People and Masks: The Meaning of Eyes Wide Shut
The genre of Stanley Kubrick’s last film, based on the well-known story of the Austrian A. Schnitzler, “The Novel of Dreams” (1925-1926), can be interpreted in different ways. It is also a psychological melodrama about a marriage that almost failed; and a semi-detective story with elements of political conspiracy; and a philosophical tape about the essence of the modern world. If desired, in “Eyes Wide Shut” you can see a Christmas fairy tale with a happy ending, and even light eroticism. And yet this is primarily a film about why people in the modern world wear masks – and what lies behind them.
What is the main idea of the film?
To understand the director’s intention, it is necessary to turn to the theory of social roles. According to her, each person, striving to function successfully in society, behaves in a certain way, as if putting on a social mask of a student, customer, boss, etc. It streamlines communication and makes life predictable, but Stanley Kubrick is interested in what happens to people when they go beyond their usual roles and take off their masks. It is not surprising that the mask becomes the main symbol of the film.
Who is wearing what masks in the film?
The answer to this question is simple: masks are worn by everyone except little Helena. At the same time, under the guise of a respectable businessman, there is a lover of dubious pleasures and a member of a strange club; under the guise of a drug addict and a call girl – a suffering and capable person; under the guise of the devoted daughter of a sick old man – a woman obsessed with a passion for Dr. Bill. And Bill himself and his wife, as it suddenly turns out, are a little different from who they imagined themselves and each other.
What’s going on with Bill and Alice?
At the beginning of the film, we see an almost ideal family of glossy magazines, but it is enough for them to go beyond the cozy home world, and they are greeted by temptations. The party in the Ziegler house with its glamorous and intoxicating atmosphere becomes the first and still easy test of loyalty of the main characters, which they withstand with honor.
But a heart-to-heart conversation, started by Alice, turns out to be fatal: a hitherto successful marriage begins to burst at the seams. And although Alice is not talking about real betrayal, Bill, who was never jealous of his wife, even has enough fantasies about another man to lose his peace of mind and go in search of adventure. He is shocked that he doesn’t know Alice at all; he is shocked that their perfect marriage turned out to be far from perfect.
The viewer is offered a wide range of topics for reflection. How much do we need the truth about each other? And is honesty really at the core of a successful marriage? Perhaps the best way to preserve it is not to ask unnecessary questions, not to delve into your soul and not remove the mask of an exemplary partner, either from yourself or from another person.
Bill’s dark side
When the familiar world of the protagonist collapses, he tries to find solace on the shadow side of life. It is noteworthy that all the episodes associated with this side are completely the same: Bill is faced with temptation, for a moment he succumbs to it, but the “fall” never occurs. At the same time, the level of temptations is lower and lower: from a quite decent lady in love with him, the daughter of his long-term patient, to the vile scene in the Rainbow store, where a minor girl provides erotic services to elderly perverts.
Critics have rightly noted that carriers of temptation can be interpreted as projections of the desires of the protagonist, doomed to remain an observer. But there is one more aspect: Bill is afraid to go all the way, because he is not ready to find out the whole truth about his shadow self. His mind is torn between fear and curiosity up to attending a very strange gathering.
What was happening at the villa?
The simple-minded musician Nick, a former classmate of the protagonist, is inclined to regard the gathering of masked people as an ordinary orgy, albeit with the participation of very beautiful women. But the music that accompanies the ritual at the beginning is the church mass played in reverse order; all those gathered know each other well; the atmosphere of what is happening is melancholic and viscous, as in slightly slow motion. At this strange orgy, no one laughs or has fun, on the contrary – everyone is devilishly serious.
Thus, the director makes it clear that everything is much more complicated and before us is a ritual suspiciously similar to a black mass, and its participants are not casual lovers of debauchery, but members of a secret club that unites the mighty of this world. It is possible that it includes those who rule the world in which millions of ordinary Bills and Alice live. We do not see their faces, we do not know their names. Kubrick deliberately leaves room for hypotheses and analogies, naming only one member of the club by name – Mr. Ziegler. It is he who slightly nods to Bill (later Ziegler will tell that Bill was given a receipt from the Rainbow store, written out in his name and found by the guards in his coat pocket).
Why did Mandy save Bill?
The masked girl with ostrich feathers who tried to talk Bill into leaving twice is Mandy, whom he helped after an overdose at the Ziegler house, but did she recognize the doctor in the cloak and mask? The director does not give an unambiguous answer to this question, and therefore Mandy’s behavior can be explained in different ways.
If she recognized Bill, then it is quite understandable her desire to save the only man who treated her humanly, as a person, and not as a piece of meat. If not, then perhaps Mandy is driven by a self-destructive drive, which is also evident in her drug addiction. The former beauty queen was tired of the life she led, and therefore sacrificed herself instead of Bill. However, there is also Ziegler’s version: there was no victim, no execution, and Mandy died of an accidental overdose.
Is Zigler telling the truth?
Ziegler is arguably the most controversial character in the film, and the director intentionally leaves parts of his personality in the shadows. It is obvious that he needs Bill, he is used to him, and therefore Ziegler is doing his best to calm the doctor down. All the facts that Bill gives, he gives a convincing explanation – or one that is impossible to verify. But there is a weak link in Ziegler’s cleverly woven explanation. He assures Bill that Mandy, who replaced the doctor, was only putting on a show to scare him. But at that moment, Bill could not know what would happen to Mandy, and even more so since it is about life and death! Ziegler only started talking about the play when Bill showed him a newspaper with an obituary. So Ziegler is lying, and Mandy – and possibly Nick – was killed.
Bill gets additional confirmation that this is not a game when he returns home and sees that his lost mask is lying on the pillow next to his sleeping wife.
Why was there a mask next to Alice?
Some viewers believe that the mask indicates that Alice was also at the orgy, but this interpretation is incorrect. The appearance of the mask is a warning to Bill and at the same time a hint that it is time to return to the usual social role, i.e. put on the mask of a respectable doctor living by work and family. Bill cries at the sight of the mask, feeling for the first time with all his acuteness how illusory the well-being and safety of his little world and how far he has come, prompted by jealousy and curiosity.
What’s the point of the final scene?
Bill and Alice’s conversation at the supermarket is an attempt to formulate a scenario for their future life. Alice talks about what happened in reality (referring to Bill’s adventures) and in dreams (referring to her fantasies about the officer), and suggests ending this episode of their life, i.e. return to the familiar and predictable world. The spouses were convinced of the dangers of being frank and going beyond their usual roles.
What is the meaning of the title of the film?
Paradoxically, Kubrick’s film echoes The Matrix, released in the same year: if you want a comfortable and well-fed life, don’t ask unnecessary questions, don’t think about who rules the world, in short, play your role honestly.
Do you want to get out of the matrix? Then get ready for very big problems. The heroes of the film chose the first option. They will try to forget everything they have learned about themselves and others, and will live as they should – with their eyes wide shut.