Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

The sweeping Waltz 2 of Dimitri Shostakovich plays as Nicole Kidman disrobes, her back to the camera. So it’s going to be that kind of film. And while Eyes Wide Shut is certainly a film dealing a lot about sex and promiscuity, it’s much more of a film about the idea of infidelity and the dark side of lust. Much like A Clockwork Orange, people are quick to label the film the very thing it is not. If anything, Eyes Wide Shut is one of the most potent arguments for monogamy and fidelity.

All of the sex and lust outside of the marriage bedroom is depicted as weird, uncomfortable, and disturbing. The infamous orgy party is a dark, satanic ritual of alien lust, not the loving intimacy between the two main characters. It’s a great example of how depicting sex and nudity is not always inherently erotic or titillating.

Eyes Wide Shut is a tale of two parties. The first has Dr. William (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) going to Victor Ziegler’s (Sydney Pollack) annual Christmas party. As the couple separates, they both end up in rather flirty circumstances, but neither of these flirtings amount to anything. Alice gets suspicious and when she presses William, he denies anything. Still not sure, she decides to hurt him by confessing a time she fantasized about having an affair.

Crestfallen by this idea, William tries to go out and have his own affair but is constantly thwarted by fate. After meeting Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), he discovers the underworld of the rich elite who have dark sex orgies while wearing masks. He’s quickly outed as someone who doesn’t belong and threatened that he will be punished if he speaks a word of it.

There’s a theory that William’s experience, his attempts to have an affair, are all a dream. While the dream theory is usually a lazy fan tool, it makes a lot of sense here and enhances the film. For one, the entire orgy sequence is one of the most surreal and bizarre sequences in cinema even including a Gregorian chant sung backwards.

The short story the film is adapted from is called Dream Story, which also lends some credence to this theory. But it’s a late line that is perhaps the best proof. After confessing the events of the film, William says “no dream is ever just a dream.” It seems unlikely that he is talking about his wife’s fantasy, but his own experiences. And Eyes Wide Shut is much more about the idea of infidelity than the act itself.

All this leaves the film with perhaps one of the most potent relationship moments in cinema. Faced with adulterous intents on both sides, the couple is at a crossroads. Alice rightly says that they should consider themselves lucky for all they’ve survived. She also suggests that there’s one last thing the couple needs to do as soon as possible: screw. (The film’s term is more blunt.) 

While perhaps crass, it’s a beautiful demonstration of how channeling those desires and lusts back into the marriage is a far more wholesome and edifying release, that monogamy is not a trap, but a place of warmth, love, and security. Adultery is a trap, a horribly, terrifying trap, so much so that even the idea of it can wreck a relationship. And the best solution to overcome this impulse? Monogamous sex. 

© James Blake Ewing 2017