Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is one of those rare movies that blur the lines between fact and fiction, the real and the fantastical. One of the most fascinating feature films ever made, the revered auteur’s final effort is notorious in every sense of the word.
Filled with sex, murder and conspiracy, Eyes Wide Shut is based on the 1926 novella, Traumnovelle (Dream Story), by Arthur Schnitzler. However, Kubrick transposed the setting from decadence-era Vienna to New York, a move that has been taken by many as a means of holding the mirror up to contemporary society.
The picture features the two biggest stars of the day, power couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. They were perfectly cast, Adam and Eve-like symbols of humanity’s present juncture, who would take the audience on this journey to the seventh ring of hell, the dark side of humanity.
Famously, countless conspiracy theories surround the film, which is fitting. The discussion stems from the fact that the iconic filmmaker died only six days after showing his final cut to Warner Bros. Afterwards, it is said that the film was changed markedly. If true, this is a damning indictment of the power of the high society that Kubrick was peering through the curtain at.
Obviously, the conspiracy regarding the death of Kubrick is a lightweight one, but it does speak directly to the themes of the film. Was Kubrick killed for knowing too much, broadly in the way that many people believe the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein was? It’s a question that has fueled conspiracy theorists for years, and for those wishing to believe, the film provides many answers. Taken very seriously, Eyes Wide Shut can be viewed as Kubrick’s ultimate work. An allegory for man, trapped in a state of inertia, in a limbo of servitude to those who truly rule the world, the one’s behind the mask, pulling the strings, but those we never see.
On the other hand, more lightly, it can be hailed as a modern retelling of the original novella, following a man unsatisfied with life, drawn in by the mystery of decadence. Of the last point, think A rebours by Huysmans, just much darker.
To be honest, though, Kubrick meant for Eyes Wide Shut to be taken seriously. He’s showing us the very worst parts of high society, an exposé on the rich, who act as decadently as they did in Hapsburg Vienna. If you’re doubtful of the accuracy of this, the stories surrounding Jeffrey Epstein will be enough to affirm the truth. Epstein never murdered any young women (that we know of), but this act of murder can also be taken as symbolic, representing how high society and people such as Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell have a penchant for picking up those in need, using them and spitting them out.
Tom Cruise’s Dr. Hartford acts as the conduit for the audience, and on his journey, he goes from being ignorant to the evils of the society that he’s on the fringes of, to be acutely aware of it. The foresight of this character is incredible, as it preceded the #MeToo movement and the Epstein revelations by years.
Hartford’s patient, Victor Ziegler, is his way into the dark side. He’s rich, corrupt and a corrupting man. The total lack of empathy he shows for the unconscious, naked woman when he says, “I think they call it a speedball”, confirmed our long-held suspicions: high society does not care about us at all. Although at this point in the story, Ziegler seems like he is the most powerful man in the world, he is only an underling. Remind you of anyone? The Billiard room scene, where he describes the circumstances of the girl who overdosed’s death, saying “her door was locked from the inside”, was chillingly precise.
When Ziegler explains the world to Hartford is perhaps the most pertinent in the whole film. High society is different from normal society, operating by different rules. It is not to be toyed with, as the ramifications for doing so can be much worse than any laymen could possibly imagine.
The inferences of Eyes Wide Shut are tremendous and manifold. Perhaps the most multi-faceted film that Kubrick ever made, as the revelations about Epstein and Maxwell continue to be revealed, it’s likely its relevance will only grow stronger.