Stanley Kubrick’s swansong Eyes Wide Shut, the so-called erotic thriller, perhaps more aptly described as a ‘psychological rape’ of a movie, was released in 1999 only a handful of days before the director’s death. In it, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (who were married at the time of filming) play a couple who’s love and trust break down due to a string of weird, dream-like events that may have taken place in reality or inside Tom’s head. You can never tell, thanks to Kubrick’s fancy filming style that revolves more around creating beautiful shots than it does telling a coherent story, and his convenient death meant that any interpretation made since the film’s release can only be described as speculation.
Less cryptic is the music in the film. As became the norm, Kubrick had chosen an eclectic spectrum of classical music, most of it obscure (before this film was released, that is). Ligeti is featured, harking back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Shostakovich provides the main theme in his Suite for Variety Orchestra. The waltz that adorns the opening and closing credits is an uncharacteristically tuneful choice for Kubrick, with a melody almost fit for a screwball comedy. Here though, it feels very dark and suggestive, in the same way the Christmas setting of the film does.
Another significant point is that this waltz is very explicitly “a waltz”. It could have been written by Strauss. I’m in no doubt that the link between that and the Vienetian masks used in the orgy section of the movie is intentional. The whole film has a Vienna feel about it, yet the setting is clearly New York. The viewers are being toyed with.
From Wikipedia, we can see that some of the incidental music in Eyes Wide Shut wasn’t quite so carefully chosen: The piece, named “Masked Ball”, is an adaptation by Jocelyn Pook of her “Backwards Priests.” When contacting Pook in regard to providing music for the film, Kubrick asked if she had anything else like Backwards Priests – “you know, weird.”
It’s difficult to see how such a perfectionist could dedicate an enormous amount of time and effort into getting the right piece of music for certain scenes, yet make lazy requests like that for the one scene that is really the climax of the film, in more ways than one. That’s not to say I disagree with Stanley’s judgement, because the music (if you can call it that) really works well. Part of me just wishes more thought went into its inclusion. Listen to the cut here (no nudity, just sound!).
The main other memorable piece used in Eyes Wide Shut is the second movement of Ligeti’s Musica ricercata, an eleven-part piano suite that uses two pitches in the first movement and increases them one by one in every subsequent movement. The short excerpt in the film contains three notes, the first two a semitone apart, which create a hypnotic groove before being interrupted by an accelerando on the third. It stays in your head long after the scenes it is heard in, haunting you with its sheer memorability.
There is nothing remotely fun or heart-warming in this soundtrack. I love it. The total duration of all the music used doesn’t come to a lot, but the repetition and restructuring of the pieces meddles with your orientation as a viewer as much as the plot does. As an audio-visual experience, Eyes Wide Shut is the literal definition of a ‘mind-fuck’.