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Home | Film Reviews | Cult Films | Film Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Film Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him.


I have long been a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s work. His film releases have inspired me in other arenas as a source of creative inspiration. While not every film is a complete masterpieces….many are. “Eyes Wide Shut” is one movie that lurks beneath the surface long after viewing. If it were to be summed up in simple form…you might say its a thriller drama about a man who experiences the hauntings of infidelity. Though you and I know that there is MUCH more here to be discovered and that the piece almost serves as an essay about filmmaking in itself. I will attempt to cover a few key points in regards to the film so that it might inspire more.

Where do we begin? Is it the star appeal of seeing a real life husband and wife acting team sharing comparable characters within a film (actually married the 3 years of its production)? Is it the sudden realization of elite cults that exist within our own culture among the well-to-do and priviledged? Or is it the voyage of this couple’s experience and the realities of lust, trust, and staying true to one’s marriage vows. Is this line drawn in the sand or is it much more complex? And how does all this fit together in a strange but visually dynamic piece originating from the mind of a film genius himself?

“Eyes Wide Shut” was indeed a weird inclusion into Kubrick’s collective works. In fact it was to be Kubrick’s last final film ….#16 (12 years after “Full Metal Jacket”). The movie took 15 months to film rumoring Kubrick’s eccentric need to retake “every” scene multiple times.

Experiences while seemingly unrelated all share a common interest bond. Sandor Szavost hits upon Alice while Dr. Hartford is arm in arm with 2 gorgeous models. Small elements of the “Wizard of Oz” are weaved into subtle dialog and film signs. And then there is the strange sex-magick ritual orgy which appears like a window into the Illuminati methology itself.

At the heart of this movie, we have Tom Cruise playing the role of Dr. William ‘Bill’ Hartford. His wife playing the alluring Alice Hartford….Nicole Kidman.

Upon hearing his wife’s secret (but imaginary) fantasy (revealed when they share a joint for fun) Bill becomes threatened sending him off on a erotic daydream tangent full of missed circumstances and visitations deep into the seedy underworld of sex and secrecy. He runs into an old friend Nick Nightingale who gives him the secret password to an elite sex party gathering. Nick Nightingale tells him that he always plays piano blindfolded never knowing exactly what happens or where he is. This intrigues Bill enough to venture forward into unknown territories. His night becomes a journey unlike one he’s ever known also managing to escape a potential bad situation with a hooker who is determined to have aids.

Now deemed a cult film, “Eyes Wide Shut” remains among one of Kubrick’s greatest works. It’s subtle complexity demands attention to the details always asking more questions of the viewers and marrying a relationship with to their own understanding. On the surface it can serve a commercially sufficient purpose. Under the surface it can grow our own cinematic spectrum into a darker, more harrowing place that sits and brews like the single unsettling tone of its brooding soundtrack. For in any great work, there is more behind the curtain than what is seen.

In the film they use the password “Fidelio” of which any astute viewer will recognize as the term “fidelity” or “infidelity (also an opera by Beethoven…if taking note). The movie challenges the viewers to explore the emotions of our central character Bill who after being told about his wife’s secret imaginary dream affair is suddenly threatened to the point of reaction in the real world. His morals tell him that’s its just talk, just a conversation, but his mind tells him that while it never happened..it still happened from a psychological standpoint. This leads Bill on a trail of strange encounters and secret societies trying to soften the blow of his realization. Kubrick, while keeping it subtle, maintains the single element of red that appears from scene to scene reminding us of desires and sexual tension that leaps beyond mere illusionary confessions.

Under the surface it was reported that the film also uses fiction to expose the habits of the famed unknown group known as the “Illuminati”. Symbolism can found in several forms with even the title being noted as an Illuminati method of communication using the words “Your eyes are wide shut”. Astute viewers might recognize some of the decor and set hangings that include 8 pointed stars and occult references. There of course is deeper detail into all this but it still should be noted for curiosity seekers.

Additional details include subtleties like the character “Dr. Bill” (an obvious pun) and Hartford’s wife Alice (taken from Alice in Wonderland….aka the opener mirror – looking glass). “Eyes Wide Shut” takes on associations while still keeping it in line with Kubrick’s vision.

I believe the film is designed to continue to reinvent itself with new images that might go unnoticed in first round. This is where this film seems to last much longer than it appears on the surface. Viewers might appear at odds with some of its rhythm but will later come to appreciate the intricacies it shares. A masterwork indeed, “Eyes wide Shut” is a must see!

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)


  1. I would have like this movie to be longer or more of the secret society revelations. Other words there was too much base, an not enough plot. I’ve heard that chunks of Kubrick footage were hacked out.

    The film clearly is linking to Vatican/Mafia tones. Somewhat Illuminati/freemasonry.

    Another cold evil aura, in a film from Kubrick.

    • agreed….It seemed pretty long to begin with, but it yes anything that was left out should be restored for a unedited release

      • I don’t think they will allow a true directors cut, as it would reveal too much about what Kubrick was really trying to expose to the public. Some have linked his death to this film.


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