Sex in Screenwriting (5)

Okay, a couple of thoughts about Eyes Wide Shut.

We know that with Kubrick, his movies aren’t always about the lead character’s journey.

He doesn’t write stories like we do.

He’s usually thinking in broader terms and he’s making statements about mankind, history, civilization, power, etc.


A Kubrick story should not be judged solely by its psychology but by it sociology, too. For example, due to Bill’s (Tom Cruise) interest in becoming a member of the ultra-elite, he grows uninvolved and disconnected from his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), which in turn made her nothing more than an object to be used whenever he wanted her. And her resentment of his attitude surfaced only in her dreams and when she’s stoned.

From that first opening shot of her slipping out of her clothes, she is presented to us as an object of desire. Everyone from the babysitter to Ziegler to Szavost praises Alice only for her looks. Her daily regimen is pretty much devoted to rigorously maintaining her looks. She’s constantly looking at herself in the mirror.

Of course, these kinds of details don’t exactly make for exciting dialogue and cinema (unless you know to look for these things), but it’s Kubrick non-verbal way of making statements about Alice, the objectified wife.

Kubrick also likes to make visual connections between characters in order to make statements about them. That typically requires more than one viewing to notice. (Or, thank God, you could look them up on the internet.)

What’s interesting to me is that you have to look past the nudity and sumptuous visuals of Eyes Wide Shut to see the details to understand the connections Kubrick’s trying to make. If you notice, Kubrick visually associates Alice with all of the other women in the movie, and therefore, he’s also making statements about Alice as the prostitute wife.

Kubrick visually associates Alice with
all of the other women in the movie

For instance, she’s identified with Mandy. They are both first presented to us in bathrooms. They both have a penchant for drugs. Mandy’s final night of her life in which “she got her brains fucked out” by many men is echoed disturbingly in Alice’s dream. Alice is also associated with Domino by the purple bed sheets and the similar dressing-table mirrors, essential for any true courtesan. It could be argued that there was only one woman in that film.

All the women Bill encounters are various incarnations of the one he is truly seeking – his wife.

And then there is Helena, their daughter, named after the most beautiful woman in history. The subtext of all of their interaction with her is really about her being groomed to be the same kind of high-class object as her mother. During the day, she is always with her, observing her, learning from her. She wants to stay up to watch “The Nutcracker,” which is, of course, about a little girl whose toy comes to life and turns into a handsome prince.

The fact that this story takes place during Christmas-time is no coincidence. This is when consumerism is at its height. Later, when Helena reads the bedtime story, she recites, “before me when I jump into my bed.” Alice mouths it along with her. In the dining room, Alice helps Helena with a little math problem – how to calculate which boy has more money. There’s a photo of Helena in a purple dress in Bill’s office, eerily reminiscent of the one worn by Domino the night before.

In the final scene in the toy store, Helena’s carefully observed actions speak volumes. Alice said she was “expecting” them to take her “Christmas Shopping” (even though they already have piles of presents under the tree).

Perhaps the trip was so Helena could shop for her friends, which is telling, because she only thinks about herself in the store. She wants everything in sight. She wants the blue baby carriage (similar to the blue stroller we saw twice outside Domino’s door). Then she grabs an oversized teddy bear. Then she shows them a Barbie doll dressed as an angel, which was no coincidence, because Helena herself wore an angel costume in the opening sequence when she asked if she could watch “The Nutcracker.” Helena runs down an aisle full of stuffed tigers that look suspiciously similar to the one on Domino’s bed…

By the way, I think it was all a dream in Bill’s head.


One of the books I read as research for this article was Jody Pennington’s fabulous History of Sex in American Film. Those who like to use their minds, as I do, will be delighted to learn that this book is all words and ideas and hardly any pictures. In any case, an over-obsession about sex can make characters blind about bigger, encroaching evils.

An over-obsession about sex can make characters
blind about bigger, encroaching evils

Pennington articulated these kinds of ideas that ran through Cabaret far better than I could:

“Cabaret obliquely portrays the strange coexistence between the Weimar Republic’s sexual decadence and the rise of an intolerant totalitarian regime. The film does not establish a causal relationship between the two; instead, it underscores the futility of decadent entertainment in the face of brutal repression. The Kit Kat Klub’s patrons, symbolizing a populace diverted from political reality by sexual diversions, were not blinded by political ignorance but an indifference fomented by sexual excess.”

By the way, the growing, extreme sexual obsessions of two lovers led to a rather inconvenient third act climax for a man named Kichizo in a movie called In the Realm of the Senses. Ouch! In her essay, “A Theory on Female Sexuality” (1966), American psychiatrist Mary Jane Sherfey noted that “the strength of the [sex] drive determines the force required to suppress it.”

– Mystery Man

In his own words, Mystery Man was “famous yet anonymous, failed yet accomplished, brilliant yet semi-brilliant. A homebody jetsetting around the world. Brash and daring yet chilled with a twist.”

MM blogged for nearly 4 years and tweeted for only 4 months, then disappeared – mysteriously.

The Story Department continues to republish his best articles on Monday.

Here, you’ll also be informed about the release of his screenwriting book.

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