Eyes Wide Shut
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley KubrickFrederic Raphael
Based on Dream Story byArthur Schnitzler
Starring Tom CruiseNicole KidmanSydney Pollack
Music by Jocelyn Pook
Cinematography Larry Smith
Editing by Nigel Galt
Studio Hobby Films Pole Star Stanley Kubrick Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) July 16, 1999 (1999-07-16) (United States) September 10, 1999 (1999-09-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time 159 minutes
Language English
Budget $65,000,000
Gross revenue $162,091,208


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Eyes Wide Shut

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Theatrical release poster

Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 drama film based upon the 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was written by Arthur Schnitzler. 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, sexually charged 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.


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Mentmore Towers, one of the settings used by the film

Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), go to a Christmas party, given by one of his wealthy patients, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). Before going, Alice complains that Bill is paying no attention to her appearance. At the party, Bill runs into an old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who had dropped out of medical school and now plays piano in a band for night clubs and parties. A Hungarian man tries to pick up Alice. Two young models try to take Bill off for a tryst telling him they are going to "where the rainbow ends". He is interrupted by an urgent call from his host, Ziegler, upstairs, who had been having sex with a young woman, who has then overdosed on a speedball. Ziegler asks Bill to keep the encounter confidential.

The following evening at home, Bill and his wife are smoking marijuana and she asks him if he had sex with the two girls. After Bill reassures her of his fidelity, she asks if he is ever jealous of men who are attracted to her. As the discussion gets heated, he states he thinks women are more faithful than men. She rebuts him by telling him of a recent sexual fantasy she had about a naval officer they had encountered on a vacation.

Bill is just then called on a housecall, but is visibly disturbed by Alice's revelation. He has been called to the deathbed of the father of an old now-engaged female friend, who impulsively kisses him and tells him she loves him. He puts her off, and then takes a walk down the streets of New York, where he is first accosted by a group of street punks who accuse him of being gay. As he continues on his walk, he meets a prostitute named Domino (Vinessa Shaw), and accepts her solicitation, going to her apartment. The 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; where he learns that Nick has another engagement later in the evening where he must play the piano blindfolded. Bill is intrigued and Nick tells him about the beautiful women he glimpsed when the blindfold slipped, allowing him to surmise some of the goings-on. 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. In the search 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.

After obtaining the costume, Bill takes a cab out to a country mansion inside of which 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 hooks up with another girl and in her company walks through a few rooms where people are having sex in an orgy. The first woman catches up with him and insists he is in terrible danger. 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 him 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 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 not to tell anyone about what happened there.

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 him seeing her with them.

The next morning, Bill goes to the restaurant next door to the Sonata cafe in search of Nick Nightingale. After he locates his hotel, the desk clerk there tells Bill that a bruised and frightened Nick had checked out earlier after returning with two large, dangerous-looking men.

Bill first goes to return the costume to Rainbow Fashions, where the 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 suggests that they had paid him off. Bill has misplaced the mask, so Milich adds it to his bill. Bill now returns to the mansion in his own car and is greeted at the gate by a man who hands him a typed note warning him to cease and desist his inquiries. After Bill returns home, he thinks about Alice's recounting of the scene while he watches her instruct her daughter in math.

That evening, Bill goes to the home of the prostitute with a gift. He is greeted by her roommate, who tells him that Domino has just discovered she has HIV. Bill leaves and notices that a well-dressed man is following him. He ducks into a nearby coffee house and apparently loses his pursuer. Here, Bill reads a newspaper story about a beauty queen, named Mandy, who had died of a drug overdose. She has the same name as the woman he had treated at Ziegler's party. Intrigued, 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 of all the events of the past night and day. Ziegler was involved with the ritual orgy and his own position with the group has been jeopardized by Bill Harford's intrusion. Bill is now concerned with the death of Mandy Curran, whom Ziegler has identified as the woman at the party who'd "sacrificed" herself to prevent Bill's "punishment". Ziegler insists this had nothing to do with her death: she was a junkie and has eventually suffered one last overdose. Bill 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 have sex as soon as possible.


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  • Tom Cruise as Dr. William "Bill" Harford
  • Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford
  • Sydney Pollack as Victor Ziegler
  • Marie Richardson as Marion
  • Todd Field as Nick Nightingale
  • Sky du Mont as Sandor Szavost
  • Rade Šerbedžija as Mr. Milich
  • Vinessa Shaw as Domino
  • Leelee Sobieski as Milich's daughter
  • Alan Cumming as Hotel desk clerk
  • Leon Vitali as Red Cloak
  • Julienne Davis as Amanda "Mandy" Curran
  • Thomas Gibson as Carl

Genre and marketing

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The film was described by some reviewers and partially marketed as an erotic thriller, a categorization disputed by others. It is classed as such in the book The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema by Linda Ruth Williams, and was described as such in two news articles about Cruise and Kidman's lawsuit over assertions they saw a sex therapist during filming. One review panning the film disparaged it as an erotic thriller implying the genre was inherently disreputable, although other positive reviews such as the one in Hidefdigest also called it such as well.

However, reviewing the film on aboutfilm.com, Carlo Cavagna regards this as a misleading classification, as does Leo Goldsmith writing on notcoming.com (a website devoted to old movies out of current release), and also the review on Blu-Ray.com. 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." Writing in general about the genre of 'erotic thriller' for CineAction in 2001, Douglas Keesey states that the film "whatever its actual type...[was] at least marketed as an erotic thriller". 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”".DVD Talk similarly dissociates the film from this genre.


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Comparison with Dream Story
Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle is set around Vienna shortly after the turn of the century. The couple are named Fridolin and Albertina, and their home is a typical suburban middle-class home, not the film's posh urban apartment.

The couple in the novella are Jewish. According to historian Geoffrey Cocks, Kubrick (himself of Jewish descent) frequently removed references to the Jewishness of characters in the novels he adapted. This is reflected in the film by the fact that when Bill Harford is going home he is taunted by some young boys in the street with homophobic slurs. In the novella, these are anti-Semitic slurs.

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

Critic Randy Rasmussen suggests that the character of Bill is fundamentally more naïve, strait-laced, less disclosing and more unconscious of his vindictive motives than his counterpart, Fridolin. For Rasmussen and others, the film's Bill Harford is essentially sleep-walking through life with no deeper awareness of his surrounding. 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 notes that both passwords echo elements of one member of the couple's behaviour, though in opposite ways. 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 priests; Fridolin himself used a priest costume. This aspect was retained in the film's original screenplay, 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 as 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.

The character of Ziegler (who represents the high wealth and prestige to which Bill Harford aspires) is entirely an invention of the film, having no counterpart in Schnitzler. 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.

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 cafe. In the novella, the cafe encounter with Nightingale is a happy accident. 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 of Bill being apprehended, threatened, with the woman's sacrifice revealed as staged. Whether this is to be believed, it is an exposition of Ziegler's view of the ways of the world as a member of the power elite.

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.

Use of Venetian masks
Numerous authors of works on Kubrick have noted that the masks worn at the sex ritual in Somerton mansion are virtually all Venetian and that the film has a closing credit for "Venetian mask research". In an interview, costume designer Marit Allen stated that Kubrick had the masks sent from Venice but noted that Kubrick also retouched them, slightly altering their appearance. These masks have been at some periods in history (including today) associated with Venetian carnival and performances of Commedia dell'arte, and Schnitzler's novel is set in Carnival season. (Indeed, the party attended by the husband and wife in the novella's opening is also a carnival-season "masked ball", in addition to the mansion gathering being described as such.)

Historians, travel guide authors, novelists and merchants of Venetian masks have noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscuous activities. 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" simultaneously serves as Grand Inquisitor and King of Carnival). As such, Nelson argues the sex ritual is a symbolic mirror of the darker truth behind the façade of Victor Ziegler's earlier Christmas party. Carolin Ruwe writing in her 2007 book Symbols in Stanley Kubrick's Movie 'Eyes Wide Shut' argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, the masks at Somerton mansion reflecting the masks that all wear in society, a point reinforced by Tim Krieder who notes the many masks in the prostitute's apartment and her having been renamed in the film "Domino" which is a style of Venetian mask.

Since the release of the film, some vendors of Venetian masks have used Eyes Wide Shut as publicity on their websites (such as the UK based "Masks of Venice") and some published travel guides to Venice have pointed readers to shops from which Stanley Kubrick is said to have purchased masks used in the film. Website Conde Nast Traveller mentions mask shop Mondo Novo which Fodor's notes has also supplied masks to films of Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh.


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The film opened with generally positive reviews. The film currently holds a 77% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics objected to two features. The first 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 labored. Second, reviewers commented that Kubrick had shot his NYC scenes in a studio and that New York "didn't look like New York". Writing about erotic mystery thrillers, writer Leigh Lundin comments that watching the dissolving marriage was painful and the backdrop of Christmas against the dark topic was disturbing, but "the oblique, well-told plot rewards an attentive viewer".

Lee Siegel, in Harper's, felt that most critics responded mainly to the marketing campaign and did not address the film on its own terms. Others feel that American censorship took an esoteric film and made it even harder to understand. Reviewer James Berardinelli stated that it was arguably one of Kubrick’s best films. Writing for The New York Times, reviewer Elvis Mitchell 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."

In the television show Roger Ebert & the Movies, director Martin Scorsese named Eyes Wide Shut his fourth favorite film of the 1990s. 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 realisation that 2001 or Barry Lyndon or The Shining was like nothing else before or since." Mystery writer and commentator Jon Breen agrees.


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  • The opening title music is "Waltz 2 from Shostakovich's Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra", for years misidentified as the composer's Jazz Suite 2, recorded and released under the incorrect name by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
  • In the ritual, the incantations in the background are part of a Romanian Orthodox Divine Liturgy recorded in a church in Baia Mare, played backwards. The piece, named "Masked Ball", is an adaptation by Jocelyn Pook of her "Backwards Priests." When contacting Pook in regard to providing music for the film, Kubrick asked if she had anything else like Backwards Priests – "you know, weird."
  • One recurring piece is the second movement of György Ligeti's piano cycle "Musica ricercata".
  • In the morgue scene, Franz Liszt's late solo piano piece, "Nuages Gris" ("Grey Clouds") (1881) is heard.
  • "Rex tremendae" from Mozart's Requiem plays as Bill walks into the cafe and reads of Mandy's death.
  • The background score during the orgy (where Bill walks from room to room) is a Tamil song sung by Manickam Yogeswaran, a Carnatic singer.


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Kubrick's opinion
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".

R. Lee Ermey, an actor in Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket, claimed 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."

According to Todd Field, Kubrick's friend and an actor in Eyes Wide Shut, Ermey's claims are slanderous. Field's response appeared in a 26 October 2006 interview with Slashfilm.com :

American censorship and classification
Citing contractual obligations to deliver an R rating, Warner Bros. digitally altered the orgy for the American release, blocking out graphic sexuality by inserting additional figures to obscure the view, avoiding an adults-only NC-17 rating that limited distribution, as some large American theatres and video store operators disallow films with that rating. This alteration antagonised cinephiles, as they 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 23 October 2007 in DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc 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.

Roger Ebert objected to the technique of using digital images to mask the action. 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."

Although Ebert has been frequently cited as calling the standard North American R-rated version the "Austin Powers" version of Eyes Wide Shut, in fact his review mockingly referred to an early rough draft of the altered scene (never publicly released) as the "Austin Powers" version of the film. This is in reference to two scenes in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in which, through camera angles and coincidences, sexual body parts are blocked from view in a comical way.

Hindu prayer usage
While American censorship attempted to control the sexuality, complaints came from offended members of the Hindu religion. The American Hindus Against Defamation wrote to Warner Brothers requesting they change the voice-over chant that plays as Bill Harford wanders from room to room at the mansion. According to the AHAD, "the background music subsides and the shloka (scriptural recitation) from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most revered Hindu scripture is played out." But, in reality, this is a modified version of an earlier piece by the film composer entitled "Backwards Priests". The main musical track at the beginning of the orgy scene is the chanting of a Romanian priest being played backwards. As noted above one musical cue is sung in Tamil although other sections (according to film composer Jocelyn Pook) are sung in Hindi taken from an earlier recording by Manickam Yogeswaran.

When Warner did not concede, the American Hindus Against Defamation threatened to protest. Eventually, Warner Brothers agreed with the Hindu community of Great Britain to replace it with a chant of similar dramatic tone. These changes were not made in the North American release. Later, Warner Brothers issued a public apology for the hurt caused to Hindus.

Home media

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The original DVD release of Eyes Wide Shut 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 23 October 2007, Warner Home Video released Eyes Wide Shut in DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats. This is the first home video release that presents the film in anamorphic 1.78:1 (Note that the film was shown theatrically as soft matted 1.66:1 in Europe and 1.85:1 in the USA). The previous DVD release used a 1.33:1 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.


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Some of the content on this page has been provided by the following page on Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyes_Wide_Shut

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