Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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Doctor Bill has the strangest night of his life. After his wife tells him that she had unfaithful fantasies, he goes into town and is approached sexually by all kinds of people, leading up to a very dangerous situation.

Oh. Was… was that the end of the movie? That’s how it ends? Oh. Okay. I hadn’t expected that. Emotionally it didn’t feel like the ending. It seems like the climax of the movie is in the middle, and then a lengthy aftermath gives you interpretations of that climax. It is an unusual structure for a movie, and not really emotionally fulfilling.

Ok, but let’s put that aside for a moment and consider the rest of the film. Eyes Wide Shut is an intriguing, fascinating movie.

There are many ways to interpret the meaning of the movie. You could simply regard it plainly as an odd adventure, but that doesn’t give you much and leaves you with questions. The movie is rather like a nightmare, a cross between a fever dream and a wet dream that brings all sort of primal emotional urges to the surface: sexuality, fear and sadness. No wonder that at the end of the movie, the main characters say that they feel like they have awoken from a dream.

Eyes Wide Shut could also be a modern reimagining of the myth of Eros and Psyche. The Greek myth tells about a struggle between love and trust, and the doctor and his wife are strangely cold and inconsiderate to each other as they enact this struggle. In one of the first scenes that get the whole story rolling, the doctor and his wife have an argument about attraction and trust and his wife completely undermines the trust of their marriage by telling about her forbidden fantasies. This initial rift is the cause and driver for the doctor’s later escapades in which he struggles between staying faithful to his marriage and the recurring seductions.

Another way of looking at the movie is as a celebration of primitive animalistic urges. In the same bedroom conversation, the wife asks whether human attraction is only just evolution; something that we inherited from before civilization. The cult in the movie celebrates this primal evolutionary urge by discarding societal decency through the use of masks. Opposite the primal urges lies civilization (marriage), which is discarded in the same bedroom conversation with a betrayal of trust.

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Also in the movie are signs of class struggles. The doctor inhabits a middle class world that is very much focused on status and money. Both the lower class and the elite are a threat to him in different ways. Both lower class and elite struggle with primitive animalistic urges, against which the middle class tries to remain decent. The lower class threatens with degeneration through seduction, with the betrayal of civilization that the doctor tries to uphold, while the elite is a dangerous force outside his world that could destroy him.

Besides all this, Eyes Wide Shut is visually fascinating. Those who are familiar with Kubrick know that he is perhaps the most meticulous director who ever made mainstream movies. There are typical Kubrick elements visible throughout the movie. There are drawn-out conversations that play with tension and add weight and significance. Dangerous forces are represented by calm men in tuxedos. And I believe that in The Shining, there was also a masked person having sex.

Every location and shot is infused with meanings and at first sight you only get an inkling of everything that the director wanted to convey. The use of color and Christmas lights for example display the dreamlike quality of the world of the movie. The colors of the walls signify emotional states. Pink-hued Christmas trees appear as omens whenever something odd is about to happen. After the climax of the movie, the doctor reads a newspaper that says: “Lucky to be alive”.

I think Eyes Wide Shut is mostly remembered for its stunning and unsettling act in the middle of the movie, but the whole buildup to that act is fascinating to see as well. I am sure that I missed a load of interpretations and hidden messages. The point I want to convey is that it is an intriguing movie and well worth watching. It’s the kind of movie that you keep thinking about hours or days afterwards.

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