Traumnovelle vs. Eyes Wide Shut.
Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut have almost become a near spiritual experience for me. This is something I’m not used to. I love movies. I adore them. In my personal collection of physical media I have close to 7000 titles for example. So I’ve seen many, many, many movies and I love hundreds of them.
But no one as much as Eyes Wide Shut. But it’s been taken many years for me to start digging deeper into the history of the film. For example, it’s based on a novella, Traumnovelle, by Austrian author and playwright Arthur Schnitzler, published in 1926, which is credited in the credits to the film but an especially well known fact for some reason. What’s even more unknown is that Eyes Wide Shut is the second film adaptation of the book, the first one being Wolfgang Glück’s Traumnovelle from 1969, a TV-movie starring Karlheinz Böhm and Erika Pluhar as the young couple.
Bonniers published a Swedish translation of Traumnovelle in 1999, and that’s the version I’ve read. I had to read it. It was one of those feelings I couldn’t control anymore, I just had to try to find out what Kubrick first saw in the story, if that even was possible. Many have mentioned the book over the years, but few seemed to have read it – but one thing that came up over and over again was that Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick’s lose interpretation of the novella. It was like people in general couldn’t cope with the idea that Kubrick didn’t come up with the story himself, and that something so simple as a 1920’s Freudian fan-fantasy, an erotic novella, would be the basis of a big budget, slick erotic drama starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
But boy, how wrong they were.
The novella is practically identical to Kubrick’s film, sometimes the dialogue is lifted directly from Schnitzler’s original source and when you read it you know what will be coming and it comes. I know the Kubrick film very well, and it was a delight to finally read the book. My main reason to read it, something Joel and Stockholm’s best book store Antikvariat Verklighetsflykt helped me with, was to see what Kubrick saw. What was it that jumped out on him, what was it that called upon him from those pages?
The most important difference was the exclusion of the Ziegler character in the book, a very important person in Kubrick’s film – played to perfection by another director, Sydney Pollack (but began the production in the shape of Harvey Keitel – and looking at it now I think that was a good decision. Keitel is in my opinion too connected with his gangster and cop parts, Pollack is not). That whole story is gone in the book, but the christmas party is there – but just talked about by the couple, when they’re home afterwards (which also leads to when she, here named Albertina, talks about the man she felt attraction to). The mysterious man she dances with at the part is mentioned, and also the the two young women Fridolin meets, and even here they want to hook up with him. But Ziegler is gone, and so the drug overdose in his office.
I wonder why Kubrick added this character? Was it to create a better balance in the story? He’s not really needed in the book, and it works fine without him – but he also fits perfectly in the film. Is he meant to be some kind of gateway to the rich and famous, someone which doctor Bill can look up upon? Maybe he’s a role model, but placed there as a warning – this is what happens if you go to far in your hunt for rich and fame? The name Ziegler comes from the german word Ziegel, which means bricklayer. According to Freud, whose theories is officially an inspiration to Schnitzler’s novella, dreaming of bricks means, among other things, “upset business conditions and upsets in your love life”. And that’s what Bill experiences, at least in his love life and adventures that would possible fuck up his successful career as a doctor. Is Ziegler at the end building a brick wall to stop Bill from getting into more trouble? A coincidence? Maybe, but we all know that Kubrick rarely did stuff by chance.
One thing that also became clearer in the book, in the same way my thoughts when I saw the film also, was the relationship with Nick Nightingale, in the novella named Nachtigall. I always had the feeling that Nightingale was more happy with his life as a pianist than Bill thought, who almost have problem dealing with Nightingale’s chance of career. It’s like he realizes, without wanting to, that he also could have a different life, with more freedom and less strains on his relationship with other people. In the novella Nachtigall seems very happy with his choice, no signs (just like in the movie) of regrets. It made me happy to read, because I’ve always felt a lot of sympathy to Nick Nightingale, and if could choose one career or theirs it would be Nick’s.
But looking at it the other way, many small details in the novella is visible in the film, stuff that actually is not needed – something a traditional director probably would have skipped for pacing or budgetary reasons. One of them is the homophobic gang of young men Bill meets on the streets, a scene that always fascinated me, because I can’t really understand why it’s there. In the novella the scene is there, without the homophobic slur, and Fridolin specifically identifies them as Alemenner, a tribe in German, known for their aggressiveness and that they are created from “all men”, men from different tribes. Is this just a coincidence or is it, in Kubrick’s case, a reflection of men in general – the brutes they are, at least compared to Bill and his high thoughts of himself. Is he really better than them, while walking around trying to take a sexual revenge on his wife? In the book they talk about duels, with swords and guns, and talk about phallic symbols – just like homophobic men often have homoerotic fantasies themselves.
...Or can it be something way more controversial? One of many conspiracies surrounding the Eyes Wide Shut shoot is that Kubrick deliberately tried to mess with the relationship between Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, using their pre-existing fame as an experiment to turn everything upside down. For example he made them sleep in heir characters bedroom, and made the shoot as long as it could possibly be (400 days, still the record when it comes to one continuous shoot), with an absurd amount of takes for each scene, changing the script constantly (remember the script in the final result is very, very similar to the book). This fits perfectly to Kubrick’s first choice of actors in the parts of Bill and Alice, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger – also a famous celebrity couple always making the headlines. So if Kubrick based the movie partly on his actors, what does the gay slur scene against Bill really means? There’s been rumours about Cruise being gay since the eighties, resulting in scandalous books, alleged sex tapes and everything in between. Is the scene in Eyes Wide Shot a reference to the real life situation of Tom Cruise?
One thing that quite different comparing the book with the film is the sexuality itself, for example in the second dream Albertina have, which she tells Fridolin about when he comes home after the masked ball. In the film Alice dreams about what’s could be seen as the masked ball – being fucked by a lot of men, in an orgy. But it’s kinda different in the original source where she and Fridolin takes a walk through the forest, enters a beautiful part by a huge mountain wall, and somehow loses their clothes. Fridolin rush to town to find them new clothes while she’s waiting. After a while the handsome young danish man (the sailor in the film) walks by and greets her, I think three times, and in the end they end up in each others arms. But instead of ending up in a big gang bang a couple of thousand loving couples appears and lays down beside them, all doing their own stuff.
A similar desexualising is happening at the masked ball (where the password is not Fidelio by the way, it’s Denmark – where Albertina first encounters the danish man in the novella), to both the surprise of me and Fridolin; instead of having sex with each other the couples are dancing naked with each other and there’s no place, which is noted very clearly to Fridolin by the mysterious woman he meets theres, to get some privacy and have sex. It’s like the masked ball in the novella is more about not having sex, about teasing and testing. Maybe a way to make the relationship even stronger. The prostitute is not a prostitute either by the way, it’s one countess Dubieski. Interesting class switch.
One of the most bizarre scenes in Eyes Wide Shut is in this one also, the visit to the costume store. The owner is described in similar way to Milich in the film, but have a different name, outside that (the name of the shop isn’t mentioned either) the sequences are identical - except that there’s no Japanese businessmen, instead there’s two “Fehm Judges”, which after some research turned out to be member of a secret order, a secret vigilante society following the orders of god. In history they’re know to make judge and sentence themselves, outside the law, which mean everything from beatings to executions. They were active up to Hitler’s nazi Germany, and dissolved at the end of World War 2. During that time they did their deeds against mostly jews, not surprising. I don’t know what the inclusion of these character means, and if Kubrick mean something by changing them to Japanese businessmen, but in any way they’re a curios addition to the story.
Here’s the interesting insight that came to me after reading Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, aka Dream Story, it’s meant to be read after watching Kubrick’s film. It’s like it takes everything up a notch, deliberately, to get a clearer, and also more distanced view of the story being told – but at the same time sacrificing the enormous depth Kubrick added to his film, through the development of the characters – their thoughts and emotions. Kubrick invites us to deep fucking dive into their psyche, while Schnitzler almost like a greek choir guides throughout the relationship labyrinth from above.
Even if I can sense a certain conservatism in the novella, it also leaves us an open ending where the future is unimportant and the now is what we should focus on. Because what’s a dream and what’s reality and is what we do on our own really wrong if we still love each other?
Thanks to @ellinor_kall for her valuable comments and insights. If you’re interested in more on Kubrick’s EWS, please read my text Eyes Wide Shut: the importance of Fucking here on Ello.
#ArthurSchnitzler #Traumnovelle #DreamStory #EyesWideShut #StanleyKubrick #TomCruise #NicoleKidman #SydneyPollack #SigmundFreud #FilmAnalysis #Dreams #Novella #AustrianLiterature #DreamAnalysis #Writring #Ellowrites