Eyes Wide Shut

eyes-wide-shutToday’s script is very similar to, but not quite the same thing as, what Kubrick finally shot under the banner Eyes Wide Shut. I also know that there is tension between Kubrick’s estate and his screenwriting partner in this project, Frederic Raphael. I’ve not read Raphael’s book which caused this friction and, honestly, I don’t really care who is to blame for the tension.

Kubrick [emphatically] earned his place in the history of film. Raphael earned his place in the history of letters. So, try not to interpret what I’m about to say as applying to the issue of the causes of the falling out between Kubrick and Raphael, I mean it when I say I don’t care:

The script, this script, the version I read for this review which is 96 pages long, is outstanding.

It is far superior to the finished film and a new addition to my growing list of favorite screenplays that I’ve read for this site.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Eyes Wide Shut
3. Blood Simple
4. The Matrix
5. Twelve Monkeys

I don’t intend to argue for the superiority of the script over the film; the lionization of Kubrick is too deep to engage in a serious discussion of possible faults. (Besides, I am in the lionization of Kubrick camp myself.) What I will do, however, is wholeheartedly endorse reading the version of this script that is posted to the site forums. As happened with Twelve Monkeys, I am convinced that Raphael’s draft is another instance where the blueprint is appreciably better than the building.

With that out of the way, let’s see how Eyes Wide Shut fares against the [antiquated] 9 questions.

1. Can “we see” the description? A.) Are the images clear and appropriate? B.) Are the sentences free of typos and grammatical errors? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) As usual we will begin with the opening images. (I was unable to copy and paste with this version of the pdf. After this example, I will just refer to the page numbers and not bother to retype the text.):


It is a week before Christmas. The tree is decorated and Christmas cards stand open everywhere in the comfortable Central Park West apartment.

Settled into the couch in the living room, watching TV, are seven year-old, HELENA, and the BABY-SITTER, a young college girl.


BILL and ALICE HARFORD, an attractive couple in their thirties, are in evening clothes preparing to leave for a party.

I want to rave about these opening lines, but the truth is that what is so great about them is only just becoming apparent by the time I stop quoting them. The real brilliance is in the masterful control the writer exercises across all the space between Fade In and page 15— the moment where Bill and Alice leave Zeigler’s party.

The first 15 pages of this draft of Eyes Wide Shut seamlessly mesh tone and theme. In fact, these first 15 do this better than ANY OTHER script I’ve ever read. The writer establishes the real world and the real characters we are going to follow… and yet there is never any doubt that this real world feels like a dream, these real characters feel like they are dressed in masks and costumes.

Seriously, it is brilliantly well-done. I highly recommend reading at least the first 15. This is what we should all aspire to when it comes to reinforcing theme with tone.

5 out of 5 points.

Part B) There were few typos and most of these are likely owed to the pdf conversion process.

5 out of 5 points.

2. Does the writer use proper format?

This is one that I would hold up as a great example of formatting for imitation purposes. All the basic structural components are on the page as they should be, but the subtle parts of our technique are ably demonstrated as well.

For instance, if you’ve ever wanted to read an inspiring example of how a three act structure grows organically from the tone and the theme a story starts with, read this script.

10 out of 10 points.

3. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (Parts a and c worth 4 points, Part b worth 2 points.)

Part A) Our second pro script in three weeks which is laced with a fair amount of exposition. Fortunately, the author submerges us fully in the world before it begins and, interestingly, he exactly repeats the dynamics of the exposition every time we get it. Each time exposition is delivered it is always Bill alone in a room with one other person. [Technically Nick and Bill aren’t alone in the Café Sonata when they have their scene of exposition, but they are alone at the table.]

I am convinced this technique of isolating Bill from the rest of the world when he gets to hear the truths of his story is an intentional decision on the part of the author. There are, I would say, two thematic corollaries which arise from Bill’s isolation. [I’ll also note that in this script, exposition=philosophical or psychological truth.]

1. Truth can’t be corroborated.

2. If it can’t be corroborated, then it must be endured alone.

[We will tie these corollaries to a thematic axiom later in question 8.]

4 out of 4 points.

Part B) Well, as we would expect, there is almost continual subtext in this script from the mouth’s of its characters. The inability to copy and paste from the pdf routs my chances for demonstrating how great the subtext in this script actually is.

If you get the chance to read this, though, pay attention to each time Bill says to someone:

I’m a doctor.

Read these scenes for:

1. his goal is in telling the person this information and
2. what effect this information produces on his world.

After you’ve done all that, then remember the structure of the exposition scenes and notice how these “I’m a doctor” scenes are strikingly perfect foils to those scenes. (Seriously, the parallelism is unambiguous and has to be intentional):

2 out of 2 points.

Part C) The characters are finely individuated. There is a slight anachronistic flavor to their speech which I imagine is a tribute to the source material?

4 out of 4 points.

4. Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium in which he’s chosen to tell his story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?

Yes. And there may be a good answer in this script for what makes a script that seems like it could be a play (and this script does have that feeling) absolutely A Movie And Not A Play.

The environment, and by that I mean the changes in the environment and the way Bill experiences them, are independent of the dialogue and TELL A STORY themselves. Put these actors on a stage and have them recite the lines of Eyes Wide Shut, and the story just wouldn’t make any sense.

10 out of 10 points.

5. Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Basically, do I have to hire THIS writer in order to get his original take on things? Are the rest of the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to be original?

Sometimes I wish it were possible for the points awarded in this question to say something about how a particular script is so good it makes a mockery of awarding points to it based on questions like this.

Right now… is one of those times.

10 out of 10 points.

6. Do we have a hook (the first 2 pages)?

Last week, I made something of a definitive statement about how, if you’re writing a straight drama, your subtext is your hook. Well, of course, this week’s script requires me to walk that back from the abyss of definitiveness.

This script has piles of very good subtext in its first 2 pages, but they are not its hook. If you keep reading past 2, and I’d be shocked if you could finish 2 and not go on, you do so because of the tone.

As a reader, you just have to figure out what is going on beneath the surface of this plastic veneer.

15 out of 15 points.

7. Is the hook effective (the next 8 pages)?

Amazingly, this is what happens by page 10:

Bill and Alice go to a party at the uber-rich Zeigler’s house. Bill flirts with two models. Alice flirts with the handsomely European character, Szabo.

That’s it.

And yet, this first 10 is so much more than that. Every detail is exactly placed and contributes to the tone and the theme. It is, really, perfect.

We begin with the opulence and seemingly aristocratic class designations of Bill and Alice. We see them giving orders and being treated with disproportionate respect in the first 2 pages. The baby-sitter, the doorman, and the hired car which Bill can cause to take the baby-sitter home even after they get home late, all create the idea that these are powerful and important people.

A feeling which is smashed to bits when the Harford’s arrive at Zeigler’s house and the third corollary to the main theme is introduced.

3. Only the truly extraordinary have the right to play with their own humanity.

Of course, Zeigler is the manifestation of this corollary that we HEAR FROM DIRECTLY. There is implication from this, that his extraordinariness is related to his wealth (a fact which is reinforced by his giving orders to Bill exactly in the manner Bill gave orders to his inferiors in the first 2 pages), but it is important to realize that wealth is not the only entrance into this club. This part is left hazy, Bill (and we the audience as Bill Surrogates) are only told, “these were not just ordinary people (91)” after which we’re taken no further into their castle because we don’t belong.

Whatever the criteria for membership, the point is that those of us who don’t belong in the castle must maintain the appearance of being “normal” people, because those inside the castle will do something bad to us if we don’t. As importantly, this isn’t specified either, we’re just told by Zeigler:

I don’t think you have any idea how fortunate you are to get out of that situation as easily as you did.

And then to make it all as muddied as possible, we don’t really know if Nick is okay or not. We don’t really know if it was just a coincidence that the 1000 dollar a night hooker happened to overdose on the night she sacrificed herself for our benefit or not. These people might actually kill us if we insist on entering their castle.

15 out of 15 points.

8. Are there enough reveals to maintain the initial hook?

If you have time, read this script just to enjoy it’s structure. I love how delineated the act breaks are and how they are act breaks for specific reasons.

Act one ends on page 30 when the five college kids bully Bill on the sidewalk. His failure to be manly in this scene leads directly to his receptiveness to Domino’s advances. The slights of the first act build until they require an action, in this case not saying no to a prostitute.

Act two ends on page 74. Right after Bill gets his “second warning”. In a beautiful display of structural symmetry, Bill REPEATS the events of act one and two in rapid succession, before the dénouement with Zeigler brings act three to a close.

We re-experience Marion, Domino, and the girl from both of Zeigler’s parties (although now she is in the morgue). I will say that Gibson and his daughter do not make an appearance until the very last scene (and then only symbolically), when the mask ends up on the pillow.

eyes-wide-shut3Chronologically aberrant for sure, but probably more poignant as it gives us our final thematic summation: society is a costume we wear without awareness to keep us from dealing with the truth. The truth is beneath the mask, it’s not for everyone, and it will likely hurt you.

Love is part of the costume.

This is walked back a bit by the ending in which Bill wants them to be “awake forever”. However, the script is called Eyes Wide Shut not

Eyes Wide Open

and Alice [who is always the most honest character in the story] ends with this [notably not the semi-iconic “fuck” last line from the film]:

(whispers as if to herself)
We should never look into the future.

Alice knows the truth that lasts forever:

Love is part of the costume.

So yeah, I thought all of this was eight tenths of the way to genius and you should take the time to read it if you can. What is so great about this structure is that there is nothing arbitrary about it. We move toward each act break because there is no where else to go.

8 out of 10.

9. Does the script recognize the size of its most likely audience, and deliver a story with a realizable profit?

162 million worldwide on a budget of 65 million. However, there’s no way this movie gets off the ground without Kubrick’s name attached AND if he didn’t die before it was released I don’t think it would have made a profit.

6 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 94


This is a great script to a movie that was not nearly as great. I hope that people take the time to read this version of this story. It really is one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and has much to teach.


3 responses to “Eyes Wide Shut

  1. I found a few more of the old reviews by doing a little more internet research. I thought of revising them to fit the new five question standard but it seems to me there is value in seeing the questions evolve.

    At any rate, I think these old reviews have enough merit to be published, even if the method demonstrated is out of date.

  2. Glad you found the older reviews, there is a lot of valuable content even if you have since modified your approach. Funny that Kubrick is very similar to the Coens, so this one seems like an extension of those recent reviews.

    • Once I finish the Coens, maybe I will move on to Kubrick. It feels like this style of reviewing could be my niche.

      For sure, I can’t stand reviewing all those light weight black list scripts in the manner of a Carson Reeves.

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