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On the Ethics of Interpretive Representation

Elsewhere on this site, I have conveyed my intent to maintain The 33 Degrees of Eyes Wide Shut as a strictly apolitical work, with the focus limited to my attempts at an objective– if somewhat speculative– analysis regarding the content of Eyes Wide Shut. To some degree, that may be an innately unkeepable promise. There is an argument to be made that all representation through discourse is unavoidably biased, or that politicization is an indispensable quality introduced by the chosen medium of communication. Beyond this, there is also an irradicable possibility that my work may be commonly ascribed a level of unintended politicization by a reader or group of readers– in fact, based on a few correspondences I have received, this appears to have already happened, if only to some mild and innocuous extent.

What I would like to do here on this page may seem like a hypocritical act of politicization to some, but I put forward that it is simply a compensatory de-politicization for the purpose of bringing the pendulum of interpretation back to its neutral centre.

In A Pre-Emptive Rebuttal to Accusations of Delusion, I write that, in keeping with the spirit of the film, I think most of the fringe interpretation of Eyes Wide Shut should be encouraged, due to the fact that the film plainly invites conspiratorial thinking. In offering the caveat “most of“, I am perhaps in a sense already breaking my aforementioned promise of apoliticism. However, this is not simply to impose my own limits on acceptability, but to take into account those of Eyes Wide Shut‘s primary creator, which I would consider part and parcel of “the spirit of the film“. Stanley Kubrick’s intention with the film, if it can be usefully established, is relevant here. It is worthwhile to investigate whether his potential position on a few matters could be plausibly calculated from historical context.

First, let us consider the sort of vague amorality in how Eyes Wide Shut wilfully manipulates its audience’s sense of reality as a metafictional extension of the film’s narrative. Its chief architect is evidently unconcerned about the exact impressionability of a viewer to the film’s machinations. He only seems to care that the seeds for a paranoid suspicion of reality are planted, with the further specifics of this uncertainty flowering differently in the minds of each individual viewer. These specifics, for all he apparently minds, might well be flavoured by the pathologies of the audience member’s own worldview. Judging by what the film presents us with, we can perhaps gauge that, from Kubrick’s perspective during its creation in the 1990s, there was no such thing as “too suspicious” an audience for the movie. Maybe a better way of phrasing this is that Kubrick perhaps thought it was not achievable for the film to inspire what he saw as an undesirable level of apprehensive suspicion.

I do not claim to be the conduit ambassador for the late Stanley Kubrick, and cannot tell you what he might think of the current state of social affairs, or of how culture has changed since his passing more than two decades ago. I do not know exactly how conspiratorial he was by nature, or what his general feelings were in regards to Freemasonry; the cornerstone of this website’s analysis. What I can tell you is that Kubrick personally had A Clockwork Orange removed from British cinemas after it unintentionally inspired acts of violence.

Stanley did not live to see what we might term the “QAnon” era, or the diverse adoption of conspiracy culture in the wake of The Internet and social media. He certainly did not live to see the apparently subsequent outcomes of such a culture, including (among much else) instances of arson targeting Masonic lodges. Given how relevant the last 20 years of far-reaching social changes are to the conceptual heart of Eyes Wide Shut, I think it is fair to raise two questions: could Stanley have fully anticipated the future contexts in which the film would be interpreted? And, if he could, would he still have made the same film, complete with its hidden “Scottish Rite” cipher?

We are given an unusual obstacle in trying to suppose some probable answers to these queries. Not only are we left to infer the distanced-by-decades opinion of Kubrick– whose renowned will to privacy during his lifetime makes this in itself a difficult task– but on the most immediate considerations, the mere fact that many elements of Eyes Wide Shut are specifically designed to resist detection and interpretation makes their motivations seem all the more untraceable. As a result, we cannot simply measure Kubrick’s intentions with the film against them.

This deliberate resistance to explanation, however, is a ‘double-sided coin’. In the act of suppressing meaning, it contrarily reveals meaning of a different kind. This brings us to what I believe is the crux of the issue, and I think the more conspiratorial-minded reader should pay close attention, here.

For all its ingenious awareness of audience psychology, Eyes Wide Shut does appear to “give away its metafictional hand” at least partially, due to one irreducible facet of its core premise. Consider that if the film wants to communicate something literal or objective about the world in which we live, its trickster-like equivalency of “Is this just a movie?” with “Is this just a dream?” would seem to be highly antithetical to such a goal. We only need to meditate on it for a few moments to realize how expressly designed it is for the purpose of maintaining our attentions and manipulating us with bewilderment. It is similar to the exploitative con famously used by the TV show, The X-Files— another conspiratorial touchstone of the 1990s zeitgeist– wherein the amorphous “truth” was always just around some other corner, if only the viewer would tune in the following week. This addicting mechanism (“Thank you, Mario! But our princess is in another castle!”) can be easily identified by its recurrent nature, and in Eyes Wide Shut, it can be plainly observed as manifesting in more than one variety. Not only does the film ontologically confuse us with the dichotomy of “dream/movie vs. reality”, but it episodically manipulates us with the flow of the plot, as all forms of closure mysteriously elude the protagonist (with whom the audience is meant to metafictionally identify) at every turn. On its face, this narrative evasiveness could potentially implicate the film’s “Scottish Rite code” as some kind of hoax on the gullible.

Of course, and as I have already written, I am simply gauging context through probabilistic observation. For all we actually know, Stanley might have had (for example) some kind of genuine anti-Masonic stance and felt as though ambiguity was somehow useful in the conveyance of some “important message”. We should also not assume that he has necessarily conceptualized the film with the most infallible or “moral” motivations. I am treading a delicate line here, because in each direction I risk either unduly discarding context, or putting my own words into Kubrick’s mouth; both of which I consider undesirable outcomes.

With no definitive conclusion to offer (just as Stanley seems to have originally hoped for), I will leave you to your final judgements. However, whether you accept my general theories as valid or not, you could please do me this favour: if someone links to my analysis under the pretence that it is some kind of validating “magic bullet” argument for their conspiratorial worldview, show them this page and have them read it. You might also advise them that there is some potential self-reflection to be gleaned from Implications of the Masonic Code for Kubrick, His Oeuvre and the Medium.

With much gratitude and appreciation for your level-headedness,


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