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Give Up Your Enquiries: Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut Turns 20
Aimee Armstrong , July 15th, 2019 07:21

Stanley Kubrick’s last film, is shrouded in dark and disturbing secrets. A more than fitting open end to his four-decade spanning mythology, says Aimee Armstrong. *CONTAINS SPOILERS*

When the Kubrick fanboys are out and discussing Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut is rarely mentioned. When anyone, fan or not, talk of the director and his innumerable contributions to cinema this film ranks right near the bottom of the pile. Is it too convoluted? Too sexual? Does it not match up to the twisted grandeur or the eerie thrills you associate with his name? Is the message too on the nose? Is the message too vague? Is there too much Tom Cruise? Does it explore a type of decadence that we, the viewer simply don’t want to address? Is it too weird? Or is it just too real? Eyes Wide Shut is his final film and feels more like an abridged mystery than a swan song. There are twenty-four minutes missing, removed at the request or demand of Warner Brothers, that have never returned. Speculation about these twenty-four minutes of cuttings - their content and how they’d affect the final cut - makes Eyes Wide Shut Kubrick’s most multifaceted experience. Even more so than so many of his other works - exploring fan theory regarding this film is just as intense as actually watching it.

Because, in spite of its relative low standing, there are literally hundreds of fan theories about the film. It has been suggested that Eyes Wide Shut was merely an elaborate expensive way for Kubrick to toy with Tom Cruise. Some very far out questers have suggested that Kubrick's entire body of work can be read as a coded expose of the illuminati conspiracy and that the director was assassinated for going to far on this, his final film (666 days before 1 January, 2001 - a nod to his earlier masterpiece, of course). In fact the idea that there is an elite network who do whatever they want at the top of American society is chiming a chord with many this week in the light of recent allegations against Jeffrey Epstein.

The film holds the record for longest continuous film shoot at four-hundred days, but its conception was even more gradual. In the late 1960s, Kubrick acquired the rights to Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story. Erotic, but far from pornographic, the novel explores lust and trust as a sexual dichotomy. This would become the basis of the film’s narrative, however the project endured a prolonged shelving as Kubrick went on to first make A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. During this time Eyes Wide Shut underwent many mutations. Woody Allen and more Bizarrely Steve Martin were considered to play the lead. But in 1994, production of the film as we know it began and with an older Stanley Kubrick at the helm, and according to his wife Christiane Kubrick a more “mellowed” and “optimistic” one.

In contrast to much cinema of the 90s, the film does not embrace a nihilistic worldview. It’s very clear from the start that the feelings and status of the characters and their surroundings matter a great deal. The whole story revolves around one character giving a considerable amount of fucks about others while still pursuing personal gratification. Human emotion is pivotal to the plot of Eyes Wide Shut, perhaps more here than in any other Kubrick film. At its core, it’s about the subtle and slight deterioration of the relationship between Dr. Bill Harford and his wife Alice Harford, significantly played by then real-life Hollywood power-couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Early on, it’s established that the pair are part of the bourgeoisie. The first act sees them attend a soireé in which both characters display mounds of affection for others perfectly illustrating Dream Story’s dichotomy of Lust and Trust. Bill ignorantly trusts his partner, until the following night she reveals she was prepared to sacrifice her life with him and their daughter for a fling with a young naval officer in Cape Cod the summer before. This is the seed of the narrative, Bill spends the rest of the night desperate to match his wife’s desire for unfaithfulness, an existential bender that culminates in a masked sex party.

The party is the most recognisable scene in Eyes Wide Shut. It’s visually singular and disturbing. A statically bewildered Bill navigates a grand hall of masquerading uber-rich occultists scored by a reversed recording of Romanian priests singing Orthodox Liturgy. There’s much speculation as to what this scene represents, given most of Kubrick’s iconography is riddled with esoteric symbolism. Some say it’s just an avant-garde orgy. Others go with Illuminati gathering, or more sinisterly a representation of human trafficking or child sex abuse amongst the elite. Much like our protagonist Bill, we are destined never to know. He’s not supposed to be at the party; he’s neither rich nor powerful enough. The following night whilst trying to piece together his night of promiscuity he returns to the Manor House where the party took place and is handed a note that reads; “Give up your inquiries, which are completely useless, and consider these words a final warning. We hope, for your own good that this will be sufficient.”

Kubrick’s films have always been laced with conspiracy. He’d been partially blamed for an epidemic of gang violence following the controversial release of A Clockwork Orange and also accused of faking the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, later alleged to be using subliminal messaging in The Shining to apologise for doing so. The speculation is mostly a pile of cack.

When it comes to Eyes Wide Shut the red-pill community suggests a subtext of high society paedophilia. But was this something Kubrick claimed to be aware of? Numerous conspiracy sites report that he did. And if you buy in to that view point and look at the film with that context, accordingly the idea of Eyes Wide Shut being about a rich man in a relationship crisis who stumbles upon a child sex ring becomes infinitely more plausible. The group of people at the party are impenetrable to outsiders and are quite obviously sworn to secrecy as guests. Before getting in to “the party”, Bill has to acquire the correct attire, a mask, a tuxedo and a cloak. He pays way over the odds in the early hours in the morning in order to persuade fancy dress shop owner Milich to rent a costume. While the pair are browsing Milich finds two men naked with his implied underage daughter. He’s furious and insists that he’s making it a police matter, however, the morning after when Bill returns the garments he seems to have forgiven the men and forgotten about what happened. Just as Bill eventually later in the film makes no further inquiries about the party, Milich has turned a blind eye. Both of these moments can be read as showing assimilated characters who are aware of high society deviancy but who choose not to acknowledge it or are forced not to talk about it. Their eyes are ‘wide shut’.

In the final scene, Bill and Alice are discussing recuperating their relationship in a toy store with their daughter. She picks up a teddy bear and beckons to have it, later she walks into a sea of men and is never seen again in the film. The teddy bear’s significance as an object can only be understood when viewed through the lens of another Kubrick film. In his visual essay 'Danny’s Ordeal And The Bear Costumed Man' Ron Ager suggests that Kubrick uses the image of bears to characterise abuse in The Shining. Just above Danny’s bed, there is a painting of two bears one standing one sitting, which directly corresponds to a picture in Jack and Wendy’s room. It depicts two naked children in the same position. The image is also similarly framed to the infamous and seemingly out of the blue shot of a man in a bear costume performing oral sex on a previous hotel owner later in the film. There’s also a bear positioned just behind Danny’s head while Danny speaks nervously to his psychiatrist at the beginning of the film. The most convincing piece of evidence Ager puts across in his essay is a shot of Jack Torrence reading a copy of Playgirl which contains an article entitled ‘Incest: Why Parents Sleep With Their Children’.

There is more than one way to view Eyes Wide Shut; is it simply a story about the blurring of dreams and reality is one of them. The party is so bizarre that it does beg the question: did this actually happen? As does the scene where Milich lets off his daughter's supposed rapists. Unlike The Shining, it’s precariously faithful to its source material, aside from taking place in 90s New York as opposed to early 1900s Vienna. However, the masked sex ball in Dream Story is never implied to contain underage girls, the prospect of the film’s correspondence concerning that is slightly negated. This makes one question what is actually in the missing twenty-four minutes. Upon rigorous reading, it appears next to nothing from the novel was left out, implying Kubrick had something to show us, and someone didn't want us to see. But yet again, like Bill, we are destined to unknowing. Kubrick died six days after screening the film to his family and starring actors, the effect on Kubrick fans has been implicitly that they should give up their enquiries; but how much more is there to learn?

This article has been edited to remove an unverifiable and possibly manufactured quote, Ed