Polanski and Kubrick: Two occult tales

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Jacques Vallee is a computer scientist, partner in a venture capital firm, and author of more than 20 books, including Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, The Invisible College, and The Network Revolution.

In our age of rational science the occult has never been more in demand: Angels and demons are popular, the Da Vinci code and lost symbols fascinate audiences worldwide and Hollywood is eager to turn out more movies with a paranormal theme. So why is it that so many of these stories seem flat, and fail to reach the level of insight into hidden structures of the world true esoteric adventures are supposed to promise?

 Images N Ninth-Gate-800-75Perhaps the answer has to do with the failure of gifted directors to come to grips with the enormity of the unknown issues of human destiny, or to pose the fundamental questions their esoteric subject would demand. We go away charmed by artistic visions, dazzled by the pageantry of cardinals in red capes and titillated by women in black garters but the Illuminati only scare us because of the blood they spill, not the existential issues they should transcend. They behave like any other gang of thugs, even if they utter their rough curses in Latin rather than street slang, cockney or modern Italian.

The circumstances that made this point clear to me arose when I watched again two movies within a few days, namely Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate.

I was struck by the suspicious similarities and the enormous differences between them. In earlier viewings both had thrilled me with the superb photography, the great acting, and the expansive landscapes. A second experience made me wonder about the themes themselves: the contrast was striking. The story line of Eyes wide shut turns out to be not only unbelievable but downright silly. It could be summed up as "Handsome young millionaire doctor tries to get laid in New York for three days and fails!" In the process he has joined a fake black mass and deciphered a few facile occult clues but there is no point to any of it. I do understand that Kubrick, like Umberto Eco in Foucault's Pendulum, was attempting to say something profound about magic and eroticism but he only produced clichés, vague references to tired grimoires and gratuitous gropings: those black garter belts again.

The Polanski movie, in contrast, is dangerous and captivating from the very first frame. It combines a profound understanding of hermeticism with the breathless beauty of a quest for infinity. It completes it with the exquisite aesthetics of an adept who knows what should be exposed and what should remain hidden. Polanski has recognized the power and genuineness of his cause, his story, his landscapes, while Kubrick only exemplifies the well-trained academic intellectual who scrutinizes the magical from the outside and just doesn't get it, flashing the conventional symbols before us like so many obligatory props. Occultism is not science-fiction. The splendid photography doesn't fill the emotional gap.

It was striking to me that both movies took the protagonists to very similar situations and to the same places - the region of Pontoise in fact, so charged for me in magical memories. Should we suspect that the scripts circulated from desk to desk in Hollywood, as is so often the case, and that both stories emerged from a bit of plagiarism? Let's not go that far: perhaps it was simply a case of lucky occult coincidence.


  1. “I do understand that Kubrick, like Umberto Eco in Foucault’s Pendulum, was attempting to say something profound about magic and eroticism”

    Er, this isn’t at all what Kubrich was trying to say. It’s his cap on a pyrmid of misanthropy. It was Kubrick seething his hatred for filthy, animalistic humans and who we really are with _our masks off_, as it were.

    Eyes Wide Shut was not erotic. It was revolting and repulsive and it was wonderful because of it.

  2. It’s the same with hard science as well. Some new discovery is made and a writer thinks it would make a good plot point or story basis. The discovery opens up possibilities, but it comes with rules and limitations on what it does. A producer doesn’t care for the limitations and tells the writer to completely make up something and just sprinkle a little science dust on it.

  3. Um. The Ninth Gate is based on the brilliant novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Calling the film plagiarism is more than a little disrespectful to the novel.

    1. @ Cnoocy:

      Thanks for pointing that out. I couldn’t remember the name of the book upon which Ninth Gate was based. My mom and I both read the book, then watched the movie, and essentially laughed through the whole movie because it was such a pathetic attempt at capturing the atmosphere and message of book. And yeah, I think Sr. Perez-Reverte might be a bit miffed if he knew he was being accused of plagiarism someone else’s work… I also have a feeling he wouldn’t go through the effort of having a Hollywood script translated from English into Spanish so he could plagiarize it.

  4. It seems to me that The Ninth Gate is an exploration of the wisdom of the occult, whereas Eyes Wide Shut (like Foucault’s Pendulum) is an exploration of the folly of the occult. Both perspectives have their place.

    1. Eyes Wide Shut exists in a universe where the occult is just red capes and garter belts. That’s his point (as far as occultism is concerned, the movie itself is concerned with more things than that). The Ninth gate exists in a universe where there is some actual substance to the occult. Both are fine places for movies to take place. Kubrick’s may be the universe we actually live in but Polanski’s is fun, too.
      I’m not sure what universe Vallee thinks he lives in.

    2. I agree. Kubrick’s thesis centered on mankind groping at the mirage of something greater (often painted in a positive light as a quest for personal growth). The occult just symbolized the mirage. It was not meant to actually BE something transcendent. If it were, his theme fails.

  5. The Ninth Gate has always been one of my favorite movies, much to the bemusement of my more mainstream friends. One could say that my love of old, leatherbound books and the power they subconsciously emit (and from there, a fully realized love of steampunk) stems from this lone movie.

    I see where you are coming from in wanting to find the essence of an occult movie, and now I hope that more occult movies explain why these cults, practices, and mysteries exist, as the mere existence of them within the story may not satisfy, just as you say. Bravo for the insight!

    In this fashion, I think Dan Brown’s latest novel “The Lost Symbol” was more satisfying than his previous occult books (though I’m not really enamored with the dire need of his fiction to be so movie-like) in this fashion, because the last few chapters spent much time explaining why the (fictional?) secrets of the Masons are so important. Some people may see the views so ardently exposed at the end as preachy (not going to spoil it here), but I found that the core of belief so central to occultist behavior not lacking in that book.

  6. I can’t speak for the Polanski film, but Kubrick wasn’t trying to give any legitimacy to the Illuminati in Eyes Wide Shut. Cruise buys his robes and mask from a costume store, and the Illuminati’s members are revealed to be wealthy, elite, but utterly ridiculous people predisposed to partying who are using a mythical quasi-religious “order” as a reason to have huge orgies.

    As with most later Kubrick movies the film is not really “about” what it seems to be about. Eyes Wide Shut seems to be an occult sex thriller but it’s actually a commentary about wealth, status, sexual objectification, and dehumanization.

    Jacques, discovering that the movie’s occult symbolism is bunk is just the first step in discovering what is actually going on in the movie. You’re totally correct in this post, but there’s more to it than that.

    More discussion: http://www.avatarreview.net/AV9/Keating.htm

  7. I couldn’t disagree more with your reading of Eyes Wide Shut as “man tries to get laid for three days and fails.” Largely, the sex that Tom Cruise’s character is trying to have is within his own mind and it has more to do with the mysticism and mystery of having a type of sex other than the kind that you are having in your normal, married, boring life.

  8. Your knowledge of filmmaking is a bit underdeveloped. Eyes Wide Shut is not only a filmic masterpiece but also an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler`s book “Dream Story”. Kubrick does not dwells on about or reveals signs of ocultism simply because that was not the objective of the story.

    It is a film about fear, and the difficult emotions that one endures in a married life. It`s a film that uses a dreamlike scenario, and the ocult is merely a contribution to the background where the plot is developed. The plot wich was already in the book, including the masterfully shot and mistery filled orgy scene.

    In the future, try to absorb more information about your subjects before writting your opinions of them.

    That being said, both movies are good, but “The Ninth Gate”is infinitely inferior to Kubricks last piece.

  9. I think The Ninth Gate is a fantastic movie…That Polanski can simultaneously be winking at the silliness of the occult and create a suspenseful, creepy, and engaging movie is brilliant. It almost seemed to me to be homage to Jan Svankmajer’s Faust. And it plays like a dream on Bluray…

  10. I agree with sixohsix and post8, but I also agree that Eyes Wide Shut is essentially about a doctor spending three days trying to get laid and failing. I just find it funny that Vallee finds that more ridiculous than the ending of The Ninth Gate, which is the corniest thing this side of Sleepwalkers or The Howling 3.

    Looking at the movies of Kubrick and Polanski does reveal something interesting though. Kubrick seems to be fascinated by madness and animalistic aspects of humanity (see: blowjob dog from The Shining). Polanski seems to have more of an actual understanding of these things, which leads to things like comedically rapey gay vampires (The Fearless Vampire Killers), a terrifyingly rapey Satan (Rosemary’s Baby), or all of Che?. So it makes sense that Kubrick’s doctor would end up getting stoned and belittled by his wife, while Polanski’s bookseller ends up SPOILER ALERT

    making it with a succubus or something. Both directors certainly have class anxieties: in Polanski’s case, the Illuminati end up being pathetic and the real everyday man gets to bang the hot demon; and in Kubrick’s case the Illuminati turn out to be gross and a little pathetic, get to keep on doing what they’re doing, and the real everyday man gets to go back to his wife and figure out what is really important in life. I just more or less called Kubrick a populist, which is crazy, but compared to Polanski, it might be true.

  11. I thought that ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was terrifyingly boring, and actually fell asleep partway through it both times I’ve attempted to watch the thing. (the soundtrack, apparently composed and played by an tstc pianist with one finger, did nothing to help matters)

    By contrast, I love Ninth Gate, in part because of my love of old books and hidden lore. It is also my favorite example of how /not/ to test your newfound invulnerability.

    1. Perhaps I’m doing my fellow humans a disservice by saying this, but I’ve always assumed that those who are bored by films like Eyes Wide Shut have been raised on a diet of Michael Bay movies. Me, I love the languid pace, the long, slow tracking shots, the sumptuous frames. It has Kubrick’s stamp all over it, and I love it as much for its idiosyncratic approach to the medium as for its story.

      But really, I’m replying specifically to Mechalith regarding his comment that “the soundtrack, apparently composed and played by an tstc pianist with one finger…” I don’t exactly know what “tstc” means, but the “soundtrack” is actually the first (I believe) Piano Etude by the magnificent Hungarian composer György Ligeti. Ligeti also composed much of the music used in 2001 and The Shining. He was the musical heir to Bartok in many ways, and an absolute colossus over the admittedly ruined edifice of “classical” music in the late 20th century. If you haven’t heard him, or worse, have developed a dislike based on this one piece, well, I just pity you. We don’t have many Beethovens around these days, but he would have held his own against ol’ Ludwig.

      1. Perhaps I’m doing my fellow humans a disservice by saying this, but I’ve always assumed that those who are bored by films like Eyes Wide Shut have been raised on a diet of Michael Bay movies. Me, I love the languid pace, the long, slow tracking shots, the sumptuous frames.

        I also love languid pacing and sumptuous frames… just not in that particular movie. I wish I would ‘get’ Eyes Wide Shut as much as the people who think it’s a chef-d’oeuvre… But trying would require me to watch it again and the thought irks me. That film simply did not resonate with me.

        It’s not like I hate on Kubrick either. I loved 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance. I just never understood why it seems socially acceptable to find 2001 a dragging, surreal bore while disliking Eyes Wide Shut instantly makes you a dumb philistine.

        Anyways. I’m not going to claim I have some higher knowledge of cinema. I’m not a cinephile. I tend to like books better ;)

      2. Kudos 2 u, CrackWilding, for getting it right; also to EscapingtheTrunk, railroad9, and Anon #’s 46,68 & 80, even tho their anon numbers may change at any second. I’m sure I’ve seen Ninth Gate, but it can’t be that good or i would remem it. However, i don’t believe Kubrick ever made a movie that didn’t have extremely important messages.
        People! please read The Biggest Secret by David Icke! (u can ignore the “creatures” if you like), but the rest does happen.

  12. Ah, Gnosticism’s back! I enjoy conspiracy theories but when I get to the end I always feel empty, because they’re just about all bullshit. History is more mundane than massive secret cults. Occasionally, the people who brought down the towers are the same people who have (boringly) been bombing US holdings for years, and it really was a lone crazy dude who shot Kennedy. I even had the disappointment the other day to learn that starlings probably weren’t introduced into America for Shakespearean reasons. The world is fascinating in all sorts of ways, to be sure, but conspiracy theories ain’t one of ’em.

    Thanks for calling some attention to the Ninth Gate. I think it’s an underrated movie, though as others have said, it may just be my love of old books.

  13. ww, jcqs. N ffns bt gr wth thrs hr tht yr pprctn f Kbrck’s flm s bynd ncrrct.

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    1. baudrillardo,

      I strongly suggest that you read our Moderation Policy before commenting again. If you can’t make your point without being insulting and copy-pasting most of your text, you don’t have a point.

  14. I’ll have to give The Ninth Gate another try, because I feel like I saw a different movie than everyone else. I love old books and the occult, but I really didn’t like that movie. Eyes Wide Shut, on the other hand, I didn’t even try.

  15. First Foucault’s Pendulum had Eco mocking how we are always looking for something that is bigger than us that just isn’t there (except for all the stuff on “In Search of”, that is all true, of course).

    There was a hilarious line in it, something to the effect of ‘you can always identify a lunatic because at a certain point he will start to speak in solemn tones about the Knights Templar’.

    And Polanski directed that foul piece of crap, “The Ninth Gate”? That movie was pure satire and still not enjoyable. Seems Polanski has a penchant for crime.

  16. i ‘ll join those who say that neither “The Ninth Gate” nor
    ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ are good examples of profound occult themed fims.

    Kubrick was dead by the time “eyes wild shut” was released and i hope that he didn’t intend the film to be the utter bore it is.

    “the 9th gate” on the other hand is a b movie. if it weren’t for depp and polanski it would go totally unoticed IMHO. i enjoyed it but then again i enjoyed predator 2.

    i think that the “profound” occult that Jacques Vallee is talking about simply cannot be rendered by mainstream movies, maybe it cannot be rendered in a movie at all. eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum is a 700 page masterpiece, it can hardly be transformed in a 90 minute movie. see what happened to the name of the rose. one of the best books of the last 30 years reduced to a medieval themed murder film.

  17. EWS was definitely an exploration of power and how it manifests itself through privilege, money, and sex. I found it fascinating because it had a number of layers that intertwined. I don’t think the lawyer was trying to get laid for three days, as he definitely could have if he wanted to (he was Tom Cruise for goddsakes…:). That wasn’t the point, the point was that he was trying to break through a class barrier, and he couldn’t. he wanted to be able to flaunt his power to his wife after she made him feel small and powerless.

    I really don’t think it was about the occult at all. So what if they dressed in masks and had naked chicks around. See, you’re playing into this concept of the occult as mere iconography, or symbols like capes, fire, nudity, etc…That is facile.

  18. Arturo Perez-Reverte’s El Club Dumas, the source for The Ninth Gate, was originally published in 1993, which puts it a good six years prior to the movies.

    (I remember finding The Ninth Gate rather flat and disappointing; certainly not as interesting as the novel.)

  19. I really, really enjoyed Ninth Gate. After I saw it, I got The Club Dumas, and found that Polanski had removed the entire Dumas subplot and changed The Girl to a supernatural figure. And honestly, I liked both the movie and the book.

    I think I prefer watching the movie version first and then reading the book (kind of like an “extras” DVD). I end up enjoying both.

    And Johnny Depp is awesome.

    1. Polanski did dump much of the Dumas plot, but if anything, he greatly downplayed the identify of The Girl. In the novel, she didn’t exhibit magical kung-fu skills, but it was quite clear that she was a supernatural figure.

      One could say, even, THE supernatual figure. Ahem.

  20. I just want to put in another good word for Arturo Perez-Reverte, the author of the book from which “The Ninth Gate” was adapted. Almost all of his stuff is a fantastic read, gripping and well-researched (though The Queen of the South was very ill-informed about Scottish First Division football).

  21. You have a very poor understanding of Eyes wide shut and cinematography in general.
    “The story line of Eyes wide shut turns out to be not only unbelievable but downright silly.”
    Well, it might come as a surprise to You, but some films are concerned with more then just the story line. I think – and this is no more then one mans personal opinion – that You should refrain from writing about cinematography until You learn to see beyond the elementary primary plot. In other words, until You realize that The Birds is not just about some crazy attacking birds and find out why is Alien so scary.
    t ths pnt, Y gv m th mprssn f fv yr ld xplnng n hs wn wrds th gpltcl mplctns f th Cbn mssl crss.

  22. I think the whole essay doesn’t work because, simply, Polanski’s film is too far inferior to Kurbrick’s movie to compare them.

    The Ninth Gate is an interesting movie, but not well acted and overall, more like an elevated sci-fi channel film. It doesn’t hold a candle to Kubrick’s movie. The only reason it gets so much attention is because its director also made Rosemary’s Baby. Other than that, it’s highly lame.

    Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is the film of an auteur trying to understand the link between sex and death. It’s a near masterpiece. Sorry, better luck next time!

  23. Seriously. The exchange between Cruise and the older guy near the end of EWS? That’s dialogue? I’d have to cite Kubrick as the most sterile director ever. No whole people, sometimes no actual people. If people, then shallow parodies of humans. The most human voice in his whole oeuvre is HAL.
    Now then, 9th Gate. Falls more squarely into Hammer Horror. More predictable, familiar themes. I’m just surprised it’s a Polanski film. Not one of his best, but not terrible.
    For reference, I thought that EWS was based upon La Bas by Huysmans, I stand to be corrected.
    Nice to see a reference for 9th Gate, I’ll be reading that Cnoocy, thanks for the tip.
    As for Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, read the book and you never really have to worry about these discussions again.
    Bottom line, there is no occult, but films exploring the contrast between good/evil, heaven/hell are sometimes entertaining.
    Personally, I blame Bram Stoker for the whole mess.

    Oh, and using Ligeti for EWS was inspired. I can’t listen to Ligeti now without thinking of Cruise. Thanks Stanley. Nothing wrong with Ligeti, just the associations…………

    1. The most human voice in his whole oeuvre is HAL.
      That’s as much praise as it is blame. Even so, it makes me wonder if you’ve seen some of his other movies, for instance Spartacus.

    2. “Hammer Horror???” *SlaaaaaaP!*

      Now, I enjoyed Ninth Gate. Regardless of the sex scene with the demon/succubus/devil/fallen-angel-being at the end, what I found most endearing was when Depp’s character found the note.

      Found the note, and completed his character’s individual journey of Ultimate Discovery by ‘walking into the sun’ (of the morning).

      Completion and Fulfillment of The Quest comes to mind, here.

      If only one of us, through the course of our lifetime, does something even remotely similar (hopefully without all the intrigue, but maybe that’s what makes life fun for some), recognizes what one has done, and keeps it secreted away–lest the happening be profaned and the Knowledge and Power that Knowledge conveys be lost–and *Deepens* in terms of Super-Ego and Personality because of that journey, then I say we’re all better for the achievement.

      Warm Regards,

  24. I think The Ninth Gate feels like a particularly poor movie if you watch it after reading Club Dumas. An as adaptation it is as miserable as this: there’s no Club Dumas in it. But its faults are deeper than lacking a theme so important that it serves as a title to the original. While Reverte is elegant enough as to acknowledge Eco as a precedent, the movie is arrogant enough to expose itself as being original, cult and smart. It actually is none of the three. To this day I have a hard time understanding how the man who directed The Pianist did this thing. It’s a B movie without any B charm to it and it is one more missed opportunity to adapt an engaging and utterly filmable romance.

  25. Yes! I can finally say this to someone who has actually seen EWS. The piano drove me NUTS! It was so hard to concentrate. Hated it. I thought the director perhaps chose that knowing it would annoy the audience. There had to be a reason.

  26. I had no idea this many people had seen these two films and taken them seriously. From what I had heard, I had always assumed that I hadn’t really missed anything when I decided to skip them. Perhaps Polanski will turn himself in and I’ll be able to watch his films with a clear conscience. Not much hope of that for Cruise, of course.

  27. Unsurprisingly, nobody has cited Barry Lyndon in their Kubrick defense. Fail. Predictable, but fail.

    1. call me retarded but i believe that Kubrick is overated. he did a couple of classics like clockwork orange and full metal jacket but his masterpiece Dr Strangelove was 99,9% Peter Sellers. 2001 is plainly boring and Shining is watchable only because of jack nicholson. EWS is unwatchable and only hardcore Kubrick fans try to save it by overanalysing it and snobbing those who don’t get the vision of the maestro. but seriously cruise and kidman?

  28. The only “occult” thing about Eyes Wide Shut were Kubrick’s reasons for casting Cruise and Kidman: wotta pair of awful actors! The mind reels.

  29. Ad Antinous: Why would anyone do that? EWS either stands on its own merits or it doesn’t.
    And just to prevent misunderstanding – I love Barry Lyndon.

  30. Comparing and contrasting Ninth Gate and Eyes Wide Shut seems kind of pointless…both directors have made far better occult films. A better comparison would be between Rosemary’s Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  31. One thing that most viewers of Eyes Wide Shut fail to notice is that the movie takes place almost entirely inside the mind of Cruise’s character. Look closely at the compositions, the subtle clues in signs and words in the frame (a telling one is when Cruise is reading a newspaper in a cafe and he’s the subject of the headline), and the fractured timeline. Kubrick was never interested in linear narrative or a conventional plot – he was thoroughly exploring the ways in which film was like a dream, or could be.

    In this respect all his films deserve a second and third look because of the richness of the filmmaking and the depth of Kubrick’s thinking process as well as his supreme mastery of the art and craft of cinema.

  32. If the occult often uses symbolism to mask a deeper truth, I’d suggest this is lost on most of the commenters in this thread. Little to no talk of mysticism or whether it can be effectively conveyed in cinema, just lot’s of standard debate about the merits of Kubrik v. Polanski. Sometimes imagined dialectics are actually designed to obscure a more fundamental whole…

  33. I’m afraid that I cannot take an “expert” on the occult seriously if he thinks that Eyes Wide Shut is a film about the occult. It’s a film about male ego and insecurity and jealously and pettiness and the banality of sex–so boring that it has to be dressed up with masks and religious overtones to be interesting at all, and even then it’s just kind of heartless and mechanical.

    It also is kind of about a guy who can’t get laid in NY, which turns all the sexual banality around and speaks the other truth: sex is critically important when you can’t get any.

    1. I find all the comments that Eyes Wide Shut is “about a guy who can’t get laid in NY” pretty ridiculous. The two women at the party, the prostitute, the dead man’s wife and the young nympho wanted to sleep with him. It’s not that Cruise’s character couldn’t get laid, he just chose not to.

  34. perhaps it was simply a case of lucky occult coincidence.

    That’s what the Skeptic says. The Prophet insists that there’s no such thing as “coincidence”, and the Magician is more prone to believe the former than the latter…

    1. Book of Lies (Disinfo version) reference? Nice use of layers of meaning/perspective. What is total genius on one level/perspective is total horseshit on another.

      1. #60: I picked that up from RAW’s Cosmic Trigger, which Google tells me is excerpted in Disinformation’s Book of Lies.

        And yes, the Magician is starting to get convinced that there is no coincidence, even though the Skeptic keeps wanting to tell her it’s just a pattern she’s imposing on her experiences.

  35. I agree with comment #12. I know Schnitzler’s TRAUMNOVELLE fairly well (in German), and the story explores fantasies of marital infidelity–the occult elements are mere background elements in a dream-like novella. It’s a great book from a psychological perspective, and the movie is a surprisingly faithful, if modernized, adaptation. Although I think the film is probably much more enjoyable if you are familiar with the book.

  36. Hi,

    This post strikes me as done by a teenager with zero references and insight.

    First of all, there’s nothing of “occultism” in any of them. And you have to see both movies in very different perspectives.

    “Eyes wide…” tough referenced as based in a novela from the begining of the XX century, is original work. The real plot is very different from “handsome young millionaire doctor…” and is a work on revealing different sociological circles, each with it’s costumes and rites. And is brilliant in doing so. Nothing to see here if you are looking for occultism (you may confuse “black garters” with essoteric rites, then again, as a teenager who reads only paper backs bought in convenience stores).

    “The nine…” is entirely based on Arturo Pérez-Revertes'”The Club Dumas”. You’re confusing Polansky’s adaptation (the original book contains none of essoteric, by the way) with something else, that’s leading you to find something that isn’t there.

    This post has nothing to do with the level of BoingBoing I’m accustumed….

  37. So why is it that so many of these stories seem flat, and fail to reach the level of insight into hidden structures of the world true esoteric adventures are supposed to promise?

    Obviously, you’ve never seen What is it? by Crispin Glover.

  38. It’s possible a good “Occult” movie could be made, but it’d be a difficult task for this reason:

    “Too many cooks spoil the soup.”

    A movie is a creature of compromises. The director/screenwriter/producer are almost always different people with different agendas and often seperate entirely from those that created the original story. Anyone into comics might check out Concrete: “Fragile Creature” that goes through a making of a movie. Another one might be a recent documentary on TV about the making of “Animal House” showing how it was almost stopped, most notably by a producer who just hated one scene, which curiously wasn’t the “Zit” or the “Tissue paper” or any scene you’d think it was.

    Alan Moore would make wonderful “Occult” tales, he’s an incredible writer, storyteller and mystic. But, I doubt anybody would give him 100% creative control. Furthermore, he wouldn’t really be able to adapt his earlier work (1) he’d have to do something totally NEW for that medium. Even if it was a success, dozens of people would be fired for “Risking investor’s money recklessly” and though those people are paid good money, they aren’t usually elites. (Dubya was one, on the board of directors for “The Hitcher”…) A weird movie is a wild card that usually plays low, whereas toxic loans and stock scams the government bails out…

    SO investors, or rather their reps, keep peering in and meddling and usually drive a true creative genius postal.

    They’d never say; “Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, here’s the director and writer’s salaries and royalty options, we want you to make a film with a US$60 million budget. You’ll be paid for your time and get royalties from the franchise, which will be excellent if it does well. We’ll own the film, but you’ll own the story. Yes, we’ll make money cause we aren’t in this for our health, but we’ll trust you blind to write the best thing you can, with the eye of making a publicly sellable story. There are a few things we can’t let you do (NC-17 = box office death) but these are reasonably spelled out here in the 2nd and 3rd page of the contract.”

    And, really, I wish that instead of doing things like “Avatar” though I don’t bash Cameron, they just split $300 million up into a $60 million chunk, some $30 ish million chunks, some $10 for animations and turned it loose on a bunch of talented writers and visionaries, using the same studios to churn out tons of stuff that use modern computer technology to make good effects.

    One thing I’d like to see, perhaps to get in wind of a new Conan movie is “Cuda” by Tim Vigil! Make it direct, brutal, bloody, sexy, etc. Caligula meets Conan meets Crowley!

    And “Chakkan” be animated for the kids who can’t yet get in to see “Cuda”, plus finish the game originally intended for the Dreamcast!

    I think Ted McKeever’s “Industrial Gothic” would make a good film on a limited budget…

    Now, Grant Morrison’s “Invisibles” and Alan Moore’s “Promethea” are excellent supernatural tales. The “Matrix” seemed shallow by comparison. But I think an adaptation of either would fall shy due to the way the story was told.

    However, either writer could make a good “Movie” if given total creative freedom. Have the writer agree with the producer on what the general story will be, make sure he’s OK with the few things he can’t really do, a talented writer can “Write Around” various plot elements if given enough time and warning. Also have them work with experienced screenwriters and directors, some time before the movie starts so they can get a hang on everything.

    Even as “Anti Elite/Anti Big Business” as I normally am, I’d love them if they did this. My biggest “Beef” with “The Entertainment Industry” is as a condition of the modern Industrial Age the “Bard’s Voice” has been silenced for pure “Mindless Entertainment”. If they did things this way, they could churn out commercial success after success, even the ‘flops’ would re-claim themselves soon (like Waterworld did) but they’d let the artists have their voice, let the literature have it’s “Edge”.

    Note (1) I liked the V for Vendetta film, and frankly it got more people to read the graphic novel than ever would have otherwise, plus helped make ‘legit’ that format of storytelling. Moore hates it, of course, he hates all the film adaptations of his works, even though they re-popularize it. IMHO it’s a “Chaos Magick” thing, he bashes it to manipulate energies to make it good, so the story gets told and he gets more royalties. He’s da wizard!”

    However, adapting V for Vendetta directly would NOT work. As a film, it’d be a “Monstrosity” of at least 12 hours and become a “Greed” for the 21st century. Anyone saw “Greed”? Brilliant and disastrous.

    The best it could be adapted would be to make it a “Sci-Fi Channel” maxi series of 12, 1 hour shows. That would seem mostly pretty boring, taking too long for a climax.

    Also, some things just can’t really fit in that format. The “Dolls” scene for instance. Almsot every single person I talked to about it didn’t get it, except for the surface: “Oh, he’s a Fascist, he cares more for Dolls than people!” That is only the surface and untrue, shallow. The propagandist was a bully, and akin to the “Unkillable Ogre” in the classic fairy/wonder tales, unable to die except for a certain condition is met, alluded to in “Hand of Fate”. Often such a creature takes his heart out and puts it somewhere else, so no wounds will stop his heart. But, someone finding and destroying the heart can kill the creature. YES, like the “Ring” in LOTR.

    V realized this, because he knew him intimately. But it wasn’t to show V as a great hero defending the people, though he was that too. “Room five. God help me, you are the man from room five…” “Yes”… That scene was to show how vicious V was. He found out where he kept his “Soul”, his “Heart” and he destroyed it with a lack of mercy that surpassed his “Fascist” enemies. Porthero was a bully and also a coward, he was just obeying orders and rationalizing his crimes and fear but he had an actor’s soul, he had to hide the feelings of compassion for all the people he burnt, so he had the Doll collection he prized so highly. – “I think he’s Psychotic- In the most literal sense of the word…”

  39. To anyone who actually cares to know something of the “Occult”…

    The first thing to understand is the real thing isn’t about degenerates traipsing around in costumes they believe gives them license to be degenerates.

    The second thing to understand is because of the Occult’s very nature anything said about it will automatically be open to criticism by those who have not experienced, as that is the only way to truly know it.

    The above being said, the best access anyone that truly wishes to understand what is and, more importantly is not the Occult, please find and carefully read the non-fiction works written by the Sufi teacher Idries Shah (widely acclaimed to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and, for good reason).

    Though he has his detractors (And what teacher hasn’t?), his works are the best introduction I have ever found available to a general audience toward better way of being.

  40. Eyes Wide Shut may be about a lot of things, but the occult?

    Its got nothing more to do with the occult than The Shinning or Barry Lindon or Clockwork Orange- like all of those films to one extent or another, it shares a big preoccupation with the dance between individual and family. (Yes The Shinning is a genre piece steeped in the occult, but the perfunctory carelessness with which the occult elements are handled should act as a clue to the real subject- the human psyche, and its pathologies
    in the context of family.)

    I could understand a go at a comparison between EWS and Blue Velvet, but how the movie might relate to The Ninth Gate is beyond me.

    If you’re set on Polanski, you’d have better luck contrasting it to Bitter Moon, I think.

  41. Monsieur Vallee clearly misunderstood EYES WIDE SHUT if this is his analysis of the film. It is, without a doubt, a masterpiece- how many films can you name in the last 10-20 years that have explored this thematic territory with such boldness and balls? This is one of those “if you didn’t like it, you didn’t get it” moments. There are way too many great things in that film to be a mere fluke- it was a fitting final film for a guy who may never have another equal. More to the point, it was as much about the occult as THE SHINING was about hotel management.

    For the record, BARRY LYNDON is also a great film- completely underrated, but it’ll have its due someday. I’ll stake my Pulitzer on it.

  42. The comparison between Kubrick and Eco here is apt, but not for the reason the author describes.

    Foucault’s Pendulum is about the ultimate failure of the occult to grant any meaning to existence. This includes ritualistic sex, which is parodied (for the purposes of fetish or simple self-aggrandizement) by the masqueraders in Eyes Wide Shut. At the end of both stories, the narrators understand the importance of their families while simultaneously recognizing that their links to them are very fragile.

    Both stories are about how lacking in profundity ritual can be, how utterly useless it was to both men in providing anything of value or merit, and even how dangerous the illusion of deep meaning in ancient grocery lists can be when indulged in by people with too much passion and time. Eco’s novel in particular is about the danger of conspiracy theory, the temptation of magical thinking and the way that simple rational thought can illuminate that which is truly important. Similarly, Cruise’s character uses one mystery (the death of Mandy, the secretive club) to distract himself from another (how he lost touch with his wife). The journeys both men make into secret societies have little to do with any spiritual yearning; if anything, they are coping mechanisms for a crucial inability to confront the real journey that lies ahead: maturing into middle-aged men.

  43. Can’t remember where I saw it, but there was a net blurb recently about how wine experts really don’t agree. The notion was that most of the expert opinions hold very little objective value.

    And, so with opinions about movies. Very interesting thought processes, with little objective truth involved. It’s a little scary how certain some people sound about their truths, though. I think it helps to realize most of us are mostly full of sh-t, and probably even more so when we’re sure we’re not. This is me, being completely full of it, because I’m in the middle of of my own aboriginal dream, just like everybody else.

    I thought the music in EWS was aimed at producing a strong jarring effect, which happened for me. Was it the exact effect Kubick was looking for? Meaningless question, really. The same person would likely experience that music differently at different times, depending on his/her context. But, I will say this: I can’t remember, now, the music of any other non-musical movies, while I can clearly hear that piano note drilling through my brain. I suspect ol’ Stanley would be happy about that.

    I thank you for your thoughts about these movies. They make me think about them. I’m going to have to get a copy of EWS, simply because Kubrick’s movies really are very different from everybody else’s. I’m interested in the knee-jerk reactions to Cruise and Kidman. I suspect Kubrick chose them for very good reasons. But, his dream was different from yours and mine.

    In EWS, the drama points are different from what other directors would’ve done with the same material. I’m so used to having my buttons pushed, mostly in an obvious fashion, by most of the movies I see, that Kubrick stands out in his willingness to avoid those simple jabs. That’s part of why I found Cruise so effective in the role. I’m ambivalent about him in EWS, and it interests me that Kubrick doesn’t make him likable. Yes, that’s very subjective, but I’d guess that most people watching him in that part didn’t really like him very much. That’s part of the unsettling effect this movies produces in me, that makes it more interesting.

    About the 9th Gate, I didn’t get much value from it, though I get it that that doesn’t mean there isn’t any there to be had. But, even reading this discussion doesn’t make me want to see it again. I AM interested in reading the original novel, though. Thank you all for that tip, and for the interesting discussion.

  44. Count me as one who considers Ninth Gate to be a sophomoric B movie. I really thought it was awful, a waste of Depp’s talent, and Langella’s performance was embarrassingly bad. Like Ruther Hauer in the Buffy movie, a great actor fallen to shambling ruin.

    Polanski’s films are often visually beautiful, but none of the ones I’ve seen rise above adolescent wanking and/or mumbling incoherence.

  45. Hmmm. I never watched either. I had never heard of Ninth Gate but The Tenant is one of my favorite movies so maybe I’ll try it. It’s hard, as a female in my 20’s, to relate to the perspective of middle aged men. I mean I can enjoy the film, but it doesn’t speak to me as “universal” the way it might to some one who exists in that continuum instead of in some peripheral reality.

    I never watched Eyes Wide Shut because I hate Cruise films, and I thought it was about some guy who joins a sex club because his married life sucks and then it turns out the sex club sucks too. I’m not really that into film sex outside of porns, like as in as a plot device, so I avoided it. It sounded boring as hell for a straight girl who doesn’t like Cruise or Kidmann. I guess maybe I should check both films out myself.

  46. Eyes Wide Shut has wonderful ambiance and photography, but is ultimately dissatisfying. One thing is certain: It would’ve been a hell of a lot better with Johnny Depp instead of Tom Cruise!

    As for The Ninth Gate — it is a guilty pleasure, and one that I return to again and again.

  47. Jacques, I think you missed the boat on EWS, but not for the reason others have suggested. As with most Kubrick films, there are multiple avenues of interpretation and layers of themes. The occult isn’t the focus of the film, but it is important thematically and, possibly serves as a literal condemnation of the activities of certain circles of über elites of the type encountered by Cruise as he attempts to infiltrate their ranks. From a simple, literal analysis of the plot, we discover that the upper-upper-crust consider themselves above consensual, mainstream morality, and engage in occult-themed antics as much to cement loyalty as to get their rocks off. There are historical precedents for such activity, from the Hellfire Club to the tabloid fodder about the “depraved” antics of celebrities. Was Kubrick commenting literally or figuratively? We don’t know. But the critique of social class and the disassociation between “average” people and the elites is important. There are those who believe Kubrick was sending a message about literal occult goings-on among those at the top of the economic and social pyramid — I think that’s incorrect, but if he’s commenting metaphorically, it’s certainly a possible interpretation. There is also a possible commentary on the subset of conspiracy theory about elite mind control, sex trafficking, and the like that Kubrick could have drawn upon.

    At its core, however, EWS is about lies, and masks, and the uncertainty of truly knowing another human being, even those we are closest to. Cruise’s apparently perfect marriage is shown to be nothing more than a sham. Like much of Kubrick’s work, humans are driven by base desires and fall short of their professed morals. It’s a profoundly disturbing and depressing film which takes place in an in-between realm, and the occult elements and symbology reinforce the sense of crossing the boundary between dream and waking life.

  48. You’ve all hit Mr. Vallee pretty hard, but I will propose that Eyes Wide Shut is about the occult in the sense that Cruise’s character is questing to discover something mysterious – knowledge that is hidden from him.

    Also, he probably could have had sex with the front desk guy at the hotel (Alan Cummings’ character) if he’d wanted to.

  49. Continuing OT: Or, perhaps “too slow to crescendo”,
    or “too sleek to compete”. Seems some type of put-down, anyhoo.

    Back to Topic: As to the occult in general, it seems to me to be a bit of a scam, based upon people’s ignorance. Kinda like some Hollywood product…

    This song has some occult charm, though:

  50. Dear Mr Vallee:

    I have always found it very interesting why so few people, especially ‘trendy moderns’ (as well as any critic I have ever read), have apprehended the theme of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’.

    It concerns itself, of course, with neither the more prosaic conceits of eroticism nor occultism, but something very much simpler, much more beautiful, something quite alien to our dismal way of life, and a most fitting parting shot from the brow of Mr Kubrick against the monolith of American (Western) society and culture. The theme of this great film is, in fact, clearly couched in the password given at the Ceremony, and in a more Shakespearean sense, in the last name of the protagonist. It is echoed in the masks and in the three brilliant monologues spoken by Nicole Kidman. You will immediately see that, in fact, the whole film concerns itself with all the sundry aspects of Fidelity that are missing in our lives: the inability to be truthful and the lack of fidelity in all of our relationships: to our wives, our friends, our ideals and ourselves. Very simple, but no wonder everyone misses it.

    R S Westera

  51. A quote from Jay Weidner, a person who has a deep understanding of Stanley Kubrick’s work…

    “Stanley Kubrick died soon after showing Eyes Wide Shut to the executives at Warner Brothers. It is rumored that they were very upset concerning that film. They wanted Kubrick to re-edit the film but he refused. I personally was in France when Stanley died and I saw, on French television, outtakes from the forthcoming Eyes Wide Shut. I saw outtakes from several scenes that were never in the finished film.

    Warner Brothers has even come out and admitted that they re-edited the film. To this day they refuse to release a DVD of Stanley Kubrick’s cut. Not only is this a direct violation of the agreement that Kubrick had with Warner Brothers but also it means that we will probably never see the un-edited version of this film.

    One has to wonder what was cut out?”

    (See bottom of page #4)

  52. I read this yesterday, which led me to a link about a sociologist’s analysis of EWS. And, I thought that was the truth. I went home last night and watched the movie. BTW, I still don’t know if I have the bowdlerized version. I was watching long scenes that the sociologist didn’t mention at all, in his/her 11 page review/analysis. I knew Kubrick put those in for a reason, that they were significant. Then, I knew that the sociologist had done what numerous other reviewers had done.

    I spent the rest of the night reading reviews, maybe 25 in all, and I am really struck by how reviewers see what they want to see, what they are conditioned to see, what they are trained to see. They don’t see what’s objectively there. There is no sound, if the tree falls and nobody’s there to hear it. An experience is what we have when we get done – if we ever get done, since one reads that we do the same thing with memory – processing the sensory input. Interpretation is very, very much an active process that involves all of who we are. My experience of the color blue is NOT the same as your version; maybe my grandmother, whom I loved above all else in the world, wore blue a lot. So my experience is colored (!) always by that emotional network of experiences. You maybe went to a school with blue uniforms. Your associations, which you use to process every experience, are completely different.

    And, so with reviewers. Only they write their reviews as though they are objective. I believe that’s a stylistic requirement. Somebody told them that frequent uses of phrases like, “to me”, “I believe”, and “I know this is simply my experience of this”, for instance, simply aren’t done. After the experience of seeing the movie, and reading numerous reviews, I believe it can’t be over stated how extensive is the subjectivity of our experiences.

    Aside from that, so much of what reviewers write is rank opinion. One might not like some little aspect of the movie, and so makes a negative comment about it. Many have absolutely no shame about offering what EVERYBODY else will recognize as opinion, completely devoid of any attempt at objectivity.

    Conclusion: I’ve never heard anybody say this, but it must have been said many, many times before: when we describe anything outside of ourselves, we are mostly describing ourselves.

    BTW, the movie did have occult themes, what with the ritualized sex cabal, and the unknown power and dangers they presented to the Cruise character. But NONE of those reviewers wrote about that as being the central theme of the movie. Zero, Zip, Zilch.

  53. My apologies: I can’t remember if I read it in this blog, or in the numerous review about EWS that I recently read, in response to this blog.

    The sex cabal scenes were edited to avoid an NC-17, if I have that correctly, rating in the US. “People” were digitally inserted after the fact, so as to block our view of people actually having sex.

    That may, or may not, be the extent of the editing done by the studio, mentioned in post #72.

  54. I agree with you, Mr. Vallee, about ‘The Ninth Gate’. As for Kubrick, it must be remembered that he did die before he had a chance to complete the film, so his original vision could have been compromised by those that took over editing. One interesting theory proposed by Adam Gorightly in “James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War” is that ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was really about esoteric mind-control (creating alter egos to perform tasks, ala Candy Jones) by the rich and powerful with allusions to involvement by Naval Intelligence.

  55. Sorry Jacques, but I think your missing the forest through the trees?

    Eyes Wide Shut is about the dangers of sex/eroticism/love. The “occult” component is just another manifestation of a potentially harmful sexual desire. The allure and danger of infidelity is a strong theme throughout the film, while the Occult trappings are just symbols (of “hidden/forbidden desires”).

    Isn’t The 9th Gate a rather poor telling of a mildly interesting book? For me it was a fairly fluffy adventure contained in a weakly rendered occult landscape. Sure the film contains some interesting ideas, but it eventually falls flat when it succumbs to typical Hollywood failings. Certainly not one of Polanskis finer cinematic moments.

    Ninth Gate remains a poor intellectual comparison to Kubricks fine film.

    So says I

  56. The “flashing [of] the conventional symbols… like so many obligatory props” was the point. That is, it was intentionally done. Like you said, he joins a fake black mass. The masquerade is first and foremost an orgy. A high-budget indulgence of the obscenely rich. The fact that these “occultists” are unimaginably richer than even Cruise’s extremely well-to-do NYC private-practice doctor (just look at that house!)is made intentionally clear. The occult trappings are, as you say, props. As in, that’s all they are within the context of the plot. These people know little to nothing about the occult, and simply use a base understanding of the trappings to make their orgy, for lack of a better term, more awesome and to add another layer of exclusion. It’s to scare off the proles.

    So yeah, good job seeing that the occult presence in EWS was facile and silly, only problem is that you missed the fact Kubrick did it on purpose.

  57. Eyes Wide Shut had nothing to do with mysticism or the occult. It’s about our ugliness, our petty obsessions, jealousy and betrayal.

    Kubrick HATED Tom Cruse and Nicole Kidman. It’s a bit of a secret, but I got it from a member of that crew. He used him in these roles explicitly because of his disgust with them. I think it becomes obvious when you see how he has portrayed them as such spoiled brats. People who lie their way through life to attain the portrayal of success.

    The saddest part is that these things happen. The elite lose their sense of caring and become devouring animals. Parties like this are not imaginary. Kubrick wanted to comment on this before he died. Nobody else but wacko conspiracy theorists are saying anything.

    Rome never ended.

  58. Below is a link to an explanation of the symbolism, motive and meaning behind Kubric’s film. It is extremely disturbing what is suggested in this essay. Kubric died of a heart attack days after the master was complete and the original master has been “lost”. Heart attacks can easily be staged on a victim by trained special ops agents. Kubric was killed for revealing to the “unilluminated” what the illuminated class are about. Kubric’s message was that we are all walking with our eyes wide shut to the real order that exists. Read the essay, and watch the movie again. The movie is a masterpiece.


  59. I was blown away by Depp’s performance and that of the supporting cast in NG. I interpreted it to be a story of ‘occult addiction’ and the seductive properties of being swept up from one man’s ordinariness to one of higher knowledge and unbelievable power. A very potent drug, indeed. Some were consumed by the drug, and others understood its nuances better, but still never fully knew if they controlled it or it controlled them. The Ninth Gate remains one of my favorite films.


  60. If you listen to Polanski’s directors commentary, he readily admits that his movie is only based upon the book. El Club Dumas has several plots that intertwine and would be impossible to make into a feature movie without it running over six hours long. This is why the book was not tied to the movie for marketing purposes.
    I think the Ninth Gate is a superb piece of craftsmanship. Polanski made it in the slower style of movies before all the frenetic editing cuts and enormous close ups that litter todays movies. As well, the attention to detail in the scenery is unparalleled. He apparently got the same team that did the set designs for the Godfather movies, and what a job they did. Intricate detail in every frame. The scene where the St. Marten woman dumps his bag out after they have sex! I just kept rewinding it and looking at the items that came pouring out. As for the story, no one was a good guy. Which I love in any story. None of this good versus evil nonsense that modern movie making can’t seem to get away from. You find yourself cheering for a real bastard as he matches wits against other bastards.
    BTW, the character of the girl was a supernatural being in the book as well. Its just that Polanski chose to show her abilities in a more blunt way for the audience.

  61. Kubrick brilliantly cast Cruise and Kidman for the same reason he cast Nicholson in The Shining, and why Hitchcock cast Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

    Because to use what the audience already knows about the actors as part of the expanding experience is a rarely used but extraordinary tool.

    They were perfectly cast.

  62. Wow. This post really is one of the most naive things I’ve seen on BB, right up there with the coverage of Venezuela.

    Anyway, back to topic. EWS has so much more going on than NG, author is way off. There’s a reason Kubrick has the reputation he does: I’d say the sheer number of interpretations possible in his work is a testament to that.

    One theme that hasn’t really been mentioned is the all-too-human desire to be part of a social circle that the protagonist feels is going on around him, just out of reach. Once penetrated, its all smoke and mirrors, perhaps not real at all: a dream, a product of his paranoid and sexual fantasies.

  63. Yes, the girl was definitely Lucifer in the book. She only prodded the protagonist on when she thought he needed it. She seemed to be grooming him as it were. She preferred Corso (Depp) over his rival and took his side as much as she could. You’d have to read the book to understand fully. Polanski made her more physical in the movie because he couldn’t spend the requisite time showing it as it was in the book without bogging the movie down. I highly recommend the directors commentary for anyone who wants further insight into a movie that so many are ready to pan off as a B movie. As I said before, Polanski filmed it in a particular style (which may seem dated now) as an homage of sorts to the old Noir films he loves.

  64. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to compare The Ninth Gate and Eyes Wide Shut on purely “occultist” grounds, as the former is steeped in such matters from beginning to end and the latter is far more far-reaching and wide-ranging in its thematic scope. That being said, I find TNG to be utterly preposterous in almost every way, with its awful CGI, cheesy stock characters and amateurishly nonsensical ending. I have to echo the comments already made here that it looks and sounds like nothing more than a b-movie. A b-movie with above-average cinematography, but a b-movie nonetheless.

    Additionally, the whole occult angle in TNG just comes off as silly. The tone of the film is awfully inconsistent, making one curious with foreboding dread one minute and gawking at the unintentional hilarity of it all the next. It just doesn’t work. And if you compare the “ritual” scene in TNG with the one in EWS there is quite a difference. The former seems, again, straight out of a b-movie; even if Polanski was trying to comment on the inherent ridiculousness of these gatherings, it simply makes the scene itself ridiculous in the worst way. Hard to take seriously, much like the bulk of the film.

    On the other hand, the ritualized orgy sequence in EWS is masterful in its dread-inducing atmosphere. At the end of the film, we the audience don’t know for sure if it’s just a bunch of harmless sexually-charged fun dressed up in occultist nonsense or if it’s a legitimately malevolent and powerful gathering of the upper-crust of society. This haunting ambiguity, combined with Kubrick’s contrast of the Harford’s dull bourgeois day-to-day life with the hidden realm of unspeakable power and mystery found in the ritual sequence, is eons more compelling than the outdated, misguided and, above all, clichéd pseudo-occultist gobbledygook of The Ninth Gate.

  65. Late to the party, and strongly of the opinion that Eyes Wide Shut is more properly compared to Polanski’s Bitter Moon, as both are about obsessive, malformed sexuality. EWS is a masterpiece, and an extraordinarily perceptive film about relationships and power dynamics. It is about the occult (hidden) levels in society, but not about the “masks and rituals” occult. Perhaps it is about occult levels of Cruise’s own mind, as well.

    Cruise and Kidman are perfectly cast in it. Cruise, whose only truly great performance was as the insecure, slightly dim-bulb high-schooler in Risky Business, now arrives at the peak of his powers — one of the biggest stars on the planet — but is revealed as the same insecure, slightly dim-bulb child-man with a marriage in tatters (as it was, in real life). He thinks himself the master of the universe but discovers he is but a servant, impotent and clueless, wandering with “eyes wide shut.”

    I recommend everyone watch EWS at least twice. What seems dull and pointless the first time might suddenly fall into focus. Kubrick was no dummy, and his work was inevitably non-trivial. Many of his films got lukewarm or worse receptions when they first arrived. Clockwork Orange,The Shining and Full Metal Jacket have all picked up strong critical and cult followings despite being widely dismissed on their first release. Eyes Wide Shut is beginning the same slow ascent up the critical ladder.

    Kubrick was so far ahead of the pack his films seemed to arrive from a different planet. EWS looks like it might have suffered from inadequate post-production (especially if the studio molested it after his death). But it still holds up as one of the most terrifyingly astute films about the desolate psychic spaces that comprise modern relationships.

  66. If you want a movie that suggests what Kubrick was after, try watching Roger Corman’s film of Masque of the Red Death– a strikingly similar vision of sex as something that the rich get to indulge in, while all the consequences fall on the poor they exploit. I don’t think EWS entirely works, but Kubrick’s picture of medieval excess in the midst of modern New York makes a lot more sense (not to mention, it ties EWS to his other great study of class, Barry Lyndon).

  67. This would be an interesting comparison/contrast critique of two master filmmaker’s work…IF the writer had chosen Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” rather than “The 9th Gate.” Most critics (myself included) felt that “Eyes” AND “9th Gate” were failed movies. “Gate” was largely dismissed as a by-the-numbers hackjob. So this article is at it’s core, pseudo-analysis. As if the writer were comparing Kubrick’s failed effort to any number of pulpy genre films, like “The Ring” or “Stigmata.” An example of simplistic “auteurist” labeling. Polanski is an auteur, therefore every work of his is worthy of deconstruction. Ain’t so. He’s uneven; some of Polanski’s work is just mediocre. Go back and check the body of reviews on “9th Gate.”

  68. Eyes Wide Shut is music for the eyes. I remember being sad and bored after my first viewing of it, thinking that the master had lost his mojo. But I caught a few times since then, and was astonished by it’s formalistic beauty and psychological insight.

    It wasn’t “about” the occult any more than Lolita was “about” pedophilia.

  69. This article makes me think of the original Wickerman movie. The pagan religion practiced by an island community is seen as profane by the upstanding Christian police officer who visits because it celebrates values which Christianity condemns (sexual promiscuity, virility, fecundity, human sacrifice), but one might be hard pressed to try and argue that their way of life is wrong without using Christian rhetoric.

  70. In terms of Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”: This film was never intended to be “real” or about cults. Kubrick’s wife said that he made the film because so many of his friends were having affairs and ending in divorce. Kubrick was about cutting through the crap and showing life the way it really is – although he uses film.

    The opening scene says it all as Cruise and Kidman get ready. They are beautiful & rich. Yet, she still sits on the toilet and pees while holding a conversation with Cruise. They are just like everyone else. They have fantasy’s (like everyone else) but she makes the mistake of telling Cruise about her fantasy. Again, all married people know their spouse fantasizes about having sex with others. We just don’t openly talk about it.

    The last line sums up the film. “What do we do know?” “Fuck.”
    This film is about the honest realization of married people that they have wants outside the marriage. Even the rich and beautiful.

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