The opening shot of Kidman is a time-bomb. The first shot is of Alice, who is wearing no underwear, dropping her black dress and stepping out of it in high court shoes, giving two little kicks to get free. Bill Harford is on the surface a devoted husband and father who inadvertently gets involved in a ritualistic orgy at a masked ball. The shot is deliberately voyeuristic: Wayne State University Press,
Wayne State University Press, Even more intimately, we are invited into their bathroom to see Alice in non-erotic mode taking a pee, wiping herself and pulling up her panties. British Film Institute, The film is controversial for many reasons — as much to do with its production and reception as for its supposedly sensational sexual content, heavily hyped by Warner Bros. BFI Modern Classics, It teases the viewer into believing they are in control and then explodes their expectations. The film is a costume extravaganza that plays on identity and sexuality. But the disconnected quality of the first shot makes the apparently familiar space of the bedroom seem strange. Is her power over Bill real, or is it a feature of his fantasy? This, of course, intensifies the frisson. Is the darkened dressing area the same space in which we saw Alice undress, and is the time frame the same? It exists in an imaginary dream space, accompanied only by Shostakovich — narrative sound is heard for the first time with the next shot of the city streets. The first shot is of Alice, who is wearing no underwear, dropping her black dress and stepping out of it in high court shoes, giving two little kicks to get free. The director was a perfectionist and his attention to detail is legendary; one of the fascinations of his work is the pleasure of unpicking every nuance of image and sound in search of a definitive meaning — a quest destined to be frustrated. The intimation that all is not as it seems intensifies the desire to return to it over and over again. The dream ambience is appropriate: Finally, after the mask is dropped and the couple reconciles, Alice is very much in charge. Bill is provoked into seeking extramarital excitement himself, and the film stages his fantasy scenarios, which are fraught with anxiety. This short sequence is complex and has been interpreted in different ways. His misadventures are rooted in disguise and deception, and the fragile underpinning of his life gradually disintegrates. The opening has been much discussed. In both cases, there was little explicit sex or nudity on view — it was exactly this that proved so titillating. Here I want to focus on the contribution of costume to the layers of meaning. In it, Alice is briefly seen naked from behind as she steps out of a black gown in her bedroom. Who are the dreamers here?
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Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Opening Scene
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