Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Also directed: Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, Full Metal Jacket

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Alan Cummings, Rade Serbedzija, Vinessa Shaw, Marie Richardson, Leelee Sobieski

Viewed at: The Beacon Cinema

The opening scene is Bill and Alice Hartford getting ready for an upscale outing and paying their babysitter. Immediately the camera’s eye draws us in with Nicole Kidman disrobing, changing dresses – her raw confidence and sensuality perfectly setting the stage for a thrilling series of events.

The story takes off at Victor Ziegler’s decadent Christmas party in his string-lit, mansion. Bill and Alice separate and are both seduced by strangers without restraint.

She reaches absently for her champagne glass… and finds she is holding – or touching – a man’s hand.

I think that’s my glass.

I’m absolutely certain of it.

Eyes Wide Shut screenplay published on this UK Stanley Kubrick fan site

These first scenes show us the strength of Bill and Alice’s relationship while perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the film. The dialogue is unforgettable – beginning a flurry of humor and melodrama.

(Credit: thequietus.com)

The film escalates fairly quickly despite the spacious, slow pace of most of the scenes adding up to the 2h39m run time. Bill is asked to come upstairs to resuscitate a drugged-up prostitute. Here, we see Bill’s kindness, as well as his willingness to protect the elite and keep up appearances. We also get a small glimpse into how selfish and awful Ziegler is, trying to get this recovering girl out of his house as soon as possible to protect his scandalous secret life.

(Credit: screenmusings.org)

Arriving home – The production design by Leslie Tomkins of this New York apartment and all of the other locations is outstanding, such beautiful use of color and detail – Alice and Bill make love and the next day go about their typical routine, showing us more of their relationship. Bill’s tired from work, Alice is tired from taking care of their daughter, both irritable. That night, they smoke pot and get into a (9-page) heated debate beginning and ending with seething jealousy. He infuriates her with his oversimplified, masculine point of view, though he repeatedly says in one way or another that her points are “black and white.” According to him, men only talk to women because they want to have sex with them – but he’s the exception. They both make some good points. The conversation goes in circles, yet persistently drives to Alice’s final point that pushes Bill to madness and a world of trouble – she once considered an affair.

(Credit: filmaffinity.com)

Bill is pulled away by one of my favorite scenes of all time – he gets a house call from Marion, the daughter of a dying old man. I felt this scene illustrated the false, doctorly face (or mask) Bill has to put on for his job. He assures Marion that her father died without pain, then expressses his full sympathy and an overly optimistic congratulations at her news that she’s getting married and moving to Oklahoma (“You’re going to love it there.”). We also see how the world is, perhaps, trying to pull the mask off of him – Marion quickly shifts to confess her love to him, saying she wants to leave her boyfriend, Carl, and stay close to Bill. This scene, again, has gorgeous, dramatic, backlight that accentuates the green color of the production design and brings the actor’s emotions to life.

Reading through the screenplay, you see how this film was intended to be more of a comedy than the drama it ended up. There are funny voiceover monologues like this sprinkled through the screenplay – Bill condescendingly making fun of people.


I certainly do remember Carl. So she’s
going to marry him, Bill thought to
himself. I wonder why? She surely
can’t be in love with him. He’s nothing
to look at, and he hasn’t got any
money… He’s just an assistant in
professor of something or other… But
then it’s none of my business. Still… if
she were my mistress, her hair would be
less dry and her lips would be fuller and redder.

The final film doesn’t use voiceover, but rather has Bill repeatedly flashing his doctor ID badge at people to joke at his pompous side. In this film babble blog post, they discuss how Kubrick wanted to cast the likes of Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and Woody Allen for Bill’s character.

(Credit: www.apotpourriofvestiges.com)

From there, Bill stops at a club to watch his old friend Nick’s jazz performance – unexpectedly inciting the whole story when he answers a call and writes “Fidelio” on a napkin. There’s an interesting discussion on class throughout the film – Nick and Bill met in medical school before Nick dropped out.

You know how it is, once a doctor,
always a doctor.
In my case, never a doctor, never a

Bill can’t resist his curiosity. He’s naive and doesn’t realize how much trouble he’s about to get himself into. We go on to see how this fateful night affects not only Bill, but everyone he speaks to that night, and his relationship with Alice.

One scene I had qualms with was the mysterious man following him on the street as he walks towards the newsstand, it homages horror tropes and does it well, but I remember feeling bored and unsure here. On that note, I present you with a visual argument against my point (that apparently, the negative reviews of the time made as well), Dream Walking. The plotting and tension unravel gloriously past that.

(Credit: talkyoubored.wordpress.com)

The film centers around Bill imagining Alice with the Naval Officer she considered having an affair with. This potential infidelity pushes him to even the playing field. When he comes home from the underground sex mansion, Alice tells him she dreamed something quite similar to where he just was – only she was laughing sleeping with these men and was laughing at him. I think the laughing at him symbolizes Alice’s subconscious desire to emasculate Bill, perhaps, because he has more power in the relationship being the breadwinner or because she has desires outside of the marriage.

(Credit: filmandfurniture.com)

This scene has such a great payoff. There are several powerful ones in this film, great writing overall with quippy dialogue and pointed plotting. We see in this scene that it’s a good thing, a true relief, that Bill only toyed with the idea of infidelity and how dramatic and irreversible his consequences could have been if he would’ve gone through with it.

(Credit: birthmoviesdeath.com)

At the end, in their final tying-up conversation, I feel that it’s insinuated that Alice could’ve been part of the sex circle. A hot take, but I stand by it.

I think we should both be grateful that we have come unharmed out of all our adventures, whether they were real or only a dream.

And no dream is entirely a dream.

(Credit: gointothestory.blcklst.com)

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