Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eyes Wide Shut: Adventures In Dreamland

Kicking off my first movie blog in a while I would like to throw some thoughts down about Eyes Wide Shut.  When Eyes Wide Shut came out I remember hearing something different from everyone that viewed the film. Some hated it profusely calling it overindulgent, incomprehensible, hedonistic and signs that old man Kubrick had gone insane. Many had concluded the latter because of the well publicized fact that Kubrick kept his actors on his London estate for two years during filming.  Others said it was brilliant and a perfect send off for a film genius. I saw the film after it had been out a year or so and I was blown away. I can't say I understood it - but I was happy not to This is a film, like all other Kubrick films, where you have to put yourself completely in the hands of the filmmaker and trust that he is going to guide you along knowledgeably and that he does indeed know where he's going.
That being said, I would like to discuss the meanings of the film, the colors, the plot, and the characters. First of all I feel to accurately view this film you have to look at it as a dream, or a parable. Esteemed critic and writer Roger Ebert calls it "an erotic daydream about chances missed and opportunities avoided".
In the films opening sequence, Doctor Bill and Alice Hartford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) are attending a fancy ball for Manhattan socialites. Kubrick lights the entire scene with white Christmas lights while ballroom music plays softly in the background. Immediately the glow of the lights and music place us in a warm surrounding that also has a floating dreamlike quality. Underneath this warmth and comfort we can sense tension of the unknown.  Cruise is then propositioned by two beautiful women while Kidman is simultaneously preyed upon as she dances with a charming and devilish older Hungarian man. He questions her about her marriage and says: "Is it as bad as all of that?" She replies :"It's as good as all of that." Neither The Doctor or his wife have a reason to doubt their marriage or one another. They don't pause at being propositioned - because they are confident and have their needs met (or so they think.) Then Doctor Hartman is called up to a room where his friend who is throwing the party ,Victor (Sydney Pollack) needs help with a hooker has overdosed. A red pool table is at the center of the room - an obvious symbol here of danger. The threat of danger is getting bolder and now the story is set up for just about anything. That evening, in the privacy of their bedroom, the Hoffman's get stoned in their underwear and Alice tells Bill about a fantasy she had of a sailor she had once passed in a hotel lobby. She embellishes this fantasy to the point of picking a fight with Bill. The cause for this sudden need for a confrontation on their fidelity is unknown, except that it was brought up earlier in the evening and perhaps unearthed some buried feelings and insecurities in Alice. As she talks and continues to poke and antagonize Bill - a strong back light of blue is constantly framing her through the window,  with striking red curtains on either side. Kubrick makes this color choice so bold and obvious we can't ignore it. Blue perhaps representing the depth and mystery of what is happening in this room, and red, the danger of the fire behind it.
After this confrontation Dr. Hoffman wanders off into the night, maybe spurred into action by his wife's fantasy and seeking a fantasy of his own, or maybe just uneasy in his own skin for once and in need of something to comfort him. He goes to a night club - again we see the use of Christmas lights, but this time with shadows and highlights of bright lamps on cocktail tables. The camera movement is extremely important in supporting the "floating" dreamlike qualities of this movie as Doctor Bill is now becoming a bit like Alice in Wonderland.  Kubrick had his secrets that came from his roots as a photographer, and I know they must have been secrets because no one else can make a camera "float" through a room while capturing so much depth of light and shadows. Bill's friend plays piano at the night club and gives Bill the password to an orgy/party, where he must first purchase a costume before attending. This scene and each scene hereafter plays like it's own short film. The characters appear only once, isolated in their individual scenes and these scenes only connect with the rest of the film because Kubrick allows them to.  That's perhaps the key to the dream element of the film's structure. When we have dreams, characters come in and out of the dream with no real connection, sometimes we know them and their relationship to out dream world, sometimes not. Cruise meets a prostitute (with whom he has no sex), a costume dealer who may be offering the services of his young daughter as well as costumes, and then arrives at the films destination -a secret orgy that is about as non sexual as an orgy can be. After Kubrick's death this elaborate sequence was edited for an R rating, though I agree with many others who wish it had been left alone and released as an NC-17. The digital editing blurs genitalia and adds hooded figures to block the activities. The editing certainly interrupts the composition and the depth of the camera's general movement throughout the room. I wonder what Kubrick would have thought of this?

Oddly enough this is the film's most elaborate sequence but what occurs is not really the point of the film. It is the film's destination but it is also not the real destination at all. This is a detour for Doctor Bill, a detour into danger and a necessary detour for himself.  Another unique element of this film's structure, we are lead through a maze and adventure where we feel there is a real threat and danger and we fear for our hero, but when we arrive Kubrick holds on and expands upon those feelings while never truly paying them off.  There is a masked, cloaked figure who rules over the orgy proceedings ,naked women kneel around him in a circle and he chants something ancient and foreboding. Doctor Bill wanders through the mansion, taking it in, exchanging mysterious words with a few of the attendees.
The true destination, is home...when Doctor Bill arrives home, back to his port. This is also the film's most controversial moment.  Nothing has really been resolved but before going to bed he finds a mask, identical to the one he wore at the orgy. The mask is on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. The colors in the room are blue and purple - moonlight coming through the window. No reds, no yellows. Now is the time for those of you who have read this far to give me your opinions and insights as to what you think this means. Kubrick certainly left this open. What does the mask mean? Was she at the orgy? Does she know where he went? Is this her way of saying we are okay now that you are safe and home. I think Kubrick ended this film on a high note of warmth and comfort because we and the character's deserved it. This was a scary journey and The Hoffman's are safe in the shelter of their marriage. Kidman said she saw the film as optimistic, and I completely agree. What are your thoughts readers?


  1. that is a very astute analysis of a work of art! impressive interpretation of the color role. I am sure that Kubrick is winking at you right now! I will have to see the movie again after that with a very different eye! I really like the sensitivity and insight of your thesis.

  2. That is very sweet Maria! I would like to think Kubrick is winking at me - I truly wish I could dscuss this movie with him. However, I think he would tell me "figure it out"

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