‘If you’ve been puzzled by the title Eyes Wide Shut, you’re not alone. According to ritual abuse and mind control survivor Arizona Wilder, it’s a satanic cult term which means that whatever you’ve seen here is not to be revealed to anyone… or else.
“Monarch [mind control] programmers use this term,” says Wilder in a recent interview. “It was so cult [like],” she continues. “Put him [the Tom Cruise character] in a double bind.”
The movie was also reminiscent of her ritual experiences.”In one of my journals from 1990, I talk about a ritual where they all have golden masks and hooded robes,” she says. “It has to do with the sun god. Thye use these masks in Egyptian-type ceremony rituals. The masks mean “we are not individuals, but we have one purpose in mind.”One thing they did is they never unmask.”
Wilder also finds a deep significance in the sign for Rennes Street and the name of the pianist whose name Nightingale means messenger from the dark. “The name of the costume shop was representative of getting to the ritual by going ‘Over the Rainbow,'” she says.
“The movie was making a statement. We [the Illuminati] are here. What are you going to do about it?” she concludes.’
– Uri Dowbenko, Offline Illumination – Eyes Wide Shut: Occult Entertainment
‘Even the street sets (criticized by the uniquely provincial New York press as “inaccurate”) are expressionistic, with newspaper headlines (LUCKY TO BE ALIVE) and neon signs (EROS) foreshadowing and commenting on the action. In Kubrick’s work, nothing is incidental.’
– Tim Kreider, ‘Introducing Sociology: A Review of Eyes Wide Shut‘
‘Whose idea of an orgy was this – the Catholic Church’s?’
– Stephen Hunter, “The Lust Picture Show: Stanley Kubrick Stumbled with his Eyes Wide Shut”, Washington Post
Responses to Kubrick’s final film can be divided into roughly three groups: there is the ‘Official’ view, the apparently widely held media consenus that Kubrick’s adaptation of Schnitzler’s Dream Story is at best flawed, at worst wildly misconceived and embarrassing; then there are the Occult Conspiracy theorists (as represented by the quotation above), who maintain that Eyes Wide Shut was a more or less accurate depiction of magical mind control techniques, associated especially with the fascinatingly deranged hyperfictional Monarch mind control meta-mythos (in relation to which Kubrick himself is positioned either as Illuminati insider-initiate or as whistle-blower, whose death was a consequence of his hubristic courage in exposing these clandestine rites to the world) ; and thirdly, there is the view – largely confined to Kubrick enthusiasts such as Michel Chion, author of BFI’s short study of EWS, and the denizens of the now (sadly) all but dead alt.movies.kubrick – that it is a masterpiece at least on a par with the great director’s other landmark works.
Kreider’s analysis is especially interesting because it begins by explicitly taking on the critical consensus that has settled around the film. ‘Critical disappointment with Eyes Wide Shut was almost unanimous,’ he says. Moreover, ‘the complaint was always the same: not sexy’. Kreider’s argument is that critics were disarmed and misled by the film’s advertising, which seemed to offer the promise of a psycho-sexual thriller. With expectations so raised, critics were either bored or dismissive or both when faced with (what seemed to them) the film’s quotidian longuers and pompous excesses. Indeed, critics have been frustrated by the alleged duality between these two modes, when it is the consistency and seret complicity between banal commonsense and obscene power that is the key to the whole film.
Kreider’s reading stresses the economic and the political or rather the political-economic at the expense of the sensual. Or better: he argues that Kubrick’s film shows that the sensual cannot be seen outside the political or the economic. In the political-libidinal-economic world of Eyes Wide Shut, money and status – or to be more accurate, signs of money and status – are everywhere, even if they go unnoticed by the characters themselves. Like the audience, Bill and Alice Harford ‘don’t really see their surrounding mise-en-scène–their wealth, their art, the ubiquitous Christmas glitz. They’re preoccupied instead with their own petty lusts and jealousies.’
$ Bill’s journey into an even more rarefied strata of obscene privilege takes him, famously, beyond the rainbow of ‘normal’ social reality to:
‘the pot of gold, Somerton, the innermost sanctum of the ultrawealthy where the secret orgy is held. The orgy scenes in particular were singled out by reviewers for disappointment and derision. Listen to the groans of critical blueballs: David Denby called it “the most pompous orgy in the history of film.” “More ludicrous than provocative,” said Michiko Kakutani, “more voyeuristic than scary.” “Whose idea of an orgy is this,” demanded Stephen Hunter, “the Catholic Church’s?” Again they misunderstood Kubrick’s artistic intentions, which are clearly not sensual. When Bill passes through the ornate portal past a beckoning golden-masked doorman, we should understand that we are entering the realm of myth and nightmare. This sequence is the clearest condemnation, in allegorical dream imagery, of elite society as corrupt, exploitative, and depraved–what they used to call, in a simpler time, evil. The pre-orgiastic rites are overtly Satanic, a Black Mass complete with a high priest gowned in crimson, droning organ and backward-masked Latin liturgy. What we see enacted is a ceremony in which faceless, interchangeable female bodies are doled out, fucked, and exchanged among black-cloaked figures, culminating in the ritual mass rape and sacrificial murder of a woman.’
The scene is indeed characteristically Kubrickian in its allusive and expressionistic sumptuousness. Fittingly perhaps, the ‘high priest gowned in crimson’ (or ‘Red Cloak’) reminds you of nothing so much as one of Bacon’s screaming popes.
Meanwhile, the ‘faceless, interchangeable female bodies’ clad only in masks and heels , strangely desexualised in the way that Helmut Newton’s models often were, seemed to have walked out of the paintings of Delvaux or Ernst.
Yet this conspicuously excessive scene – itself an echo of the ornate party scene at Victor Zeigler’s house – can only be understood as a mirror to the later conspicuously banal scene in Zeigler’s pool room. This latter scene was criticised for more or less the opposite reasons that the Somerton episode was targeted. Whereas the Somerton scenes were derided as limp high camp, the pool room scene was dismissed as over-long and lacking in drama; nevertheless, the end result was the same – the encounter with Ziegler, we assured, was no less boring than the orgy scenes.
It is important to utterly resist this reading, and once again Kreider is so acute on this latter scene that is worth citing him again at some length:
‘When Ziegler finally calls him onto the carpet for his transgressions, he chuckles at Bill’s refusal of a case of 25-year-old Scotch (Bill drinks Bud from the can), not just because this extravagance would be a trifle to him, but because Bill’s pretense of integrity is an empty gesture–he’s already been bought. Bill may be able to buy, bribe, and command his own social inferiors, and he may own Alice, but he’s Ziegler’s man.
Although Ziegler has a credible explanation for everything that’s happened–Harford’s harassment, Nick Nightingale’s beating, Mandy’s death–we don’t ever really know whether he’s telling the truth or lying to cover up Mandy’s murder. The script carefully withholds any conclusive evidence that would let us feel comfortably certain either way. But Ziegler does have suspiciously privileged access to details of the case: “The door was locked from the inside, the police are happy, end of story! [dismissive lip fart.]” He also claims to be dropping his façade and coming clean a few too many times to be believed: “I have to be completely frank,” “Bill, please–no games,” and finally, “All right, Bill, let’s… let’s… let’s cut the bullshit, all right?” And notice how he introduces his explanation: “Suppose I were to tell you…” [emphasis mine]. He’s not being “frank”; he’s offering Bill an escape, a plausible, face-saving explanation for the girl’s death to assuage his unexpectedly agitated conscience. (And it’s one of the few things that Bill has a hard time buying–watch the way his hand adheres to his cheek and slowly slides off his face as he rises to his feet and walks dazedly across the room, trying to absorb the incredible coincidence Ziegler’s asking him to swallow.) Ziegler’s “no games” plea notwithstanding, this entire conversation is a game–a gentlemanly back-and-forth of challenges and evasions over a question of life and death, throughout which the two opponents circle each other uneasily around a blood-red billiards table.
When Bill persists in his inquiries, Ziegler loses his temper and resorts to intimidation and threats. He reminds him of their respective ranks as master and man: “You’ve been way out of your depth for the last twenty-four hours,” he growls. Of his fellow revelers at Somerton, he says, “Who do you think those people were? Those were not ordinary people there. If I told you their names–I’m not going to tell you their names, but if I did, you might not sleep so well.” In other words, they’re “all the best people,” the sorts of supremely wealthy and powerful men who can buy and sell “ordinary” men like Bill and Nick Nightingale, and fuck or kill women like Mandy and Domino. The “you might not sleep so well” is also a veiled warning, and it isn’t Ziegler’s last. His final word of advice–“Life goes on. It always does… until it doesn’t. But you know that, don’t you, Bill?”–proffered with an avuncular, unpleasantly proprietary rub of the shoulders, sounds like a reassurance but masks a threat. (We immediately cut from this to a less friendly warning, the mask placed on Bill’s pillow.) Bill’s expression, in the foreground, is by now so tight and working with suppressed and conflicting feelings that it’s hard to read, but one of those feelings is clearly fear for his life–he looks as though he might burst into tears or hysterical laughter, and when Victor claps those patronizing hands on his shoulders, he flinches. In the end, he chooses to accept Victor’s explanation not because there’s any evidence to confirm it, but because it’s a convenient excuse to back down from the dangers of further investigation. He finally understands that he, too, no less than a hooker or a hired piano player, is expendable.’
To say that the pool room scene is doubled by the Somerton orgy is not to say that one is the ‘truth’ of the other. Or, rather, it is to say that they are BOTH the hidden truth of each other. Eyes Wide Shut is very clear-eyed about the way in which power always contains two aspects, simultaneously: excessive mystagogic staging and banal normalization are two sides of the same coin. In other words, in retaining Kreider’s social-economic reading, we should not abandon the sublimely ridiculous hyperfictions of the Monarch conspiracists.
Zeigler’s different gambits in relation to the Somerton episode might appear to devolve into ad hoc reactive defence strategies, but in reality the whole episode – from his offering Bill the cases of scotch to his threatening of him – is part of an overall strategy of disabling opposition and producing impotent confusion: the production of what Arizona Wilder is absolutely correct in identifying as double-binds.
Gregory Bateson, Deleuze-Guattari and Burroughs have all analysed the role of the double bind – the issuing simultaneous contradictory but complementary commands – in systems of control. Zeigler’s implicit and explicit communications with Bill is full of such double binds:
I am the Good Father of social order AND Pere Jouissance, the Father-Thing obscenely indulging in excessive enjoyment.
What happened at Somerton was a trivial charade* AND extremely, perilously, grave.
It was fake AND the hidden reality of the social.
What could be a clearer exemplification of Zizek’s claim that Sade is a Kantian, that, far from demanding that we abstain from pleasure, the (post)modern superego is relentless in its demands that we indulge in pleasure.
Masked woman to Bill at the Somerton ritual: ‘Have you been enjoying yourself?’
The affectless, banal quality of the orgy that so turned critics off is in fact the truth of sex. Ironically given the Dennis Wheatley-esque ornateness of the staging, the tediously mechanical couplings are pure sex, i.e. sex stripped of any fantasmatic component, i.e. sex that is merely phenomenal-physical rather than fantasmatic-Real. The joyless Somerton sex carnival is the Burroughs-Bosch garden of earthly delights, the venal idiot-mechanical repetition of the pleasure principle laid bare.
Bosch, the Garden of Earthly Delight
The dominant red colouring in both Zeigler’s pool room and at Somerton inevitably puts one in mind of Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’, the principal intertext in the hyperfictional labyrinth of Stephen King’s The Shining. Interestingly, Kubrick removed all explicit allusions to Poe’s tale from his film version of King’s novel, but he retained the association of Pere Jouissance Overlook owner Horace Derwent with licentious pleasure. Kreider: ‘A ballroom full of naked, masked couples dancing to “Strangers in the Night” recalls not only Ziegler’s party but the Overlook Hotel, whose ghosts also danced and coupled in costume. (Remember the quick, surreal zoom shot in The Shining of someone in a bestial costume fellating tuxedoed millionaire Horace Derwent in an upstairs room?)’
‘Halfway through “Ticket to Ride,” the band wound up with a brassy flourish.
“The hour is at hand!” Horace Derwent proclaimed. “Midnight! Unmask! Unmask!”‘
(The Shining, 369)
‘What kind of fucking charade ends up with someone turning up dead?’ Bill explodes at Zeigler.
Well, Bill, we call it life…
Poe’s story is crucial because it makes the essential link between pleasure and death. Now it is important not to fall into the easy, misleading interpretation which would see death as extrinsic to pleasure, that is to say, as a consequence of sex (via the agency of disease etc). Poe’s puritan point – the view from the sober Protestant New World of a fantasticated-intoxicated Old Catholic Europe – was that PLEASURE IS ALREADY DEATH.
Red Cloak to Bill: ‘Kindly remove your mask…’
To illustrate this point, it is crucial to distinguish between two forms of death and two forms of death drive. The intensive death of Poe’s revellers is in dialectical denial but simultaneous confirmation of the organic death that awaits them. Their attempts to intoxicate themselves into forgetting this death gives their divertissements an inescapable melancholia.
‘It was in this apartment, also, that there stood … a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and for with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when… the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was cleaer and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause… to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly … and [they] smiled as if at their own nervousness.. and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes… there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.
But in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel…’
(‘The Masque of the Red Death’; this section was used by King as the epigraph to The Shining)
The clock ticking – the chronic climax – brings the tristesse proper to all climatic libidinal economies; the little death as a presaging of big death, both disavowed and perpetually reconfirmed in the ever-climaxing, ever-resuming Schopenhauerian merry-go-round of the pleasure principle.
Recall in this connection Kierkegaard’s comparison of life with a large hall, entry to which is gained only through a dirty, disgusting tunnel which leaves you soiled. At the end of the night, Kierkegaard says, everyone is unceremoniously kicked out, but nevertheless, throughout the night ‘everything is done to inflame the merriment.’ Kierkegaard’s point is not the injunction to indulgent misery that it might appear to be. On the contrary, in fact, his argument is that it is only through a constant acknowledgement of our finitude, and an embracing of life’s tension – or life AS tension – that life can be fully lived. Precisely in avoiding death, in treating it as an appointment in chronos that must be kept (and of which the oppressive ticking of the clock periodically reminds them), the revellers condemn themselves to a lifelong intensive death.
Another way of getting to this is via Lacan’s distinction of the Nirvana Principle and the death drive proper. Lacan shows that the Nirvana Principle – the impulse towards quiescent satiation – far from being opposed to the pleasure principle is in reality only the pleasure principle in its highest form. By contrast, the death drive is that which disrupts any lapsing into satisfaction, that which introduces tension back into any libidindal tendency towards slackening – in other words, that which keeps the libidinal apparatus in tension, literally intense.
The first form of human slavery is to the Burroughs orgasm drug (the lure by means of which the organic death machine reproduces itself). It’s inevitable that power should fixate on this bio-default as one of its principal means of exercising control. The really rather trivial transgressions at Somerton – masked sex! – serve also as an Initiatory Secret, less important for its own content than for dividing those in the know from outsiders. Kubrick’s obsessively cultivated ambiguity leaves open the possibility that the whole episode at Somerton – TOGETHER WITH the later scene in the pool hall – are some kind of initiatory rite which draws Bill into closer proximity with the power elite. As if what Zeigler himself calls the ‘staged charade’ was, like the gate in Kafka’s famous parable, meant only for him… So that Alice’s final ‘fuck’ – the last word in the film, that is, the last word in Kubrick’s last film – operates as the order word indicating the Harfords quietist acceptance of/ into the Core (or at least, in an inner circle closer to the Core).
In any case, Eyes Wide Shut demonstrates that, however banal it must be in order to be normalized into – and AS – everyday life, power depends upon mystagogic authoritarian ritualization. There is always a secret society, even if the secret it protects is its own vacancy, void:
‘Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers threw themselves into the black appartment, and seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.’
(‘The Masque of the Red Death’)
The theatrical show, the mystagogic mummery, is there to conceal this Void. Hence the power’s need for (simulated) hyperstition, its tendency conspiracy theories that propagate themselves via their denial, that operate only through their victims’ recovered memories. Hence also the need to diagonalize between Ziegler-esque commonsense and Monarch paranoia:
Ccru: ‘Like all conspiracy fictions, [this] is spun out of an all-encompassing narrative that cannot possibly be falsified (because ‘they’ want you to believe in their non-existence).
To attempt to refute such narratives is to be drawn into a tedious double game. ‘One’ either has to embrace an arbitrary and outrageous cosmic plot (in which everything is being run by the Jews, Masons, Illuminati, CIA, Microsoft, Satan, Ccru…), or alternatively advocate submission to the most mundane construction of quotidian reality, dismissing the hyperstitional chaos that operates beyond the screens (cosmological ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ – virtual, imperceptible, unknown). This is why atheism is usually so boring.
Both conspiracy and common sense – the ‘normal reality’ script – depend on the dialectical side of the double game, on reflective twins, belief and disbelief, because disbelief is merely the negative complement of belief: cancellation of the provocation, disintensification, neutralization of stimulus – providing a metabolic yawn-break in the double-game.
Unbelief escapes all this by building a plane of potentiality, upon which the annihilation of judgment converges with real cosmic indeterminacy.
For the demons of unbelief there is no monarch programming except as a side-effect of initiatory Monarch deprogramming (= Monarch Paranoia).
… Deprogramming simultaneously retro-produced the program, just as witch-trials preceded devil-worship and regressive hypnotherapy preceded false memory syndrome. Yet, once these ‘fictions’ are produced, they function in and as reality. It isn’t that belief in Project Monarch produces the Monarch Program, but rather that such belief produces equivalent effects to those the reality of Project Monarch would produce, including some that are extremely peculiar and counter-intuitive.
Within the paranoid mode of the double game even twins are turned so as to confirm a persecutory unity – that of the puppet master, the reflection of God, the Monarch.
How absurd to imagine that Lemurian Pandemonium has One purpose or function, or that it could support the throne of a Monarch. From the perspective of Pandemonium gods and their conspiracies emerge all over the place, in countless numbers. “My name is Legion, for we are many..”
Unity is only ever a project, a teleological aspiration, never a real presupposition or actual foundation. Monarch paranoia is primordially an allergic panic response to seething, teeming Pandemonic multiplicity. Everywhere it looks it finds the same enemy, the Rorschach-blotted hallucinations of the Evil One masked deliriously in its myriads of deviations, digressions and discrepancies.’