Eyes Wide Shut Explained: What did it all mean?

They say that what we don’t know can’t hurt us, but where are you willing to draw the line of blissful ignorance for the sake of your happiness? Some questions are better left unasked, some doors are better left unanswered, and some secret sex parties are better left unattended. This is precisely what Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 movie is all about – here’s the plot and ending of Eyes Wide Shut explained; spoilers ahead.

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Eyes Wide Shut: Plot Explained

Eyes Wide Shut Plot

‘Eyes Wide Shut’ suggests willful ignorance or deliberately avoiding uncomfortable truths or realities. The movie is a provocative exploration of sexual desire and societal norms as a married man’s journey into an underground sexual world challenges the boundaries of his relationship.

A day after a lavish upper-class party, doctor William “Bill” Harford finds out that his spouse Alice fantasized about cheating on him while they were on vacation. While still traumatized from this cognition, the phone rings, and Bill discovers that one of his patients has just died. He goes over there to express his condolences.

Here, the night takes a turn for the strangest. With the images of his wife’s infidelity in his mind, Bill learns that his patient’s engaged daughter is madly in love with him. He also learns of a secret society sex party he tries to infiltrate.

Here, the situation turns from strange to outright dangerous. At the party, Bill is discovered as an impostor. Had one of the masked girls (a prostitute whose life he saved in one of the opening scenes) not intervened, who knows what the consequences would have been? Unlike in movies like Filth, here, secret societies are portrayed as far less trivial and far more sinister.

Eyes Wide Shut: Ending Explained

Eyes Wide Shut ending explained

The ending of the movie Eyes Wide Shut shows us that Bill and Alice know too much about each other and the adultery they are capable of committing, yet they would prefer to live blissfully, ignoring it all. The couple decides to go through life with their glasses blurred, as knowledge only brings despair. It’s the opposite of a couple living in constant suspicion of each other, even though both may be loyal.

In the end, Bill cries his eyes out and confesses everything about the two previous days to his wife. In the last few scenes, the couple seems to be traumatized but strongly determined to try and fix their situation by keeping their eyes tightly shut. While it’s easy to judge them, who is to say that this will not work for the two.

Frequently Asked Questions

Eyes Wide Shut: What happened to Domino? Did Bill get HIV?

Domino, the sex worker, is diagnosed with HIV. Because Bill gets a call from Alice and leaves, he doesn’t end up sleeping with Domino and doesn’t get HIV. Bill realizes how close he got to possibly contracting the disease. He considers it a sign of luck and is thankful for the life he already has.

Eyes Wide Shut: What is the password?

The party’s password was Fidelio, the name of Beethoven’s opera. It is also the Italian word for fidelity, which is both fitting and ironic given the circumstances. There was no second password, that was a trick question.

Eyes Wide Shut: Who was the masked woman? Who is Amanda Curran?

The masked woman in the secret party appears to be Mandy (Amanda Curran), who overdosed on speedball in the movie’s opening, and Bill revived her. She helps Bill at the party as he once saved her life.

Eyes Wide Shut: What does the girl whisper?

The daughter of Mr Milich whispers that Bill should get a cloak lined with ermine. This is a subtle line implying that she might have some awareness of the event that Bill is heading to. Seeing as how her father might be supplying some of the guests with the costumes makes sense, but it also implies a broader conspiracy. 

Eyes Wide Shut: What are they chanting?

The actual chant is an edited recording of Romanian priests singing Orthodox Liturgy, which was then played in the background. The aim was to create an ominous, dreamlike score to amplify the feeling of paranoia in the scene.

Eyes Wide Shut: Who was the masked man? Who is Red Cloak?

Eyes Wide Shut: How do they know it was Bill?

The masked man, Red Cloak, is a leader of the organization/cult whose orgy Bill attends. The character is portrayed by Leon Vitali, but his identity is never revealed in the movie. One explanation for this would be the idea that it could be anyone.

Eyes Wide Shut: How did Mandy know it was Bill under the mask?

This remains a bit unclear, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Bill was simply sticking out at a party. In other words, she probably recognized him in a similar way in which Ziegler recognized him.

Eyes Wide Shut: How did they know it was Bill?

There were several clues. Firstly, the meeting is organized only for the wealthiest members of the society, and while everyone came in a limo, Bill arrived in a cab. He even told his cab driver to wait outside. Second, his behavior was probably suspicious from a mile away. Third, chances are that it’s a close-knit group, and every new face/mask evokes suspicion. Lastly, when asked about ‘the second password’, he claimed that he forgot, whereas every member of society would know that there is no second password to begin with.

Eyes Wide Shut: What happened to the woman? Did they kill Mandy?

The woman, Mandy, dies. Perhaps she was murdered; maybe she just overdosed again and died. But as the film’s theme suggests, Bill decides to believe in what makes him comfortable and happy and not hunt out the truth.

Was Alice at the ritual?

No, Alice was not at the party with the ritual. She is blissfully aware of Bill being at this secret party until he tells her the entire truth about his two days of intended infidelity.

Eyes Wide Shut: What happened to Nick Nightingale?

We don’t know. It appears Nick may have either been killed or he actually left town and went back to Seattle. Again, Bill doesn’t want to probe further; he is OK with the belief that keeps him happy. Bill is shaken by the events of the previous two days and is just glad he can go back to living his everyday life.

Eyes Wide Shut: Who put the mask on the pillow?

Who put the mask on the pillow?

The very method of leaving the mask was probably deliberately left vague by Kubrick. You see, the fact that we have no idea how the mask ended on the pillow just increases the overall threat level. Someone entered their home while his family was sleeping and placed it on the pillow next to his wife without waking her up. The implication that they have this level of access to Bill and his family is quite terrifying.

Did Bill cheat? Did Alice cheat?

If you look at it purely based on his actions, then yes, he did cheat. He intended to sleep with Domino, and if not caught at the party, he might have indulged in the orgy too. But What is ‘cheat’, really? Is it only cheating when someone is involved in physical adultery? Does Alice’s desire to elope with another man not count as cheating? Humans are programmed to have impulses, and relationships and marriages are human-created constructs. To be able to not act on those impulses would possibly be the closest definition of not cheating. Neither Bill nor Alice fit that definition, but it’s not a prerequisite for them to continue living their married life.

Eyes Wide Shut: Was it a dream?

No, it was not a dream, or rather there is not a lot of evidence that points to the fact that it was all a dream. Bill does confess. One could believe it was all a dream because Alice and Bill act like nothing happened, and their lives continue unaltered. However, this is simply the two of them agreeing to ignore it all.

Marriage, Trust, and Infidelity

Some of the main themes in the movie are marriage, trust, and infidelity. While these are the questions that not a lot of people consider while choosing a wedding venue, the reality strikes sooner or later.

As soon as the shroud of trust is dropped from Bill’s eyes, he sees a world in a completely different light. Merely an hour after his wife’s big revelation, he gets a front-row seat to a similar scenario, this time from an outsider’s perspective. Marion, the daughter of his deceased patient, professes her love to him mere minutes before her fiancée enters the room. After that, she just puts on her mask of a loving partner and acts as if nothing happened.

  • Was this what Alice’s encounter with that naval officer would look like?
  • What if that’s exactly how it played out, and she just told him that she never acted upon it?
  • More importantly, is the infidelity in thought any less devastating than one in the flesh?

These questions are not resolved by the end of the movie.

However, it’s just as likely that there was no naval officer, to begin with. It’s possible that Alice was just frustrated that she refused the advances of a man she was attracted to while Bill was drooled over by two models just across the room. She had to show restraint while (from her perspective) he was gone for an hour doing who knows what. While this scenario may not be the most likely one, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility.

The Paradox of Choice

To make matters even worse, there’s this concept known as the paradox of choice. In the modern world, there’s the idea that partners are not indispensable and that there are always other options out there. 

Both Bill and Alice are attractive young people at the peak of their value on the sexual market. Throughout the movie, we see Bill getting approached by several beautiful women whose advances he refuses out of loyalty to his wife.

However, a choice is never free of consequences. The best show of this is the whole episode with Domino, where destiny intervenes at the last moment and prevents Bill from cheating on his wife. The next night, he goes to her place, remorseful that he has missed out on his opportunity, only to find out (from her roommate) that she was diagnosed with HIV that very morning.

Now, had Bill taken advantage of this opportunity, there’s a risk that he, too, would have been infected. Had he not returned to Domino’s, he would have never found out that he dodged this bullet. Who knows, he might have spent the rest of his days remorseful about this missed opportunity, never really knowing that it was a close call.

This creates another question, what would be the consequences of Alice’s elopement with the naval officer? Could they have been as tragical as Bill’s potential elopement with Domino? We’ll never know, seeing as how the road not taken forever remains a mystery. The difference is that the movie indicates that it might be better that way.

In the end, the abundance of choice creates temptation but also makes it harder for people to settle and make up their minds. Still, not every opportunity is worth taking advantage of.

Ignorance Is Bliss

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, did it fall? This is one of the questions that Eyes Wide Shut asks quite boldly.

Before his wife revealed her mental infidelity, Bill was 100% sure of the sanctity of their marriage and trusted his wife completely. Once the cat was out of the bag, the thought of his wife fantasizing about another man sent him spiraling into the chaos of doubt. The problem is that this infidelity didn’t even occur in the physical world. So, if she just decided to stay discrete, there’s no way he would have ever found out.

The same thing goes with the party at the mansion. Parties like this possibly happen all over the world, all the time; the same goes for all sorts of nefarious activities by secret societies. The only difference between that night and the previous one was Bill’s awareness of their existence.

So, is ignorance bliss? Well, despite his curiosity, it seems that, by the end of the movie, Bill voluntarily chooses to return to the state of blissful ignorance. How so?

  • How do we know that Alice’s infidelity never happened in the physical world? We can’t, not really. We have to take her word for it, and taking her word for it is a comforting thing to do.
  • How do we know that Mandy overdosed and that Nick is back in Seattle with his family? By the end of the movie, Bill was more than happy to accept this explanation, not because it was logical but because it was comforting.

Some people despair about all the secrets that they’ll never get to discover. One of the main themes of this movie is that some secrets are better left that way.

Wrap Up

In the end, while thinking outside the box can be good for you, the box is there for a reason. While secrets are always intriguing, the saying, “curiosity killed the cat”, exists for a reason. So, think carefully before letting the cat out of the bag since curiosity is a dangerous thing.

What are your thoughts on the plot and ending of Eyes Wide Shut and its themes? Let’s discuss in the comments below.