Poster artwork. Kubrick used the Futura Extra Bold typeface in the publicity materials and credit sequences of many of his films.

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Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is a film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novella Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. The film stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were a real-life husband and wife at the time of the production. more...

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Kubrick died shortly after completing the editing of the film. After a long shooting schedule, the film was released to a mixed critical reaction.


The storyline follows the surreal, possibly imagined, sexual adventures and misadventures of Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise), who is in shock after his wife, Alice, (Kidman) reveals that she has considered an affair, and which culminates in his admittance to a bizarre orgy held in a mysterious mansion near New York City. The orgy sequence, which includes elements of Hieros Gamos symbolism, contains some of the most explicit portrayals of consensual sex in mainstream cinema. Some have also perceived Illuminati symbolism in the movie.

Comparison to Traumnovelle

The film's puzzling narrative has inspired several interpretations, many of which see the film as a psychological allegory, often as a dream, rather than as a straightforward drama.

Eyes Wide Shut is a fairly faithful adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle (or Dream Story), but it leaves out one important piece of information that might have served as the key to understanding it. In Schnitzler's novella, Fridolin, the Bill Harford equivalent, is told by his wife that she first began to fantasize about infidelity while they were on holiday in Denmark. When Fridolin goes on his strange journey and arrives at the masked ball, the password is "Denmark". Schnitzler does not resolve whether Fridolin's journey is a dream or is meant to be interpreted literally.

In Eyes Wide Shut, the password is changed to "Fidelio", a word that points at the theme of marital fidelty, but does not indicate clearly that Bill's journey is a dream. ("Fidelio" is also the name of Beethoven's only opera which, appropriately, has matrimonial fidelity as its subject matter. See A Clockwork Orange for more allusions to Beethoven by Kubrick.) Kubrick also does not resolve how the movie should be interpreted.

Stylistic features

Cinematography and mise-en-scène

Kubrick adopted several stylistic conventions in Eyes Wide Shut. As with Barry Lyndon, much of the lighting in "Eyes Wide Shut" comes from the 'pratical' lights (the lights that can be seen in the shot and are meant to be the source of light within the fiction of the story). Kubrick's style can best be described as 'simulated natural lighting' because it looks closer to the way lighting looks in real life as opposed to movies, but is still artificial. For example, the scene with the man in the red cloak and gold mask is lit by a 'pratical' spotlight from high above that one could describe as existing within the fiction of the movie, but the darker shadow areas were lit to some extent by a diffuse fill light that is not motivated by any source within the scene, perhaps a 'china ball' or helium ballon fixture off screen. Kubrick occasionally departs from this naturalistic strategy into overt, unrealistic expressionism such as the intensly saturated blue light that flood the bathroom of the Harfords when they are arguing or the same blue light coming in through the windows of Ziegler's billard room. The film negative was 'pushed' in processing to increase the speed of the film, thus allowing for the use of natural lighting. "Eyes Wide Shut" made extensive use of Christmas lights (the story is set in the Christmas season). The colours red, blue, yellow and green feature predominantly in the film. This is enhanced by the use of Christmas decorations. It is often suggested that the colour scheme is an important symbolic schemata. This theory has weight, considering the four 'modern art' posters in the hospital hallway which individually consist of these colours (suggesting a consonance of location and symbolic meaning) and Kubrick's reputation as a master of detail. More simply it may suggest the primal or basic nature of the thematic content. Shop-fronts and street signs also express a quasi-semiotic meaning in that they convey information to an observant audience that the characters are unaware of. For example, before Bill enters the prostitute's apartment building, they stop at a store with the sign 'The Lotto Shop', perhaps indicating that he is gambling with his health.


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