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Eyes Wide Shut

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Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is a film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novella Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. The film stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were a real-life husband and wife at the time of the production. Kubrick passed away shortly after completing the editing of the film. After a long shooting schedule, the film was released to a mixed critical reaction.

Contents

Synopsis

The storyline follows the surreal, possibly imagined, sexual adventures and misadventures of Bill Harford (Cruise), who is in shock after his wife, Alice, (Kidman) reveals that she has considered an affair, and which culminates in his admittance to a bizarre orgy held in a mysterious mansion. The orgy sequence contains some of the most explicit portrayals of consensual sex in mainstream cinema.

Interpretations

The film's puzzling narrative has inspired several interpretations, many of which see the film as a psychological allegory rather than as a straightforward drama.

Eyes Wide Shut and Schnitzler's Dream Story

Eyes Wide Shut is a fairly faithful adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle (or Dream Story), but it leaves out one important piece of information that might have served as the key to understanding it. In Schnitzler's novella, Fridolin, the Bill Harford equivalent, is told by his wife that she first began to fantasize about infidelity while they were on holiday in Denmark. When Fridolin goes on his strange journey and arrives at the masked ball, the password is "Denmark". This could very well indicate that Fridolin's journey is a dream and is not meant to be interpreted literally, but Schnitzler leaves such a conclusion unresolved.

In Eyes Wide Shut, the password is changed to "Fidelio", a word that hints at the theme of marital fidelty, but does not indicate clearly that Bill's journey is a dream. ("Fidelio" is also the name of Beethoven's only opera which, appropriately, has matrimonial fidelity as its subject matter. See A Clockwork Orange for more allusions to Beethoven by Kubrick.) Reading the journey as a dream helps to justify the story's more bizarre events, in particular the fact that every woman Bill meets falls in love with him; it enables us to interpret the journey as a dream of wish-fulfillment sparked by Bill's jealousy of Alice's fantasies. However, Kubrick seems to have preferred to leave this interpretation ambiguous rather than concrete; in addition, if Bill is dreaming, the script makes it unclear where and when the dream begins and ends. Furthermore, Kubrick introduced Alice's dream, in which she too appears to have gone on an even more strange and allegorical journey, one that makes Bill's journey seem relatively realistic.

Kubrick's downplaying of the dreamlike nature of Bill's journey made the film more open to interpretation, but also meant that more literal-minded viewers did not recognize its story as an allegory, finding it merely silly and implausible.

Jungian interpretation

Kubrick's films often deal with the subconscious and the impulses of the Id. When the savage impulses of "the Shadow" (from the psychological theories of Carl Jung), are not integrated with the conscious life, madness results. Kubrick said that he was interested profoundly in the Shadow (the archetype of the savage) and how it emerges despite civilization. In Eyes Wide Shut, Alice describes her fantasy affair to Bill after the couple have been to a party where Bill had treated a prostitute for an overdose. Bill's old friend Nick (Todd Field) tells him about a sexual underworld where men of absolute power have an absolute access to women, and Bill decides to explore this world. He moves into the circle of the Shadow, and he sees the ruthless, remorseless, and violent nature of power as sex and sex as power. He views the naked masculinity of the subconscious through a mask. He returns to his wife, confessing all (although he was never adulterous). At the end of the movie, she seems to forgive him and says that the two must immediately go home and have sex. In a sense, the couple have integrated their psyches. They have both seen and experienced their Shadows and decided to go on.

Stylistic features

Missing image
Eyes_wide_shut_film_poster.jpg
Poster artwork. Kubrick used the Futura Extra Bold typeface in the publicity materials and credit sequences of many of his films.

Cinematography and mise-en-scne

Kubrick adopted several stylistic conventions in Eyes Wide Shut. As with Barry Lyndon, he photographed "Eyes Wide Shut" using natural or source lighting, and made extensive use of Christmas lights (the story is set in the Christmas season). The colours red, blue, yellow and green feature predominantly in the film. This is enhanced by the use of Christmas decorations. It is often suggested that the colour scheme is an important symbolic schemata. This theory has weight, considering the four 'modern art' posters in the hospital hallway which individually consist of these colours (suggesting a consonance of location and symbolic meaning) and Kubrick's reputation as a master of detail. More simply it may suggest the primal or basic nature of the thematic content. Shop-fronts and street signs also express a quasi-semiotic meaning in that they convey information to an observant audience that the characters are unaware of. For example, before Bill enters the prostitute's apartment building, they stop at a store with the sign 'The Lotto Shop', perhaps indicating that he is gambling with his health.

Narrative structure

The story follows a dramatic structure of leaving the familiar world, entering situations that are in some way an otherworld, and returning to the familiar world. In the third part of the movie, Bill revisits the scenes of the adventures he had the night before. This is reminiscent of the structure Kubrick used in A Clockwork Orange, in which the character Alex revisits each of the locations at which he performed violent acts in the first part of that movie. Each location of Dr. Bill's unactualized sexuality is stripped of sexual mystique.

Critical response

Critics objected chiefly to two features of the film. First, the movie's pacing is slow. While this may have been intended to convey the nature of dreaming, critics objected that it simply made actions and decisions laborious. Second, reviewers commented on the fact that Kubrick had shot his New York City scenes in a studio and that New York didn't "look like New York."

Lee Siegel, writing in Harper's (http://www.indelibleinc.com/kubrick/films/ews/reviews/harpers.html), felt that most critics responded mainly to the marketing campaign and were unable to address the film on its own terms.

American censorship controversy

Citing contractual obligations to deliver an R-rating, Warner Brothers digitally altered the orgy scene for the American release of Eyes Wide Shut, blocking out images of explicit sexuality. This alteration of Kubrick's vision antagonized many cinephiles, as they argued that Kubrick had never been shy about ratings: A Clockwork Orange had an X-rating.

In contrast to their usual behaviour, the British Board of Film Classification allowed Eyes Wide Shut to be released to British cinemas without the need for the digital alterations seen in US cinemas. The film was rated 18, viewable only by those aged 18 and over.

Music

  • The film's title music is "Waltz 2" from Shostakovich's Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra, for years misidentified as the composer's Jazz Suite 2, recorded and released under the latter, incorrect, name by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
  • In the scene with the strange ritual, the incantations heard in the background are actually christian prayers sung in romanian, played in reverse.
  • One of the recurring pieces of music in the film is the eerie second movement of Gyorgy Ligeti's piano cycle "Musica Ricercata". The piece is unusual in that it uses only three notes (plus octave displacements). The choice of Ligeti is interesting because Kubrick used Ligeti's Atmospheres in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey without obtaining Ligeti's consent, much to the composer's dismay.

Trivia

  • Kubrick had long been interested in doing a film version of Schnitzler's story; at one point he apparently considered adapting it as a comedy, with Steve Martin in the lead role.
  • During the long shooting schedule, actors Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh dropped out, and were replaced by Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson, respectively.
  • Director Stanley Kubrick died just four days after presenting Warner Bros. with what was reported to be a final cut of the film.

External links

Template:Kubrickde:Eyes Wide Shut es:Eyes Wide Shut fr:Eyes Wide Shut it:Eyes Wide Shut nl:Eyes Wide Shut ja:アイズ・ワイド・シャット pt:Eyes Wide Shut sv:Eyes Wide Shut

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