Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is perhaps most famous—or infamous—for its orgy scene, but it’s not just any orgy; it’s a secret event held by an even more secret society, whose members don costumes and masks and seem to perform the orgy more as a strange ritual rather than for bodily pleasure. Despite the reputation of the orgy scene, however, the scene itself takes up a rather miniscule amount of time in relation to the rest of Eyes Wide Shut’s 2 ½ hour runtime. Kubrick doesn’t focus too much on the sex so much as he does on the idea of why we have sex, and the foreplay—the lead-up—involved in sex.
Eyes Wide Shut’s protagonist, Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise), spends two nights wandering the streets of downtown Manhattan and each of his encounters—whether with a hotel desk clerk, the manager of a costume store, or even a hooker—are filled with sexual tension except Harford never actually engages in any sex, even when he’s alone with the hooker, and that’s because Kubrick never allows him to, due to either Harford’s own morality pulling him away from the situation (Harford’s married) or the narrative itself forces Harford to move on. It is through this sense of moving which turns Eyes Wide Shut into a journey and in combination with its nighttime aesthetic and strange cast of characters then, that Eyes Wide Shut becomes an amalgamation of other films.
In Kubrick’s showcasing of a seedy downtown Manhattan filled with sexual encounters and violence, Eyes Wide Shut recalls Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. In Kubrick’s exploration of Harford’s sexuality that seems to awaken only after Harford experiences a harsh truth from his wife, which itself subsequently seemingly transforms downtown Manhattan into a sex-crazed surreal dystopia, Eyes Wide Shut also recalls the protagonist of Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Jeffrey Beamount and his own awakening to his inner violence. Yet Kubrick, who made Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, is a director who since then, had been working for four decades—his first feature film, Fear and Desire, was released in 1958—and so Kubrick worked at a time when Hollywood had its heaviest hitters; Hawkes, John Ford, and Hitchcock. Kubrick carries the classic cinematic spirit of old into the modern age of 1999 by way of channeling Hitchcock into Eyes Wide Shut. Eyes Wide Shut is more than just a film about sex but it’s about blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. The novel which Eyes Wide Shut is based off is called Traumnovelle, which translates from German into Dream Story. Because of its focus on fantasy, Eyes Wide Shut’s Harford most recalls Vertigo’s Ferguson.
Both Harford and Ferguson get caught up in the fantasy of a woman—Harford with the stranger who saves him and Ferguson with Madelaine. The narratives of Eyes Wide Shut and Vertigo are set against cities whose physical forms are important to the narrative. In Vertigo, for Ferguson, it’s the art museum, the Golden Gate Bridge, the rooftop, and most importantly, the church bell tower. For Harford, it’s the jazz bar, hotel, gated mansion and of course, the streets of Manhattan. It’s not just through parallels that Kubrick recalls Hitchcock but also in the way that the narrative of Eyes Wide Shut flows. In terms of genre, Eyes Wide Shut is a thriller but when getting into the specifics of the film, it’s a thriller about an average-joe, albeit one who is rich, getting in way over his head. The idea of the average person finding themselves in terrible situations is Hitchcock’s director’s M.O., one which he employed in his films constantly.
Eyes Wide Shut isn’t good because Kubrick made the film in a way which allows Eye Wide Shut to be read as an amalgamation of other great films but instead, Eyes Wide Shut is a good film because of the way Kubrick is a master craftsman, a statement that may sound cliché but for Kubrick rings exceptionally true. Kubrick is known for his technical mastery with a camera and like good wine, Kubrick’s techniques only got better as he got older and learned how to make films. This is most evident with the culmination of Paths of Glory in 1957, where after three films, Kubrick finally found his stride with a film that could be called complete perfection. Eyes Wide Shut, while not perfect, comes very close and is perhaps better representative of where Kubrick would have and could have gone next in our own modern age of digital information; one of Kubrick’s unrealized projects was A.I.
This is what Eyes Wide Shut brings to the table. A film with great camerawork, writing, acting, score and more. The atmosphere of Eyes Wide Shut is unlike any other Kubrick film, although Kubrick is known for never sticking to one genre, the setting of Eyes Wide Shut brings the film into our own present world, hinting at the possibilities of Kubrick’s future work