Eyes Wide Shut movie poster

"What one is left with is a riveting, thematically probing, richly atmospheric and just occasionally troublesome work, a deeply inquisitive consideration of the extent of trust and mutual knowledge possible between a man and a woman." -Todd McCarthy, Variety

And so, we come to the end. "Eyes Wide Shut," released in 1999, was Kubrick's first picture in 12 years, and it was ultimately his last, having died just four days after screening for his family and producers the final cut of the film. According to biographer Michel Ciment in his book "Kubrick: The Definitive Edition", Kubrick worked 18-hour days for 15 months, forced by his perfectionism to finish the film as he visioned it in time for it's release. He died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 70, and Ciment believes that he worked himself to death. The film was released three months later. Kubrick, having died a legend, inadvertently caused the type of hype for the movie that he worked hard to avoid. I'm sure you're tired of me saying this, but more on that later.

Based on the novella "Traumnovelle" by Arthur Schnitzler, the film follows upper-class couple Bill and Alice Harford (played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who at the time were married in real life) and the temptations of infidelity they face. When Alice tells Bill about an affair she contemplated having a year prior to the film, it sends the faithful Bill on a nightlong journey of sexual adventures. The death of a patient puts him in contact with a grief-stricken yet enraptured widow, a chance encounter with a prostitute puts Bill's loyalty to the test. The "come-hither" eyes of a promiscuous teenager assault Bill's morality. Finally, an old friend leads Bill to a secret sex cult that puts himself and his family in danger.

Mood and Themes

A reoccurring scene throughout the film is a black-and-white dream that plays out in Bill's imagination of Alice being ravished by the sailor she almost threw away their marriage for. This motif helps convey to the audience that the events of the film may in fact just be that, a dream. This dream-like mood attaches itself to every aspect of the film once Bill begins his sexual adventures. After his encounter with the widow, Bill himself seems to aimlessly wander as if he was day-dreaming, lost in a haze with the audience lost with him. The events of the night have little connecting thread as well and are patently outrageous. Kubrick fills the frame with dim and ambient lighting, a dirty and artificially twilit atmosphere that projects the sexual temptations that lie in us all.

The main theme of the movie is of an adult and sexual nature, if that wasn't already apparent by the overt sexuality of every character major and minor. Humans can't completely resist the temptations of the flesh, yet they try and bury the flame of sex beneath the masks we wear in our daily lives.

Masks are a symbol that Kubrick uses to illustrate this point; Bill must don and hood and mask in order to enter the sex cult, where everyone hides their true identity so as to not bring their transgressions into the daylight. Once Bill finds his mask on his marital bed, a message from the leaders of the cult to forget the things he has seen, he breaks down and tells Alice everything, ashamed that he could barely resist his sexual nature.

Use of Music

Two scenes stand at the forefront of my mind when thinking about the music used in this film. The first of which is Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," a gritty rock song that strums its way through the movie as Bill and Alice undress and get ready to have sex. It's a hard tonal shift, as previous scenes utilized classical pieces and smooth jazz. Once Isaac's voice begins to growl, the audience knows that, oh yeah, it's ON. However, the scene fades quickly, leaving the audience to imagine what kind of wild sex they might have had. Listen here and use your own imagination.

Warning, the following clip is NSFW (Not Safe For Work)

The second scene is the hallmark of the movie, that of Bill's witnessing of the sex cult and it's bizarre rituals. The piece is titled "Masked Ball" by Jocelyn Pook. It's a strange piece, consisting of a minimalist melody and backwards chanting, but it's nothing if not incredibly effective. What Bill and the audience is seeing is something not out of a dream, but a nightmare. A masked priest stands in the center of an expansive room, encircled by statuesque naked women, gyrating in unison while countless other masked individuals watch in silence. Bill's friend is in the background playing the piano, blindfolded so he doesn't witness what is transpiring. The music is hypnotic. It's perhaps one of the best images Kubrick had ever constructed, and it lingers with the viewer like a bad dream.

Historical Context

As I hinted at in the beginning of this analysis, "Eyes Wide Shut" arrived in theaters following a great deal of controversy, not just because of the untimely death of its creator. The film's frank display of nudity and adult themes shocked it's producers, and they edited and altered key parts, something Kubrick would never have allowed if he were alive, so that the film could be released to theaters without an NC-17 rating.

Professor Turim has a some say on the matter of the film's mixed reaction, as well as some final thoughts on "Eyes Wide Shut" as a culmination of Kubrick's body of work.

She brings up a great point. When looking at the whole of Kubrick's filmography (and not just the three films discussed here), an interest in sex in all its form is apparent in many of them, from the violent gang rapes in "A Clockwork Orange" to the Vietnamese hookers in "Full Metal Jacket." Kubrick spent years trying to make this film, for reasons no one could accurately say but himself. Yet it stands on it's own as a great piece of cinema, one of twelves pictures made by one man that each had an incalculable effect on the world. I don't know if there will ever be another Stanley Kubrick, but his movies will live on long after his passing. Probably mine, too.