Eyes Wide Shut

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Eyes Wide Shut
A framed image of a nude couple kissing – she with her eye open – against a purple background. Below the picture frame are the film's credits.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStanley Kubrick
Produced byStanley Kubrick
Screenplay by
Based onTraumnovelle
by Arthur Schnitzler
Music byJocelyn Pook
CinematographyLarry Smith
Edited byNigel Galt
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • July 16, 1999 (1999-07-16) (United States)
  • September 10, 1999 (1999-09-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time
159 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[2]
Budget$65 million[3]
Box office$162.1 million[3]

Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 erotic mystery psychological drama film directed, produced and co-written by Stanley Kubrick. Based on the 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler, the story is transferred from early 20th-century Vienna to 1990s New York City; the film follows the sexually charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford, who is shocked when his wife, Alice, reveals that she had contemplated having an affair a year earlier, he embarks on a night-long adventure, during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society.

Kubrick obtained the filming rights for Dream Story in the 1960s, considering it a perfect text for a film adaptation about sexual relations, he revived the project in the 1990s when he hired writer Frederic Raphael to help him with the adaptation. The film, which was mostly shot in the United Kingdom, apart from some exterior establishing shots, includes a detailed recreation of exterior Greenwich Village street scenes made at Pinewood Studios; the film's production, at 400 days, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot.

Kubrick died six days after showing his final cut to Warner Bros. Pictures, making this the final film he directed.[4] In order to ensure a theatrical R rating in the United States, Warner Bros. digitally altered several sexually explicit scenes during post-production. This version was released on July 16, 1999 to moderately positive reactions from film critics. Box office receipts for the film worldwide were about $162 million; the uncut version has since been released in DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats.


Dr. Bill and Alice Harford live in New York with their daughter Helena, they attend a Christmas party hosted by wealthy patient, Victor Ziegler, where Bill is reunited with Nick Nightingale, a medical school drop-out who now plays piano professionally. A Hungarian older guest attempts to seduce Alice, and two young models follow suit with Bill, he is interrupted by his host who had been having sex with Mandy, a young woman who has overdosed on a speedball. Mandy recovers with Bill's aid.

The following evening, while smoking marijuana, Alice and Bill discuss their episodes of unfulfilled temptation. Bill tells Alice he is not jealous of other men's attraction to her because he deems women naturally inclined to fidelity, she then discloses that during their vacation in Cape Cod, she encountered a naval officer and fantasized about him enough to consider leaving Bill and their daughter, Helena. Bill is disturbed by Alice's revelation before being called to the house of a patient who has just died; the patient's distraught daughter unsuccessfully tries to seduce Bill. Upon leaving, he engages a prostitute named Domino. Alice phones when they start kissing, prompting Bill to have a change of heart, he pays Domino for the sexless encounter and meets Nick at a jazz club. Nick describes an engagement where he must play piano blindfolded in events featuring beautiful women. Invitees require a costume, a mask and a password. Bill goes to a costume shop and offers the owner, Milich, a generous amount of money to rent a costume. Inside the shop, Milich is outraged when he catches his teenage daughter with two men.

Bill takes a taxi to the country mansion mentioned by Nick, he gives the password and discovers a sexual ritual is taking place. One of the masked women warns him he is in terrible danger. Bill is ushered to a crowded room and unmasked by the master of ceremonies; the woman who had tried to warn Bill intervenes and insists on redeeming him, at an undisclosed personal cost. Bill is let off with a warning not to tell anyone about what happened.

Bill arrives home guilty and confused, he finds Alice laughing in her sleep and awakens her. She tearfully explains a dream in which she was having sex with the naval officer and many other men, and laughing at the idea of Bill witnessing the scene; the next morning Bill goes to Nick's hotel. The desk clerk explains that a bruised and frightened Nick checked out hours earlier escorted by two dangerous-looking men. Bill returns the costume but seems to have misplaced the mask, and learns Milich is now procuring his daughter to the same men he performed citizen's arrest on the previous night.

Bill reads the news about a beauty queen's death from an overdose, goes to the morgue and identifies her as Mandy, he is then summoned by Ziegler, who reveals he was a guest in the orgy and identified Bill through his connection with Nick. Ziegler claims the secret society's warnings are only intended to scare Bill from speaking about the orgy. However, he implies the society is capable of acting on their threats. Bill asks about Nick's disappearance and Mandy's death, correctly identifying her as the masked orgy participant who sacrificed herself for him. Ziegler insists that Nick is safely back home in Seattle, and the punishment was part of the same charade of intimidation and had nothing to do with Mandy's death, he also says Mandy was a hooker and addict who had died from another accidental drug overdose. Bill does not know whether Ziegler is telling the truth about Nick's whereabouts or Mandy's death.

Upon returning home, Bill finds the rented mask on his pillow next to his sleeping wife, he breaks down in tears and tells Alice the whole truth of the past two days. The next morning, they go Christmas shopping with Helena, who wanders near two older men who had been first seen at Ziegler's party. Unconcerned with their child, Bill apologizes to Alice, and Alice muses that they should be grateful that their marriage and mutual love survived.




Eyes Wide Shut developed after Stanley Kubrick read Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story in 1968, when Kubrick was looking for a project to follow 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick was interested in adapting the story, and with the help of journalist Jay Cocks, bought the filming rights to the novel.[5] In the 1970s, Kubrick thought of Woody Allen as the Jewish protagonist.[6] For the following decade, Kubrick considered making the Dream Story adaptation a sex comedy "with a wild and somber streak running through it", starring Steve Martin in the main role;[7] the project was revived in 1994 when Kubrick hired Frederic Raphael to work on the script, updating the setting from early 20th century Vienna to late 20th century New York City.[citation needed] Kubrick invited his friend Michael Herr, who helped write Full Metal Jacket, to make revisions, but Herr declined for fear he would be underpaid and have to commit to a long production.[7]


Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Dream Story is set around Vienna after the turn of the century; the main characters are a couple named Fridolin and Albertina. The couple’s home is a typical suburban middle-class home. Like the protagonist of the novel, Schnitzler was Jewish, lived in Vienna, and was a medical doctor, although he left medicine to write.

Kubrick frequently removed references to the Jewishness of characters in the novels he adapted.[8] In Eyes Wide Shut, Frederic Raphael, who is Jewish, wanted to keep the Jewish background of the protagonists, but Kubrick disagreed and removed details that would identify characters as Jewish. Kubrick determined Bill should be a "Harrison Ford-ish goy" and created the surname of Harford as an allusion to the actor.[9] In the film, Bill is taunted with homophobic slurs. In the novella, the taunters are members of an anti-Semitic college fraternity.[8][10] In an introduction to a Penguin Classics edition of Dream Story, Raphael wrote that "Fridolin is not declared to be a Jew, but his feelings of cowardice, for failing to challenge his aggressor, echo the uneasiness of Austrian Jews in the face of Gentile provocation."[11]

The novella is set during the Carnival, when people often wear masks to parties; the party that both husband and wife attend at the opening of the story is a Carnival Masquerade ball, whereas the film's story begins at Christmas time.

Critic Randy Rasmussen said the character of Bill is fundamentally more naïve, strait-laced and more unconscious of his vindictive motives than his counterpart, Fridolin;[12] some critics the film's Bill Harford is essentially sleep-walking through life with no deeper awareness of his surroundings. In the novella, when his wife discloses a private sexual fantasy, he in turn admits one of his own (of a girl in her mid to late teens), while in the film he is simply shocked; the film's argument over whether he has fantasies over female patients and whether women have sexual fantasies is simply absent from the novella, where both husband and wife assume the other has fantasies. In the film, Bill's estrangement from Alice revolves around her confessing a recent fantasy to him; in the novella, both exchange fantasies, after which she declares that in her youth she could have easily married someone else, which is what precipitates their sense of estrangement.

In the novella, the husband long suspected that his patient (Marion) was infatuated with him, while in the film it is a complete surprise and he seems shocked, he is also more overwhelmed by the orgy in the film than in the novella. Fridolin is socially bolder but less sexual with the prostitute (Mizzi in the novella, Domino in the film). Fridolin is also conscious of looking old in the novella, though he hardly does in the film.

In the novella, the party (which is sparsely attended) uses "Denmark" as the password for entrance; that is significant in that Albertina had her infatuation with her soldier in Denmark; the film's password is "Fidelio", from the Latin word for "faithful", and which is the title of Beethoven's only opera (Fidelio, or Married Love). In early drafts of the screenplay, the password was "Fidelio Rainbow". Jonathan Rosenbaum noted that both passwords echo elements of one member of the couple's behaviour, though in opposite ways;[13] the party in the novella consists mostly of nude ballroom dancing.

In the novella, the woman who "redeems" Fridolin at the party, saving him from punishment, is costumed as a nun, and most of the characters at the party are dressed as nuns or monks; Fridolin himself used a monk costume; this aspect was retained in the film's original screenplay,[14] but was deleted in the filmed version.

In the novella, when the husband returns home, the wife's dream is an elaborate drama that concludes with him getting crucified in a village square after Fridolin refuses to separate from Albertina and become the paramour of the village princess, even though Albertina is now occupied with copulating with other men, and watches him "without pity". By being faithful, Fridolin thus fails to save himself from execution in Albertina's dream, although he was apparently spared by the woman's "sacrifice" at the masked sex party. In both the novella and film, the wife states that the laugh in her sleep just before she woke was a laugh of scornful contempt for her husband; although awake, she states this matter-of-factly; the novella makes it clear that Fridolin at this point hates Albertina more than ever, thinking they are now lying together "like mortal enemies". It has been argued that the dramatic climax of the novella is actually Albertina's dream, and the film has shifted the focus to Bill's visit to the secret society's orgy, whose content is more shocking in the film.[15]

The adaptation created a character with no counterpart in the novella: Ziegler, who represents both the high wealth and prestige to which Bill Harford aspires, and a connection between Bill's two worlds (his regular life, and the secret society organizing the ball).[16] Critic Randy Rasmussen interprets Ziegler as representing Bill's worst self, much as in other Kubrick films; the title character in Dr. Strangelove represents the worst of the American national security establishment, Charles Grady represents the worst of Jack Torrance in The Shining, and Clare Quilty represents the worst of Humbert Humbert in Lolita.[17]

Ziegler's presence allows Kubrick to change the mechanics of the story in a few ways. In the film, Bill first meets his piano-playing friend at Ziegler's party, and then while wandering around town, seeks him out at the Sonata Café. In the novella, the café encounter with Nightingale is a delightful coincidence. Similarly, the dead woman whom Bill suspects of being the woman at the party who saved him is a baroness that he was acquainted with earlier, not a hooker at Ziegler's party.

More significantly, in the film, Ziegler gives a commentary on the whole story to Bill, including an explanation that the party incident, where Bill is apprehended, threatened, and ultimately redeemed by the woman's sacrifice, was staged. Whether this is to be believed or not, it is an exposition of Ziegler's view of the ways of the world as a member of the power elite.[18]

The novella explains why the husband's mask is on the pillow next to his sleeping wife, she having discovered it when it slipped out of his suitcase, and placing it there as a statement of understanding; this is left unexplained in the film and left to the viewer's interpretation.


When Warner Bros. president Terry Semel approved production, he asked Kubrick to cast a movie star, as "you haven't done that since Jack Nicholson [in The Shining]".[5] Cruise was in England because his wife Nicole Kidman was there shooting The Portrait of a Lady, and eventually Cruise decided to visit Kubrick's estate with Kidman. After that meeting, the director awarded them the roles.[19] Jennifer Jason Leigh and Harvey Keitel each were cast and filmed by Kubrick. Due to scheduling conflicts, both had to drop out[20] – first Keitel with Finding Graceland,[21] then Leigh with eXistenZ[22] – and they were replaced by Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson in the final cut.[5]

In 2019 it was revealed that Cate Blanchett had provided the voice of the mysterious masked woman at the orgy party. [23]


A mansion with four towers.
Mentmore Towers, one of the settings used by the film

Principal photography began in November 1996. Kubrick's perfectionism led to script pages being rewritten on the set, and most scenes requiring numerous takes; the shoot went much longer than expected; Vinessa Shaw was initially contracted for two weeks but ended up working two months,[24] while Alan Cumming, who appears in one scene, was required to audition six times throughout the filming process.[25] The crew got exhausted.[26] Filming finally wrapped in June 1998;[20] the Guinness World Records recognized Eyes Wide Shut as the longest constant movie shoot, "for over 15 months, a period that included an unbroken shoot of 46 weeks".[27]

Given Kubrick's fear of flying, the entire film was shot in England.[28] Sound-stage works were done at London's Pinewood Studios, which included a detailed recreation of Greenwich Village. Kubrick's perfectionism went as far as sending workmen to Manhattan to measure street widths and note newspaper vending machine locations.[29] Real New York footage was also shot to be rear projected behind Cruise. Production was followed by a strong campaign of secrecy, helped by Kubrick always working with a short team on set.[20] Outdoor locations included Hatton Garden for a Greenwich Village street,[30] Hamleys for the toy store from the film's ending,[31] and Mentmore Towers and Elveden Hall in Elveden, Suffolk, England for the mansion.[32] Larry Smith, who had first served as a gaffer on both Barry Lyndon and The Shining, was chosen by Kubrick to be the film's cinematographer; when possible, Smith made use of available light sources visible in the shots, such as lamps and Christmas tree lights. When this was not adequate, Smith used Chinese paper ball lamps to softly brighten the scene, and/or other type of film lighting; the color was enhanced by push processing the film reels, which helped bring out the intensity of color.[33]

Kubrick's perfectionism led him to oversee every visual element that would appear in a given frame, from props and furniture to the color of walls and other objects.[33] One such element were the masks used in the orgy, which were inspired by the masked Carnival balls visited by the protagonists of the novel. Costume designer Marit Allen explained that Kubrick felt they fit in that scene for being part of the imaginary world, and ended up "creat[ing] the impression of menace, but without exaggeration". Many masks as used in the Venetian carnival were sent to London, and Kubrick separated who would wear each piece;[34] the paintings of Kubrick's wife Christiane and his daughter Katharina are featured on decoration.[35][36]

After shooting completed, Kubrick entered a prolonged post-production process. On March 1, 1999, Kubrick showed a cut to Cruise, Kidman, and the Warner Bros. executives. The director died six days later.[4]


Jocelyn Pook wrote the original music for Eyes Wide Shut, but like other Kubrick movies, the film was noted for its use of classical music;[37] the opening title music is Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2 from "Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra", misidentified as "Waltz 2 from Jazz Suite". One recurring piece is the second movement of György Ligeti's piano cycle "Musica ricercata".[38] Kubrick originally intended to feature "Im Treibhaus" from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, but the director eventually replaced it with Ligeti's tune feeling Wagner's song was "too beautiful".[39] In the morgue scene, Franz Liszt's late solo piano piece, "Nuages Gris" ("Grey Clouds") (1881), is heard.[40] "Rex tremendae" from Mozart's Requiem plays as Bill walks into the cafe and reads of Mandy's death.[41]

Pook was hired after choreographer Yolande Snaith rehearsed the masked ball orgy scene using Pook's composition "Backwards Priests" – which features a Romanian Orthodox Divine Liturgy recorded in a church in Baia Mare, played backwards – as a reference track. Kubrick then called the composer and asked if she had anything else "weird" like that song, which was reworked for the final cut of the scene, with the title "Masked Ball". Pook ended up composing and recording four pieces of music, many times based on her previous work, totaling 24 minutes; the composer's work ended up having mostly string instruments – including a viola played by Pook herself – with no brass or woodwinds as Pook "just couldn't justify these other textures", particularly as she wanted the tracks played on dialogue-heavy scenes to be "subliminal" and felt such instruments would be intrusive.[42][43]

Another track in the orgy, "Migrations", features a Tamil song sung by Manickam Yogeswaran, a Carnatic singer; the original cut had a scriptural recitation of the Bhagavad Gita, which Pook took from a previous Yogeswaran recording.[43][44] As a result of Hindus protesting against their most sacred scripture being used in such a context,[45] Warner Bros. issued a public apology,[46] and hired the singer to record a similar track to replace the chant.[47]

The party at Ziegler's house features rearrangements of love songs such as "When I Fall in Love" and "It Had to Be You", used in increasingly ironic ways considering how Alice and Bill flirt with other people in the scene;[48] as Kidman was nervous about doing nude scenes, Kubrick stated she could bring music to liven up. When Kidman brought a Chris Isaak CD, Kubrick approved it, and incorporated Isaak's song "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" to both an early romantic embrace of Bill and Alice and the film's trailer.[49]

Themes and interpretation[edit]


The film was described by some reviewers, and partially marketed, as an erotic thriller, a categorization disputed by others, it is classified as such in the book The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema, by Linda Ruth Williams,[50] and was described as such in news articles about Cruise and Kidman's lawsuit over assertions they saw a sex therapist during filming.[51] The positive review in Combustible Celluloid describes it as an erotic thriller upon first viewing, but actually a "complex story about marriage and sexuality".[52] High-Def Digest also called it an erotic thriller.[53]

However, reviewing the film at AboutFilm.com, Carlo Cavagna regards this as a misleading classification,[54] as does Leo Goldsmith, writing at notcoming.com,[55] and the review on Blu-ray.com.[56] Writing in TV Guide, Maitland McDonagh writes "No one familiar with the cold precision of Kubrick's work will be surprised that this isn't the steamy erotic thriller a synopsis (or the ads) might suggest."[57] Writing in general about the genre of 'erotic thriller' for CineAction in 2001, Douglas Keesey states that "whatever [Eyes Wide Shut's] actual type, [it] was at least marketed as an erotic thriller".[58] Michael Koresky, writing in the 2006 issue of film journal Reverse Shot, writes "this director, who defies expectations at every turn and brings genre to his feet, was  ... setting out to make neither the 'erotic thriller' that the press maintained nor an easily identifiable 'Kubrick film'".[59] DVD Talk similarly dissociates the film from this genre.[60]

Christmas setting[edit]

In addition to relocating the story from Vienna in the 1900s to New York City in the 1990s, Kubrick changed the time-frame of Schnitzler's story from Mardi Gras to Christmas. Michael Koresky believed Kubrick did this because of the rejuvenating symbolism of Christmas.[61] Mario Falsetto, on the other hand, notes that Christmas lights allow Kubrick to employ some of his distinct methods of shooting including using source location lighting, as he also did in Barry Lyndon;[62] the New York Times notes that the film "gives an otherworldly radiance and personality to Christmas lights",[63] and critic Randy Rasmussen notes that "colorful Christmas lights  ... illuminate almost every location in the film."[64] Harper's film critic, Lee Siegel, believes that the film's recurring motif is the Christmas tree, because it symbolizes the way that "Compared with the everyday reality of sex and emotion, our fantasies of gratification are  ... pompous and solemn in the extreme  ... For desire is like Christmas: it always promises more than it delivers."[65] Author Tim Kreider notes that the "Satanic" mansion-party at Somerton is the only set in the film without a Christmas tree, stating that "Almost every set is suffused with the dreamlike, hazy glow of colored lights and tinsel."[66] Furthermore, he argues that "Eyes Wide Shut, though it was released in summer, was the Christmas movie of 1999."[66] Noting that Kubrick has shown viewers the dark side of Christmas consumerism, Louise Kaplan states that the film illustrates ways in which the "material reality of money" is shown replacing the spiritual values of Christmas, charity and compassion. While virtually every scene has a Christmas tree, there is "no Christmas music or cheery Christmas spirit."[67] Critic Alonso Duralde, in his book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas, categorized the film as a "Christmas movie for grownups", arguing that "Christmas weaves its way through the film from start to finish".[68]

Use of Venetian masks[edit]

Historians, travel guide authors, novelists, and merchants of Venetian masks have noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscuous activities.[69][70][71][72] Authors Tim Kreider and Thomas Nelson have linked the film's usage of these to Venice's reputation as a center of both eroticism and mercantilism. Nelson notes that the sex ritual combines elements of Venetian Carnival and Catholic rites, in particular, the character of "Red Cloak" who simultaneously serves as Grand Inquisitor and King of Carnival; as such, Nelson argues that the sex ritual is a symbolic mirror of the darker truth behind the façade of Victor Ziegler's earlier Christmas party.[73] Carolin Ruwe, in her book Symbols in Stanley Kubrick's Movie 'Eyes Wide Shut', argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, its symbolic meaning is represented through its connection to the characters in the film; as Tim Kreider points out, this can be seen through the masks in the prostitute's apartment and her being renamed as "Domino" in the film, which is a type of Venetian Mask.[74]



Warner Bros. heavily promoted Eyes Wide Shut, while following Kubrick's secrecy campaign – to the point that the film's press kits contained no production notes, nor even the director's suggestions to Semel regarding the marketing campaign, given one week prior to Kubrick's death.[75] The first footage was shown to theater owners attending the 1999 ShoWest convention in Las Vegas. TV spots featured both Isaak and Ligeti's music from the soundtrack, while revealing little about the movie's plot;[76] the film also appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and on show business programs such as Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.[77]

Box office[edit]

Eyes Wide Shut opened on July 16, 1999, in the United States; the film topped the weekend box office, with $21.7 million from 2,411 screens.[78] These numbers surpassed the studio's expectations of $20 million, and became both Cruise's sixth consecutive chart topper and Kubrick's highest opening weekend.[79][80] Eyes Wide Shut ended up grossing a total of $55,691,208 in the US; the numbers put it as Kubrick's second highest-grossing film in the country, behind 2001: A Space Odyssey,[81] but were considered a box office disappointment.[82]

Shortly after its screening at the Venice Film Festival, Eyes Wide Shut had a British premiere on September 3, 1999, at the Warner Village cinema in Leicester Square;[83] the film's wide opening occurred the following weekend, and topped the UK charts with £1,189,672.[84]

The international performances for Eyes Wide Shut were more positive, with Kubrick's long-time assistant and brother-in-law Jan Harlan stating that "It was badly received in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it was very well received in the Latin world and Japan. In Italy, it was a huge hit."[82] Overseas earnings of over $105 million led to a $162,091,208 box office run worldwide, turning it into the highest-grossing Kubrick film.[85]

Critical reception[edit]

Eyes Wide Shut received positive reviews from critics, it currently has an approval rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 154 reviews with an average rating of 7.48/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Kubrick's intense study of the human psyche yields an impressive cinematic work."[86] The film also has a score of 68 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 33 critics, indicating "Generally favorable reviews".[87] Over 50 critics listed the film among the best of 1999.[88]

In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Wilmington declared the film a masterpiece, lauding it as "provocatively conceived, gorgeously shot and masterfully executed ... Kubrick's brilliantly choreographed one-take scenes create a near-hypnotic atmosphere of commingled desire and dread."[89] Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club was also highly positive, arguing that "the film's primal, almost religious intensity and power is primarily derived from its multifaceted realization that disobeying the dictates of society and your conscience can be both terrifying and exhilarating. ... The film's depiction of sexual depravity and amorality could easily venture into the realm of camp in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Kubrick depicts primal evil in a way that somehow makes it seem both new and deeply terrifying."[90]

Critic Roger Ebert gave the film a positive 3.5/4 stars, writing, "Kubrick's great achievement in the film is to find and hold an odd, unsettling, sometimes erotic tone for the doctor's strange encounters." He praised the individual dream-like atmosphere of the separate scenes, and called the choice of Christmas-themed lighting "garish, like an urban sideshow".[91]

Reviewer James Berardinelli stated that it was arguably one of Kubrick's best films. Along with considering Kidman "consistently excellent", he wrote that Kubrick "has something to say about the causes and effects of depersonalized sex", and praised the work as "thought-provoking and unsettling".[92] Writing for The New York Times, reviewer Janet Maslin commented, "This is a dead-serious film about sexual yearnings, one that flirts with ridicule yet sustains its fundamental eeriness and gravity throughout; the dreamlike intensity of previous Kubrick visions is in full force here."[93]

Some reviewers were unfavorable. One complaint was that the movie's pacing was too slow; while this may have been intended to convey a dream state, critics objected that it made actions and decisions seem laboured.[94] Another complaint was that it did not live up to the expectation of it being a "sexy film" which is what it had been marketed as, thus defying audiences' expectations.[95] Many critics, such as Manohla Dargis of LA Weekly found the prolific orgy scene to be "banal" and "surprisingly tame".[96] While Kubrick's "pictorial talents" were described as "striking" by Rod Dreher of the New York Post, the pivotal scene was deemed by Stephen Hunter, writing for The Washington Post, as the "dullest orgy [he'd] ever seen". Hunter elaborates on his criticism, and states that "Kubrick is annoyingly offhand while at the same time grindingly pedantic; plot points are made over and over again, things are explained till the dawn threatens to break in the east, and the movie stumbles along at a glacial pace".[97] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly complained about the inauthenticity of the New York setting, claiming that the soundstage used for the film's production didn't have "enough bustle" to capture the reality of New York.[98] Paul Tatara of CNN described the film as a "slow-motion morality tale full of hot female bodies and thoroughly uneventful 'mystery'", while Andrew Sarris writing for the New York Observer criticised the film's "feeble attempts at melodramatic tension and suspense".[99] David Edelstein of Slate dismissed it as "estranged from any period I recognize. Who are these people played by Cruise and Kidman, who act as if no one has ever made a pass at them and are so deeply traumatized by their newfound knowledge of sexual fantasies--the kind that mainstream culture absorbed at least half a century ago? ... Who are these aristocrats whose limos take them to secret masked orgies in Long Island mansions? Even dream plays need some grounding in the real world."[100] J. Hoberman wrote that the film "feels like a rough draft at best."[101]

Lee Siegel from Harper's felt that most critics responded mainly to the marketing campaign and did not address the film on its own terms.[102] Others felt that American censorship took an esoteric film and made it even harder to understand.[103] In his article "Grotesque Caricature", Stefan Mattesich of Loyola Marymount University praises the film's nuanced caricatured elements, and states that the film's negation of conventional narrative elements is what resulted in its subsequent negative reception.[104]

For the introduction to Michel Ciment's Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, Scorsese wrote: "When Eyes Wide Shut came out a few months after Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999, it was severely misunderstood, which came as no surprise. If you go back and look at the contemporary reactions to any Kubrick picture (except the earliest ones), you'll see that all his films were initially misunderstood. Then, after five or ten years came the realization that 2001 or Barry Lyndon or The Shining was like nothing else before or since."[105] In 2012, Slant Magazine ranked the film as the second greatest of the 1990s;[106] the BBC listed it number 61 in its list of the 100 greatest American films of all time.[107]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Recipient Result
Golden Globe Awards[108] Best Original Score Jocelyn Pook Nominated
Venice Film Festival Filmcritica "Bastone Bianco" Award Stanley Kubrick Won
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics[109] Best Foreign Film Won
Chicago Film Critics Association[88] Best Director Nominated
Best Cinematography Stanley Kubrick and Larry Smith Nominated
Best Original score Jocelyn Pook Nominated
Costume Designers Guild[110] Excellence in Costume Design for Film – Contemporary Marit Allen Nominated
Satellite Award[111] Best Actress - Drama Nicole Kidman Nominated
Best Cinematography Larry Smith Nominated
Best Sound Paul Conway and Edward Tise Nominated
César Award[112] Best Foreign Film (Meilleur film étranger) Stanley Kubrick Nominated
Online Film Critics Society[113] Best Director Nominated
Best Cinematography Larry Smith Nominated
Best Original score Jocelyn Pook Nominated

Home media[edit]

Eyes Wide Shut was first released in VHS and DVD on March 7, 2000;[114] the original DVD release corrects technical gaffes, including a reflected crew member, and altering a piece of Alice Harford's dialogue. Most home videos remove the verse that was claimed to be cited from the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (although it was Pook's reworking of "Backwards Priests" as stated above.)

On October 23, 2007, Warner Home Video released Eyes Wide Shut in a special edition DVD, plus the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats;[115] this is the first home video release that presents the film in anamorphic 1.78:1 (16:9) format (the film was shown theatrically as soft matted 1.66:1 in Europe and 1.85:1 in the US and Japan). The previous DVD release used a 1.33:1 (4:3) aspect ratio. It is also the first American home video release to feature the uncut version. Although the earliest American DVD of the uncut version states on the cover that it includes both the R-rated and unrated editions, in actuality only the unrated edition is on the DVD.


Debate over the film's state of completion[edit]

Though Warner Bros. insisted that Kubrick had turned in his final cut before his death, the film was still in the final stages of post-production, which was therefore completed by the studio in collaboration with Kubrick's estate. Some have argued that the work which remained was minor and exclusively technical in nature, allowing the estate to faithfully complete the film based on the director's notes. However, decisions regarding sound mixing, scoring and color-correction would have necessarily been made without Kubrick's input. Furthermore, Kubrick had a history of continuing to edit his films up until the last minute, and in some cases even after initial public screenings, as had been the case with 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining.[116]

Writing for Vanity Fair, Kubrick collaborator Michael Herr recalled a phone call from the director regarding the cut that would be screened for the Warner Bros. executives four days before his death:

... there was looping to be done and the music wasn't finished, lots of small technical fixes on color and sound; would I show work that wasn't finished? He had to show it to Tom and Nicole because they had to sign nudity releases, and to Terry Semel and Bob Daly of Warner Bros., but he hated it that he had to, and I could hear it in his voice that he did.[117]

Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam, has expressed that he considers Eyes Wide Shut to be an unfinished film:

I think Eyes Wide Shut was snatched up by the studio when Stanley died and they just grabbed the highest number Avid edit and ran off as if that was the movie, but it was three months before the movie was due to be released. I don't think there's a chance that was the movie he had in mind, or the music track and a lot of other things. It's a great shame because you know it's out there, but it doesn't feel to me as it's really his film.[118]

Nicole Kidman, one of the stars of the film, briefly wrote about the completion of the film and the release of the film being at the same time of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death from her perspective:

There was a lot of interest in Eyes Wide Shut before it was released, but the weekend it came out, July 16, 1999, was the death of JFK Jr., his wife and her sister – a black, black weekend. And for Stanley to have died [on March 7, 1999, at age 70] before the film opened  ... well, it all felt so dark and strange. Stanley had sent over the cut he considered done to us, Tom and I watched it in New York – and then he died.[119]

Kubrick's opinion[edit]

Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law and executive producer, reported that Kubrick was "very happy" with the film and considered it to be his "greatest contribution to the art of cinema".[120][121]

R. Lee Ermey, an actor in Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket, stated that Kubrick phoned him two weeks before his death to express his despondency over Eyes Wide Shut. "He told me it was a piece of shit", Ermey said in Radar magazine, "and that he was disgusted with it and that the critics were going to 'have him for lunch'. He said Cruise and Kidman had their way with him – exactly the words he used."[122]

According to Todd Field, Kubrick's friend and an actor in Eyes Wide Shut, Ermey's claims do not accurately reflect Kubrick's essential attitude. Field's response appeared in an October 18, 2006 interview with Grouch Reviews:[123]

The polite thing would be to say 'No comment', but the truth is that  ... let's put it this way, you've never seen two actors more completely subservient and prostrate themselves at the feet of a director. Stanley was absolutely thrilled with the film, he was still working on the film when he died. And he probably died because he finally relaxed, it was one of the happiest weekends of his life, right before he died, after he had shown the first cut to Terry, Tom and Nicole. He would have kept working on it, like he did on all of his films, but I know that from people around him personally, my partner who was his assistant for thirty years. And I thought about R. Lee Ermey for In the Bedroom. And I talked to Stanley a lot about that film, and all I can say is Stanley was adamant that I shouldn't work with him for all kinds of reasons that I won't get into because there is no reason to do that to anyone, even if they are saying slanderous things that I know are completely untrue.

In a reddit "Ask Me Anything" session, Stanley Kubrick's daughter, Katharina Kubrick, claimed that her father was very proud of the film,[124] she also discredited Ermey's claims, saying to a user who asked about Kubrick's alleged comments, "[not to] believe that for a second."[125]

Studio censorship and classification[edit]

Citing contractual obligations to deliver an R rating, Warner Bros. digitally altered the orgy for the film's American release by blocking out graphic sexuality using additional figures to obscure the view in order to avoid an adults-only NC-17 rating that limited distribution, due to some large American theaters and video store operators banning films with that rating. This alteration antagonized both film critics and cinephiles,[126] who argued that Kubrick had never been shy about ratings (A Clockwork Orange was originally given an X-rating); the unrated version of Eyes Wide Shut was released in the United States on October 23, 2007, on DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray formats.

The version in South America, Europe and Australia featured the orgy scene intact (theatrical and DVD release) with ratings mostly for people of 18+. In New Zealand and in Europe, the uncensored version has been shown on television with some controversy. In Australia, it was broadcast on Network Ten with the alterations in the American version for an MA rating, blurring and cutting explicit sexuality.[citation needed]

Roger Ebert heavily criticized the technique of using digital images to mask the action. In his positive review of the film, he said it "should not have been done at all" and it is "symbolic of the moral hypocrisy of the rating system that it would force a great director to compromise his vision, while by the same process making his adult film more accessible to young viewers."[127] Although Ebert has been frequently cited as calling the standard North American R-rated version the "Austin Powers" version of Eyes Wide Shut – referencing two scenes in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in which, through camera angles and coincidences, sexual body parts are blocked from view in a comical way[128] – his review stated that this joke referred to an early rough draft of the altered scene, never publicly released.[127]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Adams, Mark (2004). Location London. Interlink. ISBN 978-1-84330-478-4.
  • Chion, Michel (2002). Eyes wide shut. BFI Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85170-932-1.
  • Ciment, Michel (2003). Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-21108-1.
  • Cocks, Geoffrey (2004). The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, & the Holocaust. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-7115-0.
  • Cocks, Geoffrey; Diedrick, James; Perusek, Glen (eds.) (2006). Depth of field: Stanley Kubrick, film, and the uses of history. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-21614-6.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Kagan, Jeremy (2012). Directors Close Up 2: Interviews with Directors Nominated for Best Film by the Directors Guild of America: 2006 - 2012. United Kingdom: Scarecrow Press. p. 362. ISBN 978-0810883918.
  • Nelson, Thomas Allen (2000). Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze. New and Expanded Edition. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-21390-7.
  • Raphael, Frederic (2000). Eyes Wide Open. A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut. Orion Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7538-0955-6.
  • Rasmussen, Randy (2005). Stanley Kubrick: Seven Films Analyzed. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2152-7.
  • Ronson, Jon (2013). Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries. London: Picador. pp. 170, 174. ISBN 978-1447264712.

External links[edit]