Kubrick's EWS

Form Changer or Changing the Form?

Stanley Kubrick’s "Eyes Wide Shut"

Changing the Form, and then Some… Just O-Pen Your Mind

Summary by Scott Sheckman

E: info@kubrickian.org T: USA-310-741-7617

December 2009, Revised January 2014

No reprinting or distribution without permission

In the Special Features section of the home video releases of Stanley Kubrick’s final film, ""Eyes Wide Shut" (EWS), confidant Steven Spielberg is interviewed in July 1999 about their unique personal and professional relationship. In the interview, Spielberg fondly recalls some of their intimate conversations in the years leading up to Kubrick’s untimely death in March 1999, which occurred just months before the film’s scheduled theatrical release (July 16,1999). About halfway into the discussion, Spielberg touches on what could be considered an extremely important revelation regarding Kubrick’s long-time obsession with changing the contemporary form of cinematic storytelling:

“He [Kubrick] would tell me the last couple years of his life when we were talking about the form. He kept saying, ‘I want to change the form…I want to make a movie that changes the form’. And I said ‘Well didn’t you do that with 2001’? He said ‘Just a little bit…but not enough…I really want to change the form’. So he kept looking for different ways to tell stories”... ~Steven Spielberg, July 1999 Interview, on EWS Special Features

Many who follow Kubrick and the entertainment industry know EWS was not widely embraced by critics or the public as a lasting cinema masterpiece, or even as a good “popcorn” movie. Par for the Kubrick cinematic course, many initial reviews were downright awful, accusing Kubrick and Warner Brothers of the equivalent of movie manslaughter and misleading public expectations with false promises of superstar sex and a heart-pounding thriller. Despite the sea of negativity and the mysterious loss of the artist to help navigate the tricky waters, EWS has quickly become Kubrick’s highest grossing film to date, with over $160M in worldwide box office as of 2009.

As with most of Kubrick’s works, there has been a growing forest of uniquely positive, even glowing reviews of EWS in the years following the initial theatrical release. Considering the big hint provided by the rare source material that inspired Kubrick for almost 30 years (Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 “Dream Story”), several film scholars and Kubrick fans have diligently begun to peel away at the mysterious underlying subtext and symbolism in EWS – deep psychological onion layers that can be perceived in all of Kubrick’s feature films for those who dare to tread. Indeed, many analysts have gone to great lengths to highlight the dream-like aspects of the EWS’ presentation, pacing and cinematography, and have provided fascinating perspectives of dream logic, looping, and alternative meanings.

However, there does not seem to be a comprehensive official or third party analysis that details what may be the EWS' most remarkable cinematic and artistic asset, hidden in plain sight as the title suggests: The introduction of a vanguard narrative design perhaps never before attempted on a commercial scale – a shining follow-up to Kubrick’s groundbreaking and initially misunderstood "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Is EWS a form-breaker on the level of Kubrick’s previous "2001: A Space Odyssey," perhaps even a significant game-changer that eluded the critics, industry insiders, and most of the viewing public? If so, what are the evidences and support for this bold rationale? Perhaps it can be found in the shot-by-shot composition of EWS – Kubrick’s infamous and meticulous hand in all aspects of production and editing with the goal to create a dazzling, confusing and complex on-screen puzzle. What may seem like insignificant filmmaking errors by a master could actually be critical clues to this new brand of narrative structure. Through purposeful and delicate exploitation of fundamental filmmaking conventions and practices, Kubrick created a fantastic, unusual, and alternative way to convey a story via EWS. In the process, he provided a pragmatic example, as well as artistic and financial permission to all filmmakers who want to follow in his footsteps.

Like "2001: A Space Odyssey", Kubrick’s reasons for creating EWS may remain a sublime enigma for decades or generations. If Kubrick lived to see the marketing campaign, carefully stated words may have changed the way it was initially received and perceived. Despite the death of the artist, the proof is in the pudding - one only needs a remote control and a desire to adapt a new cinematic dialect to see them both clearly in EWS. Once consciously registered, there’s no going back to movie-as-usual viewing – Kubrick’s game of Cinematic Chess will only just have begun.

© 2009-2017 Scott Sheckman E: info@kubrickian.org T: USA- 310-741-7617