Connecting the dots that make up the hitherto-unexplored similarities between Stanley Kubrick and Doris Wishman.
So I know there will be many dedicated cinephiles out there who have just unleashed a howl of outrage after reading the premise for this piece, and even a few who will be busy organising a fire on which to burn me for this heresy against cinema. Well, all I can say is put down the kindling and hear me out. Not only is this double bill seasonal, it isn’t as dumb as it first appears.
Eyes Wide Shut stars then real-life couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as husband and wife Bill & Alice Harford. He is a doctor and they are obviously well off, living in a plush apartment with their ten-year-old daughter; but it’s clear that they are just coasting emotionally. After attending a Christmas party at which Bill flirts with two models while Alice is propositioned by a Hungarian gentleman, the two get stoned and Alice reveals how she toyed with the idea of cheating on him with a young naval officer she saw in a hotel lobby while on vacation early in their marriage. Traumatised by this revelation, he embarks on a nighttime odyssey in search of his own sexual adventure.
In Love Toy, Marcus (Larry Hunter, billed as Vic Lester) is a degenerate gambler who loses everything he owns in a card game to Alex (Bernard Marcel) including his home and his factory. Alex offers Marcus a way out… he will tear up all the IOUs for one night with his teenage daughter Chris (Pat Happel). Desperate and facing complete ruin, he reluctantly agrees to the deal. Alex heads to the daughter’s room leaving Marcus in the clutches of his wife Mary (Uta Erickson, billed as Willa Mist) who proceeds to torment the broken man.
Both Kubrick’s divisive directorial swansong and Wishman’s weirdly hypnotic, slightly tawdry sexploitation film are about men on a nocturnal mission to pursue their fantasies and what they will give in order to attain them – or at least that’s what they initially seem to be about.
In Eyes Wide Shut, Bill is given many opportunities to achieve his goal. First with a woman called Marion (Marie Richardson) who professes to be in love with him after her father has died, then with Domino (Vinessa Shaw), a prostitute he encounters on the street and finally at the masked orgy he bluffs his way into. There is even a brief, possibly flirtatious encounter with the teenage daughter of the man he rents the costume from to attend the masked orgy. Despite all these opportunities, his efforts are constantly frustrated and end in complete failure. In fact, there are echoes of Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie in the absurdity of his inability to achieve anything.
In contrast to Bill, Alex manages to seize the opportunity afforded to him completely, but he isn’t just interested in sex with Marcus’s daughter. Instead, he uses the opportunity to play out a huge variety of fantasies. He first turns her into a substitute for the cat he lost as a child by making her drink milk from a saucer on the floor. He then imagines her first as a more attentive version of his mother and then a more subservient version of his wife. He then has her pretend that she is his own daughter, spanking her for playing around with boys before telling her he has bought her the horsey she always wanted, making her first ride on his back naked while beating him with his belt. He has her play the role of his imaginary mistress, observed by Mary while they have sex. Finally, he bullies Marcus into watching the ensuing threesome before forcing him to have sex with his own daughter.
Both men seem to be in some sort of sexual crisis, but on opposing ends of the spectrum. Bill sees himself as inadequate in the aftermath of his wife’s confession and is at least partially motivated to pursue a sexual encounter with the prostitute after he is harassed and further humiliated by a gang of young men who mock his sexuality, knocking him to the ground calling him a ‘switch hitter’ and a ‘faggot’. Alex’s sexuality is certainly ambivalent too. When he tells Chris he has bought her the horsey she always wanted, he accidentally says that he always wanted it before correcting himself. He likes being in control but also enjoys being submissive while role-playing, including being whipped, and he describes always wanting a mistress but never having the courage to have one in real life. Unlike Bill, Alex is clearly a man using the whole night to work some shit out.
The idea of a father essentially prostituting his own daughter is the entire plot of Love Toy, but the same thing occurs in Eyes Wide Shut. Mr Milich (Rade Šerbedžija), the costume shop proprietor, is outraged to discover his daughter (played by Leelee Sobieski in a clear reference to Kubrick’s earlier Lolita) messing around with two cross-dressing Japanese men, but when Bill later returns the costume, Milich makes it clear that he has come to an understanding with his daughter and would not object to Bill having sex with her.
But maybe things aren’t like this at all.
In Eyes Wide Shut, Bill returns home after a night of frustration to find Alice laughing in her sleep. When he wakes her, she tells him that she was dreaming about having sex with not only the naval officer but multiple other men, all in front of her humiliated husband. It raises the possibility that Alice’s confession about the naval officer was born out of her infuriation at her husband’s inability to see what is going on right under his nose, that she was in fact successfully seduced by the Hungarian man at the party and later accompanied him to the masked orgy, and that the humiliation of Bill that Alice describes occurring in her dream actually did happen in reality. It’s just that Bill was completely unaware that it was happening.
Love Toy ends with Chris being murdered by her father, who is outraged at her willingness to go along with Alex’s demands, only for the entire film to be revealed as her dream. But in a Dead Of Night/Invaders From Mars-like twist, Alex enters the room and the film’s events look set to play out in reality. The conclusion of Eyes Wide Shut also toys with the idea of fantasy and reality, but in a more meta way. At the end of the film, the couple reconciles with Alice telling Bill that they need to fuck as soon as possible, but it’s an unconvincing moment. It’s clear the couple is finished, and indeed Cruise and Kidman split not long after filming ended. The couple’s relationship ends up playing out more authentically in real life than it does in the film itself.
Eyes Wide Shut often flows with the logic of a dream that eventually becomes a nightmare of unfulfilled desire. Love Toy is all dream, one that maybe represents the daughter’s twisted fantasy about a man who would give up a huge financial gain to be with her or a humiliating revenge on her useless father. Maybe Eyes Wide Shut was Alice’s fantasy all along. From this perspective, both films are ultimately driven, whether directly or indirectly by female fantasies about flawed, somewhat pathetic male characters.
So how’s that fire looking?
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