(Part 13+13+13 of an ongoing series)
Who do you think those people were? Those were not just ordinary people there. 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.
Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack)
“He is morbidly afraid of giving away any of his secrets,” says Eyes Wide Shut co-writer Frederic Raphael of Stanley Kubrick, “the best of which may be that he has none.” Raphael and I agree that Kubrick was a genius, and the Best Director despite never winning “Best Director,” though I’d add that Kubrick’s most genius gift was his ability to create the illusion– nay, the unshakable certainty— that his films contain galaxy-sized rabbit holes teeming with secret meanings, hidden agendas, conspiracy revelations, occult mysteries, coded confessions, esoteric symbolism, and arcane wisdom.
As the recent documentary Room 237 shows, viewers have concocted all kinds of elaborate speculations as to what Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining is really about, from the Holocaust to the genocide of American Indians to Kubrick’s alleged fakery of the Apollo 11 moon landing.* It’s doubtful any of said speculations would’ve been inspired solely by readings of Stephen King’s original novel; similarly, no one ever would’ve dropped Kubrick’s name into their moon-landing conspiracy theories if 2001: A Space Odyssey didn’t feel so uncannily like a space travelogue. Kubrick’s legendary fastidiousness and reclusiveness may have added fuel to this fire of overzealous theorizing, but there wouldn’t have been any sparks to begin with if he didn’t fill every frame of his films with authentic, palpable mystique.
*One night in college, I watched The Shining on repeat for like 10 hours to write a paper for some class with the word “Narrative” in its name. The result was 12 pages on the film’s parallels to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.
How deliciously appropriate, then, that Kubrick’s final work was an endlessly fascinating, immensely analyzable, Illuminati-laced joint called Eyes Wide Shut.
NSFW VIDEO… BOOBS AND BUTTS EVERYWHERE!
Simply search “Eyes Wide Shut” on YouTube and your results include “The Hidden Messages In Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut,” “Eyes Wide Shut Unveiled, Decoded & Explained,” “Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Illuminati Symbology,” “Eyes Wide Shut – a steganalysis,” and “Kubrick & The Illuminati–” and that’s just Page 1. Of course, when the centerpiece of your movie involves a ritualistic orgy with super-rich folks in masks and robes listening to backwards Latin chanting, you’re begging the conspiracy junkies to watch it frame-by-frame and leap to their own paranoid conclusions. Which, if I may add my own wild conjecture, may have been Kubrick’s intention all along, his own trollish way of singing “The Walrus was Paul!“
Eyes Wide Shut (an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novel Dream Story) is the tale of Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), an Upper West Side doctor who spirals into a surreal psychosexual odyssey after his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) confesses fantasizing about another man– an odyssey that eventually leads him to the aforementioned orgy. According to Frederic Raphael, the idea of the orgy being organized by a clandestine association of wealthy amoralists was his own purely fictional creation. Funny thing is, when he faxed the idea to Kubrick in the form of a classified FBI report, the director actually got a little paranoid himself:
FR: Get the material I faxed you?
SK: That’s the thing. Where’d you get this stuff?
FR: … Where do you think?
SK: This is classified material, how’d you get hold of it? I need you to tell me.
FR: You’re kidding.
SK: I don’t think so. Where’d you find this stuff? Did you hack into some FBI computer by chance, or what?
FR: Hack in? Are you crazy? I can’t hack into my own work without help. You asked me to give you some background on Ziegler and company. I gave it.
SK: Freddie, I need you to tell me totally honestly where you got this stuff. This is potentially…
FR: Stanley, totally, honestly, I got it where I get everything: out of my head.
SK: You’re telling me you made this up?
FR: But only because it’s true. You asked for it, I did it. I enjoyed it, as a matter of fact.
SK: It has no basis in fact?
FR: Stanley, I made it up, okay?
SK: How did you do that?
FR: Making things up is what I do for a living. It’s pretty well all I do. I write fiction. I make things up. I look at the world and… I make things up on the strength of what I see and hear, and guess. I do not mend fuses or water-ski or have a pension scheme. I made it up. It was fun; much more than fun…
SK: Okay as long as we’re not… on potentially dangerous ground here. It’s pretty convincing, you know that?
FR: Nice of you to say so. Think of it as an example of what I do when I’m free to play by myself. An apple for the teacher.
SK: And it didn’t come from anywhere that might be… you know… embarrassing?
FR: Look, it came out of my head, fully formed. How embarrassing is that? I made the whole damn thing up. It was not a big problem.
SK: How long did it take you?
FR: Maybe an hour, but I’m never going to tell you that.
from Frederic Raphael’s Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir Of Stanley Kubrick
Yet even though the whole Illuminati angle sprung from Raphael’s imagination (unless Frederic Raphael IS a member of the Illuminati spreading disinformation!), that doesn’t mean Eyes Wide Shut isn’t one of the most subversive films of 1999. There’s plenty of legitimate evidence that the film is thick with overtones echoing the oppression of the masses by sinister, ultra-powerful elites. Its messages are just a bit more subtle than those in SUBVERSIVE!!!! 1999 movies like Fight Club or The Matrix, a bit harder to notice amid all those sexy, naked women.
Then again, Kubrick’s depiction of sexy, naked women in Eyes Wide Shut is awfully subversive too. 1999 was a breakthrough year for unsimulated sex in non-pornographic films, thanks to Leos Carax’s Pola X and Catherine Breillat’s Romance. It’s hard to tell for sure if those couples are truly copulating in Kubrick’s climactic orgy (even when they aren’t shielded behind digitally-inserted bystanders), but it’s still pretty hardcore stuff for a big-studio Cruise/Kidman summer multiplex vehicle. (Link EXTREMELY NSFW.)
The subversive use of sexy, naked women doesn’t stop there. While a lot of the sexy, naked women are here for erotica’s sake, Kubrick features others to provoke more complicated responses. We see sexy, naked women in settings that are clinical (receiving breast exams in a doctor’s office), macabre (a hooker unconscious after an overdose, and later dead at the morgue), and borderline incriminating (15 year-old Leelee Sobieski, though not technically naked, struts around scantily clad for all her screen time).
All of which serves to tease and intensify the Sick Desperation of Dr. Bill. Like many straight white males of 1999 movies (Fight Club‘s narrator, American Beauty‘s Lester Burnham, Being John Malkovich‘s Craig Schwartz), Dr. Bill’s Sick Desperation involves a struggle against feelings of jealousy, sexual frustration, and emasculation. The more he tries to transgress the sexual boundaries of his marriage as a means of avenging himself against Alice’s fantasy, the more he fails, the more he’s taunted by strange flesh he can never possess. And to add insult to blueballs, Dr. Bill doesn’t even get the cathartic release of a good Sick Desperate Laugh; he merely gets to hear the Sick Desperate Laughter of Alice as she dreams of cuckolding and humiliating her husband.
Dr. Bill finally achieves closure by learning some valuable secrets, but not the kind of secrets he thought he wanted, the kind that get naughty in Masonic Long Island mansions in the abysses of night. Because, despite all the occult symbology and class warfare that may or may not exist in this movie, it’s ultimately about marriage. It has to be about marriage. It’s right out there in the open. Kubrick’s simply making a film about marriage in a mythical way, where the mundane concerns of mere mortals get caught up in the epic, dizzying dream logic of the gods.
Once again, Frederic Raphael: “…like a man stirring in his sleep, S.K. almost faces the mundane American reality which says that a couple like [Bill and Alice] would ‘get a divorce.’ Yet he has become enough of a European for the marital myth to have leeched onto him. (We are probably the two most long-serving husbands in the movies.) He cannot quite see that the durable myth is pretty well autonomous, and its plot, however elasticated, largely determined: Oedipus and Jocasta will never be able to avert trouble by spending more quality time with the kids…”
The lesson, I suppose, being that love and marriage can survive much more easily when partners are honest and unashamed of their primal desires. Only when deceit and transgression come in to play is love seriously in peril. And even if the world is truly haunted by shadowy, amoral cabals, then you can always take solace in some good make-up sex.
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