Adaptation: “Eyes Wide Shut”

Written by Nick Workman September 26, 2011


The Story

Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story

Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Dream Story is an exploration of the erotic fantasies that occur deep from within human sexuality. The novella follows Fridolin, a thirty-five year old doctor, who one night, after attending a party with his wife, Albertina, confesses an erotic fantasy to his wife after she first confesses one to him first. After these confessions, Fridolin goes off into the night to help a dying patient only to continue on roaming around Vienna after his visit, ending up at an orgy where men and women are dressed as nuns as priests while wearing masks. After being discovered as an intruder, Fridolin is asked to leave the party. The next day, having witnessed such strange events, Fridolin seeks out to discover what happened the previous night, only to be lead to dead ends, wondering in the end if the erotic encounters he experienced where in fact all a dream, like the one he had previously confessed to his wife. This confusion and unreliability of whether Fridolin had really experience these erotic encounters or if they were only in his mind are at the heart of what Schnitzler is saying what eroticism is.

Like other European masters who took to writing about eroticism, Schnitzler is showing in his writing that what eroticism is is the breaking away of what is logical into the illogical – the reality broken by the fantasy. It is a transgression. Eroticism is deeper than just sexuality, it merely only deals in sexuality because it deals with what is taboo, which in most cases is the human body. Eroticism is when something that is not rational suddenly pierces what is supposed to be the rational. Such as when we see a car crash, we do not know how to react because it seems illogical. Our calm reality is being pierced by an exploding car. It only does it temporarily, because if it stayed around, then it would become something rational in our logic – it would no longer be taboo. The fact that Schnitzler is looking at human sexuality is because human sexuality for the large part is supposed to be in the private, but here, when it comes into the public, it all of a sudden becomes erotic, and the character Fridolin is someone dealing with the erotic. After he witnesses the erotic party and encounters with prostitutes, he tries to rationalise it the next day by gaining explanations, only to never fully receive one. This is because what he witnesses is the illogical, and since he only encountered it temporarily, it cannot not be fully realised, despite being fully experienced.

The Adaptation

Eyes Wide Shut was the last film by legendary, American, film director Stanley Kubrick. Like its source, Eyes Wide Shut follows a doctor, played by Tom Cruise, as he goes off into the night to help a patient, after his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, reveals an erotic fantasy that she had a year earlier about a sailor while they were on vacation. In the revealing of this erotic fantasy is the big difference between Dream Story and Eyes Wide Shut. In the novella, the husband reveals his erotic fantasy to his wife, but here in the film, the husband does no such thing. Kubrick has deliberately chosen to remove that the doctor has ever had any sort of erotic fantasy, that he lives in no such fantasies, only living in reality, where his sexuality is simply directed at his wife. The doctor goes on much of the same journey that Fridolin goes on, but the impact of when the taboo, the erotic, breaks into his world is much darker and sinister than what Schnitzler was trying to show. Schnitzler showed that everyone has erotic fantasies, fantasies that penetrate our reality and gives our lives a dream like quality. Kubrick is taking that, but showing for the first time what it would be like for someone to fully realize that something illogical is penetrating their reality, and that they do not know how to handle it. Schnitzler allows Fridolin to walk through a dream but in a very much logical way, whereas Kubrick is showing a character who acts dream like walking through a reality that he just cannot understand, ultimately leading to a questioning of how to move on. Kubrick allows his character to have more answers, more logic as to what occurred in his journey, yet because he is dealing with something that he could not previously comprehend, the answers seem false, despite his acceptance.

In order to achieve the dream like qualities, Kubrick, the master he is, uses long shots through twisting hallways and streets to bring us deep into the madness of the illogical maze of what is erotic and taboo. The film, though taking place in New York, was shot in England. You would never know this unless it is revealed to you, and when it is, it in itself will briefly open up an illogical sense because you doubt that it actually is England, because you so believe that it is New York, because that is how it is presented. In itself, you are having a sort of erotic moment, because something illogical has crept into your logical world. This film is very subtle in both what it says and how Kubrick, Cruise, and Kidman present the film. It is a profound statement on what is erotic, and how powerful the erotic can be on what we believe to be our very logical, and stable lives.

Both Dream Story and Eyes Wide Shut do a wonderful job in exploring the erotic world and presenting it in a tasteful, instead of pornographic, way. Kubrick takes the source material and elevates it beyond the novella because he is better at showing the impact that eroticism can have and the rawness that it can leave on someone’s soul. This is one of Kubrick’s more challenging films, however for any Kubrick fan it is worth checking out to see probably one of the best, if not best, films that make a statement on the erotic. The novella should be checked out by anyone who is interested in Eyes Wide Shut or into the philosophy of eroticism/transgression.

Other recommendations for Stanley Kubrick, every film he has made.

My Rating: 9/10

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About Nick Workman

Nick Workman: Co-host of Nerd Alert, editor of news, writer of reviews, and lover of all that involves imagination. If he is not on his computer working on We Eat Films or Nerd Alert, you can probably find him in a big comfy chair, sipping a cup of coffee, with his nose deep in a book.

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