April 10, 2006

Eyes Wide Shut

I reached the hotel near midnight. It was an overnight stopover at Mumbai on my way to Chennai. With a gruelling 24 hour flight from New York behind me, I was ready to crash into bed. Stepping out of the elevator, I turned into the hallway leading to my room. The hallway was broad, dimly lit and open to the courtyard four stories below. It was then that I saw her. She was standing in the alcove, the light and darkness falling alternately in her striped face. She was attractive, young, probably in her early twenties, about my age. I didn't expect her there, not in that expensive hotel, which was costing me not a small sum for hardly a night's stay. A furtive rolling of the tongue in her mouth, and a fluttering of her eyelids, told me everything that she wanted me to know. I quickly looked away, entered my room, and locked the door behind me. For a few minutes, I stood there waiting for a knock on the door, that I had already chosen to ignore. The knock never came. I fell into my bed, and promptly went to sleep. And eyes shut, I had a dream - a vivid dream of the hallway girl, in my bed.

Eyes Wide Shut
Eyes Wide Shut was the last film directed by Stanley Kubrick, before his death in 1999. Although the movie was criticized by some as a sexcapade, I thought it was one of his best, raising interesting existential questions. The film pans a night of adventures, virtual and real, for Bill (Tom Cruise), a doctor, and his wife Alice(Nicole Kidman), an art curator. Alice has an intense dream about sex with a naval officer, whom she had seen briefly on her honeymoon, and subsequently, the crucifixion of her husband. Bill almost has sex with a model whom he had met in a party, attends a ritualistic orgy without actually participating in it, and gets involved in the death of a girl due to drug overdose. The events disturb Alice and Bill deeply. The film ends with this conversation between them:

ALICE: I think we should both be grateful that we have come unharmed out of all our adventures, whether they were real or only a dream.

Bill kneels down in front of her.

BILL: Are you really sure (of) that?

She takes his hands in hers and looks at them.

ALICE: Only as sure as I am that the reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime, is not the whole truth.

BILL: And no dream is entirely a dream.

--- Eyes Wide Shut, A screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael

A few years later, when I saw Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, I recalled my encounter with the hallway girl (HG) and my subsequent dream. What if I had chosen to actually spend the night with her, eyes wide? Would it have made any difference? What if if I had invited her into my room, but found her unattractive and decided against going any further? What difference does it make between dream, intent, and action? To whom? To the girl in the hallway? To my wife, if I had one then? To me? The questions confronting Alice and Bill in the film were similar, but Kubrick left me at the end with no clear answers.

There are obvious physical consequences of my sleeping with HG in reality that are absent in a dream - money, disease, robbery, arrest, and pregnancy. Given her profession, HG's interest would have been firmly rooted in reality. If she had found another customer for the night, she would have forgotten all about me. Her earnings for the night would not have been affected either. Even if they had been, it's not terribly interesting for the analysis that I have set out to do. The same would apply to other physical consequences to her such as disease or pregnancy, as these are occupational hazards that she must have taken into account before entering the profession. I seriously doubt, therefore, if HG would have cared much about the existential differences between my dream and reality.

I don't have any reasonable objection to sex for money. I wouldn't have been unfaithful to the ideals that I held, whether I had sex with HGin dream or reality. I owed her nothing for my dream. With her silent invitation, which I was under no obligation to accept, she had forfeited any right to be compensated for the vicarious pleasure that I might have derived from the dream. Had I accepted her invitation, I would have paid her the agreed fee and would not have thought twice about it. My choice against availing the service offered by HG was motivated by the practical considerations. The possibility of my impregnating her was especially important to me. The fact that I had no legal obligation to the child meant nothing to me. I knew of the possibility of a child, and the "illegitimacy" of the child would have had no bearing on my personal responsibility for its birth and development. That I was not ready to bear that responsibility was perhaps the most important reason for my rejecting HG's offer. My dream posed no such risk.

If I had a significant other with whom I had shared expectations about "faithfulness", it would raise the most interesting issue for my choice. Clearly, I'd have rejected HG's offer, because the acceptance would have made me unfaithful to the common understanding that I had with my SO, on my own volition. Even an unconsummated intent on my part would have made me unfaithful. In this sense, Bill in Eyes Wide Shut, was clearly unfaithful, when he went to Domino's apartment, but was interrupted by Alice's phone call. He was once again unfaithful, when he clearly had the intent to have sex with the woman at secret orgy, but was thrown out before he could fulfill his desire.

Would my dream have violated that common understanding, too, as Bill seems to imply in his remark to Alice about her dream, I quote, "...And no dream is entirely a dream"? Was Alice as guilty as Bill, because of her fantasizing sex with the naval officer in her dream? I'd assert that she was not. Recent research seems to show that areas in brain responsible for logic have little or no activity during dreams.

...[These] studies show that during the phase of sleep most closely associated with dreaming, brain regions responsible for emotion, memory and fear are a flurry of activity. Other brain areas - notably the logic department - seem to excuse themselves from the party.
--- Jack Lucentini, Reasons To Dream

Ideals are the products of reason, and it is not at all obvious from the above that reason intervenes in a dream. I assert that Alice had no control over what she dreamt, and therefore, was not unfaithful to the shared ideals on marital relationship she had with Bill. If Bill had any expectation to the contrary, it would be untenable for the same reason.

In Eyes Wide Shut Alice was not unfaithful, but Bill was.

  1. What if Alice had fantasized it instead of having freamt about it?

  2. She would be as unfaithful as Bill.


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