The genre of the last film by Stanley Kubrick, based on the well-known story of the Austrian A. Schnitzler “The Dream Novella” (1925-1926), can be interpreted in different ways. This is also a psychological melodrama about a marriage that almost failed; and a semi-detective story with elements of political conspiracy theories; and a philosophical tape about the essence of the modern world. If you wish, in “Eyes Wide Shut” you can see a Christmas fairy tale with a happy ending, and even light eroticism. And yet, this is primarily a film about why people in the modern world wear masks – and what lies behind them.
What is the movie “Eyes Wide Shut” about?
Summary of Kubrick’s film. William Harford is a successful New York physician. His wife Alice is a charming, soft, slightly relaxed woman. The marriage between the characters has been around for a long time, they have a seven-year-old daughter, and they are in their own “ecosystem”.
One day, William’s wealthy patient invites the couple to a Christmas party. This is where Eyes Wide Shut (1999) begins.
At this party, Alice watches all evening how her husband enjoys female attention. Two beautiful women are trying to seduce him, and he really likes it. Meanwhile, one of the guests is also trying to “hit” Alice.
Despite the fact that the heroine is in a rather languid state, she is closely watching how her husband behaves. But at one point, Bill disappears. She guesses what is happening, but nevertheless rejects the gentle invitation to “go upstairs” by the insistent suitor.
Some time after the party, Alice tries to find out if Bill ever cheated on her. He claims to have always been faithful to her. Then Alice goes on a provocation, and asks her husband: what does he think, has she ever cheated on him?
A little surprised, Bill nevertheless replies that he is confident in her. To this, Alice makes him remember a recent trip in which she met with an imposing officer. She confessed to her husband that he aroused a strong attraction in her.
Wanting to stop this strange conversation, Bill goes outside. Walking through New York at night, he cannot get rid of mental images: he clearly sees his wife in the arms of a handsome military man.
Quite by accident, Bill meets up with his musician buddy, who performs at events with his eyes closed, and who is well paid for it. Bill becomes interested in what this event is, he follows a friend, and finds himself in a phantasmagoric looking glass. From this moment on, the content of the film becomes more and more like a strange and terrible dream…
“Eyes Wide Shut” plot explained
To understand the director’s intention, it is necessary to turn to the theory of social roles. According to it, each person, striving to function successfully in society, behaves in a certain way, as if putting on a social mask of a student, buyer, boss, etc. This streamlines communication and makes life predictable, but Stanley Kubrick is interested in what happens to people when they step out of their usual roles and take off their masks. It is not surprising that the mask becomes the main symbol of the film.
Who wears what masks in the movie?
The answer to this question is simple: everyone wears masks except little Helena. At the same time, under the mask of a respectable businessman, a lover of dubious pleasures and a member of a strange club is hiding; under the guise of a drug addict and a call girl – a suffering and capable person; under the guise of a devoted daughter of a sick old man – a woman obsessed with a passion for Dr. Bill. And Bill himself and his wife, as it suddenly turns out, are a little different from what they imagined themselves and each other to be.
What’s going on with Bill and Alice?
At the beginning of the film, we see an almost perfect family from glossy magazines, but it is enough for them to go beyond the limits of a cozy home world, as they are met with temptations. The party at Ziegler’s house, with its glamorous and intoxicating atmosphere, becomes the first and yet easy test of the protagonists’ loyalty, which they pass with honor.
But a heart-to-heart conversation started by Alice turns out to be fatal: a hitherto successful marriage begins to burst at the seams. And although Alice is not talking about real infidelity, Bill, who has never been jealous of his wife, even has enough fantasies about another man to lose his peace of mind and go in search of adventure. He is shocked that, it turns out, he did not know Alice at all; he is shocked that their ideal marriage turned out to be far from ideal.
The viewer is offered a wide range of topics for reflection. How much do we need the truth about each other? And is honesty really the foundation of a successful marriage? Perhaps the best way to keep it is not to ask unnecessary questions, not to delve into your soul and not to remove the mask of an exemplary partner either from yourself or from another person.
The Dark Side of Bill
When the familiar world of the protagonist collapses, he tries to find solace on the shadow side of life. It is noteworthy that all the episodes associated with this side are completely the same type: Bill is faced with temptation, for a moment he succumbs to it, but the “fall” does not occur. At the same time, the level of temptations is lower and lower: from a quite decent lady in love with him, the daughter of his long-term patient, to a vile scene in the Rainbow store, where an underage girl provides erotic services to elderly perverts.
Critics rightly noted that the bearers of temptation can be interpreted as projections of the desires of the protagonist, doomed to remain an observer. But there is another aspect: Bill is afraid to go all the way because he is not ready to know the whole truth about his shadow self. His mind is torn between fear and curiosity up to visiting a very strange gathering.
What happened at the villa?
The simple-minded musician Nick, a former classmate of the protagonist, is inclined to consider a gathering of people in masks an ordinary orgy – albeit with the participation of very beautiful women. But the music that accompanies the ritual at the beginning is a church mass played in reverse order; all those gathered know each other well; the atmosphere of what is happening is melancholy and viscous, as if in slightly slow motion. At this strange orgy, no one laughs or has fun, on the contrary, everyone is devilishly serious.
Thus, the director makes it clear that everything is much more complicated and before us is a ritual suspiciously similar to a black mass, and its participants are not casual lovers of debauchery, but members of a secret club that unites the powerful of this world. It is quite possible that it includes those who control the world in which millions of ordinary Bills and Alice live. We don’t see their faces, we don’t know their names. Kubrick deliberately leaves space for hypotheses and analogies, naming only one member of the club by name – Mr. Ziegler. It is he who slightly nods to Bill (later Ziegler will tell that Bill was given a receipt from the Rainbow store, issued in his name and found by the guards in his coat pocket).
Why did Mandy save Bill?
The girl in the ostrich-feather mask who twice tried to get Bill to leave is Mandy, whom he helped after an overdose at the Ziegler house, but did she recognize the doctor in the cape and mask? The director does not give an unequivocal answer to this question, and therefore Mandy’s behavior can be explained in different ways.
If she recognized Bill, then her desire to save the only man who treated her humanly, as a person, and not as a piece of meat, is quite understandable. If not, then perhaps Mandy is driven by a desire for self-destruction, manifested in her addiction to drugs. The former beauty queen was tired of the life she led and therefore sacrificed herself in Bill’s place. However, there is also Ziegler’s version: there was no victim, no execution, and Mandy died from an accidental overdose.
Is Ziegler telling the truth?
Ziegler is arguably the film’s most controversial character, and the director deliberately leaves some of his personality in the background. It is obvious that he needs Bill, he is used to him, and therefore Ziegler tries his best to calm the doctor. For all the facts that Bill gives, he gives a completely convincing explanation – or one that cannot be verified. But there is a weak link in Ziegler’s artfully woven explanation. He assures Bill that Mandy, who replaced the doctor, was only putting on a show to scare him. But at that moment, Bill could not know what would happen to Mandy, and even more so since it was a matter of life and death! Ziegler spoke about the performance only when Bill showed him a newspaper with an obituary. So Ziegler lies, and Mandy—and possibly Nick—were killed.
Additional confirmation that this is not about the game, Bill receives when he returns home and sees that the mask he lost lies on the pillow next to his sleeping wife.
Why was there a mask next to Alice?
Some viewers believe that the mask indicates that Alice was also at the orgy, but this interpretation is incorrect. The appearance of the mask is a warning to Bill and at the same time a hint that it is time to return to the usual social role, i.e. put on the mask of a respectable doctor who lives for work and family. Bill weeps at the sight of the mask, realizing for the first time with all its poignancy how illusory the well-being and safety of his little world is, and how far he has come, driven by jealousy and curiosity.
What is the meaning of the final scene?
The conversation between Bill and Alice in the supermarket is an attempt to formulate a scenario for the future. Alice talks about what happened in reality (referring to Bill’s adventures) and in a dream (referring to her fantasies about the officer), and offers to end this episode of their life, i.e. return to the familiar and predictable world. The couple became convinced of the dangers of frankness and going beyond the usual roles.
What is the meaning of the movie’s title?
Paradoxically, Kubrick’s film has something in common with The Matrix, released in the same year: if you want a comfortable and well-fed life, don’t ask unnecessary questions, don’t think about who rules the world, in short, play your role honestly.
Do you want to get out of the matrix? Then get ready for some very big problems. The heroes of the film chose the first option. They will try to forget everything they have learned about themselves and others, and will live as they should – with their eyes wide shut.
Everything that happens is real
The plot of the film “Eyes Wide Shut” is built quite logically. There are causal relationships here, there are signs of a real place and time of action. In addition, there is a character system. And here you can see the internal and external conflicts of the characters.
That is, the picture has a clear, logical structure. The orgy in the mansion, despite the seeming surrealism, has prototypes in reality.
Some viewers are sure that Kubrick’s main idea was to show the secret world of the elites in Eyes Wide Shut, and the hidden meaning of the picture should be sought here. Moreover, it is believed that here the director gave a clue to all the strange deaths of celebrities. In short, the meaning boils down to the fact that “Masons are to blame for everything.”
It was just a dream
In some analysis of the film, it is said that Alice dreamed of all the events. But what if it was Bill’s dream?
We see the entire film through his eyes. During the course of the picture, almost all female characters are sexually attracted to him. These are beautiful models at a party, and the daughter of a deceased doctor’s patient, and a girl of easy virtue … Probably, Bill, being an adherent of traditional values, intensely suppressed his own libido. And in a dream, his unconscious sexual desires, of course, make themselves felt.
He tries to imagine that his wife may also be dissatisfied with a quiet family life, and secretly desire something more. This is where the officer’s story comes from.
Eyes Wide Shut is set on Christmas Eve, a time when one should focus on the spiritual life. In a dream, the carnal beginning is opposed to the sacred: a terrible orgy is a symbol of this.
Alice, meanwhile, has a very similar dream. Could this be a coincidence? Most likely no.
The meaning of the ending
At the end of the film, Bill and Alice are talking in a supermarket and are trying to figure out how to live their lives. In the finale, Alice tries to analyze her own fantasies about the handsome officer and the adventures of her husband (according to her, it doesn’t matter if they were real or just a dream), and eventually invites him to return to his usual life.
The meaning of the film’s ending is that the couple realized that they should not go beyond their usual roles: this is fraught with immersion in a frightening, dangerous abyss.
She, under the influence of a nightmare, realizes that she loves only her husband. She also understands that her sexual instincts are terrible and will not lead to good. Bill also repents for his rash actions based on feelings of resentment, jealousy and a wounded ego.
After a frank and sincere conversation, Bill and Alice found a way out (albeit not forever) of the crisis. The couple realize that the only thing they need at this stage is to have sex. For a dream imbued with this idea, such an ending seems quite obvious and logical.
In the end, they did not change each other. They walked along the thinnest edge, but did not cross the line. That is, the explanation of the ending is the simplest: they passed the test of this crisis, which every couple has sooner or later.
Kubrick’s film captures the deep psychology of betrayal. More precisely, he talks about how people try to avoid it. The point is that fidelity is a very complex process, which sometimes depends not only on the volitional decision made, but also on circumstances.
There is another interpretation of both the events of the film and its ending. After a terrible adventure, Bill destroys both the child who goes after the monsters, and Alice, who degrades to her subconscious chaotic beginnings, and himself, because he loses his face.
There is the following explanation for this: Bill rejects the experience and returns to the hypocritical puritan morality, refusing the process of further self-knowledge and the acceptance of those hidden sexual desires that were revealed to him at night.
Thus, he abdicates responsibility for his own life and does not accept his true nature. That is, he destroys, first of all, that free and rebellious part of his soul, which earlier, until this night, was unknown to him.