One of the best films about watching films is Room 237, a documentary exploring the many fan theories about Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror movie The Shining. In the documentary fans, critics and academics put forward their bizarre (but surprisingly well thought-out) takes on the seminal Stephen King adaptation. It not only provides a deeper insight into a film packed with open-ended metaphors and motifs but, as their theories go down increasingly unusual and contradictory paths, demonstrates how subjective the movie experience can be.
While The Shining is a great film to explore the topic of subjectivity in cinema (it is one of the most famously ambiguous films of all time) there is another Stanley Kubrick movie that may have been more appropriate: his final film Eyes Wide Shut. The film was not only divisive – some consider it to be his best work, while others think it is his worse – but manages to be even more elusive and enigmatic than his aforementioned horror masterpiece. It has been interpreted as everything from a commentary on urban class distinction, to an attack on Catholicism, to an exposé of the Illuminati (a theory heightened by the fact that Kubrick died just six days after he showed the film for the first time).
Eyes Wide Shut, which arrived on Amazon Prime Instant Video last week, tells the story of New York couple Bill and Alice, played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were also husband and wife at the time. Their relationship isn’t exactly in the best place and both Alice and Bill are begin to explore their extra-marital sexual urges. Bill, in doing so, learns of an exclusive party at a mansion outside of the city – the kind where masks and code-words are necessary to get in. Upon gatecrashing, he learns that it is run by a nefarious secret society driven by violence and ritualistic sex.
The film works purely as a story because Bill’s descent into this world is so suspensefully compelling. Sneaking into the party, he lifts the veil on a part of society he never knew existed – a secret group populated by the world’s most influential people (although he never see anyone’s face as they are disguised behind creepy Venetian masks) and becomes part of a chain of events he cannot hope to prevent. However, the true genius of Kubrick’s film is the way he plays with occult and religious symbols (as well as allegedly Illuminati imagery) to hint at hidden meaning in the movie. Every scene is deliberately staged to include these, every frame has the potential to deepen your understanding of what Kubrick was trying to say, and what you take from it will differ from each person to the next.