Eyes Wide Shut Essay, Research Paper
3 December 2000
Like any film that is carefully constructed, Eyes Wide Shut is the sum of its elements and of the ways by which these interact with each other. The most significant elements of the film are color, (particularly red, blue and yellow) sound (such as voices plus external and internal music) and the repeated figures of the Female Nude and Masks.
Eyes Wide Shut can be divided into three parts, each of which contains the elements mentioned above. Part I introduces the main characters and their relationship towards each other. Dr. William Harford and his wife Alice attend a party where pianist Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), an old acquaintance of “Bill” and a pivotal character for the plot, provides the music. The Harford’s friend and host Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), introduces his wife to his guests and later solicits Bill’s medical attention to save the overdosed prostitute and “beauty queen” Mandy (Julienne Davis), who is sprawled naked on a divan in an upstairs room of the mansion, while Ziegler nervously gets dressed. On the wall behind her hangs a large painting of a female nude. In this manner, the figure of the Female Nude is introduced as having a dual significance: as a measure for risk and fatality (Mandy), and as a representation of aesthetic beauty (the painting.) This is a modern representation of the medieval view of women, who were once stereotyped into one of two roles. The first was Eve (the temptress, who was associated with the serpent and the fall of Man) and the second was Mary (the mother, who was associated with redemption and the birth of Christ.)
In the meantime, Alice drinks several glasses of champagne and dances with a pressing suitor. Upstairs, Bill in a demanding staccato calls out to Mandy’s dying ear: “Mandy…can you hear me? Can you hear me…Mandy? Look at me…Mandy.? In both cases, Alice’s drunkenness and flirtatiousness, and Bill’s tense, yet hopeful tone produce slowness in their way of speaking and in the overall rhythm of the scenes. This device is common throughout the film, where whatever altered state the character happens to be in (fear, shock, distress, stupor) can be defined as a ?justifier.? This strategy of justifiers is used in numerous scenes. In one, which follows the scenes of the party, Alice and Bill smoke marijuana and she initiates an interrogation that tests her husband’s sense of jealousy. The scene evolves from her dispassionate questioning to her violent reproach, to a daring confession of figurative adultery. Throughout all three phases, however, Alice deals with the effects of the drug and of the mental tiptoeing around her husband’s defensive rationale. This is represented by her slow speech.
Part II presents the protagonist’s prolonged reaction to his wife’s confession, and leads up to his participation in the mansion. In the first sequence of this second part, Bill attends to the death of a patient, whose inconsolable daughter Marion (Marie Richardson) confesses her love for him in a slow and jagged voice (loss and heartache being here the justifiers.) By the end of this scene, it is clear that Bill is made the target of women’s solicitations, the next of which takes the form of a prostitute (”Domino”, played by Vinessa Shaw) who summons him up to her apartment and leads him through a building’s bright red doors, the color red taking on it?s traditional association with sexuality. This entrance marks the first phase of the character’s transformation. Although these female characters are in neither case seen in the nude, the figure of the Mask is introduced. Inside the bedroom where Marion’s father lies as she confesses her love, there is a stone mask (or what seems to be a decorative replication of a tribal mask of some kind) resting vertically on a night table in the background, at the far left side of the screen. Later, in Domino’s bedroom, two walls hold a series of colored paper mach? masks. The image of the Mask is not fully defined here, as that takes place in the mansion.
After leaving the prostitute’s house, Bill visits his friend Nick at a local bar. Nick confesses that he is hired regularly by a group of eccentric men to play piano blindfolded at their congregations, and that he is to attend the mansion that same night. Describing the events’ habitual ambiance and women as out-of-worldly, Nick unwillingly reveals the secret password that would get him inside the mysterious house. Bill is unable to resist the obvious temptation of beautiful women, especially after his wife reveals her obsession with the naval officer. One can understand his obvious desire to ?get back? at her.
The events that lead up to Bill’s arrival at the mansion (from his encounter with Nick to finding a costume) introduce the character to a world that differs from those of his home, his work, and his friend Ziegler’s mansion. In his world, the characters are identifiable and their roles are defined. In this “external” world, Bill is introduced to a world that requires a specific code of access, and a world whose inhabitants are portrayed as players of an unidentified game. For example, Bill convinces the costume shop owner Milich to open the shop for him late at night. Flashing his card which identified him as a doctor and promising to pay a good tip, Bill is allowed in and is made witness of the sex games of Milich’s daughter, who is caught in a m?nage-?-trois with two transvestites. Bill finds Milich’s reaction comforting: he threatens to call the police and is enraged with his daughter. However, in later scenes, Bill returns to the shop and sees the two transvestites closing a deal with Milich, who has evidently prostituted his daughter. The purpose of this subplot is to focus on Bill’s confrontation with the ambiguousness with which such a resolution was reached. In other words, Milich’s hidden transformation from being angered to being pleased by the situation points to Bill’s ignorance of the ?rules of the game.?
Inside the mansion, Bill finds himself amidst a carefully orchestrated orgy. He enters a room filled with people in black cloaks and extravagant masks which hide all their identities. Nick, blindfolded, plays in the background to accompany the ritualistic movements of the members. In the center of the room, a circle of masked women in the nude and in high heels select their sex partners and proceed to other rooms. Conflict arises when Bill is identified as an outsider to the group in spite of the cloak and the mask, a fact which again points to the character’s inadequacy and lack of belonging, which is a result of his ignorance of the ?rules of the game? in this alternate reality. The implication is that all societal rules lose their application in this other world. In a movie that, in the end, reaffirms marital values, the mansion is clearly not a positive place. His exposure confirms that aspect of the mansion.
When Bill is identified as the intruder, he is summoned by the leader (a disguised male who sits on a throne and pounds his demanding staff on the deep red carpet) and must face mysterious and fearful consequences to breaking the rules. However, when one of the group’s female members volunteers to redeem him by being taken instead of him (the language insinuates death as punishment, while Ziegler later denies this,) Bill tries to dissuade the leader from proceeding with her decision. This ritualistic event finds justification when its leader teaches Bill: “Promises are kept here.” This statement confirms two things: 1) it demonstrates the leader’s knowledge of Bill’s intrusion into this well-defined circle; 2) it explains the seriousness of all members’ commitment to the rules of this world. While the Female Nude is initially in ?Eve? mode here, her offer of redemption transforms her into to ?Mary? mode. The duality of its significance merges into a female character that comes to represent both: aesthetic beauty and redemption.
Part III involves the protagonist’s struggles with seeking to rationalize the events of the first and second parts, and to reconcile with his wife. The consequences of his intrusion in the mansion are not only uncertain, but they are kept from him as he engages in an obsessive investigation. Soon, Ziegler summons Bill. In his study, Ziegler confesses his knowledge of the previous night’s events. He reaffirms a shocked Bill by describing the goings-on in the mansion. Ziegler’s role in the scene (and perhaps in the scene he is narrating) is visually represented. He leans on the edge of his deep-red pool table; he rolls a ball with the palm of his hand. There are a few other balls scattered on the table, and their colors recall the colored cloak of the leader of the mansion. The pool cue is obviously reminiscent of the staff of the orgy leader.
Aside from the justifiers, the colors and the repeated figures of Eyes Wide Shut, music plays an important role in creating a dissonant and poignant feeling in the viewer. This dissonance often successfully represents the incongruent relationship between the two worlds that Bill travels between.
In the end, the film is finally a reaffirmation of marital values. Both Bill and his wife?s voyages into dream worlds, ?whether realm or imagined,? are finally recognized as being dangerous and unnecessary. The final message of the film is that we should remain ?awake.? Thus we can continue to live in a world where the societal and familial rules are clearly understood by all; there is no ambiguity among people as to their roles in relationships.