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Was Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ Ever Sexy?
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Stanley Kubrick’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” turned 20. I had reviewed it for a Canadian newspaper, on August 9, 1999, and found it not only pretentious and overrated, but quite a snooze.

This flick is the last in a series of stylized personal projects for which the director became known. Given the mystique Kubrick acquired or cultivated, this posthumous flop is unlikely to damage the legend.

For all the film’s textured detail, its yarn is threadbare and its subtext replete with clumsy symbolism. The screenplay consists of labored, repetitive and truncated dialogue, where every exchange involves protracted, pregnant stares and furrowed brows. “I am a doctor,” is Tom Cruise’s stock-in-trade phrase. An obscure, campy, hotel desk clerk delivers the only sterling performance. This is cold comfort considering the viewer is stuck with over two hours of Tom Cruise’s halfhearted libidinous quests.

“Eyes” is really a conventional morality play during which Cruise prowls the streets of New York in his seldom-removed undertaker’s overcoat, in search of relief for his sexual jealousy. Cruise’s jealousy is aroused by a fantasy his wife—played by then real-life wife Nicole Kidman—relays in a moment of spite, and involves her sexual desire for a naval officer she glimpsed while on holiday with their family. So strong was her passion, she tells Tom, that she would have abandoned all for this stranger.

The confession follows a society party the couple attends in which they both flirt unabashedly with others. Again, the sum total of the dialogue here consists in back-slapping guffaw-inducing genuflection to doctorness. We are treated to a grating peek at Kubrick’s view of the professional pecking order, a view which is reinforced when Cruise makes one of his house calls to a patient whose father has just died. The woman, body writhing like that of a snake in coitus—is this method acting?—throws herself at Cruise. Sex and death commingle in one of the many larded, symbolic moments in the film. The woman’s fiancé, the geek math professor, is depicted as a lesser mortal than the handsome doctor.

This, obviously, is not about the professional food chain. But neither is it about what Len Blum of the National Post described in effervescent, stream-of-consciousness prose: “Attraction. Flirtation. Seduction. Exploitation. Intimacy. Fantasy. Hurt. Revenge.” Because, if it’s erotica you seek, then the movie is as sexy as cold mutton.


Back at the party, Tom is besieged by two randy models that want him. These females also can’t stop writhing like rattlesnakes, their attempts at sexy more phero-moronic than pheromone inspired. Nicole, in the meantime, is doing her own hormonal hop with a Dracula look alike. Yes, the film is full of frozen, flat characters. As they coil around one another, intoxicated, Dracula applies his amorous solvent: “The charm of marriage,” he quips, “is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary.” At this point, Kubrick is defanged: He becomes a plagiarist who underestimates his audience, as Dracula fails to credit Oscar Wilde for the witty epigram.

No bash would be complete without the doctor coming to the rescue. Upstairs, draped over a chair ever so decoratively, languishes a victim of a drug overdose. She is nude and post coital. Tom runs ears, eyes and pulse checks and then proceeds to sit by the girl’s side, sans coffee or an intravenous something, until she is declared saved, presumably by his mere presence. The girl pulls through never to forget the good doctor and destined to return the favor in the next hour or two. She, the Madonna-whore, is another lumpen symbol in this film.

Tom’s journey to sexual and emotional maturation leads him to rekindle an acquaintance with a not-quite-doctor jazz musician. The medical school dropout tells Tom he is on the way to a regular gig where, when he peeks through his blindfold, his peripheral vision is filled with gorgeous, masked, naked females. Tom decides to gate crash that orgy. Why Tom becomes imperiled at the orgy is unclear. Maybe he annoyed a patron by doing his Überdoctor routine. But to the rescue comes a stranger with familiar protrusions. At this point it must be clear to all that this woman, the Madonna-whore, is toast.

In passing boredom, I noted that the mask of one of the orgy attendants was a Guernica-like Picasso creation. No doubt, the orgy could have done with some Guernica-like chaos. (Guernica, painted by Picasso, powerfully depicts the bombing of that Spanish town, in 1937, by the Germans.) The orgy, instead, is a fashion shoot, engorged with sexless, perfect bodies, locked in aesthetically pleasing, unerotic positions.

Kubrick’s morality play reaches an epiphany when, after an unconsummated visit to a friendly prostitute, Tom learns she has been diagnosed as HIV positive. From across the girl’s seedy abode, a hood in a trench coat stares Tom down. This is a messenger from the orgy society, and the message? The penumbra of sex can kill.

A far better cult movie by Kubrick was “A Clockwork Orange.” In it, the delinquent Alex, inspired by evil and infused with a love for great classical music, does very bad things. The modest moral I took away from Clockwork was that someone who loves Beethoven’s Ninth so dearly could not be all bad. Certainly, listening to “Ode to Joy” was a lot more pleasurable than to “Three Blind Mice,” the minimalist score from “Eyes Shut Wide.”

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011) & The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook & Gab. New on YouTube: “America Belongs To The World; It’s Everybody’s Home.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Movies 
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  1. gutta percha [AKA "gp"] says:

    I recently watched the movie for the first time. I don’t think it was supposed to be “sexy,” and it wasn’t. It’s about a powerful elite sex cult, that radiates horniness and confusion as collateral damage all over NYC, including upon Nicole. It seems to be about the same people as the late Epstein and friends.

    While I appreciate seeing Kidman nude, the cattiness of her character is a big turnoff, and her character reminds me of a LOT of typical real-life, mind-game-playing, read-my-mind women. You say the hotel clerk actor gave a good acting performance; I say it was a dime-a-dozen cookie-cutter gay caricature, mercifully brief. Pollack was fine as always. I did enjoy the orgy music that Nick was playing. Kubrick deploys his usual ominous slow pans, slow zooms, and subtly distorted lenses.

    I’ll take Kubrick’s “The Killing” over “A Clockwork Orange” any day, although I did very much like Walter Carlos’ Clockwork music, and played the heck out of his soundtrack album. For sure, Cruise and Kidman have both been in much better movies than “Eyes.”

    • Replies: @Dave from Oz
    , @Bill Jones
  2. The wife and I watched it a while back – very disappointing, except for (to me) the Kidman nude scenes. I believe the original work was about an early 1900s sex cult, pretty tame by 21st century standards. Plus the plot dragged and the soundtrack was maddening. You could definitely tell Kubrick was on the way out.

  3. DanMcGraw says: • Website

    I believe Kubrick attempted to show the practices of the elite in ways hinted at by Epstein, Weiner, pizzagate. Warner Brothers kept the film 4 months after Kubrick died, editing it. Who knows what the original was like when submitted as final copy 6 days before the director’s death? As Kubrick revealed that he was part of the moon landing videos in the Shining, he here attempts to reveal more behind the scenes of those in power, while the world looks on “eyes wide shut.” The sex scenes depict ritualized, occult practices harkening to pagan practices, metaphors, if decoded, that point to hidden meanings known to those in power.

    • Replies: @rod1963
    , @Twodees Partain
  4. The focus of this review seems to be rather limited to certain plot elements, arguably those that would have been the original selling points for mass audience appeal. It’s worth looking out there for other sources which tackle the more esoteric aspects of the film, especially discussions that center around why Kubrick might have met an untimely end.

    Oliver Stone’s son Sean has also said that the rituals shown by Kubrick in his final film are based on real parties held by certain elites, and events involving well-known celebrities and entertainment industry elites.

  5. It’s a great masterpiece.

  6. @gutta percha

    I don’t think it was supposed to be “sexy,” and it wasn’t.

    More about money than about sex. As Cruse travels in the elevator, he is dressed almost identically to the flunky. He’d like to be one of the rich people, but the truth is that doctor though he may be, all he is is the hired help.

  7. Of course, there can be no resolution in matters of taste. Personally, I’ve found literary sources for those movies (Arthur Schnitzler, now sadly underrated; Anthony Burgess) much better than both films. Many of his films just didn’t age well. When I think of it, among Kubrick’s movies- only 2001: A Space Odyssey aged well, plus perhaps Barry Lyndon & Dr. Strangelove.

    “Eyes Wide Shut” always looked to me like a precocious teenager trying to be a decadent, wildly gesticulating at us & shouting: “See how corrupt I am! If you don’t believe me, I’ll run to my Mom & accuse you of pedo assault!”

  8. Jean Paul says:

    Clueless review. Totally misses the ethnic angle.

  9. Big Daddy says:

    Kubrick tries to show the following:

    There is a Satanically evil, murderous 1%. Correct. And there were many Satanic and Bilderberg clues;

    We are a sex obsessed society. Correct. Everybody, straight or gay, tries to hit on the couple. There is no respect for marriage. Kubick wanted to do Lolita on the theme but was blocked by censorship in the 60’s;

    I view Cruise’s character as very strong and adventuresome in his quest. His wife of average fidelity and character. But perhaps she is strong too as she fends off the blandishments thrown at her ;

    Family life is rather materialistic and not spiritual in our modern world.

    The movie is slow moving but how else could Kubrick analyse and depict such profound themes.

    • Replies: @Franz
  10. Quebecer says:

    A boring, pretentious movie.

    The word ‘poseur’ sums it up nicely

  11. EWS goes a good distance in showing viewers the nature of a powerful moneyed elite and how they get their jollies. And how one of their professional enablers gets too close for comfort to their doings and narrowly escapes being offed for his temerity.

  12. The point of the Wilde quote is that it makes the world-be seducer out to be a phony.

    You cannot call the screenwriter a plagiarist because one of his characters is a plagiarist.

    Thanks for telling about Guernica, because otherwise us rubes would not have known a thing about that obscure guy Picasso.

    It seems indeed to be a movie about the elite, and the ambiguous attitude the most self-professed outsiders have towards it.

    Have you ever witnessed first hand the pupil dilation going on around a mere state governor, much less a really rich person?

    Then you would know the connection between this movie and sex.

  13. Elana Issacsohn-alias-Mercer

    is now reducing to re-cycling old movie reviews. Hey,

    Ilana…how about reviewing Alan Koenigsberg-alias-Woody Allen’s “Zelig”?

  14. Rags says:

    Oh, I enjoyed it. But I’m not a feminist forever aghast a what her fellow vagina bearers will do for a little coin.

  15. Topolcats says:

    Anything with Nicole Kidman can’t possibly be sexy! She is about as sexy as Spaghettini in a wet sock!

  16. Franz says:
    @Big Daddy

    Kubrick tries to show the following:

    There is a Satanically evil, murderous 1%. Correct.

    Yeah, I thought it was worth seeing once for that.

    Kubrick never did go in for bubbly laff-out-loud entertainment.

    The other aspect about this picture I thought strange was that all the NYC scenes were re-created and shot in England. People who know the real NYC found this truly creepy. It works well for the otherworldy parts,

    As in, Young phony doctor leaves phony New York City for an even phonier orgy. Chalk up one for all art is a lie, but doing it deliberately makes the events resonate oddly. Like a slowly receeding nightmare.

  17. Sean says:

    Why Tom becomes imperiled at the orgy is unclear.

    The orgy is VIPs only, and he is allowed in there by giving the secret password which he got from the musician friend. The girl from the party knows Tom on sight despite the mask, and warns Tom to leave immediately as he is sure to be recognised. He does not recognise her though.

    It is apparently that multiple people from Victor’s party are there (the girl, Tom’s friend, and unspecified others). Some of those from the party recognise Tom and know he is only a doctor, so he is asked for the second password, which does not exist, and gives himself away by saying he has forgotten it. I suppose the assumption is the orgy goers cannot have anyone there who has not been vetted and has much to lose as they do, and Tom is clearly too lowly to ever be there legitimately.

    Where it gets weird is the druggie girl steps forward and says she will “redeem” him and this is accepted and Tom leaves, but Tom’s friend Victor tells him later that there were immensely influential people there and he is very lucky to have been allowed to leave the orgy alive and knowing so much. In fact he knows almost nothing, the only one who did is the girl who is as Victor informs him is already deceased. His musician friend disappears apparently after a beating, and Victor insists the whole thing was the musician’s fault for not keeping his mouth shut.

    Yet Victor whose party was the way Tom got inveigled into in whole affair by listening to intriguing gossip, is the one telling Tom about everything he is unaware of, especially Victor himself’s involvement. Then Tom gets a horses head style threat on his pillow with the mask being left there, and being watched. This friend Victor really has a heart of gold bringing Tom into contact with these dangerous people and blabbermouths, then filling him in on the fact Victor himself is one of them. I think with Victor as a friend, Tom does not need any enemies.

    To me the moral is the same as Orson Welles, Confidential Report , which according to him is really about vanity; what does the big shot care what these random people know, but he cannot leave it alone. The were all adults at the orgy; really, so what! I think the orgy is supposed to be incidental, the real secret is the what the same untouchable elite running the country is getting up to, which is implied to be unspeakable considering that their recreation involves casual murder.

    No it wasn’t sexy at all. Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm was very sexy, almost as sexy as Susan George is Straw Dogs. Both were very young in those films, and there was real transgression in the sex. Clockwork Orange reeks of Kubrick and Burgess’s expatriate contempt and anomie.

  18. Anne Lid says:

    This article is not worthy of the Unz Review. Kubrick died and his film was edited in a way he would not have acquiesced to. What Mercer finds clumsy symbolism, less refined people find quite interesting.

    (the first two and a half minutes are mumblings)

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
    , @Sean
  19. kikz says:

    shame Ode to Joy was co-opted by the EU/globalists hellbent on the Western World’s destruction.

    • Replies: @Macon Richardson
  20. @kikz

    Ode to Joy was Schiller’s poem. The EU adopted Beethoven’s satire on the poem in his Ninth Symphony.

    Does no one in the EU recognize the heavy satire in Beethoven’s Ode? To the young Beethoven, Schiller must have been a joy. To the aging Beethoven, seeing all the glamor of the romantic movement turned to mud and gore by Bonaparte, Schiller’s optimism must have seemed like the babbling of a fool.

  21. Duke84 says:

    My favorite character in Eyes Wide Shut was the guy that owned the costume store.

  22. rod1963 says:

    IMS a American Yogi set up shop in NY in the early 1900’s and catered almost excursively to upper crust types and he taught a form sex based Tantra to them. His name escapes me at the moment but there are several books on him.

    It would not surprise me that his cult continues on to this day in the shadows the same way Crowley’s does.

    BTW Silicon Valley titans also engage in orgies, Vanity Fair ran a article some time back.

    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
    , @DanMcGraw
  23. @rod1963

    SO WHAT?

    …None of the people at the orgy were under 25 in that film. They were probably older. There were no kids present. There were not even particularly young people present.

    Kubrick makes it clear that the women involved were prostitutes and not particularly young ones at that…the addict that Cruise treats who saves him at the end was clearly about thirty.

    Where is the innocence lost? A drug addicted prostitute of thirty attended an orgy (The actress playing her was 25 at the time but looked older)…How shocking.

    We get into the territory of what men and women over 18 can and cannot do by law. In the South there was a law against anal sex. What? Police should race around the clock on fiscal funds to ensure that a man is not penetrating women in the anus?

    So what if a bunch of adults attended an orgy?

    Who cares?

  24. @gutta percha

    Your name begs the question, are you,Sir, a doctor?

  25. Sean says:
    @Anne Lid

    I think the central scene of the film is the conversation with Victor. Kubrick spent a vast amount of time getting it right in endless takes.

  26. DanMcGraw says:

    Thank you. Earlier in comments this was posted.

  27. gutta percha [AKA "gp"] says:
    @Bill Jones

    gp stands for gutta percha, a name I used at another site years ago, where I was banned for calling Van Jones a commie (which he called himself at one time.) It was a night of long knives, bulk bannings when the site proprietor abruptly switched from right to left. Guess which site.

    gutta percha is a substance that a dentist stuffed into one of my teeth, and the name sounded cool. The tooth fell out.

    Looking back over Unz comment history, there have been other gp’s here, with variant capitalization. I need to come up with something new, and register here finally. I’m thinking about using “astheno-vegetative syndrome,” but somebody probably already has that one.

  28. gutta percha [AKA "gp"] says:
    @Bill Jones

    Oh by the way, I can offer some of the same services as a general practitioner, for a lower price. For example, I will watch you take a ten-minute treadmill stress-test, and charge you around half the \$500 that a doctor gets for doing the same thing, and I won’t laugh at you like he does.

  29. Devon Stack of blackpilled has an actual review on YouTube.

  30. @DanMcGraw

    “Warner Brothers kept the film 4 months after Kubrick died, editing it. Who knows what the original was like when submitted as final copy 6 days before the director’s death? ”

    That might explain why the film misses its own point. When a film has to be analyzed to learn what it’s supposed to be saying, that film isn’t saying anything, in the final analysis.

  31. DanMcGraw says:

    One doesn’t just reveal the secrets of the elite plainly and openly. Reprisals are lethal as illustrated in the movie. Imo, I like to work through the opaque, to the rich gold veins under the soil. Remember, those 4 months meant the film was released 7/16/99, 30 years to the date of the alleged Apollo Moon Launch. Kubrick revealed opaquely in The Shining he had ‘filmed’ the ‘moon landing’ in the Shining.

  32. Emslander says:
    @Bardon Kaldian

    Kubrick’s movies have one distinct feature in common – anticlimax (you can take that any way you want, no pun intended). They all have spectacular buildups to remarkably banal resolutions. “Space Oddyssy” is the most enjoyable and eye-pleasing science fiction buildup to nothing. “Eyes” says, “be careful, because unrestricted sexual promiscuity probably isn’t very healthy, doctor or no.”

    • Replies: @follyofwar
  33. @Bardon Kaldian

    Barry Lyndon is truly a great movie, and made in a time in Hollywood when such movies of that quality (and film production) were rare. The other good one like that is the Duelist (if I recall correctly), with a young Harvey Keitel.

    Dr. Strangelove will always be in a league of it’s own, primarily because it had one of greatest actors and impressionists of all time as it’s star, in multiple roles.

  34. @Emslander

    The Jeffrey Epstein saga, including his improbable suicide by hanging, gives new meaning to the message of “Eyes Wide Shut.” I only wish that Kubrick had remained alive long enough to finish it. Aren’t there also unanswered questions about his sudden death while he was in the editing process?

    • Replies: @R.G. Camara
  35. R.G. Camara says: • Website

    Surprising review. You missed a good movie.

    Among other things, the movie was about modern-day secret sex/occult societies just below the surface, hidden from even intelligent, wealthy, powerful folk who otherwise know lots of other secrets—i.e. doctors, such as Tom Cruise’s character.

    You know, the kind of societies we’ve just discovered hard proof of with Jeffrey Epstein.

    Cruise’s character isn’t part of that world, because he has some morality. He doesn’t cheat on his wife, he cares about his daughter, he cares for all his patients (rich or poor), he’s horrified when another father pimps his daughter—these are knee jerk moral reactions.

    Those in the secret society know this about him, and thus know he would be a potential leak, so they shut him out, despite his otherwise being an ideal candidate—-rich, handsome, discreet, intelligent. It’s his personality, not his position, that keep him out of this world.

    Cruise is a man who, if brought to Epstein’s island, would be horrified and try to alert the world to the horror he has seen. So he’s not ideal. So he must scared into silence—using his family, because they know Cruise cares about them.

  36. R.G. Camara says: • Website

    The more I watch Eyes Wide Shut, the more I doubt that Kubrick died an atheist.

    He portrays evil situations as evil, and yet Cruise’s character struggles to define it as evil because he has no religion in him (setting the movie at Christmas time but not having any mention of Jesus or the biblical narrative or religion was a way of pointing this out). Cruise knows its evil, but can’t quite define why it’s bad yet.

    Eventually, when people are faced with something they know is evil, they give up moral relativism. Something can’t be bad and evil in a moral ;y relativistic world. And eventually, such people realize that if there is a standard of evil that exists, there must be an opposite.

    I think Kubrick’s movie is partially about his struggle to know why he thinks these evil situations are, in fact, evil. He is plumbing the philosophical depths of how we define evil and why he knows these things are evil. He may not have gotten to theism, but definitely this movie makes his atheism doubtful.

  37. If this was an “elite” gathering, there probably was human sacrifice to Satan in the basement. Maybe Kubrick had that in the original version. Who knows?

  38. At this point, Kubrick is defanged: He becomes a plagiarist who underestimates his audience, as Dracula fails to credit Oscar Wilde for the witty epigram.

    Actually, no. Lionel Johnson praised Kipling for having his characters quote without identifying the source, because, he says, that is what people generally do in real life. It’s largely true. If I were to say “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” in conversation, I would probably not gratuitously add “as Shakespeare said”.

    But even if you have strict standards for ‘plagiarism’ in conversation, it’s the character who’s ‘guilty’. How does a film-maker let his audience know that the quote wasn’t originally his own? Add Wilde to the closing credits?

  39. The film in my view was about power and the unique world of what constitutes acceptable conduct among the powerful, knowing the rules is paramount, obeying the rules is mandatory. All cloaked by masks of respectability that hide who people are at their rawest.

    There is not resolution was the girl murdered or was it really just an overdose — in that world it doesn’t matter, she was a player pawn of the powerful. Perhaps, the price she pays for rescuing the “out of his depth” Dr. in every way. Did the piano player really get whisked away home or was his fate some far terminating?

    Who is like many of us, I suspect that there is another whole existence happening right before our eyes that either are oblivious to or choose to ignore or are keenly aware of it but are powerless to change it or impact it any meaningful way — just surviving it is triumph enough.

    Truth is what the powerful say it is —

    And then there are those of us who see it, know it and are willing to risk at great price not to ignore or pretend that its all ok. But once seen, one cannot unsee and it’s a plague on the soul.

    Mr Epstien might have discovered that he was a not a player, but the piano player and sharing secrets might get you whisked away or something terminal.

  40. stephenf says:

    Let’s be fair: The first ten seconds of the film were by any standard “sexy.”

    But as to the rest, much of the review here is right in the details. It’s just off in the main point, which is that unhinged, undirected sexuality, detached from all moral concerns and right channels, is an enormously and yet somehow still boringly destructive force. When it’s not about one person — for life, preferably — it’s only a blind, compulsive, stupid thing with no possibility of satisfaction or goodness.

  41. “When it’s not about one person — for life, preferably — it’s only a blind, compulsive, stupid thing with no possibility of satisfaction or goodness.”

    Bit that film never addresses that in any way. There’s no questioning at any point of the behaviors. Even the end discussion is ambiguous about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of infidelity much less group arrangements.

    And its unclear whether any humility or regret is from a desire to risk infidelity or merely being caught by the in crowd. Here’s a man that is now totally exposed — not for infidelity not for the desire to stray — but for slipping in the consideration with a group without invitation from them.

    And the exposure seems the reason for the confession.

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