Eyes wide shut to see/eyes wide open to sleep: Kubrick’s testament after 30 years

Last night, I resumed one of my favourite movies: Eyes Wide Shut (1999), exquisitely signed by Stanley Kubrick. Although rivers of ink have flown on Kubrick’s last testament, its meaning is still ambiguous and elusive. Like many other Kubrick’s movies, the story of Bill and Alice is based on a binary logic that pretentiously tries to explain the meaning of life: reality and dream, truth and illusion. The title in itself encapsulates the evocative oxymoron of life: is what we are living reality or the product of our subconscious ? Do we dream when we look outside ourselves or find reality when we go within?  And where is the borderline between sleep and wakefulness?

Bill and Alice are a young middle class couple of a New York City lit by prismatic Christmas lights. We are introduced to those characters as we look at them preparing absentmindedly for a party launched by the millionaire Victor Ziegler.  At the party they both entertain themselves with other possible lovers of the night, but without falling for temptation.

However, the day after, feeling troubled by her husband giving attention to other ladies, Alice starts to inquire whether Bill wanted to fulfil his libido for the night. To provoke Bill’s reaction as he blindly believes in his wife’s loyalty, Alice unveils a secret: last summer when they were on holiday, she wanted to spend the night with another man, a complete stranger. The conversation turns into being a sincere yet arrogant confession from Alice, blending between reality and dreams, triggering Bill and the certainties of a man that “thinks in black and white”.  From now we follow the hero/anti-hero of the story – Bill and his descent to the underworld.

Bill spends the night trying to investigate his desires and all that has considered being his reality: his perfect, concrete life, at least until that night. At first he follows a prostitute, Domino, to satisfy his libido, an act of revenge against his wife’s potential infidelity. But, just before committing the “crime”, Alice calls him – the first of a series of real and oneiric warnings that stop him.

Bill’s descent continues when he finds the password for a mysterious costume party. The password “Fidelio” meaning “marriage fidelity” ironically gives access to a hidden and iniquitous reality where man and woman couple in liturgical and orgiastic rituals. Before participating in any coupling, Bill is warned by a woman who recognises him to leave the party before he is found to be an impostor. Notwithstanding her warnings, Bill is summoned by the ritual officiant in order to be punished. But just after being unmasked, Bill is saved by the same mysterious woman who accepts to be punished in his place.

As he returns home, Bill finds Alice panting in the throes of a nightmare. Once awake, she explains that she was dreaming of being naked and in a public space, waiting to copulate with the man of her sexual dreams. At that point, Alice waits to fall into the arms of numerous other men in the dream to taunt her husband.  The overlap dream – reality – is completed: Alice has experienced the oneiric representation of the place from which Bill just came.

The day after, Bill returns his costume, but without the mask. Subsequently, he finds from his daily journey that the woman that saved him was dead. Following the craving for deeper investigation, Bill returns to the villa where the party was held, but at the gate he receives again another warning: if he continues his inquiry, his family will perish.

Again, Bill is denied the full access to the underworld that he craves. Finally, he has a meeting with Victor Ziegler, who was participating in the costume party and recognised Bill once he was unmasked. Around a pool table, Victor plays without hitting a hole as Bill stands, watching, waiting for answers.

“Do you want to play?”- Victor

“No. I don’t play. I watch.”-Bill

Victor suggests Bill to forget about the party and not worry about the woman who died of overdose because she was just an addicted prostitute. The party was just a charade, a theatrical play that had nothing to do with the woman’s disappearance.

When Bill hits home, he finds in his bedroom the mask next to a sleeping Alice. There he breaks down and cries, waking her up. It is Bill’s time to confess his desires, nightmares and subconscious  traps.

“I will tell you everything.”- Bill

The final scene finds the couple having a frank conversation after the terrible adventures, dreams and fantasies that tested the solidity of their marriage. Alice thanks destiny for making them escape from all the misadventures, real or only a dream, but altogether agree that the truth does not stand entirely either in front of or behind our eyelids.

“The reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime, is not the whole truth.”- Alice

Alice’s desire shines clear in her last statement: ”There is something very important we need to do, as soon as possible: fuck. ”

She leaves no space for doubts between dreams, nightmares and reality, no filters or interpretations: just copulation.

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