Being the last film of the great Stanley Kubrick, “Eyes Wide Shut” often gets a bad reputation for not being as strong as Kubrick’s other works, but doing that severely looks down upon a great film.
While not as revolutionary as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or as iconic as “The Shining”, “Eyes Wide Shut” is a brilliant examination into sexual dominance and subconscious lust.
The film starts off with Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), going to a party hosted by the wealthy Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). A suave, mature gentlemen dances with Alice while two beautiful women flirt with Bill. Once they get home, Alice questions Bill about his intentions with those women, wondering if he had intercourse with them. Bill tells her that he wouldn’t because he loves her, but Alice reveals that she almost cheated on him even though it would have meant throwing their lives away.
Bill’s eyes are closed to the undercurrents of the world around him, even from within his own family. He has societal shields set up that blind him to the ravenous sexual longings in others, shields such as congenial societal discourse and proper presentation. As he journeys forth from this discussion with Alice, he begins to see his blinders lessen in the dead of night.
His anger and obsession with this vision of his wife and another man drives him to try infidelity himself. From the grieving daughter of his dead patient to a hooker he meets on the streets to the underage daughter of a costume shop owner, Bill finds the shady desire that lingers in a world he doesn’t understand. This is all culminated when he tricks his way into a nighttime sexcapade party where everyone is wearing a mask and the password is the not-so-subtle word “fidelio.”
The masks represent the true selves of the participants, expressionless and ornery. Their actual physical faces are just facades that they use in public, facades that Bill has used to blind himself to the truth of the world around him; that subliminal desires drive us. This is also represented by the pale blue light lurking behind the characters in multiple scenes, beneath the surface but always present.
The entire party is presented as almost a dream, blurring the line between reality and surrealism. As the film continues, the viewer wonders exactly what is real: the dream or reality? The blending of both gives the viewer a portrayal of the psyche.
Kubrick is a master of crafting the subconscious into his films. The latent raw sexuality presented in “Eyes Wide Shut” is his reflection of the desires, grotesque or not, of the psyche inherent in us.
At the film’s conclusion, Bill’s only salvation from his journey is his belief in marriage and the bond that holds him to his wife; not just sex but love and commitment as well. He can not unsee the desires that drive the world that he was blinded to, but he can maintain a sense of identity against those primal instincts and that identity is typified by being a husband. Whether or not he saves his marriage is unknown, but is left for the viewer to interpret.
The film is hypnotic in its ability to draw the viewer into its central mystery of possible murder, but it’s the peeling back of our “humanity” that sticks with the viewer. The delving into our inner psychosis is something that perhaps no filmmaker has done better than Kubrick and it makes everyone of his films memorable.