Writing about Eyes Wide Shut has become a yearly tradition (obsession?). It is sincerely my favorite Christmas movie. I don’t mean that in a funny “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” kind of way. The movie takes place during Christmas, and its plot only moves forward because of the holiday (Bill wouldn’t end up at the orgy if he didn’t meet Nick at Ziegler’s Christmas party). The traditional wholesome themes of family and joy associated with the holiday also create a juxtaposition with the state of the Hardfords’ marriage. More importantly, I watch this movie every year at this time because I love to watch it next to the glow of a Christmas tree. Anyway, here are my thoughts this year.
Alice in Chains, or “If You Men Only Knew!”
I tend to focus almost exclusively on Bill every time I write about Eyes Wide Shut, so this time I wanted to devote a section to Alice (that written, I still have some things I want to address about Bill in the next section).
The Harford marriage is certainly troubled, which is what leads to the events of the entire marriage. Bill seems to think that since his life appears to be perfect (he’s a doctor with a beautiful wife, a happy daughter, and a very nice apartment), then it must be (his are part of the titular shut eyes, after all). Alice, on the other hand, is clearly not happy with the marriage, seemingly because Bill is so focused on the fantasy of their perfect marriage.
The events of Ziegler’s party (Cruise flirting with the models and the Hungarian trying to bang her at the party [hey, I hear Ziegler’s got a great bathroom for that!]) are the breaking point for Alice. With the help of a little weed, she decides to give Bill a push with her revelation of the fantasy she had with the sailor. Bill’s response to this attack on his alpha male status is to go on a misguided and disastrous odyssey to try and cheat on Alice.
Alice’s story about the sailor destroys everything Bill thought he knew about Alice and their marriage. Of course, men think about sex all the time, but how is it possible that his wife could think like that, too? Alice is trapped by these generalizations about women and by her marriage. Her stoned confrontation with Bill is her attempt to wake Bill up. She underestimates just how fragile Bill’s ego is, however, as Bill’s decisions directly after the fight are extreme, to say the least.
This is typically where I leave Alice and focus solely on Bill for the rest of the film. It is true that the majority of the remaining screen time is devoted to Bill’s journey, but Alice still has some pivotal moments, especially when you consider the last lines of the movie.
At the end of the film when Bill and Alice come to terms with their marriage, Bill tells her that a “dream is never just a dream” making the claim that Alice’s desires, both conscious and unconscious, are as much to blame for their marital issues as Bill’s crazy night of attempted infidelity.
For a movie “about” sex, Eyes Wide Shut is much more focused on the idea, attempt, and fantasy of sex more than the actual act. Sex, at its core, is an animalistic function. Desire, or lust, is more personal. Alice’s fantasy of throwing her marriage away for one night with another man is much more hurtful to Bill than Alice actually having sex with someone else. One night of spontaneous lust can be forgiven; fantasizing for months about one night is too much for him to the point that Bill feels the need to get revenge.
Beyond Alice’s conscious fantasy with the sailor, we also learn of one of her dreams. Bill comes home to find her laughing or crying or both as she sleeps. When she wakes up she tells Bill about her dream, and it sounds eerily similar to the orgy Bill just escaped. In some of the theories out there about the film, it has been suggested that this means Alice was actually at the orgy, or at least has taken part in one of them before. I don’t believe that. I think the point of her having a dream that mirrored Bill’s actual night (although it’s also theorized that Bill’s evening is at least partially a dream, as well, but let’s not get into that…) is to hammer home that final moment even more. Yes, Bill went to an orgy, but so did Alice, in her mind. Which is worse?
Personally, I think going to an orgy trumps dreaming about one, but the problems in the Harfords’ marriage aren’t only caused by Bill. Alice has felt trapped by Bill’s closed eyes to the problems of their marriage, but she was silent until the evening after the party. Finally, after the revelations of Bill’s evening and Alice’s fantasies, they can move forward in their marriage aware of each other’s desires and needs. Eyes Wide Shut is truly about opening up to your partner on a conscious and subconscious level. And without Alice’s dreams and fantasies, both of them would still have their eyes shut.
Bro Cruise, or the Dude Who Tried to Cheat on His Wife but Couldn’t Get the Job Done Even Though He Went to a Fucking Orgy
Alice may set the plot of Eyes Wide Shut in motion by admitting her fantasy, but it all could have ended there if not for Bill’s fragile masculinity. Bill likes to imagine he has a perfect, typical marriage, and part of that delusion is that he is a typical man. But like most people who try to be something they are not, Bill overdoes it.
The first instance of this is when he runs into his old college buddy, Nick. Their interaction is normal and bland enough, but it’s the body language that makes it feel forced and odd. Excluding their exaggerated handshake, Bill and Nick pat or slightly hit each other eight times during a two minute conversation, and Bill keeps his hand on Nick’s shoulder for half of it. Bill initiates most of it, and Nick seems to simply be reciprocating, especially at the end when Nick has to switch drink hands to playfully punch Bill back before he leaves. It’s not a natural way for old friends to interact; it’s more like how Bill thinks two old college bros would interact.
The college connection is important because later in the film Bill is accosted by some college men who accuse him of being gay, despite the fact that Bill is simply walking down the street. The college bros calling him gay is Bill’s, and every overly masculine male’s, worst nightmare. This moment is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for Bill’s night to either be a dream or at least heightened by his own subconscious. Deep down he is terrified of not appearing to be a typical man, and this manifests in the form of a completely unprompted attack by the cartoonishly masculine bros.
The argument for Bill’s adventures to be a dream or fantasy is strengthened when you look at all of his interactions with people throughout his two day journey. Basically everyone wants to have sex with him. He catches vibes from nearly everyone he interacts with, from Milich’s daughter (who is later offered to him) to the desk clerk at Nick’s hotel. Does everyone really want to have sex with Bill (as Alice hinted at in their argument about the “fucking hypothetical woman patient”), or is this just what he fantasizes about? That he’s such a fucking man that everyone, man and woman, wants him?
Let’s say everything in the film really does happen (I think it does, by the way, but with moments that are exaggerated because we’re seeing them through Bill’s perspective) and all these people want to have sex with Bill, then why doesn’t he follow through with any of it? The guy went to an orgy, for fuck’s sake, and he didn’t get laid! It’s because, deep down, he’s not the fuck machine he wishes he was; deep down, he’s scared that everything in his life is a lie.
Before Alice’s revelation, living the lie was easy. All he had to do was partake in some occasional flirting with other women and drink Budweiser; you know, guy stuff. But Alice admitting she wanted to have sex with someone else destroy’s Bill. Rather than talk through the issue with Alice (because that’s what pussies do!), Bill instead decides that he must get some revenge sex immediately. Because real men don’t get cheated on, not even in their wives’ minds!
It’s only through Bill’s dangerous and failed attempts at sex that he finally wakes up and talks to Alice at the end of the film. This is forced upon him, however, as Alice finds the mask and leaves it out for him to see (causing Bill to sob, which is not exactly a manly thing to do). Alice freeing herself from the oppression of living in Bill’s masculine fantasy forces Bill to likewise wake up. The difference here is that Alice wants to live life with her eyes open while Bill’s are forced open (Alex during the Ludovico Technique sequence in A Clockwork Orange comes to mind). It doesn’t really matter how they each reached the endpoint, as long as they both go forward with their eyes open.
Why Do I Own This?
I’m clearly mentally ill when it comes to this movie, so owning it is a must. This year, I broke out my DVD copy of it because that’s the only version I own that’s uncut. It’s also streaming on Hulu at the moment, so it’s been nice to put it on as I fall asleep at night during this holiday season.
Random Thoughts/Favorite Quotes
Some people have theorized that the mask left out on the bed isn’t really there. I can see that, and I think it still works for my argument in that Bill’s subconscious makes him see it there to force him to wake up. But I still think it’s really there, mainly because when he went to return the costume the mask was missing. It’s not that unlikely that the mask fell out of the bag or something in the apartment and Alice found it.
I mention Budweiser above because it always threw me off when I watched the film. I’m sure there was some product placement money involved, but it’s still an odd choice for a wealthy doctor. I think he drinks Budweiser at home because he thinks that is what a typical man drinks. He doesn’t actually care what it tastes like. This is evidenced when he just asks for a “beer” at the Sonata Cafe. Why not name a brand? Try to order a beer in any bar or restaurant by just saying “beer,” and you’ll always get asked which brand. And it’s not like he couldn’t name a brand because it’s a movie because Budweiser has already been in the film at this point. He orders a “beer” because all that matters is that he’s seen drinking a beer, the drink of the ordinary man.
That TV stand in the Harfords' bedroom is pretty janky.
Fucking Ziegler has a toilet and a bidet, not to mention a couch and a desk in his bathroom/sex-during-his-own-Christmas-party room. It’s perfect for when you want to shit in a regular toilet, clean yourself with a bidet, write a letter, then fuck a prostitute right before she ODs. Fuckin’ rich people...
“I love you.”
“We barely know each other.”
Right before Bill is accused of playing for “the pink team” by the bros he walks past a sign for the Pussy Cat Pink Boutique.
It still really bothers me that Bill takes a cab to Rainbow Fashions after leaving the Sonata Cafe, even though the Sonata is right across the street. Before, I have posited that perhaps he went to an ATM to get more cash, but that doesn’t feel right. This time, I think it’s possible that he went looking for an open costume shop before realizing he had an in at Rainbow.
I prefer the unrated version not because I just want to see more sex, but because the CG people blocking the scenes in the rated cut look so odd and out of place.
Looking back, that orgy is really pretty tame. Most of the “participants” are just watching, as if they just wanted to feel like they were on the set of a porno or something. Hell, that one room just has people slow dancing in it! Is that the junior high portion of the orgy? This is why I believe Ziegler about the theatrics of it all. None of this is as deadly serious as it seems. It’s much more about creating a fantasy. This goes back to the issues with Bill and Alice’s marriage. It’s not actual sex that causes problems, but the desire and fantasy of sex outside the marriage.
Bill keeps pushing Alice to finish describing her dream like she did something wrong. Hey Bill, I know you didn’t do any actual fucking, but which one of you went to a prostitute’s apartment and then to an orgy, and which of you sat at home and ate Snackwell’s and had a sex dream, motherfucker?
Why did Kubrick have a big ass truck backing into the alley next to Rainbow Fashions when Bill returns the costume? It's definitely a decision someone made on the day of filming, but to what end?
This is the first viewing that I noticed Bill’s office door is blue. The color scheme becomes more and more meticulous with each viewing.
“By now he’s probably back with his family...you know...banging Mrs. Nick.”
“If I told you their names--I’m not going to tell you their names--but if I did, I don’t think you’d sleep so well.”
The look on Bill’s face the morning after revealing everything when Alice tells him they need to take their daughter to go do some family shit is hilarious.
“Are you sure of that?” I feel like this question is directed at me every time I watch this movie and apply some new theory to it.