The film’s leitmotif is domesticity, sexual disturbance, and dreams, all conveyed in an enigmatic manner.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is Stanley Kubrick‘s final film, the director’s final outing before his death at the end of the 20th Century.
The picture begins with the distinctive surroundings and vividness of a dream.
The following evening, Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) shares a glimpse of fantasy with her husband Dr. Bill Harford. Disclosing that she dreamt about having an affair and fantasized about it so much that she pondered leaving Bill (Tom Cruise) and their daughter.
At this level, Alice’s divulgence appears deliberative in order to arouse an emotional convergence with Bill. That is, she contrived a methodical approach to revealing her occulted persona. Kubrick here employs dialogue to describe dreams and desires. Alice’s monologue encourages the use of one’s imagination, which is often more powerful in manifesting the desired effect in Film.
Meanwhile, Bill is taken aback by Alice’s Pandoranian unboxing before being called to the home of a recently deceased patient. As a result, the groundwork for his Pinnochian adventure has been laid.
Before long, Bill arrives at the patient’s home. Marion, the patient’s enigmatic daughter, who appears distraught, decides to have a high-old-time with Bill and declares her love for him abruptly and ambiguously in the middle of the room where her late father lies.
At this juncture is it possible that Bill was brought to the house as part of an occult ritual rather than as an afterthought, or is it just a trick of the light?
Meanwhile, Marion tries unsuccessfully to seduce Bill, but it appears like she is clinging to him, to protect him; or warn him of something before her boyfriend Carl walks in and intrudes on them.
Consequently, Marion’s motivation is unknown, and it’s uncertain if she behaved wittingly or unwittingly. The entire scene is ripe with allusion and ambiguity.
It’s worth noting that “In mora” is an anagram of Marion. The Latin term Mora means “to linger, delay,” which was also used to translate the metrical connotation of the Greek word chrónos (time). Likewise, “Amor” is an anagram of Mora. The Roman equivalent of the Greek god Eros, known as “Amor” in Latin.
In the first place, Bill is a daydreamer and easily sidetracked. Late at night, with fire in his belly, he traverses through the shadowy streets of New York, where holiday decorations kindle a misty path of blue-fiery hues.
Just in the same way, Bill’s drawn to Domino: a fascinating young woman who befriends him. She tries enticing him, urging him to accompany her home and out of the cold, much like a moth to a flame, Bill is mesmerized by her lustre.
They eventually make their way to Domino’s house. Bill has a series of comforting minutes in her company: the warm apartment, Domino’s enchanting embrace, and a magical kiss akin to kindling fire: a single ember to light his way through the darkness. As the match burns out, he is interrupted by a phone call from his wife. So far, Domino has shown him kindness and concern. Bill then expresses gratitude for Domino’s time and departs for the night after compensating her.
The Road Not Taken: Fidelio or Wonderland?
Next, Bill embarks on a night-long journey filled with intrigue, which includes: infiltrating an unnamed secret society with a rented Venetian mask and a password: Fidelio.
Hence Bill’s adventure is motivated and explained by several factors, including Alice’s dreams, the cryptic sect, and his role in it all. All the while being led astray by a shadowy, fragmented society of strange people and strange occurrences all erupting around him simultaneously.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
On the evening of the following day, when Bill returns home, he discovers the rented Venetian mask on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. Replete with a sobering ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ expression on his face, he realizes the true nature of Alice’s ambiguous disclosure. In the end, Alice reverts to her domestic persona; it all seems like a dream.
And like a dream, this text from the ancient Sanskrit scripture The Upanishads describes the characters of Alice and Bill vaguely and dreamily: “We are similar to the spider. We weave our lives and then move through them. We are similar to the dreamer who dreams and then lives in his or her dream. This applies to the entire universe.”
Nota bene: The characters Alice Harford and Victor Ziegler serve as Virgilian guides throughout the film’s plot. Virgil is also a six-letter anagram of Victor Ziegler.
Following this further, The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in which the character Dante must travel through Hell and Purgatory with the help of the Roman poet Virgil before being transported to Heaven by his first love, Beatrice.
Lastly, the poem is more than a phantasmal physical journey to the afterlife; it is also a dream about transcendence and a metaphor for the poet’s enlightenment. Virgil not only shows Dante the physical path through Hell, but he also reinforces moral tenets. Similarly, Victor, like Virgil, is wise and protective of Bill.
The pendulum of the mind
In general, I believe there is no distinct pattern of right or wrong in Stanley Kubrick’s film, only a hazy hue for us, the audience, to deduce the meaning despite indistinctness or ambiguity.
Furthermore, there is a wonderful quote that parallels this: “The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.” Carl Jung wrote in his semi-autobiographical book Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
Following this line of reasoning, the movie may be deciphered from a feminist perspective. For example, several female characters appear more intuitive and cognizant than their male counterparts, who hide behind personas (i.e. simulacrums), and rubrics (i.e. simulation), both of which are part of the film’s motifs.
Similarly, the phantasmagoria of masks in Eyes Wide Shut is consistent: persona (psychology) is the film’s primary constituent.
“Alice’s monologue encourages the use of one’s imagination, which is often more powerful in manifesting the desired effect in Film.“