In the third and final part of this series on Eyes Wide Shut, we’ll look at Bill’s journey as a whole and at its underlying esoteric meaning. We’ll see how symbolism placed by Kubrick connects all of the women in the movie, making Bill’s encounters a multi-faceted exploration of the feminine principle.
The previous parts of this series of articles on Eyes Wide Shut were solely dedicated to the secret society discovered by Bill. This elite club, attended by the world’s most powerful people, deals with Satanism, black magick, and even ritual sacrifices. Aided by his friend Nightingale, Bill infiltrates one of the secret society’s occult rituals and witnesses a ceremony presided over by a high priest. Then an orgy ensued.
In the second article, I explained how real life secret societies, such as the Hellfire club and the O.T.O., actually practice these kinds of rituals. The occult principles behind them derive from Tantric yoga, where the energy generated by physical arousal is used to reach a “higher state”. This concept was reused (and maybe corrupted) by Aleister Crowley who called it “Sex Magick”. According to him and his peers, knowledge of this type of magick was the biggest secret of past secret societies and was only disclosed to the highest initiates.
There is, however, no (direct) mention of any of this in Eyes Wide Shut. In fact, the ceremony witnessed by Bill, with its elaborate choreography and its creepy music, appears to be one big, empty, phony piece of dramatic theater that simply exists to give the rich people some kind of mystical reason to engage in gratuitous debauchery. While Kubrick stripped the occult ritual of all of its esoteric, “magickal” meaning, he did infuse the entire movie with it. If one looks at the pace of the movie, at Bill’s journey and the people he encounters, it becomes somewhat apparent that the “magick” does not occur during the ritual itself but during the movie as a whole. Was Kubrick somehow initiated into occult secrets? Was he trying to communicate them through his movie? Let’s look at the concepts behind the ritual.
The concept of magick through reproductive forces is said to originate from ancient ritual practices, as traces of it can be found in Hinduism, Taoism and in Medieval secret societies, such as the Knight Templars. In today’s Western world, the O.T.O is said to be the heir of this path as it claimed by Aleister Crowley and his acolyte, Theodor Reuss.
“Theodor Reuss was quite categoric: the OTO was a body of initiates in whose hands was concentrated the secret knowledge of all oriental orders and of all existing Masonic degrees.(…) The order had “rediscovered” the great secret of the Knights Templar, the magic of sex, not only the key to ancient Egyptian and hermetic tradition, but to all the secrets of nature, all the symbolism of Freemasonry, and all systems of religion.”
– Peter Tomkins, The Magic of Obelisks
The basic principle behind this “great secret” is the raising of the Kundalini or “life force”, an energy that can be used for magickal purposes.
“In all Tantric magic, the essential requirement – whether in the ecstasy of couples or the solo ritual of a priestess – involved the raising of the energy known as the serpent of fire, or kundalini. This mysterious energy described as lying dormant in the lowest of the seven chakras, can be aroused by two distinct methods, called, traditionally, the right- and the left-hand path. The right hand allots supremacy to the male principle, the left to the feminine. As the serpent power is aroused, according to clairvoyants, it climbs up the backbone of the adept, energizing each chakra, till it emerges from the skull – symbolically as the snake’s head like those so clearly depicted in Egyptian statuary.
As adepts describe the rising of the serpent, it unites with the “many-petaled louts of the cerebral region” to bring about illumination – or the highest form of initiation -as the current “climbs from the duality to unity by reversing the path it originally took the chakras to procreate humanity.”
Details of the OTO’s initiation into Hindu and Tibetan Tantra, including ceremonies involving the use of “exudation” from specifically trained priestess were brought to a wider public by Crowley’s follower Kenneth Grant. Sacred courtesans, experts in ritual eroticism, known in India as nautch girls (…) were exceptionally honored.”
While sacred courtesans were “exceptionally honored” in Eastern esotericism, today’s twisted black magic orders use Beta Programming slaves and dispose of them when they are through with them. In short, the exact opposite of being “exceptionally honored”.
Kundalini rising, the concept behind Tantric magic is wholly represented in a single image, Eliphas Levi’s depiction of Baphomet.
So what does all of this have to do with Eyes Wide Shut? At first glance, nothing much. While we see a ritual involving “sacred courtesans” in the movie, there is absolutely no mention of “kundalini rising” during the whole thing. However, if we take a closer look at Bill’s journey as a whole, from the beginning of the movie to the end, we realize that the real ritual does not occur at the elite mansion but within Bill’s head. As he encounters new women and is exposed to new opportunities, his kundalini rises – and Kubrick added clues to denote this fact.
The Movie as a Ritual
While Eyes Wide Shut appears to be all about sexuality, nobody in the movie ever reaches climax. While Bill has many chances of satisfying his urges with attractive women, it never actually happens. However, as the movie progresses, there’s a definite increase in desire and lust, but Bill manages to keep it under control. Managing this “life force” is at the core of Tantric magic. Viewers are constantly reminded of this process several times during the movie when Bill imagines his wife with a naval officer. Each flash is increasingly intense – going from kissing to all-out copulating.
The very last lines of the movie conclude and define Bill’s journey. After running around New York and getting aroused by all kinds of stuff, Bill stands face-to-face with his wife and talks about how “awake” he is now. With his “life force” fully charged, Alice ends the movie with a phrase completing the ritual:
“- I do love you. And you know, there is something very important that we need to do a soon as possible.
– What’s that?
Ending the movie on that particular note suggests that the entire journey was one of increasing intensity, one that ultimately leads to a “magickally charged ” climax, the goal of Crowleyan-magick.
Bill’s journey was not all fun and games, however. As the movie progresses, there is a constant back-and-forth between pleasure and pain, attraction and repulsion, life and death, and so forth. The path is all about duality and, just like the floors of Masonic lodges are checkered in black and white, Bill’s journey consists on his alternatively stepping on black and white tiles – seeing the dualistic nature of all things.
Eros and Thanatos
Bill’s night out in New York City is characterized by numerous encounters with the female gender – each one of them offering a “cure” to a broken heart. However, each encounter also bears a potentially destructive aspect to it, one that counterbalances its appeal and attraction. While Bill is looking to procreate, he sees that his urges engender pain and even death. Bill’s journey is, therefore, a back-and-forth between man’s two basic impulses as defined by Freud: Eros and Thanatos.
Freud saw in Eros the instinct for life, love and sexuality in its broadest sense, and in Thanatos, the instinct of death, aggression. Eros is the drive toward attraction and reproduction; Thanatos toward repulsion and death. One leads to the reproduction of the species, the other toward its own destruction. While each one of Bill’s encounters promises the sweet temptation of lust, they also have a destructive counter side.
Each one of Bill’s female encounters promises gratification but ends up being interrupted by something negative, such as guilt or potential danger. Also, every time Bill is in contact with the sleazy-yet-tempting aspects of lust (prostitution or slavery), he quickly discovers the dark, exploitative and destructive side of it.
For instance, right after Bill enjoyed the “delights” of seeing MK Kittens at work at the elite ritual when returning his costume, he immediately sees the dark side of it all. The shop owner, who previously caught his underage daughter with two Asian businessmen and was outraged by it, had a sudden change of heart.
Bill’s journey is, therefore, one that continually alternates between the primal allure of lust and the destructive social constructs that are erected around it. There is nothing more basic and instinctual than carnal attraction, but our modern world has made these relations complex, bound by rules, and prone to exploitation. While lust is nature’s way of pushing humans to procreate, social constructs have created all kinds fetishes, distortions, games, and perversions around this primal urge … to the point that it has been denatured and debased into an unhealthy obsession.
As Bill navigates between joy and pain, monogamous marriage and anonymous debauchery, we notice that there’s a common thread uniting his various encounters.
The most important women in the movie are Bill’s wife, his daughter Helena, Amanda (the Beta slave who was sacrificed at the ritual) and Domino (a prostitute he met on the street). All three adult women are somewhat physically similar as they are tall, well-proportioned, and red-headed. They also appear to be connected on “another level”.
While Alice is a respectable, upper-class lady, she makes a living using her looks in a loveless relationship, a little like what a prostitute would do. On the other hand, the time spent between Bill and Domino is sweet and tender, a little with what happens in a loving relationship. Alice is therefore not very different from Domino, and vice-versa.
There are also links with Amanda. While Alice was (probably) not at the occult ritual attended by Bill, when he comes back from it, she describes to him a dream that is similar to what he just witnessed and what Amanda just experienced.
“He was kissing me. Then we were making love. Then there were all these other people around us, hundreds of them, everywhere. Everyone was f-cking. And then I …I was f-cking other men. So many. I don’t know how many I was with. And I knew you could see me in the arms of all these men … just f-cking all these men.”
Alice’s dream “connects” her with Amanda who was at the ritual and who actually lived Alice’s dream.
Was Domino in the ritual? It is also interesting to point out that “Domino” is a type of mask used in these types of gatherings.
Looking closer at the “magic circle” formed by the women of the ritual, we can identify a few women who could be Domino. The day after the ritual, Bill shows up at Domino’s house with a gift, but her roommate informs him that she is HIV-positive … and that she might never be back again. Is this true or was Domino yet another “casualty” in Bill’s journey? Like Amanda and Nightingale, Domino mysteriously disappears after the ritual.
The fact that these women are all connected reveals one fundamental fact: Bill’s journey is not about a specific woman, it is about the feminine principle as a whole. It is an esoteric quest to understand and “be one with” the feminine principle that is opposite to his.
Helena Down the Same Path?
Throughout the movie, Helena (Bill’s daughter) is shown to be groomed to be another Alice. There are also some cues linking Helena to Domino. For instance, there’s a stroller in front of Domino’s apartment and, at the end in the movie, in the toy store, Helena is very interested in a stroller and shows it to her mother.
There is also something strange about the scene above: The two men behind Helena happened to be at Ziegler’s party at the very beginning of the movie.
Why are these two men in the store, looking at toys? Is New York City such a small town? Was Kubrick lacking extras to appear in that scene? Unlikely. Could it be that they’re part of the secret society that’s been following Bill and his family? Strange fact: When the men walk away and disappear from the shot, Helena appears to follow them … and we don’t see her for the rest of the movie. The camera indeed zooms onto Alice and Bill, who are completely absorbed with themselves. Is this a VERY subtle way of saying that their daughter will be sucked in by the Beta slave system of the secret society? Another enigma.
Stanley Kubrick’s works are never strictly about love or relationships. The meticulous symbolism and the imagery of all of his works often communicate another dimension of meaning–one that transcends the personal to become a commentary on our epoch and civilization. And, in this transitional period between the end of 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, Kubrick told the story of a confused man who wanders around, desperately looking for a way to satisfy his primal urges. Kubrick told the story of a society that is completely debased and corrupted by hidden forces, where humanity’s most primal urge–procreation–has been cheapened, fetishized, perverted and exploited to a point that it has lost all of its beauty. At the top of this world is a secret society that revels in this context, and thrives on it. Kubrick’s outlook on the issue was definitely not idealistic nor very optimistic.
His grim tale focuses on a single man, Bill, who is looking for an undefined something. Even if he appears to have everything, there is something missing in his life. Something visceral and fundamental that is never put into words, but that is quite palpable. Bill cannot be complete if he is not at peace with the opposite of him: the feminine principle. Bill’s quest, therefore, follows the esoteric principle of uniting two opposing forces into one. As suggested by the last lines of the movie, Bill will ultimately “be one” and get physical with his wife. After that, the alchemical process and the Tantric ritual would be complete. However, as Kubrick somehow communicates in the final scene, even if these two extremely self-absorbed, egotistical and superficial people believe they’ve reached some kind of epiphany, what does it really change? Our civilization as a whole still has its eyes wide shut … and those were Kubrick’s last cinematographic words.