2001 or the rapacious spirits haunting the Overlook Hotel, but they never hid the very fact of their existence in the manner of Eyes Wide Shut‘s patriarchy. They just refused to divulge their goals and methods to the helpless little mortal puppets they manipulated. Kubrick’s last film, by contrast, is dedicated to exposing the mental and social blocks that have kept those hierarchies in place in spite of modernist attempts to overthrow them. And maybe those attempts have worked too well! They have merely forced the puppet masters to cloak themselves better, to put a smiling Clintonian face on the same old abuse, to provide just enough doubt and ambiguity (the supposedly open-to-all opportunity of the “free” market, coupled with the disingenuously individualist nature of modern psychology) to prevent the kind of revolution of thought and power that every Kubrick film anticipates, only to collapse in moral decay and death. Eyes Wide Shut brings it all back home, shorn of the fantastical and genre- or era-bound vessels in which Kubrick had previously clothed his critiques. There is no exit…and even if there is, we’ll give up looking before we find it.

All of this is rendered in a baroque, ravishing film style that nevertheless works to constantly throw its own beauty into question, both by revealing the rape and murder lurking behind the beauty (Clockwork Orange-style sociology) and by reflecting on the uncertainties and emotional/existential voids that beauty, whether in cinema or real life, cannot resolve and may only make worse (Shining-style psychology). Setting imposes on and implicates the characters; the characters infest and infiltrate the setting, albeit some with more skill than others. Individual and System. What do our little chimp brains do when confronted with their own limits? What do systems do when confronted with the glorious, horrible spectacle of an ego unchained? How does one build a story around these ideas without falling into didactic lectures that leave the audience informed but uneducated…how do we make it real? How do we expose what is hidden while acknowledging that its ability to hide itself is what truly matters, making the intertwined struggles of building a better society and building a better person so fiendishly difficult? How do we get the flashlight to shine on itself?

Eyes Wide Shut is about being faced with your tininess in time. It’s about ineffable forces moving through you and leaving your will and consciousness and identity adrift, buffeted.

I hope not for answers, but merely for better questions. Like Kubrick, no matter how deeply I bury my Jewish ancestry in the name of modernist atheism, the Talmudic instincts come roaring back. Stanley Kubrick was a man passionately dedicated to exploring a society he seemed to want no part of, and I can relate.