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Eyes Wide Shut: A Dark Drama of Inevitable Desires

Updated on August 28, 2018

The last piece of renowned director Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut is an acclaimed drama of 1999. Narrating the story of a young, handsome and well-off doctor, his marriage and experiences he goes through, the film tells about two things we crave throughout our lives; money, and sex. Eyes Wide Shut, at my first watch, was not a very open film in that I couldn’t come up with any explanation to what happened throughout the film. In my second and then following screenings, with far more readings, I came to realize a lot of movies and where Kubrick stands. He shows us an evil world with all kind of immoralities, thinking of cheating your beloved husband, selling your daughter, getting high with coke, a world in which you can do anything with, and for money. This degeneration is acknowledged by everyone in the film, except our handsome protagonist, Bill. Kubrick creates a dark drama of inevitable desires and put Bill just in the middle of them and make us watch how he goes a night-long journey which is a representation of the very world we live in. This journey theme can also be interpreted from a religious perspective, the journey of a human in a satanic world, if he is wise enough, even if he gets closer to Satan, he will successfully go to paradise in the end.


When you start analyzing the film, even the poster, from scratch, tells us a lot. We see, Alice and Bill, the former’s eyes are wide open, while the latter’s are shut. That is, when the film starts, even though we notice it later, Alice is already aware of things, she is aware that world is full of evil deeds, everyone has dark desires, while Bill has no idea at all about anything. He is not affected by any sexual images, offers or people.This approach is crucial as it is one of the main reasons why Bill goes through that dangerous chamber of experiences and thus Kubrick came up with this film. It is vital that we should not miss how Kubrick emphasizes on money because that also represents social classes, their ways of having fun and poverty.

Let’s think about Bill. He is a well-off doctor whose fame is gradually increasing. He treats super rich people and thus gets invited to their parties. He has merits that make him shine among the super-rich. He has an apartment in New York City, a gracious one and they hire a nanny. All these indicate information about in which social class Bill and his family represent, it is of course middle-high. The relationship of Alice, an art curator which is a job that works almost solely to high classes, and Bill, a super-rich doctor, is very much the representation of middle-high class family. Any information was given to any character in the film also informs us about their social classes and monetary power. Nick the pianist, for example, is not poor yet not any near to being well off. Indeed we see super rich and how they live, dance and fantasizes. That party outside the city is a manifestation of their social class and money, and it’s not surprising that they spot Bill, the gentleman who keeps taxi waiting. You can’t go there with a taxi. This is the clash of the higher social class and the one that always has to work only in order to be invited to their fake parties, but never true ones. There we have it; the money is a crucial aspect of this film.

The second subject given so clearly by Kubrick is sex. The climax, without doubt, the orgy scene in the palace, a clear, naked, right in the face truth about that world. Everyone, rich, poor, middle class, super rich, craves for sex. After Alice tells about her fantasies, Bill’s shut eyes got opened and through his eyes, we observe a world based on sex, hedonism, looking for someone available. Wherever Bill goes, we catch a glimpse of it, whichever door he knocks, someone to hit on comes across. Even in the first party scene, two models invite him, and Sandor invites Alice, to upstairs. Everyone hits on other people’s partners. Sex or sexuality-related scenes are always there, even when Bill aimlessly wanders in the streets, and encounter a group of young men, he is called a homosexual. This scene may also be related to gender roles and masculinity, as previously, Bill confessed that women wouldn’t cheat on their husband, they are about security and commitment. This is how even his own masculinity and ideas about genders are shaken. It is the direct opposite of Hungarian man, Sandor’s reference to Ovid’s Art of Love, an ancient book on how to find a woman for man, and his interpretation about it, “Women used to marry only to lose their virginity and have sex with anyone they want.” Bill believes Alice's role is that of his wife and the mother of his child. Alice doesn't see herself that way, she sees herself as more. When Bill suggests that men want to be with her because she's beautiful, she is hurt, since this ignores all her other attributes, her intelligence, her personality. Kubrick examines our expectations of people, particularly women. For example, the owner of the costume shop finds his teenage daughter with two grown men and he threatens to call the police suggesting that she's underage. This is the reaction that we expect from a father finding that two men want to have sex with his daughter, but later Bill learns the truth the father is selling his daughter for sex and he also implies that Bill could have his way with the young girl for the right price. Showing altered expectations of sex and roles, Eyes Wide Shut is a densely layered nightmare about modern relationships and gender roles, expectations and sex.

We live in such a money-centered society that each degeneration destroys every human value. We, in the beginning, identify ourselves with Bill who has completed his studies and become a successful doctor, with a beautiful wife and child. As I’ve said before, Bill is the only innocent-”looking” character at that moment, we identify with him, because we believe the world has some good values that worth living for. But then, as that innocence fades away, we realize that we deceive ourselves, and we crave for those inevitable desires.

Even if you graduate from the best schools, you serve the super-rich; you become entangled in their dirty world. Kubrick even almost says that the money is dirty, and the more there is, the dirtier it gets. So long as you want the money, you get in the dirt. That’s inevitable; you shall want it, you shall get dirty. That’s how pessimist the world we live in shown in Eyes Wide Shut by Kubrick, he wants us to ask ourselves, what are the probabilities that we get in that dirt? You think you are innocent, well you are not, you can be for a short time, but you definitely will not be the moment you glimpse at that chaotic world, and your mask will fall down.

If we go through the music of Eyes Wide Shut, we immediately see Dmitri Shostakovich’s Waltz Number 2 as used in opening, ending and various places throughout the film. Waltz is an Australian ball dance, generally including one man and one woman. Being together is very important within any dance piece, and this one really shows the whole varied orchestra working together to create music that people can move to. When you look back to the history of the waltz, you see that by the end of First World War, the waltz is now something lost, forgotten and nobody composes or plays waltz. Then Shostakovich comes and writes Suite for Variety Orchestra which includes Waltz Number 2. Different than conventional waltz, Shostakovich’s work comes as something sorrowful, something reminiscent of what was in the past, even like a requiem for a waltz. We see jazzy tunes with saxophone, it shows how people changed and their habits, too. Shostakovich creates a monumental piece for the remembrance of the waltz. Kubrick, by using it at the very end, tells us something like, yes, we will continue doing the waltz, but knowing that it’s actually dead, it’s only a facade. The name of the movie is Eyes Wide Shut, the combination of an idiom, eyes wide open, and shut; this is why the movie is named that way, because after going through all that experiences, Bill is, at the end of the film, aware. His eyes got wide open. As Alice does for some time, Bill, to be able to continue his relationship with her, has to keep his eyes shut. Interesting film. It tells about the importance of bonds, it tells that however strong the bond is, stronger the desire to break it, but then, it ends with Waltz Number 2, indicating that, keep going in that relationship is just facade. Complicated. Just like our lives, “modern” lives.

While we are talking about the music, another piece worthy of mentioning is Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata 2. An intense, dark and menacing one. It is very far away from the traditional classical music and its use is important in two scenes. First, the interrogation scene, non-diegetically, it adds to the atmosphere of the scene a lot and Kubrick, being a director who knows a lot about music, shoots the scene just parallel to the music. It is also important that the name of the movement, Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale. There are two notes in the piece as there are two people speaking in the scene, Bill and Red Cloak Guy. Its second use is even more of Kubrick. When Bill wanders in the streets aimlessly, we hear Ricercata again non-diegetically, this time serves as a mental music, building a wall with all flashy, red stores in the streets, and Bill in deep thoughts of jealousy, hatred, and revenge.

By the way, while we are talking about the music, Kubrick comes up with a delicate reference when Nick writes down the password, Fidelio, for the secret meeting. It is not only the password for the entrance, but also it is the very name of Ludwig van Beethoven’s only opera. In the opera, there is a protagonist called Leonore who is disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio," and who rescues her husband, Florestan from death. This directly foreshadows the interrogation scene where Mandy sacrifices herself to save Bill. Therefore, that’s how Kubrick salutes Beethoven and art lover audience.

The last piece I’d like to mention is Masked Ball by Jocelyn Pook, who is also the musical director of the film. It is taken from a hymn sung in Romanian, and Jocelyn turned its lyrics backward and got this creepy and ceremony like music. It adds to the dark and satanic atmosphere of the scene a lot. Because we identify with Bill, we get tensed and affected by the ceremony and diegetic music of Jocelyn Pook. Playing backward a hymn may symbolize that in that world Satan rules. We can also say that the reason he goes to that secret satanic orgy is meeting with Nick, he gives him the password and details, and later in that scene, he introduces the ceremony and that world by playing the music there.

All in all, Eyes Wide Shut is a dark drama of inevitable desires, supported by on-the-point music, acting and one mind of a genius director. It’s a dark satire about our lives, our relationships, our inevitable desires for earning money and having sex, our necessity to have a bond with someone, and freaking desire to break that bond. It shows the naked truth about our daily lives, values and assumptions about people. It has even some religious axis towards the end. That is, when we pair Bill with Adam, and Alice with Eve, we see a parallelism. Eve takes the apple eats from it and gives it to Adam who also eats from it and gains consciousness. Same way, Alice evokes Bill and he gains consciousness about the life he lives in. Before ending, here is a fun fact, because it was the last film of Stanley Kubrick, really, what an ironic end, the very last word of his film career, was fuck.

© 2018 Onur Kavalcı

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