Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 drama film based upon Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle. The film was directed, produced and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, and was his last film. The story, set in and around New York City, follows the sexually-charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford, who is shocked when his wife, Alice, reveals that she had contemplated an affair a year earlier. He embarks on a night-long adventure, during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an underground cult.
The film appeared on July 16, 1999, to generally positive critical reaction.
This was the last film to be directed by Stanley Kubrick before his death in 1999, and its actual release was posthumous. Although generally well-received by critics, the film proved controversial due to its strong sexual content, and its distributor Warner Bros. digitally altered several scenes during post-production to ensure a theatrical R rating in the United States and Canada. The uncut version has been released on DVD since. In early versions, the soundtrack featured during the masked orgy is part of a Romanian Orthodox Divine Liturgy recorded in a church in Baia Mare, played backwards. This was altered or removed in subsequent releases. The film also holds the Guinness World Record for the longest constant movie shoot, at 400 days.
Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), a young couple from New York, go to a Christmas party, given by a wealthy patient, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). There Bill runs into an old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who dropped out of medical school and now plays piano professionally. While a Hungarian man tries to pick up Alice, two young models try to take Bill off for a tryst. He is interrupted by a call from his host upstairs, who had been having sex with a young woman who has overdosed on a speedball.
Next evening at home, while smoking marijuana, Bill’s wife asks him if he had sex with the two girls. After Bill reassures her, she asks if he is ever jealous of men who are attracted to her. As the discussion gets heated, he states that he thinks women are more faithful than men. She rebuts him, telling him of a recent fantasy she had about a naval officer they had encountered on a vacation.
Disturbed by Alice’s revelation, Bill is just then called on a housecall to the deathbed of the father of a now-engaged female friend, who impulsively kisses him and tells him she loves him. Putting her off, he takes a walk down the streets of New York, and meets a prostitute named Domino (Vinessa Shaw), and goes to her apartment. Their encounter is awkward, but as they begin to kiss he is interrupted by a phone call from his wife, after which he calls off the encounter.
Bill goes to meet his friend Nick at the Sonata Cafe; there he learns that Nick has a later engagement that evening where he must play the piano while blindfolded. Nick tells him about the beautiful women he glimpsed when the blindfold slipped at the last gig, allowing him to surmise some of the goings-on. Bill presses for details. To gain admittance, one needs a costume, a mask and the password. Bill drives late at night to a shop called “Rainbow Fashions”. Having been the doctor of the previous owner, he offers the new owner, Mr. Milich (Rade Serbedzija), a generous amount of money to rent to him now. Searching for a costume, the owner catches his teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski) with two Japanese men and expresses outrage at their lack of sense of decency. He threatens to call the police.
With the costume, Bill takes a taxi out to a country mansion where a quasi-religious but highly sexual ritual is taking place. One woman comes to Bill, takes him aside and warns him that he does not belong there. He then meets another girl in whose company he walks through a few rooms where an orgy is taking place. The first woman catches up with Bill and insists he is in terrible danger for they suspect that he is an outsider. Bill is then interrupted by a masked porter who tells him that the taxi driver who is waiting outside wants to speak with him. However, the porter takes him to the main room where the masked, red-cloaked Master of Ceremonies confronts Bill with a question about a second password which Bill is unable to answer. The Master of Ceremonies insists that he “kindly remove his mask”, then asks that he remove his clothes. The masked young woman who had tried to warn Bill now intervenes and insists that she be punished instead of him. As she is taken away, Bill asks what is going to happen to her. The Master cryptically replies her fate is sealed and Bill is ushered from the mansion and warned by the red-cloaked Master not to tell anyone about what happened there.
Just before dawn, Bill arrives home guilty and confused, where his wife Alice is now awake and tells him of a troubling dream in which he and she were in a deserted city without their clothes. She felt frightened and ashamed while he went off to try to find their clothes. After he left, she felt better, finding herself, still naked, in a beautiful garden. The Naval Officer emerged, stared at her, and the two of them began making love surrounded by many other couples doing the same. She then started having sex with many of those men and laughing at the idea of Bill seeing her with them.
The next morning, Bill goes in search of Nick. After he locates his hotel from the nightclub owner, the desk clerk (Alan Cumming) there tells Bill that a bruised and frightened Nick had checked out a few hours earlier after returning with two large, dangerous-looking men. The clerk also mentions that Nick tried to pass an envelope to him when they were leaving, but that one of the men noticed this and intercepted it, then Nick was driven away by the two men in a limousine parked outside the hotel, with no mention as to where they were going.
Before going to work, Bill goes to return the costume and the shop proprietor, with his daughter by his side, states he can do other favors for Bill “and it needn’t be a costume”. The Japanese men leave; Milich implies to Bill that he has sold his daughter for prostitution. Bill has misplaced the mask, so is billed for it. Bill returns to the mansion in his own car and is greeted at the gate by a man with a typed note warning him to cease and desist his inquiries. At home, Bill thinks about Alice’s recounting of the scene while he watches her tutor their daughter.
That evening, Bill goes to the home of the prostitute with a gift. Her roommate greets him, telling him Domino has just discovered she has HIV. Bill leaves and notices that a well-dressed man is following him. After losing his pursuer, Bill reads a newspaper story about a beauty queen, Mandy, who had died of a drug overdose. She has the same name as the woman he had treated at Ziegler’s party. He goes to the hospital, claiming to be her doctor, and examines her body in the morgue.
Afterwards, Ziegler summons Bill to his house and tells him he knows all the events of the past night and day. Ziegler was one of those involved with the ritual orgy and his own position with the secret society has been jeopardized by Bill’s intrusion. Bill is now concerned with the death of Mandy, whom Ziegler has identified as the woman at the party who’d “sacrificed” herself to prevent Bill’s punishment, as well as the disappearance of Nick. Ziegler insists that Nick is safely back at his home in Seattle, but does not know where to contact him. Ziegler also insists that the “punishment” had nothing to do with Mandy’s death; she was a junkie and she really has died from another accidental drug overdose. Bill clearly does not know if Ziegler is telling him the truth, but he accepts it anyway.
When Bill returns home, he sees the mask he had rented on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. He breaks down in tears and as Alice awakes, he decides to tell her the whole truth of the past two days. The next morning they go Christmas shopping. His wife muses that recent events do not define their life and they should be grateful they have survived and are still together and that she loves him. She then says they need to, in her own words, “fuck” as soon as possible.
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First Published: Dec 23, 2011 – Last Updated: May 19, 2013