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Behind the scenes – The shooting of “Eyes Wide Shut”

Larissa Harris
Warner Bros/Getty Image
Warner Bros/Getty Image

Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley Kubrick’s last film which not only stood the test of time, but since its premiere in 1999 has kept on stirring discussions and analysis about its allusiveness, mysteriousness and peculiar events that happened during the 15-month shoot of the film.

The film is based on the 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler, however, it is not completely true to the main plot and themes, which take a different course in the adaptation.

In The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick by Jerold Abrams, Kubrick explained his particular interest in the novella which he later recreated.

Stanley Kubrick, during filiming of his movie 2001: a Space Odyssey. (Photo by Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Stanley Kubrick, during filiming of his movie 2001: a Space Odyssey. (Photo by Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

“The book explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-been with reality. The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

Kubrick kept the royalties of Schnitzler’s work for almost 30 years during which he also filmed his masterpiece A Clockwork Orange.

Stanley Kubrick, aged 21, in 1949.

Stanley Kubrick, aged 21, in 1949.

The film’s theme is embodied in the actions of the protagonists, starring the real-life, then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were so dedicated to the filming of Eyes Wide Shut that they agreed to film for a successive six months, during which Cruise, then at the peak of his career, had to delay filming of other projects.

Nicole Kidman at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

Nicole Kidman at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

This “to the hilt” approach was the main working strategy of the entire film crew which later won a place in the Guinness World Records as the longest continual movie shoot of 400 days in total.

The overtly dynamic workflow had its downsides — Cruise developed ulcers during the shooting and later said in an interview for TIME Magazine: “I wanted this to work, but you’re playing with dynamite when you act. Emotions kick up. You try not to kick things up, but you go through things you can’t help.”

Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

However, Cruise added: “We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed and we were going to do what it took to do this picture… I didn’t like playing Dr. Bill. I didn’t like him. It was unpleasant. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.”

Glamorous Hollywood leading Ladies Quotes.

Kubrick’s communication with the actors, as well as his expectations during the filming, were intense. He wanted to present the essence of the Cruise-Kidman real-life relationship so he asked the couple to choose details of their on-screen bedroom and also prevented Cruise from coming to the set when he shot Kidman’s sex scene with a male actor in order to provoke a spark of jealousy which, Kubrick believed, would improve the portrayal of their characters.

Kubrick with showgirl Rosemary Williams in 1949.

Kubrick with showgirl Rosemary Williams in 1949.

Eyes Wide Shut was a very personal film to Kubrick as he recreated his and his wife’s private apartment as the set of the film’s New York apartment. The eccentric behavior of Kubrick extended during the filming and he even made Cruise do 95 takes of a scene of walking through a door.

Read another story from us: Lost Stanley Kubrick script discovered & in perfect shape to be filmed

Kubrick died several days after showing his cut of the film to Warner Bros. That still begs the question of how much more time he would have taken to finish the editing. On one occasion, Kidman stated her doubts over the possibility of Kubrick’s final cut as she said that he was a perfectionist who was never fully satisfied with the results of his work and kept on tinkering with long-finished projects. Nevertheless, Eyes Wide Shut reached the top of the box office, earning $30,196,742 and thus becoming Kubrick’s most highly profitable film.