A Brief Analysis of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut
The first time we see Alice (Nicole Kidman) in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, she disrobes and a black dress falls to the ground, leaving her completely nude. Heels still intact, she kicks the dress off her feet and only the soft, white, and ideal skin of the once Mrs. Cruise fills the frame. The image sexualizes and objectifies, no doubt arouses its male audience members, diving into the eight-year old boy discovering a playboy collection that exists in so many men. It’s not until the next scene, our second introduction to Alice, where Kubrick blindsides his male audience with a masterful stroke of irony. Bill (Tom Cruise), dressed for a night out with his wife, searches the apartment for his wallet. Wandering into the bathroom and bringing the camera along with him, Kidman in another beautiful dress is sitting on the toilet. She finishes urinating, wipes, and stands up and asks Bill “how does my hair look?”
Kubrick is toying with his male audience and the male sexual psyche. The ideas of gender roles and sex that are major in Eyes Wide Shut. Shut is an erotic thriller about sexual jealousy and obsession, an eerie meditation on the role of men and women on planet Earth, sexual impulse and compulsion, and perhaps the least talked about but the most central theme: masculinity.
In Eyes Wide Shut, Bill is a doctor, very wealthy, has connections and friendships inside the New York City upper class, but he is blind sided when his wife tells him that she came dangerously close to cheating on him with a naval officer the two came across in a vacation at Cape Cod. Bill’s imagination runs away with him. Masculinity and male dominance are key in Eyes Wide Shut. As Bill wanders the streets of New York contemplating sexual retribution, he is confronted by a group of drunken frat boys who nearly knock him to the ground, try instigating a fight with him, and call him a ‘faggot’. These are men at their most hyper-masculine; a coarsely mashed up glass of testosterone that more closely resembles the average male than the more uncommon one.
At Bill’s office, all of his secretaries and assistants are women who abide by his commands. Notice in the first act the montage that occurs, Kubrick is displaying the daily routine of Bill and his wife. We again see Kidman completely nude, throwing on a bra. The camera tilts upward, showing her off like a model. Cutting to Bill’s office, he is listening to the heartbeat of a topless, gorgeous female patient. When we come back to Kidman she is wiping on her deodorant. Kubrick’s irony is present throughout the whole film.
Take for example, the cult orgy sequence. The women gather in a circle, disrobe, and are summoned to perform sex with the men (and women) in attendance. They are there to be guided, directed, and are there for one purpose only. It is a metaphor for complete male control over sexuality and an extreme expression of the basic subconscious (and conscious) attitude of many men toward women. The men in attendance are New York’s upper class. Men with an unlimited amount of money and resources. They have used their power and influence to concoct the ultimate male sexual fantasy: a surplus of beautiful, subservient women who have been diluted to both human and sexual instruments.
The submissive style of sexuality doesn’t end there. Take the shop owner who finds his teenage daughter in the middle of a threesome with two men who are much older than she. His enragement skyrockets, threatens violence and legal action against the men, but when Bill revisits the shop the next day; we find that the owner has worked out an arrangement to pimp his daughter. Women in Eyes Wide Shut are thought of only as utensils. They aren’t looked at or regarded as anything worthwhile, let alone human. “You know, the girl with the nice tits.” exclaims Ziegler when speaking of a prostitute who died under mysterious circumstances. Her death has not saddened or surprised him nor has it slowed down his objectification of women.
Kubrick thinks the male sexual psyche is morbid. It is deviant and without sentiment for women. And if it is without sentiment for women, then it is without sentiment for humans. Kubrick thinks it’s downright absurd and Eyes Wide Shut is not an erotic thriller like it was marketed, but a parody, a satire on the value, or lack thereof of masculinity. The film’s purpose was not to arouse but to disgust. It is with the orgy sequence, the HIV infected whore, the lack of emotion of Ziegler, the overdose and death of the high class prostitute that, the ironic twists of Kidman’s onscreen actions that Kubrick strips away the allure of men’s sex fantasies and shows the brutality underneath.
(This was Stanley Kubrick’s final film and far from the first time he analyzed how masculinity and sexuality are intertwined. See: A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket, and 2001: A Space Odyssey)