Watch: Why Stanley Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut' is the Ultimate Immersive Experience
Stanley Kubrick was a master architect of immersive worlds, as evidenced in a new video essay.
Watching Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut feels like wandering the landscape of a strange, half-remembered dream. Something is a bit off-kilter; a pervasive sense of paranoia lingers, coloring every moment with a vague unease. Nevertheless, you can't look away. The film is as hypnotic as it is disquieting.
In Eyes Wide Shut, as in all of his films, Kubrick achieves total immersion. He steeps his audiences in a world he has carefully constructed to swallow us whole. In a new video essay, Evan Puschak (AKA Nerdwriter) explores how Kubrick spent his career probing and solving the questions of immersive storytelling. "As such," Nerdwriter says in the video, "it's easy to imagine his films as worlds, like video games, or even virtual reality rides where we glide through narrative spaces—intensely involved, but never in control."
Kubrick steeps his audiences in a world he has carefully constructed to swallow us whole.
But for all his meticulous style, "Kubrick never lets us forget what the purpose of style actually is: a lens that gives the viewer a point of access to the material." New filmmakers should keep this in mind, notes Nerdwriter, who then goes on to break down the elements that comprise Eyes Wide Shut's immersive style.
Eyes Wide Shut is a slow movie on the narrative level, as Nerdwriter remarks in the video, and the pace is never more apparent than in the dialogue. "Listening to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman speak is like watching a dripping faucet—every word drops out of their mouths with the same lifeless rhythm," he says. The stilted dialogue adds to the otherworldly haze of the film.
At 400 days, Eyes Wide Shut holds the Guinness Record for the longest film production ever. Kubrick pushed his cast and crew well beyond exhaustion—into what Nerdwriter calls a "dreamy detachment," which plays out on Kidman and Cruise's faces throughout the film. This, too, enhances the sense of the uncanny. It also serves to distance us from Cruise's character, Bill; his flat, detached affect discourages empathy.
Finally, Kubrick's elements of style fuse to create what philosopher Alessandro Giovannelli calls experiential identification, in which the result of occupying the characters' perspectives while not empathizing with them is that the perspective becomes your own. As in a video game or virtual reality experience, we are subsumed into the character of Bill.
"When Bill puts on his mask and erases his identity completely," says Nerdwriter, "it's a moment of deeper immersion...a systematic effort to swap you in for the protagonist."
What do you think is the most immersive scene in 'Eyes Wide Shut'? Let us know in the comments.