Eye’s Wide Shut (1999) Ending Explained – What does the ending say about society and marriage?

Eyes Wide Shut

1999 was an unforgettable year for movies. There were a handful of films to come out that year that had such deep themes. Fight Club, Magnolia, The Matrix, and American Beauty. However, let us not forget about Stanley Kubrick’s final directorial effort, Eyes Wide Shut.

This is a film that starred then-married Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise as an on-screen married couple with a daughter who face harsh realities about their relationship. Leading one of them down a strange, dark, dream-like wormhole one night, Eyes Wide Shut confused audiences upon its release, but in true Kubrick fashion, it’s been one of his most studied in the years since its release.

What is Eyes Wide Shut based on?

Eyes Wide Shut is actually based on a German novella from 1926 called “Traumnovelle” or “Dream Story”. As the story goes, it is about a man who learns that his wife has fantasized about other men before, which then sends him off on a journey alone as he confronts elements of his life that have to do with masculinity, sex, and mortality. For the most part, that is the plot of Eyes Wide Shut.

Cruise plays Bill Hartford, and Kidman plays his wife Alice. The two have a seemingly okay marriage as they are raising their daughter in an upscale New York City life with Bill, a doctor, and Alice home with their child.

We learn that temptation comes from all over, as women seem to lust after Bill. It’s never said that he has had an affair, but you kind of wonder. Alice seems to yearn for more in her sex life, coming close to falling into the bedsheets for a man she dances with at a party. She restrains herself, though.

The movie states that it takes place in New York City, it definitely doesn’t look like it. It has a dream-like feel to it that never feels like New York. That’s because very little was shot there, and most of the film was shot in the U.K.

What happens to Bill Hartford?

One night, Bill learns from his wife that she has had sexual fantasies about another man whom they both seem to know, and it absolutely crushes him.

Yet, the argument is flipped on Bill because he’s a man, and men in society can be a little more open about their sexual desires, while women have to hide that about themselves. This causes confusion for him, and he wonders out one night into the city streets, where he falls into the underbelly of the city.

Throughout the night, Bill encounters multiple potential sexual partners but never indulges, and that is until we reach the massive shocker of the night. Through a few strange meetings with people at a bar, he learns of a past code at a party at a mansion outside of the city. He must go in a mask to not show his face, because at the mansion is a massive secret society that is full of orgies and sexual acts.

Throughout the party, there are hints that show Bill can be in danger. There are other masked people who see a masked Bill enter a room and stare his way; some nod his way, some just stare in an unsettling manner. The whole thing feels like a fever dream, something Kubrick can pull off quite well in his films.

What happens after Bill returns home?

There is a massive fallout that comes from Bill’s attempt at cheating on his wife. He is paranoid in the days that follow; he tries to return to the mansion but is met with a note from someone that warns him to stand down. He learns that the woman who may have helped him get out of the party unscathed was found dead, and he wonders if this secret society is onto him.

Another close call he had was a prostitute he encountered earlier in the night who ended up having HIV. This is a moment that makes him think – what if he had crossed that line and brought a disease back into his marriage that he would give to Alice? All of this paranoia comes from an attempt to cheat on his wife.

What does Bill tell Alice?

Bill eventually tells Alice about all that has happened. He doesn’t know if he’s delusional or if this night actually could’ve meant the end for him if he got caught. Regardless, Alice does take him back and smooths over the issue in the most non-confrontational way; they talk about it while they take their daughter shopping at a toy store.

However, the true meaning of Eyes Wide Shut is in everything prior to the final scene. It perfectly analyzes the contrast between men and women in society. Marriage is somewhat of a satire in the film, and the masks worn at the sex party are used as a metaphor for there always being secrets between men and women in relationships.

What does the ending say about society and marriage?

In the film’s final moments, Alice tells Bill what they must do to fully mend the bridges that have been broken between them. Bill came within a hair of losing the life he built, and Alice could very easily walk away from all of this. But instead, she proposes to him something that could change the tides in their dynamic. It’s done in a very formal manner.

It is the one unifying physical act to make two people whole with one another again, and it’s the R-rated way of saying it. You probably get what’s trying to be conveyed here, right?

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