Eyes Wide Shut:
the Importance of Fucking.
It's hard to put in words what Eyes Wide Shut means to me. First time I saw it was on a bootleg, the by Kubrick non-approved censored version with quickly made digital effects covering the nudity and sex, combined with low resolution quality and probably (why not?) the wrong ratio. I liked it, but didn’t think much of it at the time. But somehow it stayed with me and years later I watched it again on a proper tape, or maybe even DVD, and felt more connected to it. I started to see something. The thing is that Kubrick’s work always left me quite cold, and still does to a certain degree. He can be awfully distanced to his characters (I know, I know, but that’s how I experience it!), but I’ve come to appreciate this absurd form of perfectionism a lot more as I grew older, which is unusual for a person like me who loves when films have more evident beauty marks.
It wasn’t until I saw the amazing documentary Room 237 I fully understood that The Shining affected a lot more people than I ever could imagine. And it made me love the movie a lot more than earlier, just by listening to the passionate rantings of the fans. The participants in Room 237 found their own magick in Kubrick’s only horror movie, and even if his assistant, the awfully rude and uninteresting Leon Vitali (did he get left out from Kubrick’s will or what?) claims there’s no truth in whatever anyone ever says about The Shining, I’m pretty sure he’s wrong, even if he’s correct. If you get my meaning. As soon as a film is released to audiences it basically ends being an exclusive subjective form of art, it doesn't belong to the creator anymore.
I was raised inside a deeply religious community, and seen a lot of churches - old and new - and spiritual symbolism of all kinds (much later I was also a member in the Templars of Honor and Temperance, a secret brotherhood with all the esoteric rituals you can expect, but haven’t been involved in it for at least 20 years - mostly because I don’t agree with their aggressive stance against drugs). My strongest memories from when my mother found christ was a rapture-themed painting on the wall of the place where ex-alcoholics met and praised the so-called lord (which by itself was SO strange. Why not celebrate oneself instead of a dude nailed to a cross?) It showed people in white clothes, peacefully floating up to heaven represented by the traditional Jesus rays breaking through the clouds. Left was an silent world with cars abandoned by the road, empty houses and lots and lots of green, beautiful nature.
Already there I felt I wanted to stay on earth and not go to some tiresom heaven. Imagine a whole world to oneself, what an incredible opportunity, what a journey to do what I want without anyone telling me what’s right or wrong (within the laws of common sense of course).
Even if I never really connected with that famous mythological character in the sky the symbolism and art always fascinated me, and that’s stayed with me ever since. From symbols of the occult to faces frozen in stone in tomb-like churches. Eyes Wide Shut is no difference. I never really seen such a well thought out film, even cheesier sequences like Tom Cruise’s back projection New York street walk becomes a dream reminder that the reality we’re living in isn’t not what it seems. The film IS packed with esoteric symbols and themes, and there’s no question that Kubrick toys with concepts like the Illuminati, conspiracies, secret societies, what’s reality and what’s not etc. He was way too smart to not use it the way he did. But that’s also where conspiracy theorists and skeptics both go in extreme ways to prove each other wrong.
I’m a storyteller myself, and my love for everything out of the ordinary doesn't mean I believe in everything I love. The Illuminati/secret order/conspiracy theme in Eyes Wide Shut is a storytelling device, and a really good one, and Kubrick carefully guides his story around it so it still leaves a strong impression without actually dealing with it as the main subject. To quote Hitchcock, from a lecture at Columbia University, New York in 1939: “It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh, that's a MacGuffin'. The first one asks, 'What's a MacGuffin?' 'Well,' the other man says, 'it's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers, 'Well then, that's no MacGuffin!' So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.”
In Eyes Wide Shut the McGuffin is used to tell a story about the creation of an open relationship.
A respected couple, played by the then real-life couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman - some say casted by Kubrick so he deliberately could break them up. Or at least toy with Cruise, who he claimed tauntingly he could make a big star with this film. I wonder what Cruise’s thoughts was when he heard the great director tell him that?
The key to the whole movie is in the last scene, and more specifically the final word said by Kidman’s character, Alice.
- I do love you and you know there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible.
- What's that?
Simple yeah? Well, in my eyes it’s more complex than what it first seems, and fuck is the key to everything. Fuck. It’s actually one of my favorite words. It holds so much emotions, both positive and negative, is short and easy to remember and visually it looks really good. When I hear it I think of love, sex, hate, happiness, disappointment, elegance and primitivism. It’s everything in one word.
I remember when this insight first came to me, and I just couldn’t find words to express it. Eyes Wide Shut had just spoken to me personally, directly to me. No, no voices or anything like that, but every detail came together like a pieces of a puzzle. Well, a few pieces didn’t together perfectly but as a whole it was exactly what I needed, a confirmation how to live my - or our - life.
Bill and Alice are happy. Well, at least on the surface. They have a beautiful child, good jobs (at least Bill, who’s a doctor to the rich and famous in New York) and a stable economy, they’re could be seen as attractive and have a bright future ahead. The thing is course that they desperately wants to fuck other people. The grass is always greener on the other side, etc.
So they’re start taking risks. Alice had strong fantasies about a sailor, so strong she was prepared to leave her family and destroy everything just for one single night with this hunky young man. She’s also very close to be seduced by an exotic, charming and experienced Hungarian businessman. It’s the same with Bill. If he didn’t get an urgent message to help out a client he would probably have indulged into a threesome with two young models (and once again, nothing happen there), or in desperation having sex with a prostitute, later revealed to carry the HIV virus.
Alice confronts him on what really happened with the photo models, but slowly reveal her own adventures of the mind, the sailor. It goes further and further and Bill gets more desperate, following his friend Nick Nightingale as he’s doing a gig at a mysterious party, where every kind of sex is available. After being discovered, at the end of one of the best and most hypnotic sequences ever filmed, he can’t let it go. He can’t stop thinking of what the hell happen. Alice discovers he’s been out on some kind of adventure and he breaks down, crying.
We’re talking about two individually very unlucky human beings, with money and still being able to have sex with each other, but something is bothering them; to not have sex with others. They both lust to be unfaithful, they truly want to fuck around, but the only thing thing that stops them is a by society planted guilt. It’s interesting that when Alice have told Bill her story about the sailor she also tells him that that incident also made her feel an even stronger love for him and their daughter. Like the idea of sex could be separate from love, it’s one thing to have fun and one thing to love, and make them grow closer to each other.
It’s desperation in the air. Bill feels he wants to have revenge sex and tries to make contact with a client of his, played by Swedish actress Marie Richardsson, but that plan comes to a halt when her boyfriend answers the phone and Bills realizes once again how near he is to fuck things up. He also tries to hit on the friend of the prostitute, before learning about her HIV status, almost behaving like a rooster among hens, which comes of kinda pathetic.
All these risks would be more or less non-existent if they decided to NOT feel guilt, NOT be jealous, NOT be controlling, NOT own each other. Because it’s obvious when watching the film that love (in-between the drama they’re very gentle and soft with each other, showing what I consider is true affection) and sex (which is very basic, very carnal, primitive and still playful) can be two separate things but still work out fine together.
There’s warnings of course. Like Anton LaVey once wrote, indulgence is not the same as compulsion. The folks at the mansion are dealing with their compulsion, a secret society where they MUST fuck because they can’t get it anywhere else, and also doing it in secret - not being proud of what they want. It’s more about doing it for the sake of doing it than doing it for the sake of carnal lust, in the setting of a slightly cheesy melodrama - just the use of stereotypical backwards talking/singing in the main initiation that starts the orgy points at some sense of humor from Kubrick’s behalf, but still taking the subject seriously. Jocelyn Pook’s music is truly stunning and fits perfectly! The secret society basically represents Bill’s deep, secret fantasies where he’s trapped in an never ending circle of paranoia and secrecy, and behind locked doors and fences, by threat and with hidden faces. In Alice’s case it’s the sailor, a strong erotic fantasy that might or might not be true. You can also sense that the photo models, the charming Hungarian George Hamilton-esque (I wonder if Hamilton was considered to play the part at once actually, considering that it feels exactly like him) businessman, the prostitute, the sailor, the secret society etc exists to test Bill and Alice, because going through all that makes them deeper understand each other at the end, and form some kind of experienced-based alliance which will guide them through the rest of their life.
When Alice finds Bill’s mask she shows it to him, puts it directly on his side of the bed to make him realize there’s nothing to be ashamed of. They need to start following their instincts, just like she did but never went all the way. Because one need to understand that it might be Dr Bill’s journey we’re following in Eyes Wide Shut, but it’s Alice’s who shows him the path to freedom and therefore becomes the most important character in the whole film, a saviour one can say. The use of FIDELIO as the password to get into the mansion is also interesting. It refers to Beethoven’s only opera, where a wife dresses up as a man, the titular Fidelio, to save her husband from a political prison. I feel it reflects what’s happening in Eyes Wide Shut, but it’s on a way more personal level. In the majority of the film Alice is shown with the color blue around her, a color that represents intelligence, loyalty, wisdom and creativity (she’s an art collector and is clearly an artist personality compared to Bill’s more strict doctor). Bill himself , just watch the film, actively avoids the color blue by leaning and moving away from it etc, it’s pretty stunning when you notice it, and aiming for red and warm colors, which usually represents passion, strength, love, power and so on. He avoids it towards the end when he’s suddenly drenched in blue together with Alice, or more neutral colors, which shows how he’s slowly becoming calmer, wiser and maybe more open-minded to what’s happening around them.
When Alice says they need to fuck, it’s not necessary means fucking with each other, it means fucking in general. As long as they have each other to come home to. Eyes Wide Shut is not only the greatest love story ever told, it’s a film about the strength of individualism and giving love to those who truly deserve it. And fucking your brains out.
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