27 September 2010
20 Scripts in 30 Days: Number 18, Eyes Wide Shut by Frederick Raphael and Stanley Kubrick
Eyes Wide Shut is a Kubrikian take on marriage -- that is, an examination that affirms the institution while looking bleakly at the temptations that threaten it. We meet Doctor Bill Harford and and his wife, Alice, as they prepare for a fancy ball, er, dance during the Christmas holiday season. At the sumptuous mansion of Mr. Zielger, each faces the first in what will be a series of challenges to their domestic bliss in invitations to stray. Later, his wife, provoked, will eveal that she, too, is capable of reckless sexual desire. Harford meets a med school buddy of his, Nick Nightingale, who will supply the password to a decadent orgy in a palatial estate on Long Island. Discovered before he can do much, Harford is nearly subjected to some unnamed punishment, which a beautiful woman offers to undertake herself. The next day, he can find no trace of Nightengale, no answers and the dead body of the woman who redeemed him. Ziegler spells things out for him (or does Zielger merely lie to him?). Harford goes home and confesses. His wife forgives him, tentatively. The script ends on a note of cautious hope rather than a ringing affirmation.
I've always admired the movie intensely since I first saw it in the theatre. I don't know of many other works, literary or cinematic, that deal with the struggle between desire and marriage as well. Lee Siegel does a better job than I could of weighing its merits in his essay that appeared in Harpers, not long after the film came out. You can read the essay here.
It's a fine script, but out of all the ones I've read, it seems the most dependent upon the director's contribution. Not to slight what the other directors brought to their scripts, but much of the metaphors and the significant symbols weren't quite there in the script itself, in the way they have been in the rest. It's less of a stand alone object and much more like a sketch.
Early on, I realized I was reading an early draft, so I scrounged around for a later version, and found it in the book published with the short story by Arthur Schnitzler that it's based on. The two drafts were mostly the same. The major differences that I noticed in my casual reading were the ending and a voice over, which was removed for the final version. Alice's speeches describing her fantasies and dreams were shortened by half or so. The other changes were mainly streamlining and sharpening the action.
For example, in the first draft version, when Bill goes back to visit Domino, the hooker, he meets her roommate and an older, 41-year-old woman. He learns that Domino has a disease. In the final version, the older woman disappears -- she's extraneous, and Domino becomes HIV-Positive, a much stronger dramatic choice. The final scene between Ziegler and Bill moves from their just sitting around to a scene featuring a red-covered billiard table.The dialogue is less neutral and more American. Zielger's language in particular is saltier and more colloquial. And one of the early shots, of Alice sitting on the toilet with an open door -- about as economical a way to telegraph the advanced and staid condition of their marriage as you can imagine -- came with the later draft as well.
Another critical difference is the ending. The earlier draft ends with Bill and Alice still in their bed. Morning streams in, and their child bounces up to them. In the final draft and the movie itself, we see them shopping at FAO Schwartz with their daughter. And it ends with Alice's killer last word.
For the voice over, my guess is that they made the choice initially to reinforce the "tale" aspect of the story --- to add a sense of distance, to help reveal the thoughts of the characters, but to reinforce the overall notion that what we're watching is less a literal take on a married couple in Manhattan, but something more like a myth or a dream. "Once upon a time. . . "
Still, you can see why they ditched it. The voice over tended to spell things out too neatly.It didn't add much that an observant viewer couldn't figure out herself. And it twisted the movie into telling you, rather than showing you, what was going on.
So, a nice mini course in how to make a script better and more cinematic.