An in depth analysis of
EYES WIDE SHUT
© by Rob Ager 2007 (text last updated 24/10/07)
2) DREAM LOGIC
3) FRACTAL LOGIC
5) THE TWO PARTIES
6) THE PROCESS OF AWAKENING
EWS operates on a completely unconventional form of narrative, which upon first viewing virtually always confuses. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is designed to psychologically include the viewer within the film content whilst also including itself in the viewers own reality. In 2001 the rectangular black Monolith doubled up as an unconscious representation of the actual cinema screen (rotated 90degrees), thus sucking the audience into the film narrative so that we were symbolically pulled along the same journey as the apes and astronauts. As we shall discover here, EWS uses a similar form of hypnotic trickery.
The foremost unconventional story device used in EWS is dream logic - the simplest clue being that the film is loosely based upon a book called Traumnovelle, which translates as Dream Story. And this is exactly what we get while watching EWS – a story that combines the psychological traits of both dreams and reality … of being simultaneously asleep and awake … Eyes Wide Shut.
In dream logic characters or locations can take on more than one physical appearance, seemingly insignificant dialogue can carry hidden messages, thoughts and emotions can repeat themselves in transformational loops and the smallest sensory details can contain the most powerful meanings. All of these phenomena are at work in EWS.
For added hypnotic effect the story uses a sort of fractal logic – or dreams that are repeated within dreams.
The clearest example of this is when Bill Harford returns home from the Somerton Mansion orgy. His wife awakens and describes a nightmare in which she also took part in an orgy. So this ritualistic sex fest was operating on at least two logical levels – Bill’s “reality” and Alice’s dream.
Another example of fractal logic is the jealousy crisis that Bill experiences after his wife confesses prior sexual fantasies about a naval officer. She did not act upon these fantasies, yet Bill’s intense reaction causes him to go on the hunt for sexual encounters with other women. Again Alice’s fantasies are merged with Bill’s “reality”.
More fractal logic can be found musically. The opening piece of music comes across as part of the score, but when Bill switches off the stereo in his bedroom we find that this music was actually part of the film content. This happens again in Dominos bedroom (he switches off the musical “score” before answering his mobile) and again when Bill witnesses the Somerton ritual – the music is actually his friend Nick playing.
The sets of the film are also fractal and dream like, with their intense colours and “simulated natural lighting”. Kubrick apparently created a new film processing technique to enrich the colours of the footage. Combined with the onslaught of coloured Xmas light props, this colour enrichment gives EWS an almost psychedelic visual style. And this “rainbow” coloured reality is mirrored in the assorted paintings that adorn the films sets. Incidentally these were painted by Kubrick’s wife Christiane.
In many instances the actual content of these artwork props are mimicking aspects of Bill’s and Alice’s reality. In Ziegler’s bathroom where Mandy lays OD’ing on a blood red sofa we see a large painting up on the wall, which is depicting an identically posed woman sprawled on a bed with blood red sheets. A couple of scenes later we see Alice laying almost naked on the blood red sheets of her bed, smoking a joint with her husband – naked woman, drugs, blood red sheets, with a bathroom in the back of the shot. The drug induced woman motif now exists in at least three contexts.
This kind of fractal logic in EWS also extends into the audiences “reality”. Cruise and Kidman play a married couple, which at the time of production was mirrored by their marriage in the real world. And this was blatantly depicted in the films marketing campaign. The main poster showed the infamous couple reflected in a silver-framed mirror - the same mirror in which they are seen engaging in foreplay after leaving the Ziegler party. This was art and reality in deliberate reflection of one another.
The overall experience of watching EWS is designed to act as a metaphorical mirror for audiences to sit and “reflect” upon their own reality. Consider this. Tom Cruise’s character spends much of the film seeking out sexual gratification … only to find repeated disappointment … during which he makes a terrifying discovery about the social hierarchy that he lives in. This is the exact same journey that audiences had in viewing the film. They went into cinemas expecting to feast their eyes on raunchy sex scenes … only to find repeated disappointment … during which they made a terrifying discovery about the social hierarchy they live in. So the widely believed idea that EWS was badly marketed is false. The marketing drew the attention of millions of people on the promise of sexual fantasy, but what we got was Kubrick ingeniously using the cinema screen as a symbolic mirror to show us a reflection of how perverted and decadent we have become as an entire society.
As already mentioned, the various paintings that appear throughout the movie are “reflecting” Bill and Alice’s reality. In a symbolic sense these are not paintings at all – they are painted mirrors. One of the books visible on Dominos shelf is even called Shadows On The Mirror.
Now look at the paintings on the sets of the Somerton orgy scene and in the ballroom of Zieglers party. Kubrick seems to have purposefully divided the painting props of EWS into rainbow coloured mirror metaphors on some sets and European nobility portraits in others. So what is the message here?
Well we already know that upper class European nobility types such as Sandor Szavost are in attendance at Zieglars party, but at the Somerton mansion we are presented with a crowd of anonymous masked people to puzzle over. Now considering Stanley Kubrick’s career-long distrust of wealthy and political establishments, which he took painstaking efforts to encrypt in his films, the artwork doubling up as mirrors concept could provide a direct answer as to the identities of the orgy participants. Notice how there are very few actual mirror props at Somerton. The mirrors are there, but their content is presented in painting form. The portraits are symbolic mirror images of those in attendance, unmasked and undisguised. Even as Victor Ziegler circles his pool table refusing to reveal the names of his orgy associates, we can see their portraits up on his walls. Talk about spelling it out. Ever the controversial risk taker, Kubrick was having a direct stab at nobility and right or wrong, he viewed them as decadent.
Many interpretations of EWS have taken the orgy scene as literal, as if Kubrick was announcing that these kinds of orgies actually happen in the very way that we see them at Somerton. This is possible and if that is your area of interest then you will find plenty of other reviews exploring those ideas. But my interpretation is that this ritualized orgy is a metaphor for moral decadence in high society.
The two parties
The two upper class parties of this film are actually mirrored reflections of each other. At the Zieglar party we are hypnotized by visual glamour and surface sophistication. And at Somerton these illusions are stripped away leaving the underlying greed and decadence on display.
The characters who are openly verified as having been present at Somerton are Bill Harford, Victor Ziegler, Nick Nightingale and the prostitute Mandy, all of whom were also in attendance at Zieglers party. So an important question is, was anybody else from the Ziegler party also at the orgy? Let’s take a closer look.
The two women who tried to seduce Bill at the Ziegler party were models and we learn from the newspaper article about Mandy’s death that she also was a model. So it is not unreasonable to assume that all of these models were present at both parties. The two models’ dialogue with Bill about taking him to “where the rainbow ends” is a metaphoric link to both Milich’s store “rainbow costumes” and to the Somerton mansion. The rainbow literally ends at Somerton in that this is the first indoor set of the movie that is not decorated with coloured Xmas lights. It is a revisiting of the Ziegler party, but stripped of the illusions and pretence.
As for the Dracula-esque Sandor Szavost, who tried to seduce Alice at the Ziegler party, we can imagine he would have a whale of a time at the orgy and he certainly presented as wealthy and influential enough. His dialogue offers some very nice clues. He asks Alice if she has seen Victor’s collection of renaissance bronzes and as it turns out the Somerton mansion is virtually a museum of them (the bronze statues with lamps on top). He also tells Alice “one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties.” Note the double speak there “…deception a necessity for … both parties” (the two parties being Ziegler’s and Somerton). We can safely guess he was at the orgy.
Alice, while not being at the orgy in conventional terms, is definitely there metaphorically. She has a dream of being at an orgy that is very similar to Bill’s experience at Somerton. Also the password “Fidelio” is a Beethoven opera about a woman who rescues her husband from death in a political prison. Like in the story of Fidelio, Harford is saved at Somerton by the self sacrifice of a mysterious woman. So if we take into account the connection between Alice and Mandy depicted in the painting on Zieglers bathroom wall, then the dream logic reveals itself. The woman who saves Bill is a combination of Mandy and his own wife Alice. In fact neither Nicole Kidman nor the actress who played Mandy are credited as playing the woman who helps Bill escape. Kubrick used a completely different actress all together. She is a psychological synthesis of Alice and Mandy.
Also included in this character synthesis is the prostitute Domino who picked Bill up on a street corner. Her name itself is a giveaway. The word Domino originally referred to the black hooded cloaks worn by 17th century priests and it later became a name for certain types of Venetian masks. Domino cloaks were also worn by women as mourning veils and the word stems from the latin word Dominus, which means “lord” or “master”. This all links up with what we witness at Somerton. And what do we see hanging on the wall in Dominos bedroom? Masks of course.
For yet another clue as to Dominos symbolic presence at the orgy look at the beak-like mask of the man who takes away the female after she redeems Bill. These masks were worn by plague doctors centuries ago and the beaks were stuffed with herbs to purify the air breathed by the wearer. So why the disease metaphor? Because Domino, as we soon find out, is HIV positive. So we have three female characters, Domino, Mandy and Alice, symbolically rolled into one.
For further evidence of Alice’s symbolic presence at the orgy compare the following two shots. As Bill and Alice enter the Ziegler party they walk hand in hand along a hallway which has mirrors and a section of black and white tiled floor. Another couple are following behind them. The camera pans left with Bill and Alice until we see a stairway in the backdrop. We can see couples wandering upstairs. The Zieglers and Harfords greet each other and exchange kisses then Victor comments on how beautiful Alice looks.
Now we have the following almost mirror image shot at Somerton, minus the pretence. Bill and a naked woman hold hands as they walk along a hallway with mirrors and a section of black and white tiled floor, again with a couple following behind them. The camera backs up with Bill and his partner as they veer to our left. Then the angle changes to where it would be if it had panned left in the first place. Just like in the Ziegler shot we see a stairway in the background. A mysterious man steps in and takes the naked woman away from Bill and up the stairs.
We already know what is happening upstairs from what we saw in Zieglers party – sex, drugs, prostitution and probably wife swapping. And remember the question Alice asks Bill as they danced in the ballroom, “Why do you think Victor invites us to these things every year?” Her question is answered as soon as she and Bill wander away from each other. They are both sexually propositioned. So on a symbolic level Alice is present at the orgy and the masked men’s motives of sexually exploiting her are plain to see.
At Zieglers party women are hypnotized by the charm and social status of men like Sandor. At Somerton their status as mere sex objects is made clear by their nakedness and ritualized subservience.
At Zieglers people greet each other with false smiles, false kisses and false personas. At Somerton their false personas take on the physical form of masks, which of course cancels out smiles and reveals their kisses as ritualized gestures devoid of intimacy. The masks themselves are the kind used in Venetian masquerade balls, which have historically been a high society pastime.
Now if we take another look at the Rainbow Costume shop we find some interesting features. The mannequins are framed on the back wall by a shower of white Xmas lights just like the ones seen glittering in the backdrops of Zieglers party. The floor is carpeted by a blood red felt material just like the red carpet entrance at Somerton. As Bill enters and looks around Milich points to the figures and says “looks like life huh?” This set is acting as a transitional piece that visually combines elements from both party scenes.
We even find a drug-induced mini-orgy going on at Milich’s. His daughter whispers in Bill’s ear and, if the subtitles are accurate, says “You should wear a cloak lined with Ermine”. Ermine is an expensive type of fur traditionally worn by … take a guess … European nobility. And of course nobility love their red carpets.
The process of awakening
Virtually everything that I have so far described about EWS has an overall theme of awakening, of stripping away veils of illusion to reveal underlying truths, no matter how ugly those truths may be. To this effect EWS repeats certain ideas in transformational loops. So let’s take a sequential look at the overall story with this in mind.
On first glance of the films opening shot we see an attractive woman getting naked, but attach very little meaning to it. Look at the shot again, this time bearing in mind the concepts of dream logic and fractal logic. We see mirrors, which are a key concept throughout the entire film. We see red curtains, a lamp and pillars – features that repeat not only throughout the entire Harford residence, but also at the Somerton mansion. We also see a set of tennis rackets. Now here’s something more interesting. Alice is not wearing any underwear and after she drops her black gown to the floor she is left wearing nothing but black high heels. Where else do we see naked women in black high heels dropping their black gowns to the floor? At the Somerton ritual of course. This shot alone reveals Alice as being symbolically linked to the ritual.
We cut to the films title caption EYES WIDE SHUT and then after a brief night shot of a city street we see Bill stood in the same bedroom location. The angle is slightly different and this time we can see book shelves, another feature that repeats throughout both the Harford residence and Somerton mansion. The shoes are still under the window, but this time the lamp is gone and a red carpet has suddenly appeared in the middle of the floor. In the corner is an upright black object, perhaps a golf bag, in place of the tennis rackets. There are more of these blatant continuity errors scattered about the film, which are not typical of the perfectionist Kubrick. They could be deliberate clues that we are watching a dream story.
Bill is unable to find his wallet in his introductory shot and when Alice asks him how she looks he replies “beautiful”. She tells him he’s not even looking. Once in the hall he asks her what the babysitters name is, even though Alice just said her name “Roz” in the bathroom. We have already established that Bill neither sees nor listens as he stumbles through life.
We next get a look around the Harford apartment as they say goodnight to their daughter on their way out. We see more lamps, pillars and red carpets, but another couple of features that are familiar to Somerton are globe shaped light fittings, tall green plants and red couches. The reasons for these visual similarities with Somerton will become apparent later.
Next we have the Ziegler party sequence, which we’ve already explored in some detail. One feature I neglected to mention was the hypnotic star shaped decorations on the walls. These are unusual and have been interpreted by reviewers as everything from secret society symbols to representations of the heavens, though they equally could just be giant snow flakes. Knowing Kubrick they are probably intended to carry several meanings.
After Bill points out his old medical school buddy playing Piano he seems to take pride in telling Alice “He’s not a doctor. He dropped out.” Bill wants to say “hello” to Nick, but Alice is disinterested. She heads off to the bathroom, necking another drink along the way then waits for Bill at the bar.
Now we have Both Bill and Alice being sexually approached by strangers. We don’t actually find out if Bill was going to take up the models offer because he is called away to deal with the overdosed prostitute predicament in Ziegler’s bathroom. Ziegler, as we have seen, is married and Sandor attempts to persuade Alice to disregard her marriage. So this establishes infidelity as the norm at this glamour coated event.
After Bill attends to Mandy and she begins to recover from her overdose, we get a glimpse of Ziegler’s true nature. He can’t wait to get Mandy out of his home and is more concerned about protecting his reputation.
Meanwhile in the ballroom, despite being drunk, Alice resists the charm of Sandor and knocks him back. We then cut to an important shot. Bill approaches Alice in their bedroom. They are both naked and reflected in a mirror – the same mirror seen on the marketing poster. Alice looks uncomfortably at what she sees in the mirror and the shot fades to black. Something is bothering her.
Now we are presented with a series of shots that depict the daily routine of the Harford family. Bill orders his assistant to bring him coffee as soon as he walks in his office – later we see a painting behind his desk depicting several cups of coffee. Once again this is art reflecting his reality. Another shot shows Bill doing an examination on a naked breasted patient, which is also later depicted in a painting on Bill’s office wall. We next see Alice in her blue gown grooming their daughter Helena who is dressed in red. This blue and red colour combination is repeated many times as the film progresses, the most prominent being the red cloaked conductor of the Somerton rituals who sits upon his throne flanked by two blue cloaked figures. In this scene we also have a terrified Bill Harford stood on a red carpet, bathed in blue light. I don’t have an explanation for the significance of this repeated blue red colour scheme, but it is there. (Update: I believe the recurring colour combinations in EWS are basically used to make certain locations and scenes parallel each other. EG. The blue lighting that shines down upon Bill as he is threatened is repeated when Ziegler places his hands on Bill's shoulders in the pool room .)
Going back to the daily routine montage, Alice and Helena groom themselves some more in the bathroom and proceed to wrap Xmas presents, but once Bill is home and sat in the living room he refuses to help Alice wrap the remaining ones.
Now we come to another important shot. Alice looks in the bathroom mirror. She is tired and again is looking at herself as if something is bothering her. Out of the cabinet she takes the “band-aid” box, which is where their cannabis is stashed. She closes the cabinet and considers herself again. What is she thinking? Well considering the argument she is about to have with her husband, my guess is that she is questioning her role in the marriage. Notice that the apartment is immaculate throughout the movie, yet there is no maid. Given Bill’s self preoccupation perhaps it is appropriate that we don’t actually get to see Alice doing any of the cleaning.
Now comes the event that sets the story in perpetual motion. Stoned out of her mind, Alice unleashes a tirade of awkward questions. Alice is dropping the veil of secrecy in their relationship and she demands that Bill does the same. Bill instead tries to maintain the illusions of marital bliss by responding with a tirade of lies, many of which he actually seems convinced of. When asked where he disappeared to in the party he tells her that Ziegler wasn’t feeling too well and that he went to attend to him. This is his first lie. She asks if he believes a man would only talk to her to try and have sex with her. He replies “I don’t think it’s quite that black and white …” his second lie. He has actually been trying to seduce her himself for the last few minutes and note that he is wearing black underwear and she is wearing white. This “not quite black and white” lie is thrown back in Bill’s face as he is later tormented by black and white thoughts of his wife having sex with another man.
During the bedroom argument Bill’s pathetic pleas of innocence continue and he even spouts the line “I would never lie to you or hurt you”. He has already lied to her repeatedly for nearly five minutes. Alice then puts forward the contention that sexual fantasies are occurring during Bill’s examinations of his female patient’s breasts and he responds with more lies. Remember that in Bill’s office we see paintings depicting coffee mugs and a naked breasted woman? In addition to this, on the wall opposite his desk, is a picture of a naked couple making love on a chair. Sexual fantasies do exist in his office.
Now comes the bombshell. Sitting beneath the window with her back against a peculiar “black and white” patterned patch of wall paper, Alice reveals her previous fantasies of having sex with a naval officer. (Update: the black and white patch behind Alice is a radiator grill commonly found in New York apartments) Bill’s lie that he is not the jealous type is scattered to the winds and this is where he begins his long and painful awakening. From here on the story is part conventional narrative and partly a manifestation of Bill and Alice’s awakening process. Remember that he is also stoned at this point.
Bill next visits Marion, the daughter of his deceased client Lou Nathanson. He is let into the apartment by a maid who he calls “Rosa”, remember that the babysitter at the Harford’s was called “Roz”. Marion reveals that she has had intense fantasies about Bill and wants to give up everything, including her fiancé, to be with him. This is a repetition of Alice’s fantasy about giving up everything to be with the naval officer. But this time around Bill is actually playing the role previously inhabited by the naval officer. When Marion’s boyfriend Carl enters the room, we see that Carl and Marion are almost a carbon copy of Bill and Alice. In true dream logic fashion, Bill is mentally exploring the dynamics of his relationship with Alice, but in a third person perspective. Perhaps he is attempting to restore his damaged ego by fantasizing about being the naval officer.
In the next scene Bill walks the streets and is insulted by a group of abusive men, who call him a homosexual. This is likely a manifestation of his feelings of lost masculinity. He is then approached and propositioned by a prostitute, Domino, and goes into her apartment. Her charming demeanour gives the experience away as a sort of unrealistic fantasy on Bill’s part, though the poverty stricken messy apartment and her statement “maid’s day off” could be part of Bill’s emerging awareness of how lucky he is both financially and in terms of his wife’s maintenance of the home. The phone call he receives from his wife as he kisses Domino is undoubtedly a manifestation of his guilt at the prospect of cheating on her. Unable to follow the experience through, he pays Domino anyway, if only to secure her admiration, then leaves.
Now Bill Wanders to the Sonata Café. On his way in a sign reads "all exits are final" and another reads "the customer is always wrong". These statements are true for Bill in that the cafe is closed next time he visits and he wastes his money endlessly in the pursuit of sexual gratification. The reason he goes to the cafe at this point is most likely to mend his ego by hanging out with a man who he obviously perceives as lower down the social ladder. This doesn’t quite work though. Bill finds out Nick is happily married with four children, but he also finds out about the Somerton party, which according to Nick is packed with beautiful women. He acquires the password and finds out that he needs a cloak and mask to get in. In Bill’s dream logic he is attempting to restore his ego by revisiting his flattering experience with the models at the Ziegler party.
So off he goes to the Rainbow Costumes store. Now here is another blatant continuity error designed to give away the dream elements of the story. Reflected in the window as Milich approaches Bill and also seen behind Bill across the street in the reverse shot, is the Sonata café, which Bill has only just left. So why did he arrive in a taxi? Perhaps he was ripped off by the driver, who simply drove him in circles. Poor Bill just can’t read the signs. Everything Bill does on this night seems to cost him a small fortune so maybe he is beginning to realise the all powerful controlling force of money.
The stores symbolic link between the Ziegler party and Somerton orgy has already been noted, but the presentation of Milich’s daughter as a sex object is very interesting. This scene could be depicting Bill’s fear that his daughter will grow up to be seen as a sex object, just like his wife. In her white underwear and drug-induced pose Milich’s daughter looks like a younger version of Alice (who we saw stoned and posing in white underwear in the Harford bedroom). When we see the daughter again in the second half of the film she has a vacant expression and looks strangely like a Japanese doll. It’s also significant that the two Japanese men were already acquainted with Milich, just as Bill’s own so-called friend Ziegler may have had sexual agendas regarding his wife. Yet another example of EWS mirroring reality is that the costume shop owner looks very much like Guerrino Lovato, who designed all of the films masks during production.
So off bill goes to the Somerton mansion, still plagued by black and white thoughts of his wife with another man. Unlike the Ziegler party, the mansion is very difficult to gain entrance too. This is Bill’s increasing awareness of his true social status, which is much further down the ladder than he thought. The complete lack of Xmas decorations, even on the small pine trees outside the entrance, carries several meanings. It indicates that Bill is no longer seeing the tinsel wrapped illusions he saw at the Ziegler party and is thus awakening to the decadent horror of the upper class social circles that he aspires to. It is also possible that Kubrick was implying an occultist element to the ritual proceedings. Why else would they be engaging in such sordid activities, while everybody else is surrounded by Xmas decorations and celebrating the festive season?
Bill is unfamiliar with the Somerton rituals. He stands in the wrong place as he watches the choreographed proceedings, and draws the attention of a couple on the balcony. The male figure acknowledges him. Could this be Ziegler and his wife? It probably is. Note the sad expression and tear like markings on her mask. In fact the concept of female prostitutes in this scene could be Kubrick’s uncompromising revelation that those who marry for money are forever enslaved.
There are some other aspects of this ritual that do not fit as manifestations of Bill’s own psyche. The décor and music of the mansion seems to be a combination of ideas from different cultures and religions. The smoking incense ball is called a Thurible and is used in various religions, as well as in black magic rituals. The anti-clockwise movements of the priest, who is listed in the credits as Red Cloak, along with anti-clockwise camera movements, could also tie in to black magic. At one point the ceremony participants, including Red Cloak himself, bow down as if they are worshipping a deity.
The characters of EWS definitely seem to be a global crowd as well, Ziegler is an American but his name is German, Sandor was Hungarian, Milich was French and the men caught with his daughter were Japanese, and of course the leader of the ceremony, Red Cloak, is English. Nick Nightingale revealed in the Sonata café that the parties are in a different place every time, which is a clue that the orgies are held by an ongoing club and its members are spread around the country and probably the globe. Nick also states that the parties get started around 2am. Why so late? Well 3am is known to occultists as the witching hour. So perhaps those who have stated that Kubrick was attempting to expose some ongoing occultist secret society, like the Illuminati, were onto something.
It has also been suggested that the skull-like mask worn by the man on the balcony was a reference to the skull and bones secret society at Yale University and that he nods like an owl, apparently a favourite symbol of theirs. However, this is actually a specific type of Venetian mask, called a Bauta.
In terms of Bill’s awakening, the sexual exhibitionism of the orgy ties in perfectly with the Ziegler party where people show off their bodies, their financial status and their social status. We are finally delivered the sexual spectacle promised in the films marketing campaign, but instead of being aroused we are simply repulsed. The assorted figures sat watching these sexual encounters look equally bewildered.
The masked figure who spotted Bill from the balcony sends a woman to lure Bill into a trap, but Bill is pulled away by the other woman who has been trying to warn him. It’s interesting that being in a predicament that would likely scare the hell out of most people Bill is disinterested in her second warning. He is still preoccupied with the pursuit of a sexual encounter and asks her to go with him.
Now he does the absolute forbidden and tries to take off her mask. She disengages him and Bill is abruptly summoned and presented to the circle for a sort of mock interrogation.
A brief scene shows Nick Nightingale being led away, still blindfolded. This shot, more than any other at the orgy sequence, bares the strongest similarity to the Ziegler party. We see couples dancing, some naked and some clothed, but all masked. Note that this time some of the women are clothed and some of the men are naked. There are also males dancing with males and females dancing with females.
Now we cut back to Bill and his interrogation and here we get some more clues about the groups possible religious leanings. In the first shot that we see of the circular gathering staring at Bill there is an interesting mask to the right of the shot. It is a golden sun with rays emanating from it. And in other shots of this scene we can see at least one more Sun shaped mask among the crowd. The remaining masks appear to be a mixture of those used in Venetian masquerades, theatre productions and ancient religious rituals – in particular those depicting demons. A possible reference to Masonic beliefs can be found in a white and green mask, which has a protruding triangle etched onto it. The top corner of the triangle overlaps the wearers right eye, creating a Masonic pyramid-like emblem, just like the one depicted on the dollar bill. Even the colours of the mask are the same colours used in dollar bills, as if the mask is a crumpled up dollar bill with the masonic pyramid still visible. This image could well be a similar cryptic trick to Kubrick's eye in the triangle design that was depicted on the Clockwork Orange poster. Red Cloak’s mask is also gold, a possible hint back to Egyptian belief systems.
Now let’s further explore the curious inclusion of Sun masks by jumping ahead to the shot outside Nick Nightingale’s hotel. Bill walks past a store called The Artinis Gallery. The word Artinis has two meanings. First, it is a form of small portable artwork, hence the store is a gallery. However, I have searched online for The Artinis Gallery and found no reference of it. If this store does not exist then we can only assume Kubrick fictionally created it, which brings us to the alternate meaning for this word. Artinis is the Urartian God of the Sun … and Urarta was an ancient kingdom of Armenia, the first nation in history to adopt Christianity as its state religion. An additional street sign reference to an ancient God is the word EROS, written in red neon across the street as Bill is buying entry into Milich's costume shop. Eros is no lees than the Greek god of lust, love and intercourse. So with these references to Gods in street signs, including a sun-god, perhaps the sun masks at the orgy were a hint of the group being sun worshipers, a trait also associated with modern secret societies. Some researchers have even attributed sun worship and the constellations of the Zodiac as the core inspirations behind religious mythological stories, including those of Christianity. What is perched at the top of Red Cloak’s throne? A small, but clearly visible, Christian cross, verifying the presence of a religious belief system at the Somerton proceedings. Christianity, monarchies, sun worship, ancient religions and secret societies. As always Kubrick takes on the grandest of subject matter.
Now we have a strange jump-cut to Bill quietly entering his apartment. It has been noted by some reviewers that a couple of seconds after Bill closes his apartment door a strange light pattern crosses over his back. This is claimed to look like an eye – the hint being about the “all-seeing eye on the dollar Bill”, which is another reference to secret societies and certainly ties in with the monetary control sub-theme of EWS. Personally though, I found that the light pattern just didn’t look enough like an eye to make that interpretation convincing.
Bill strolls through his apartment after checking on his daughter Helena. He takes his hand out of his pocket and touches a door frame as he walks into the lounge. Perhaps he is trying to reassure himself that he is back in his familiar “reality”. He then hides the mask and costume.
Next we hear Alice’s dream story, which has stark parallels with Bill’s experiences at Somerton, but some key differences also. The story basically seems to be an amalgamation of many different scenes throughout the film. Here are some important observations. She talks of being naked and terrified in a deserted city. Bill later experiences this as he is followed around the deserted New York streets. She talks of being in a beautiful garden, which is depicted in the art collection of their apartment.
Next up we have a couple of fairly uneventful scenes. Bill goes to the Sonata café, which is closed, then enters a café next door and persuades a waitress to reveal where Nick has been staying. The waitress has the same classy and sexy demeanour that we see with many of the females in EWS.
Now Bill asks about Nick at the hotel. The camp desk clerk looks anxious as he tells of Nick being fearfully taken away by suited men, who also intercepted an envelope that Nick tried to pass on to the clerk.
Bill next returns the costume, minus the missing mask, to Rainbow Costumes. Milich is now obviously pimping out his daughter to the Japanese men so we can safely assume that he has been bribed, as opposed to threatened. Remember that Bill also bribed his way into Milich’s store outside of business hours.
Back to Bill’s office and we see he is still struggling more with his black and white thoughts of Alice and the naval officer than with whatever danger he might be in as a result of gate crashing the orgy. So off he goes to Somerton again. In a painfully slow scene Bill is rejected entrance to the grounds and given a second warning. An important question here is what exactly is Bill trying to do in revisiting these locations? He only returned the costume to the store after he found out that Nick Nightingale had left town. Rather than trying to unravel the conspiracy regarding his friend and the Somerton orgy, he still seems to be seeking out a sexual encounter to restore his vanity. His Eyes are still Wide Shut even though the web of lies that he lives in has been exposed so blatantly.
Now back to Bill’s apartment, where Alice is teaching math to Helena. He tells her he has to go back out and his jealousy crisis kicks in again as he watches her from the kitchen, while hearing her recite her dream of being at an orgy.
Now cut to Bill’s office, where he continues his jealousy thoughts. He calls the Nathanson residence, hoping to speak to Marion and hopefully arrange to meet her. But her fiancé Carl answers. No cigar for Bill.
So off he goes to visit Domino, who is not home and so he talks to her room mate Sally, who is a total Nicole Kidman look-alike. He tries it on with her and instead finds out Domino is HIV positive. Bill is awakening to the harsh realities associated with sexual promiscuity.
Bill then wonders the streets and is followed by a mysterious man wearing a mack. He buys a newspaper and sits in a café. As he sits we can see the newspaper front page caption “LUCKY TO BE ALIVE”, which is a direct quote from his chat to Mandy at the Ziegler party. And now we’re given one of the most important and overlooked shots in the film. We see roughly a six second shot of a newspaper article depicting what turns out to be Mandy’s death. The article caption reads “Ex-beauty queen in hotel drugs overdose”. However, if you pause the dvd and read the article then Mandy’s fate is revealed. It explains that Mandy had returned to the Florence Hotel at 4am accompanied by two men. “The staff said the two men seemed to be holding a giggling Curran as they brought her into the posh hotel”. This “giggling” statement is important. Clearly Mandy was drugged and remember that Alice was giggling in her sleep as she dreamt of the orgy – another connection between the two women. The article continues that Mandy was found unconscious in her room by hotel security and taken to hospital.
There are three severe misprints in the article, which involve lines of text repeating themselves. The first misprint reads “Amanda Curran, 30, was found unconscious in her room at the Florence hotel by security personnel after her agent asked them to check on her be … hotel by security personnel after her agent asked them to check on her be … cause he’d been unable to reach her by phone.” The second misprint reads “It was unclear if there was anyone with her at the time she ingested the drugs … her at the time she ingested the drugs.” The third misprint reads “She has many important friends in the fashion and entertainment worlds … She has many important friends in the fashion and entertainment worlds … and she believed she’d break through in the end.” These double printed statements were most likely intended by Kubrick as a way of letting us know that the three statements are lies. He is letting us know that Mandy was deliberately overdosed in the hotel and the act passed off as an accident or suicide. The description of two men taking Mandy back to the hotel also fits with what we have learned about Nick Nightingale being brought back by two men. So it’s most likely that he is dead too. (Update: If the Somerton orgy sequence was in fact a dream sequence then this newspaper article could in fact be saying that Mandy simply overdosed after Zeigler's party, which would utterly refute the entire conspiracy interpretation of the film. I will soon write an additional chapter for this review that explores this possibility further).
The final section of the article offers more revelations. Here it is, quoted word for word. “After being hired for a series of magazine ads for a London fashion designer, Leon Vitali, rumours began circulating of an affair between the two. Soon after hiring her, Vitali empire insiders were reporting that their boss adored Curran – not for how she wore his stunning clothes in public, but for how she wowed him by taking them off in private, seductive solo performances”. The important factor here is the name Leon Vitali. He was Kubrick’s personal assistant on several films, including EWS, and here’s the clincher … he is credited in EWS as playing the role of Red Cloak. So from this article we can gather that Red Cloak had a personal fixation on Mandy Curran and it was likely he who ordered her murder.
After this we see Bill’s visit to the hospital where he takes a look at Mandy’s body. A very strange shot shows him slowly leaning toward her face for a few seconds and then pulling away. What is going through Bill’s mind at this point is a mystery. Is he in so much denial of what is happening that he finds a sudden urge to try and kiss this naked woman? Who knows.
On his way out of the hospital he is summoned to visit Ziegler. As Bill is lead to the pool room Kubrick again uses visual aesthetics to connect scenes together. The star shaped decorations are now switched off in the hall just as they were absent at Somerton. Also at Somerton he was led by a suited man to face interrogation and warning on a red carpet, with the camera arcing in circles around the proceedings. This time he is led by a suited man to face interrogation and warning in a room that is almost identical in décor to the orgy rooms of Somerton, with a red pool table symbolically standing in for the carpet. Bill and Ziegler wander back and forth around this table during their debate. (Update: An email correspondant brought to my attention that Zeigler rolls a pool ball in small circular gestures, much like Red Cloak did with the incence ball at the ritual)
Most of what Ziegler offers in terms of tying the plot together is not very revealing. We could have guessed most of these contentions even upon our first viewing of the film. Yet having examined the article about Mandy’s death in more detail and noting the misprint clues, it becomes obvious that Ziegler is lying about what happened to her. She was murdered by a forced overdose. As always, Bill is blind as a bat. He is genuinely surprised by Ziegler’s explanations, but for the first time in the whole story he actually attempts to dig below the surface by questioning Ziegler’s version of how Mandy died. Ziegler’s response to this is interesting, not in his words, but in his body language. He raises his voice, steps up the dialogue pace and points a threatening finger at Bill, ordering him to accept the false version of events. This is a repetition of Red Cloak’s finger pointing threat at Somerton. Make no mistake about it. Ziegler’s purpose here is to silence Bill one way or the other.
Now we cut to a shot of Bill’s party mask next to Alice on the pillow. Under the cold blue light we could easily presume her dead. Bill enters his apartment and does something revealing. He switches off the Xmas tree lights, symbolising that he has now accepted the reality of his world, stripped of its innocence and sugar-coated illusions.
Once in the bedroom, he sees his mask on the pillow next to Alice. He doesn’t check to make sure she is alive and so his sudden crying fit is not about her potentially having been murdered. When Alice awakens she does not respond with a barrage of questions about where the mask came from, but instead tries to comfort Bill. In fact she doesn’t even look at the mask. Apparently in the original book Traumnovelle the wife character did place the mask on the pillow, but this is Kubrick’s film and like with The Shining he has reshaped the story to his own wishes. So here is an alternate interpretation of this scene based upon the films use of dream logic. The mask on the pillow is imaginary. It is a manifestation of Bill’s sudden awareness that he has been lying to himself and his wife throughout their entire marriage. He was wearing a mask of deception even before going to Milich’s costume store.
Alice already tore off her mask when she revealed her most secret sexual fantasies to Bill. Now he must do the same. So when he sobs and says to her “I’ll tell you everything” he is not necessarily referring to Somerton. He is referring to his marriage and partnership with Alice.
Now the final scene in the toy store loses its cryptic vagueness and offers a more satisfying resolution. Bill and Alice are not discussing the dangers of being tangled up in a conspiracy. They are talking about their relationship. When Alice tells Bill that they need to "f**k" as soon as possible it is because they have never had sex without removing their masks of deception. They have used each other as sex objects just like the orgy participants at Somerton and the partner-swapping couples at Ziegler’s party. By engaging in real intimacy with their eyes wide open this marriage will be healed. In his own unique way Kubrick is giving us a happy ending.
Due to EWSs stunning intricacy and complexity this has been by far the most difficult and time consuming film analysis I have written to date (now superceded by the unbelievable complexity of unravelling 2001: A Space Odyssey), but it has been well worth the effort.
Once we begin to notice the carefully crafted meanings in EWS’s narrative and visuals it makes perfect sense that the film is slowly paced with lingering unedited shots. The images are almost like paintings and Kubrick draws them out so that we are forced to pay attention to the symbolically potent details. This shows up modern fast-paced Hollywood films for what they really are – assembly line products that rely on over-editing to disguise their intellectual and artistic emptiness.
In a modern world that is rife with infidelity, lies, hedonism and sexual decadence Stanley is encouraging us all to throw away our masks and take a good look in the mirror. His final and most underestimated masterpiece is a call for an end to all forms of secrecy, be they personal, social or political.
Whether EWS was chopped and changed by the studios after Kubrick’s death is of little consequence. His messages still come through loud and clear for those who are willing to watch it with eyes wide open.
Bravo Stanley. RIP