Eyes Wide Shut is probably my favorite film, but it didn’t acquire this distinction until quite a long time after I had first watched it. A second viewing was followed by the nuances of the film creeping up in my mind and demanding a share of my daydreaming. When I watched it a third time, and the rest was history.
I am in some pretty good company – Stanley Kubrick considered it to be his greatest contribution to the art of cinema. Before the film was released, Kubrick died, leaving this enigmatic film for viewers to ponder without its creator to chime in. But the film was not a sudden act of inspiration that came to the auteur, but a culmination of decades of meditation and influence that provided Kubrick with a capstone that ultimately summed up his vision as a filmmaker. Kubrick had been envisioning a film about sexual relations since early in his career, and upon reading the early 20th century novella Dream Story, he decided to buy the rights to it in 1971. For almost 30 years Kubrick held the rights, and the ideas that were to become his final masterpiece took shape throughout that time.
Kubrick’s exploration of the dream world of the film that the audience is part of is ultimately manifested in Eyes Wide Shut. The diegesis of Kubrick is a dream in which the audience is invited to take part in. Kubrick stated early in his career,
The representation of reality has no bite. It does not transcend. Nowadays I am more interested in taking up a fantastic and improbable story…. I always enjoyed representing a slightly surreal situation in a realistic way. I have always had a penchant for fairy-tales, myths and magical stories. They seem to me to come closer to our present-day experience of reality than realistic stories, which are basically just as stylized.
To this end, Kubrick’s films walk the line between the dream and the reality even within his films. Mixture of the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds are a tool used throughout his filmography, at least since 1957’s Paths of Glory, over four decades before his final film. We hear a non-diegetic percussion piece when the soldiers are sent into No Man’s Land from the trench. Later, when being executed, a percussion piece plays again, only this time, we learn that the drummers are in the reality of the film. In A Clockwork Orange, the main character Alex is both the main character and the narrator; he is both the gaze and the object of the gaze. By walking this line, Kubrick recognizes that dream-state of film that always exists in the medium whether creators intend or address it or not. Films are necessarily believable and internally consistent absurdities that echo the mental filtering of reality. In a film, characters are funnier than reality; the passing of time is more perfect than reality. This is because our gaze is restricted to the narrative that is relevant to the auteur’s vision. In real life, our idea and memories of our friends are funnier than reality. Our idea of Christmastime is more wonderful and cozy than can be. Our real life gaze conserves details by only cataloging those details that are relevant to our personal narrative.