There is a certain faction of films that are doomed owing to wrongful advertisement, and likewise, on the other end of the advertising spectrum, there are films that turn out to be pleasant surprises because they did not turn out the way they were advertised. Along similar lines of thought, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was specifically and categorically marketed as an erotic thriller, but that turned out to be only one part of it. In fact, I am ready to bet a fair amount that the decision to do so too was purely studio based, and not something that Kubrick would have personally assigned, seeing as though almost all of his films have seldom fit in the narrow bracket of a single genre. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is, in my interpretation, a relationship drama, dream like in its approach: a microscopic look on a marriage and a family that has elements of a mystery thriller, stylishly and impeccably decorated.
Even the cynics that this film has drawn towards it over the years, and believe me there are many, would agree that the film is all too well mounted to look at, just as the marriage at its centre that it so gleefully and explicitly scrutinizes. It is also Kubrick’s last film, closing out an absolutely golden filmography of a master auteur, and while there have been numerous claims and controversies that usually accompany the name of this film with respect to the final version of the film being tampered by the studio before it released and it not being completely in line with Kubrick’s vision, I prefer to remember it as a fine, trademark Stanley Kubrick film, certainly not among his best works, but carefully understated enough not to be considered for the same contention either. It is his avant garde feature, and I can see why despite being backed by a big production house like Warner Brothers, Kubrick would have wanted it that way.
Eyes Wide ‘Shut’ Meaning
Before we deep dive into the plot and the ending, I would like to get a bit into literal interpretations, before delving into all the figurative this film deals with. “Eyes Wide Shut”, the expression in itself is a falsity if you see: they cannot be ‘wide’ shut, as opposed to its rather well suited antonym, “eyes wide open”, usually indicating surprise or shock while at the same time declaring a state of absolute clarity. In that, eyes wide shut would mean a degree of knowingness, a kind of self-awareness of a certain sequence of events, and despite that, choosing to remain oblivious of it.
The shutting of eyes would then represent denial; denial from something that is a reality but also something you’d deliberately steer away from seeing or accepting. This will require more meaning if you look at the ultimate motive of the film’s plot and its resolution in the end. The meaning also doubles up on a Kubrick imparted dreamy quality to the film, eerily familiar because it has been constructed from memory, yet unrecognisable all the same: something that you can’t look away from even if you want to, like in a nightmare whence you are partially self-aware of what’s happening and even the fact that you are dreaming and it’s not real, but cannot break free.
The eyes are figuratively wide open, but literally, and in a manner of wordplay, wide shut. In fact, dreams become a very important motif in the film itself, something that I will try to expand upon as we move forward. However, before that, I think it is imperative to explore the two primary characters that inhabit Kubrick’s film: Bill and Alice. This is who the story is about, from the beginning right until the end.