Eyes Wide Shut is an enigma.

It’s not quite erotica, it’s not quite thriller. It hit theatres in July, but the story takes place at Christmas. Some characters appear one scene only to vanish the next. It’s uncanny and mesmerizing and, above all else, a masterpiece.

Adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, the story follows a young couple navigating their marriage and infidelities in upper-class Manhattan. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) is our protagonist, a budding doctor who sports suave suits, slicked-back hair, and an alluring smile. While at a party, supermodels cling to his arms, vying to take him where the rainbow ends.

Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman), a housewife, is soft-speaking and sensuous. She attracts men without raising a finger, dancing with a mysterious Hungarian hunk and nearly sleeping with him.

The Harfords know they’re hot stuff, but successfully uphold the sanctity of their marriage. Soon, that all changes.

One night, after attending a garish mansion party, Alice confesses something that leaves Bill spiraling. Something that compels him into New York’s underbelly, a nightmarish trip tinged with disappearing prostitutes, late-night costume shops, and that infamous scene. Let’s just say: you won’t forget it anytime soon.

Director Stanley Kubrick, a visual perfectionist, reels us into this psychosexual nightmare with cross-dissolves, soft lighting, and saturated colours. Cherry reds and neon blues permeate the city, a disorienting contrast against the night sky and the black party cloaks.

As Bill meanders through empty streets and never-ending corridors, the slow Steadicam narrows into its one-point perspective. We feel the events before we actually see them. Kubrick chips away at the depths of our subconscious, forcing us to confront the darkest aspects of human nature.

While Kubrick hypnotizes us visually, the score seeps beneath our skin. Romanian church music plays backwards, giving way to foreboding drumbeats and unsettling sitar. After Bill sees something he shouldn’t, the room goes quiet. He tries to leave, but he’s trapped inside and so are we. When all is silent, and we least expect it, the staccato piano strikes. Each note hits higher and higher. Quicker and quicker. Matching our heartbeat.

Buried beneath its shocking visuals and score, Eyes Wide Shut is a film about conspiracies and cover-ups. It’s about the depravities of the wealthy elite, an exposé of what happens when Jeffrey Epstein walks free. It’s also about infidelity, female sexuality, emasculation, cult leaders in red cloaks, Christmas, and the dangers of staying out past our bedtime. All these themes are both timeless and timely.

In 1999, Eyes Wide Shut released during the height of Y2K hysteria. It was a strange time, rampant with conspiracy theorists prepared for impending global collapse. Some built bunkers while others bought flamethrowers. It was a shining example of our proclivity to both fear and fascinate over the unknown. And, like Kubrick’s nightmarish masterpiece, we just can’t keep our eyes shut.


  1. For a deep dive into this enigmatic movie, have a look at our book: Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film (Oxford University Press).
    Robert Kolker & Nathan Abrams

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