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Eyes Wide Shut

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Novella:
Arthur Schnitzler
Stanley Kubrick
Frederic Raphael
Starring Tom Cruise
Nicole Kidman
Music by Jocelyn Pook
Cinematography Larry Smith
Editing by Nigel Galt
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) July 16, 1999
Running time 159 min.
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $65,000,000
Gross revenue $160,637,680

Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 American/British neo-noir drama film directed, produced and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, based on the 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler. It was Kubrick's last film before his death. The slightly surreal story, set in and around New York City, follows the sexually charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), who is shocked by the revelation by his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), that she had contemplated an affair a year earlier. He embarks on a night-long, eventful sexual adventure, during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an underground cult.

The film appeared on 16 July 1999 to generally positive critical reaction.[1]



Wealthy married couple Dr. Bill and Alice Harford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) attend a Christmas party at the home of Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), a friend and patient of Bill's. During the party, a Hungarian man (Sky du Mont) tries to seduce Alice while two younger models try to seduce Bill, however both Alice and Bill resist temptations. Later, Bill is summoned by Ziegler to his bathroom where he finds a naked woman, Mandy (Julienne Davis), who has over-dosed on a speedball. Bill helps her regain consciousness and promises Victor he will not speak of the event. Bill also meets an old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), a former fellow student who dropped out of medical school and is now a pianist.

The following night, Alice and Bill smoke marijuana in their bedroom as they discuss their encounters at the party which evolves into an argument. Alice confesses her feelings concerning a naval officer she saw while on Cape Cod. Because of Bill's self-assurance, out of spite she admits she was willing to abandon her future for one night with the officer. Suddenly, Bill receives a telephone call summoning him to a deceased patient's home. Bill arrives and meets with the former patient's daughter, Marion (Marie Richardson), who says she wants to give up her life to be with Bill. Bill resists and departs once Marion's boyfriend, Carl (Thomas Gibson), arrives.

While wandering the streets, Bill meets a female prostitute named Domino (Vinessa Shaw) and accepts to go home with her. However, a call from Alice cuts their business short, but Bill still insists on paying her for his visit. Bill then happens upon a jazz club where Nick is playing. The two come to visit as Nick describes a party he attended the previous night where he is also to play again that night. Bill coerces Nick into divulging the party's requirements: a black robe with a hood, and a Venetian mask. He learns the location and the password: Fidelio. Bill goes to the costume shop of a friend long after normal hours of operation only to find it has a new owner, Mr. Milich (Rade Šerbedžija). He offers Milich $200 over the normal price to hire a costume immediately. During their meeting, Milich discovers his teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski) half undressed with two Japanese men becomes angry with the men and threatens to call the police.

Bill takes a cab to the party in a mansion on Long Island. What he finds inside is a hierogamy-inspired sexual ritual (orgy) involving women clad in masks and G-strings and led by an ominous man dressed and masked in red. Men and women watch, masked and clad in black robes, reminiscent of a Venetian Carnival while Nick plays the organ blindfolded. As the women rise from a circle surrounding a priest-like figure, they select men from the audience including a mysterious woman who selects Bill. The woman informs Bill that he is in danger and urges him to leave, but he refuses causing him to be discovered as an outsider. Bill is forced to remove his mask in front of the the red-robed master of ceremonies and is demanded to also disrobe, but his "punishment" is "redeemed" by the mysterious woman. Bill is threatened to remain quiet about what he saw or suffer. Bill returns home and finds Alice laughing in her sleep. After waking her, she tells him of her dream of having sex with other men knowing that Bill was watching while she laughed at him.

The following day, Bill decides to investigate the events of the previous night. He goes to the hotel at which Nick was staying only to find from the front desk clerk that Nick had apparently been beaten and was taken away by two men. Bill returns the costume to the shop where Mr. Milich is now offering his daughter as a prostitute to the same men. When Bill returns to the mansion, but he is warned off by a letter and when returning to Domino's apartment, Domino's roommate tells Bill that Domino received results of a blood test, which said she was HIV positive. Later, Bill reads a newspaper article about a model named Amanda Curran who died of a drug overdose behind a locked apartment door. Bill goes to the morgue and learns this woman is Mandy, whom Bill had helped to revive at Ziegler's party. He is unable to establish that the woman did die simply of a drug overdose.

Bill is then called to Victor Ziegler's home, where Ziegler admits he was one of those at the ritual and that nothing further was done; according to him, Amanda was the woman who "redeemed" Bill and that she was simply a drug-addicted prostitute. Ziegler does warn Bill against investigating further, as some of the masked participants are said to be powerful members of society. Bill returns home to Alice and finds the mask he wore to the party on the pillow next to her. He breaks down crying, waking Alice before confessing about his journey. While Christmas shopping later that morning, Alice and Bill reconcile and attempts to improve their marriage seem to be underway.



Comparison with Dream Story

The 1926 novella Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler is set (somewhat earlier than its publishing date) in and around Vienna 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 is also Jewish in the novella. 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 anti-gay slurs. In the novella, these are anti-Semitic slurs.

The novella is set during the carnival season during which it is common for people to wear masks to parties. The film is set during the Christmas season.

The password to the party in the novella is "Denmark", the location of where Albertina had her infatuation with the soldier. In the film the password is "Fidelio" meaning faithfulness, the name of Beethoven's only opera. In early drafts of the screenplay, the password was "Fidelio Rainbow".

In the novella, the woman who "redeems" Fridolin at the sex party, saving him from punishment, is costumed like a nun, and most of the characters at this party are costumed like nuns or priests (though this element was present in the original screenplay[2]). Fridolin himself is dressed like a monk. This element is removed from the film, although the chanting and incense seen at the orgy may seem loosely religious in a manner like a Black Mass rather than a Christian worship.

When Fridolin returns home, Albertina'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, Albertina states that the laugh in her sleep just before she woke was a laugh of scornful contempt for Fridolin; although awake she states this matter-of-factly. The novella makes it clearer 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 novel is actually Albertina's dream, and the film has shifted the focus to Bill's visit to the secret society's orgy.[3]

Critic Randy Rasmussen suggests that the character of Bill is fundamentally more naive, strait-laced, less disclosing and more unconscious of his vindictive motives than his counterpart Fridolin in the novel.[4] In the novel when his wife discloses a private sexual fantasy, he in turn admits one of his own, while in the film he is simply shocked. In the novel, he long suspected the infatuation of his patient Marion for him, while in the film it is a complete surprise, and he again seems shocked. He is also more overwhelmed by the orgy in the film than in the novella. The novel's Fridolin is a bit more bold with the prostitute (Mizzi in the novel, Domino in the film). Fridolin is also conscious of looking old in the novel, though he hardly does in the film. The fantasy he confesses to his wife in the novel is of a girl in her mid to late teens.

The character of Dr. Ziegler (who represents the high wealth and prestige to which Bill Harford aspires) is entirely an invention of the film, having no counterpart in the novella at all. Critic Randy Rasmussen interprets Ziegler as representing the worst demonic potential of Bill, much as in other Kubrick films where the Dr. Strangelove character represents the worst of the American national security establishment in Doctor Strangelove, Charles Grady represents the worst of Jack Torrance in The Shining, and Quilty represents the worst of Professor Humbert in Lolita.[5]

The presence of Ziegler allows Kubrick to change the mechanics of the story in a few ways. In the film, Bill first meets his piano-playing friend, Nightingale, at Victor Ziegler's party, and then while wandering around town, seeks him out at the Sonata cafe. In the novel, the cafe encounter with Nightingale is a happy accident. Similarly, the dead woman that 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 an entire commentary on the whole story to Bill, including an explanation that the party incident of Bill being apprehended, threatened, with the woman's sacrifice for him was staged.

The novella suggests a clear explanation as to why the husband's mask ends up 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 him. In the film, this is left unexplained.


The film opened with mixed to positive reviews. The film currently holds a 78% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. At The Internet Movie Database, the film currently holds a 72% weighted average vote.[6] 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 dreaming, critics objected that it made actions and decisions laborious. Second, reviewers commented that Kubrick had shot his NYC scenes in a studio and that New York "didn't look like New York." Lee Siegel,[7] 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.[8] Noted online reviewer James Berardinelli also stated that it was arguably one of Kubrick’s best films.[9]

In the television show Roger Ebert & the Movies, director Martin Scorsese named Eyes Wide Shut his fourth favorite film of the 1990s.[10] 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 realization that 2001 or Barry Lyndon or The Shining was like nothing else before or since."[11]


  • 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."[12]
  • One recurring piece is the second movement of György Ligeti's piano cycle "Musica ricercata". The fact that the piece uses only three tones, the dissonance created by these tones, and the unyielding performance indication of Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale adds to the unsettling nature.
  • 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 Viennese cafe and reads of Mandy's death.
  • The background score during the orgy (where Tom Cruise walks from room to room) is a Tamil song sung by Manickam Yogeswaran who is a Carnatic singer.


Claims about Kubrick's opinion of the film

R. Lee Ermey, who played the menacing drill instructor in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987), 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."

Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law and executive producer, reported that Kubrick was "very happy" with the film.[13] According to Todd Field, Kubrick's friend and an actor in Eyes Wide Shut, Ermey's claims are slanderous. Field's response appeared in an October 26, 2006 interview with[14]

The polite thing would be to say 'No comment'. But the truth is that... let's put it this way, you've never seen two actors more completely subservient and prostrate themselves at the feet of a director. Stanley was absolutely thrilled with the film. He was still working on the film when he died. And he probably died because he finally relaxed. It was one of the happiest weekends of his life, right before he died, after he had shown the first cut to Terry, Tom and Nicole. He would have kept working on it, like he did on all of his films. But I know that from people around him personally, my partner who was his assistant for thirty years. And I thought about R. Lee Ermey for In the Bedroom. And I talked to Stanley a lot about that film, and all I can say is Stanley was adamant that I shouldn't work with him for all kinds of reasons that I won't get into because there is no reason to do that to anyone, even if they are saying slanderous things that I know are completely untrue.

American censorship controversy

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 theaters and video store operators disallow films with that rating. This alteration antagonized 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 October 23, 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 16 (Germany) and 18+ (Australia). 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 mature audiences of 15 and older, 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."[15]

Although Ebert has been frequently cited as calling the standard North American R-rated version the "Austin Powers" version of Eyes Wide Shut[16], 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.[15]. 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.

Controversy regarding the chanting of Hindu prayers

While American censorship attempted to control the sexuality, complaints came from offended members of the Hindu community. The American Hindus Against Defamation [17] 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 in the orgy scene is the chanting of a Romanian priest being played backwards.[18] As noted above one musical cue is sung in Tamil[19][20] although other sections are sung in Hindi[21] 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 theatrical release in North America.[22]

DVD release

The DVD release of Eyes Wide Shut corrects technical gaffes, including a reflected crew member, and altering a piece of Nicole Kidman's dialogue. Most home videos remove the verse cited from the sacred Hindu scripture,"Bhagvad Gita".

The scene in which Kidman dances naked in front of a mirror has been zoomed in on DVD copies after Cruise enters the room.

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.

See also



  • Rasmussen, Randy (2005). Stanley Kubrick: Seven Films Analyzed. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786421525. 

External links

Preceded by
American Pie
Box office number-one films of 1999 (USA)
July 18, 1999
Succeeded by
The Haunting
Preceded by
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Box office number-one films of 1999 (UK)
September 12, 1999 – September 19, 1999


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 film about a New York City doctor who 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.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, based on the novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler.
Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick.


Alice Harford

  • So, because I'm a beautiful woman, the only reason any man wants to talk to me is because he wants to fuck me? Is that what you're saying?
  • Hmmm, tell me something, those two girls at the party last night. Did you, by any chance, happen to fuck them?

Victor Ziegler

  • Who do you think those people were? Those were not just some ordinary people. 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.


Sandor: Don't you think one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties? May I ask why a beautiful woman who could have any man in this room wants to be married?
Alice: Why wouldn't she?
Sandor: Is it as bad as that?
Alice: As good as that!

Bill: You know what they say, once a doctor always a doctor.
Nick: Yes, or in my case, never a doctor, never a doctor.

Gayle: Do you know what's so nice about doctors?
Bill: Usually a lot less than people imagine.
Gayle: They always seem so knowledgeable.
Bill: Oh, they are very knowledgeable about all sorts of things.
Gayle: But I bet they work too hard. Just think of all they miss.
Bill: You're probably right.

Bill: Now, where exactly are we going... exactly?
Gayle: Where the rainbow ends.
Bill: Where the rainbow ends?
Nuala: Don't you want to go where the rainbow ends?
Bill: Well, now that depends where that is.
Gayle: Well, let's find out.

Cult Leader: [pleasantly] Please, step forwards. May I have the password?
Bill: Fidelio.
Cult Leader: That's correct, sir! That is the password- for admittance. But may I ask, what is the password- for the house?
Bill: The password for the house...
Cult Leader: Yes?
Bill: I... seem to... have forgotten it.
Cult Leader: That's unfortunate! Because here, it makes no difference- whether you have forgotten it- or whether you never knew it. You will kindly remove your mask.
[Bill removes mask. Cult leader continues in a pleasant tone]
Cult Leader: Now, get undressed.
Bill: [nervously] Get... undressed?
Cult Leader: [sternly] Remove your clothes.
Bill: Uh... gentlemen...
Cult Leader: Remove your clothes. Or would you like us to do it for you?

Victor: Bill, I... I know what happened to you last night. And I know what's been going on since. And I think you just might have the wrong idea about one or two things.
Bill Harford: I'm sorry Victor, but what in the hell are you talking about?
Victor: Please, Bill, no games. I was there. At the house.

Bill: The woman lying dead in the morgue was the woman at the party. Well, Victor, maybe I'm missing something here. You call it fake, a charade... Do you mind telling me what kind of fuckin' charade ends up with somebody turning up dead?
Victor: OK Bill, let's cut the bullshit, alright? You've been way out of your depth for the last 24 hours. You want to know what kind of charade? I'll tell you exactly what kind. That whole play-acted, "take me" sacrifice that you've been jerking off with had nothing to do with her real death. Nothing happened after you left that hadn't happened to her before. She got her brains fucked out. Period.

Bill: Look, women don't... they basically just don't think like that.
Alice: Millions of years of evolution, right? Right? Men have to stick it in every place they can, but for women... women it is just about security and commitment and, ah, whatever the fuck else!
Bill: A little oversimplified, Alice, but yes, something like that.
Alice: If you men only knew...

Bill: Are you sure of that?
Alice: Am I sure? Only as sure as I am that the reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime, can ever be the whole truth.
Bill: And no dream is ever just a dream.

Alice: I do love you and you know there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible.
Bill: What's that?
Alice: Fuck.


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