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The Lucid Dreamer

by Bryan Lee, Charlotte Yeong, Shang, Y.F. Lee

[This article contains spoilers. Watch the movie before reading!]

An Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT:

If he wanted me, I would give up everything. As inner desires unveil, we spiral into a fever dream of strange encounters, erotic fantasies and secret societies in our most recent film for our Kopi & Movi Watch Party on 20th May. Eyes Wide Shut is the last film made by Stanley Kubrick before he tragically passed away 6 days after its completion. Like many of Kubrick’s works, it has polarised critics and audiences alike. But what can’t be denied is Kubrick’s mastery of the form, as an uncompromising and provocative vision is put on display with perfect execution.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star as Dr. Bill and Alice Harford, a “happily married” couple that resides in the upper-class society of Manhattan. Things go astray during Christmas as Bill is confronted by Alice’s deepest desires through an intimate confession which most (especially men) might find frightening.

 

After the confession, Bill embarks on a sexually charged adventure with many strange and brief encounters, with the last being in a masked orgy held in a large mansion.

 

Each encounter starts and ends with an eerie strangeness that resembles that of a hallucinative dream.  The choice to create this dream-like trance might be to unveil an imagination fueled by male insecurity and a fear of one’s own sexuality. These dream-like sequences are further enhanced with rich imagery of ethereal Christmas lights and precise shot composition. These luscious scenes hint towards a sense of irony and perhaps mockery as beautiful visuals are juxtaposed with the sexual depravity and cravings that each situation brings.

In spite of praise for the film, there are many who are frustrated by it, and understandably so. It was a film publicised as the next erotic thriller. What we got instead was a 160-minutes-long feature with barely any nudity and sexual scenes considering the expectations of the genre at the time. In fact, *SPOILERS AHEAD HERE ON* the plot doesn’t amount to much, the conflict is never resolved, and our characters have learnt nothing from what happened.

 

What we are left with are questions. Was everything real or imagined? What was Kubrick trying to say? These questions invite us to pry into Bill’s psyche. And in doing so, perhaps we can understand ours even more. This enigmatic film has undoubtedly left an impact on all viewers, which culminated in an invigorating discussion afterwards.

Post-Movie Discussion:

In a 2-hour long zoom session, many new faces joined us in a fascinating chat about the film and many other only-partially-related topics as well.

Polarizing Opinions about Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut

Unsurprisingly, we had many differing opinions surrounding the legendary status of Kubrick and if Eyes Wide Shut was really a masterpiece. There were quite a few of us who thought that Kubrick was overrated and excessively-praised as the “master of cinema”. While no one disagreed on Kubrick’s technical prowess, some questioned his approach to storytelling as it felt cold, distant and inconsequential. The characters also felt unrelatable and one-dimensional. One of the group also mentioned how the male gaze is very apparent in the difference between how men and women are portrayed in the film.  All these characterisation choices may be intentional to make a caricature out of the upper-class society.  However, it makes it difficult for viewers to be invested in the story emotionally. That being said, all of us did enjoy the film as the cinematography and production design was amazing, as expected of Kubrick. There was someone who preferred Eyes Wide Shut over The Shining and this came as a surprise to everyone, sparking a discourse on which of these Kubrick films were better. It ended with a screech of REDRUM which put the matter to rest.

Conspiracy Theories

Like many of Kubrick’s films, there are numerous theories surrounding its themes and ideas. Eyes Wide Shut is no exception with its many theories focusing on sociology, dreams, desire and sex. We proceeded to discuss some of these theories and their credibility.

  • Sexual encounters and Desires

Each woman that Bill encountered represents a side of Alice that Bill is subconsciously seeking. Marion barely knows Bill but expresses her sexual and romantic interest openly beside the death of her father. She kisses him passionately and tells him that she loves him. This is reminiscent of the story that Alice told Bill about the naval officer she met last summer. Bill can be seen as Marion’s version of the ‘Naval Officer’ that Alice could not forget. Marion’s boyfriend also looks like Bill physically. Mandy, Domino and Sally are also redheads, like Bill’s wife, which suggest that he is projecting his idea of sexual fantasy in this dream-like world.

  • Dream or reality?

The movie’s dissolving transition, distorted sense of time, and various encounters suggest that most of the events Bill experiences take place in his dream. The film seems to suggest that our dreams have the power to unveil our deepest desires and truth. Throughout the film, Bill is always interrupted by either a phone call or a doorbell. The repetition of Bill’s actions, like mentioning his profession as a doctor, shot of a Christmas tree at almost every scene in the film, and the ominous atmosphere contributes to the dream-like reality that we are watching Bill navigate.

  • The mysterious women at the Mansion

Mandy, a woman Bill meets at the beginning of the film at Ziegler’s party, has an overdose on speedballs but recovered due to Bill’s aid. At the end of the film, Bill was confirming his suspicion that the woman was the same one at the Mansion who ‘redeemed’ him. Ziegler told Bill that the woman was indeed Mandy and that she had died of overdose after the masked orgy. He assures Bill that the threats during the orgy were a ploy to discourage Bill from mentioning the party or the cult. However, many have speculated that the woman who saved Bill was a patient of Bill earlier in the movie. She was the topless women that was inspected by Bill in the doctor’s room. This is probably because the masked ball party is a dream and Alice had accused Bill (when she was high) of being sexually attracted to one of his patients.

We ended the party with a poll on our Telegram Channel to see how many of us thought that the woman who ‘saved’ Bill at the party really OD-ed or if she was killed and it was made to look accidental.

Auteur Theory – Should we separate the art from the artist?

Our discussion finally moved into Kubrick as a director, and we started discussing his role in the filmmaking process and contemporaries who employ a similar technique in their films.

While it has been widely known that the director plays the biggest part in every single step of the filmmaking process, the ‘auteur’ theory underscores the authoritative and flexible potential of the director to oversee every aspect of production. This theory was only realised in the 1950s, and now has become associated with distinct and consistent trademarks utilised by a filmmaker in his oeuvre. Kubrick stands out as an auteur due to the aesthetic and thematic similarities in his body of work, such as steadicam shots, long takes, alterations to literary work in his film adaptations, plus his deliberations on moral ambiguity and the darker side of human nature.

Touching upon Kubrick’s extreme methods of preparing the actors, such as his abuse of Shelley Duvall in the production of The Shining and his beleaguering of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman during the production of Eyes Wide Shut, we pondered on the legitimacy of the oft-heard phrase “separate the art from the artist”.

On the one hand, the ability to do so can be considered an objective assessment of an artist’s body of work. However, since all works of art are deeply embedded in the time and place they were created in. Context is crucial. However, it is important to note that both of these methods are not mutually exclusive, and critics today largely draw from both of these methods. As a critical viewer of Eyes Wide Shut, we can reevaluate our own perceptions of gender dynamics without inhabiting Bill’s worldview of misogyny.

A summary of Eyes Wide Shut:

Storyline: A relatively simple plot which focuses on Tom Cruise’s Bill Harford’s interactions throughout the course of a few days.
Runtime: 2 hours 35 minutes
Film Quality: Many Kubrick-styled long takes and steadicam shots

Immaculate Shot Composition with beautiful cinematography (especially lighting)

Slow Pacing with purposeful editing

Non-human and icy cold acting as expected from a Kubrick film

Creepy and disturbing film score due to Kubrick’s characteristic perfect choice in classical music

Conclusion: Eyes Wide Shut’s deceptively simple plot belies its elaborate artistry and rich subtext which might encourage multiple viewings to be fully grasped.

 

Join us for the next Kopi & Movi Watch Party on 13 June for PRIDE MONTH! Don’t miss out on these insanely passionate post-movie chats, happening every month.

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