Eyes Wide Shut
House Church Central Goes to the Movies

Warner Brothers, produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by the directory and Frederic Raphael after his Traumnovelle.

I missed this film in its theatrical release. Frankly, the movie was marketed as a vehicle to deliver a cheap erotic thrill, and press reports seemed to suggest that this was a movie that explored degenerate behavior for its own sake--good reasons to stay away. Later, after hearing a recommendation, I found a DVD copy on eBay and am now happy to recommended this film for some very biblical themes.

Like many modern movies (see Songcatcher), this is a movie that traces its characters through a transition into deeper understanding. The two affluent protagonists are physician William Harford (Tom Cruise) and his homemaker wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), who occupy an attractive home in which they are raising a young daughter. A faithful couple, their trust in each other is shaken by a party hosted by a rich friend, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), during which they become separated long enough so that each of them had reason to suspect that the other had yielded to adulterous opportunities. After the party, however, the wife becomes intoxicated and begins to accuse her husband if adulterous behavior--if not of actions she imagines may have taken place at the party, then perhaps in his office with his female patients. The doctor denies these accusations with increasing intensity, raising the energy level of the conversation until his wife crosses a line that should not be crossed: she confesses to having a fantasy in which she imagined herself as being obsessed with another man while on a recent trip with her husband. This profoundly affects the husband--and it is precisely at that point that the telephone rings and Dr. Holford is summoned to visit the family of a recently deceased patient. It is on this visit, with his wife's admission still ringing in his ears, that he begins on a journey that brings him into circumstances that become progressively more depraved and bizarre. Mercifully, Kubrick was compelled to obscure most of the "action" in this section of the film, but Dr. Harford ultimately ends up in what can only be described as some kind of cultic orgy. While managing to dodge all the bullets that come his way, Harford cannot let go of the incident--especially when he discovers that one of the women involved, a prostitute named Mandy (Julienne Davis), had died afterward under mysterious circumstances.

While all these events are unfolding´┐Żand of equal thematic importance--the wife has a recurring dream that contains elements that closely parallel the nature of the events that her husband has witnessed in reality. As the movie climaxes, each partner comes clean with the other and we see them pick up their lives again, presumably stronger as a result of the crises that they had each been through.

From a biblical perspective, the film is a fascinating study of sin. Two individuals descend into an awful, sinful world´┐Żone in reality and one in visions. The redemptive element is that they learn from these experiences, and from each other, and repent. But the fascinating thesis of the film is that it makes the case that the sin is really the same, whether it is reality (Robert's) or just imagined (Alice's). Some biblical materials that might be studied after viewing Eyes Wide Shut include the following:

  • Genesis 3:6. Note the sin of the woman in this case. The Bible puts the first sin into extreme slow motion, examining it under a microscope. The woman first considers the possibility in view of the promises of the serpent. Then she acts. Does the sin occur during the thinking? Or during the act? I believe that it is during the thinking, as it is there that she considers the serpent's argument: "It asserts that it knows God better than the woman in her believing obedience does, and so it causes here to step out of the circle of obedience and to judge God and his command as though from a neutral position. It imputes grudging intentions to God. It uses the ancient and widespread idea of the god's envy to cast suspicion on God's good command" (as Von Rad put it in his seminal commentary on this chapter).
  • Exodus 20:17. Consider also the tenth commandment, which is a sin of thought.
  • Matthew 5:28. Jesus says that the sin of adultery takes place in the mind, whether it is ever acted out or not.

Eyes Wide Shut is a good movie. It has elements of conventional mystery, as Holford grapples with the weird masked party and the circumstances that led to Mandy's death. It is well acted and directed. But, for me, it succeeded best as a study of the doctrine of sin.

Note that Kubrick shot this in full screen format, so the benefits of DVD over VHS are not as significant.

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