Filmsite Movie Review
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
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Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is legendary director Stanley Kubrick's highly-anticipated, last completed film. It was titled 'Eyes Wide Shut' to imply self-contradictory opposites: at first being exposed or tempted, and then reflexively turning away, denying or retreating. The complex, profound, and lengthy film (at 2 hours and 39 minutes) was an exploration and confessional of marital infidelity, betrayal, jealousy, trust, erotic desire-obsession and gamesmanship. It was a troubled production that took over three years to come to fruition. The filming of the movie broke records for being the longest continuous film shoot - at 400 consecutive days, or 46 weeks without a pause.

Kubrick's thirteenth and final film was released posthumously in the summer (mid-July) of 1999 after his sudden death a few months earlier from a heart-attack - a death considered slightly suspicious because of its timing. His demise came shortly after the final original edit of the film (purportedly) was aired for Warner Bros.' executives who demanded about 24 minutes of editorial cuts. [Note: Conspiratorial theorists found it fascinating that Kubrick died 666 days before January 1, 2001, referencing the title of his acclaimed sci-fi film.] Later theorists speculated that Kubrick's objective in the film was to highlight or expose corruption amongst celebrities and elitist politicians (i.e., the Jeffrey Epstein case) in secret societies.

The dreamy, hypnotic, visually-beautiful, thought-provoking film was a sexy adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Rhapsody: A Dream Story) and was destined to become a Kubrick classic. More so than the sparse dialogue, all of the visual elements and compositions of the story were vitally important, including color schemes, lighting (with prominent scenes of Christmas-time lights), props (the masks in particular), street recreations, and the various components that portrayed either a dream state or real-life and provided clues about the film's underlying meaning.

Kubrick's master-work was especially notable for starring the sexy, celebrity real-life couple (at the time of filming, until their divorce in 2001) of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, as the film's two main characters who experienced sexual misadventures and marital disharmony: William "Bill" Harford (Tom Cruise), a prominent, affluent, social-climbing NYC physician, who was supposedly happily-married to his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), an ex-art gallery manager-curator in SoHo. [Note: The surname 'Harford' was a code-name alluding to stalwart American actor Harrison Ford.]

It was taglined simply with three words:

Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick.

Although it was condemned by some as misogynistic, out-of-touch, and uncompelling, the richly-layered story was about a Manhattan doctor (Cruise) in the late 20th century who, after attending a hedonistic, upper-class X-mas party (with threatening sexual circumstances) and hearing an emotional confession from his wife (Kidman), he similarly explored his own sexuality during tortuous, adventurous, nocturnal, dream-like journeys (including a visit to an upper-class, masked choreographed orgy function held by a secret society on Long Island). He was able to reinterpret, reexamine, and act out his own 'shadowy' dark side that was tempting him to throw away his respectable and upright domestic and professional life, and ultimately decided to veer away from a totally disastrous, immoral sexual path.

The most talked-about portion of the film was threatened with an NC-17 rating.The long sequence began with incantations by a high-priest, a circle of cloaked figures, and many naturally-endowed, almost-nude, G-stringed, masked females in an inner circle who were there to ritualistically service the masked men in anonymity and isolation. The stunning "Masked Ball" sequence included tracking shots of tuxedoed, caped, and masked Dr. Harford roaming through the ornate mansion's rooms filled with emotionless, loveless and sterile copulating couples (in a 69 sexual position, in a lesbian three-some, and other mechanical stances of intercourse). These scenes were heavily digitally edited and altered (or digitally censored, obscured and obstructed in various releases to prevent an NC-17 rating). In some instances, computer-generated people were placed over explicit sexual images in order to secure the R-rating. [Note: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) mocked the idea of teasingly blocking views of sexual body parts with strategically-placed objects.]

Kubrick's last film was completely denied a single Academy Award nomination. Although it was a box-office disappointment (with a production budget of $65 million), the film did modestly well, taking in $55.7 million (domestic) and $162 million (worldwide). It was the 42nd highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1999.

Plot Synopsis

The Opening Credits

During the stark opening credits (bold white letters on a black background), 'eyes' were immediately voyeuristically opened by a female's undressing sequence, in a posh Central Park West apartment. Two almost identical tennis-ball rackets rested in the corner (a doubling), while two sets of Doric columns framed her svelte body. In the brief attention-getting, intimate image filmed from the back, she and the red curtains (in a shape suggesting a stage or theater), below which were lots of pairs of shoes, were reflected in the dressing area's full-length mirror as her elegant black sheath dress fell to the floor over her black high heels, revealing her entire nakedness. Suddenly, the frame blacked out on her strip-tease to present the title screen - as if one's eyes had reflexively shut to mask out the naked image.

"Eyes Wide Open"

Bill's Inattentiveness to Alice

Both Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) and her wealthy husband, NYC doctor William "Bill" Harford (Tom Cruise) of nine years, dressed in a tuxedo, were preparing for a Christmas party. He was distracted from being attentive to his strikingly-beautiful wife, while looking for his misplaced wallet. The phrasing of his question: "Honey, have you seen my wallet?" suggested that Alice had married him for his money. Alice's first on-screen spoken line was significant - it emphasized that her persona was defined by her looks and beauty - seen voyeuristically:

How do I look?

Although Bill complimented her looks and hair while she sat on the toilet behind him (overly comfortable with each other in their marriage without secrets), she noted that he was inattentive and not even looking at her ("You're not even looking at it"). He finally turned to her and said: "You always look beautiful." As they strutted toward the living room, Bill asked for the baby-sitter's name, although she had told him her name 20 seconds earlier. They spoke briefly with their baby-sitter Roz (Jackie Sawiris) who was attending to their seven year-old red-haired daughter Helena (Madison Eginton). The young girl was wearing a winged fairy-angel costume over her pink PJs. [Note: In Greek myth, Helen was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world.] Alice was again complimented by Roz for her looks: "Wow, you look amazing, Mrs. Harford!" Helena begged to watch "The Nutcracker" on TV beginning at 9 pm - a fanciful tale about a young girl who dreamt that her toys came to life - including one wooden nutcracker that transformed into a life-sized prince.

There was the first view of Christmas lights in their living room - a significant recurring symbol throughout the film. [Notice that behind the Harford's Christmas tree was a painting of a wide golden avenue (like The Wizard of Oz's yellow brick road) ascending between rows of thick, dark green trees on either side. It was the director's wife, Christiane Kubrick's "View from the Mentmore."] (Much of the colorful artwork on the walls of the Harford apartment, undoubtedly decorated by Alice, depicted 'Garden of Eden' representations of flowers or food - they had possibly come from the defunct art gallery where Alice used to work.)

[Note: Her name 'Alice' was possibly a reference to the main character in Alice in Wonderland who escaped to Wonderland through her Looking-Glass (Mirror).]

Multiple Examples of Beautiful Wife Alice Maintaining Her Looks
Before Looking-Glasses (Mirrors)

Dressing Room Mirror

Preparing For Ziegler Party


Mother/Daughter Mirrored Preening

Contemplating Smoking Pot Hidden in Mirror Cabinet

The Ziegler Christmas Party

At the annual, fashionable Christmas party (a week before the holiday) of high-society elites held at the Ziegler apartment on Madison Avenue in mid-town Manhattan, Alice and Bill walked through the hallway and entryway (dazzingly lit by Christmas lights of various shapes and illuminated walls of glittering bulbs in a waterfall pattern), accompanied by the playing of "I'm in the Mood For Love." The two met their gracious host Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) and his wife Illona (Leslie Lowe) in a red dress with diamonds, in the expansive stairwell entrance in front of a gigantic statue. [It was known as Bergonzoli's "The Love of Angels" - a replica of the Greek statue of two angelic figures: Cupid (Eros) and Psyche.] Victor was entranced by Alice's looks - the third instance of the mention of Alice's appearance, and fussed obsessively over her beauty: "Alice, look at you! God, you're absolutely stunning! And I don't say that to all the women..." Illona downplayed her husband's compliment by disagreeing with him.

[Note: This initial scene was the first of two similar parties/orgies that were filled with sexual intrigue. The sophisticated Ziegler party was actually a 'mask' for hidden instances of 'models' (or hookers), drug-use, and promiscuous couplings, whereas the second orgy party was completely overt in terms of hedonistic sexuality, minus any colorful Christmas decorations and socially-accepted decorum.]

[Note: During the conversation between the Zieglers and the Harfords, three couples ascended the stairs behind them - all were pretty young and statuesque women with older men -- a foreshadowing of the elderly Hungarian who offered to take Alice upstairs to view Ziegler's art collection - and for sex. It also hinted that upstairs was the location of nefarious couplings occurring during the more formal and elegant party downstairs.]

Christmas Light Patterns:
In Harfords' Apartment and at Ziegler Party

Christmas Tree

Female Breast Imagery

More Christmas Lights
8-Pointed Starburst Imagery (The Star of Ishtar)
Ishtar = The Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of Fertility and Sex

Bill and Alice began to dance together - to the tune of "I'm in the Mood for Love" - with significant lyrics in its last verse: "Why stop to think of whether This little dream might fade We've put our hearts together Now we are one, I'm not afraid..." Alice asked meekly: "Do you know anyone here?" Her husband answered not exactly truthfully: "Not a soul." It was revealed that the Harfords had been invited to the party simply because Bill regularly serviced "Victor" Ziegler (the name signified dominance) as his on-call physician (Bill explicitly observed: "This is what you get for making house calls"). Ziegler was so ultra-wealthy that he was unwilling to visit Bill's private-practice office for a normal appointment.

Bill recognized the piano-player in the band on an upper platform, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who had dropped out of the medical school that both had attended over a decade earlier. Alice was uninterested in meeting his acquaintance by tagging along, and instead said she was 'desperate' to use the bathroom. Instead, actually, she approached a waiter with a tray and downed an entire fluted crystal glass of champagne.

In the meantime, Bill approached Nick, who jumped down from the red-carpeted platform! When asked about his job, Nick ambiguously referred to his profession as a 'pianist': "Oh, yes, well, my friends call me that," although there were hints that he was something else - possibly a procurer of sexual favors. Nick mentioned his feelings about 'walking away' from the respectable medical profession (Nick had made a habit of being irresponsible and choosing hedonism) - "It's a nice feeling, I do it a lot." He was mysteriously called away by Ziegler's Secretary (Michael Doven): "Nick, I need you a minute," and he excused himself (to walk away) as he told Bill: "I gotta go do somethin'."

[Note: It was highly probable that Nick arranged for the hooker for Ziegler's private upstairs party, and for the two young models that suddenly would appear with Bill.]

Erotic-Sexual Possibilities at Hedonistic Party

Bill and Alice Harford

Nick Nightingale on a Red-Carpeted Piano Pedestal

Alice with the Debauched Hungarian

Bill with Two Young 'Models':
A Threesome

Almost immediately afterwards, both Bill and Alice were separately propositioned - jarring their comfortable conjugal state of marital harmony. During the hedonistic party, both attracted opposite-sex admirers. The slightly drunken Alice - miffed that she was left alone and knew no one - was the first to be propositioned at the bar by cooly suave Hungarian Sandor Szavost (Sky Dumont) with a European accent. In the din of party conversation, a woman was heard remarking: "To a different bed." The Hungarian reached for Alice's champagne-filled crystal glass and drank from it (vicariously exchanging fluids) and then kissed her hand. He suggested that she read Latin poet Ovid's The Art of Love, but she rejected his suggestion with an intelligent quip: "Didn't he wind up all by himself, crying his eyes out in some place with a very bad climate?" Sandor objected by adding: "But he also had a good time, first. A very good time."

[Note: Ancient Roman Ovid's series of three-books, known as Ars Amatoria, were satirical How-To Guides to finding and keeping a mate, including not bragging about one's nocturnal sexual exploits, practicing personal hygiene, being attentive, brave and persistent, and by using words or writings to flatter, thank, praise, or seduce a partner. Drinking from Alice's glass was one of the tips provided in Ovid's manual on seduction.]

Although she stated that she was married and was attending the party with her husband, she accepted his courtly offer for a waltz-dance. [Later, Alice would become angered at Bill for not expressing jealousy over the flirtatious attentiveness of her Hungarian seducer.] Alice also said that she was searching for work after managing a SoHo art gallery that went broke, causing Sandor to quickly offer his assistance in "the art game" - and to intuit that she was a possibly-unhappy 'kept' or 'trophy wife' who was prostituting herself to her wealthy, high-class husband. Alice noted that Bill was chatting with two young and seductive females nearby.

Weaving a hypnotic spell over her, the older man then stated the integral charm of 'deception' in marriage. He questioned the sanctity of being betrothed and then stated the main reason women became married - in order to be financially supported in order to engage in 'deceptive' extra-marital affairs with men other than their husbands:

Don't you think one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties? May I ask why a beautiful woman who could have any man in this room, wants to be married?...You know why women used to get married, don't you?... It was the only way they could lose their virginity and be free to do what they wanted with other men. The ones they really wanted.

Sandor's point was illustrated next - Bill was suddenly speaking to the two flirtatious models dressed in skin-tight, almost sheer gowns: ash blonde Gayle (Louise J. Taylor) in silver-green and brunette Nuala Windsor (Stewart Thorndike) in a burgundy-colored dress, entwined on each of his arms. He didn't resist their erotic invitations to take him away from the colored lights for sex. [Note: Were they procured by Nick as prostitutes, and encouraged to approach Bill for a good time?] The undulating, serpentine-like temptresses promised to lead him to a pleasant destination: "where the rainbow ends." [Note: In the past, Bill had aided Gayle during a photo shoot at Rockefeller Plaza on Fifth Avenue during a windy day when she got something in her 'eye'.] Nuala emphasized: "Don't you want to go where the rainbow ends?" As he left, Bill significantly told the two models: "To be continued."

[Note: The thematic symbol of the rainbow, a Wizard of Oz reference, would reoccur later in the Rainbow Costume Rental Shop. Also, the second masked orgy-party was literally 'where the rainbow ended' - there were absolutely no colorful lights in the mansion where the secret-society elites gathered for debauchery and sex.]

The Incident in Ziegler's Private Bedroom

Bill was saved from following through with the two and joining them for a hedonistic sexual adventure - by the film's second interruption.

[Note: He was interrupted or 'saved,' however, by another more threatening and hidden sexually-immoral incident involving a hooker/drug-abuser named Mandy, in the upstairs shadows of the party. This incident was a foreshadowing of what would be revisited again later in completely different settings.]

As Nick was called away earlier, he was also summoned from the party by Ziegler's secretary to dispense on-call medical advice to Ziegler after a "little accident." Victor was first viewed half-dressed in his bedroom-boudoir and pulling up his pants! He had obviously planned (or had already engaged) in promiscuous sex with the completely naked Amanda 'Mandy' Curran (Julienne Davis), his sex slave, but she had passed out. She was collapsed like an inert marionette, sprawled backward (and face-up) in a dark red-burgundy chair, still wearing her high-heels, and with her light-blue lingerie on the floor. (The palatial, immaculate green and gold-trimmed room had a toilet, bidet, and a fireplace flanked by two Oriental dragons, with a nude portrait of a pregnant female above the mantle - similarly positioned as the hooker in the chair.) According to Ziegler, she had overdosed and suffered a "bad reaction" while shooting up a speedball-drug (a combination of heroin or morphine and coke) after drinking champagne.

Immoral Sex and Substance Abuse Scandal

The influential and well-connected, married Ziegler was worried that he might be publically shamed and charged with her inconvenient, scandalous death in his bathroom. He risked having his "mask" of respectability exposed to everyone - and by implication Harford's doctoral profession could be tarnished. The 'eye' motif was again invoked when Bill tried to arouse the narcoleptic Mandy:

Can you open your eyes for me?...Let me see you open your eyes. There you go, come on. Come on, look at me. Look at me.

Meanwhile, the gentlemanly decadent Hungarian (to the tune of "When I Fall in Love") was suggesting that Alice join him to view Ziegler's fabulous sculpture gallery collection of Renaissance bronzes (a plundered treasure) on the second floor - "Would you like to see it? I can show it to you. We won't be gone long," but Alice politely declined his blatant but enticing sexual advances with the contradictory answer - "Maybe ---- not ---- just ---- now." Eventually, she was able to excuse herself from his persistent company, even though he kept insisting on seeing her again. With a stomp of her foot on the floor, she asserted that further encounters were "impossible...because I'm married" - she cooly flashed her wedding ring at him. She kissed her finger and touched his lips, then walked away - rejecting his tempting offer forever but still harboring some resentment toward Bill's lack of attention.

Upstairs in Ziegler's bedroom after Mandy revived and opened her eyes, Bill told her that she was a "very, very lucky girl... You're gonna be OK this time, but you can't keep doing this. You understand?" [Note: Later in the film, Bill was also "LUCKY TO BE ALIVE."] Knowing the risk of a repeat offense, he suggested that Ziegler's frequent sex-drug partner would need some rehab. The paternalistic Ziegler promised to keep her for another hour and then arrange for her transportation home. Ziegler was grateful to Bill for another 'house call': "You saved my ass" - but strongly suggested (actually threatened) that the incident (at the end of the rainbow) had to be kept top-secret ("This is just between us, OK?").

The Infamous Mirror Kissing Scene

After arriving home from the hedonistic Ziegler party, Bill and Alice were so aroused that they began to make love.

[Note: The erotic film featured their highly sensationalized make-out scene often used to promote the film and seen in many movie posters. The short sequence was accompanied by Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing."]

At first, Alice was seen naked from behind before a dressing mirror table in her bedroom, but nude from the frontal view in the mirror. On the table was a framed picture of her in her virginal wedding gown. There were four books stacked in front of her, from top to bottom: "Rage," "Lord Longford," "By Desire," and "In a Glass House." She removed her earrings as Bill approached from behind, although Alice was still gazing at her reflection. He looked at her, and then himself in the reflection. The married couple were narcissistically viewed caressing and kissing each other. He began passionately kissing Alice on her neck, touched her right breast, and then kissed her on the lips (as she took off her glasses, hugged him back, and glanced at their reflection). Before the brief scene faded to black, Alice often looked away from Bill's gaze - possibly fantasizing and thinking about other male partners besides him (i.e., the Hungarian man, and the 'naval officer').

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