Drive-In Part I: Scenic Area

Alice Harford: How do I look?
Dr. Bill Harford: Perfect.
Alice Harford: Is my hair okay?
Dr. Bill Harford: It’s great
Alice Harford: You’re not even looking at it.

  • Preparing for character Victor Ziegler’s party in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut
  • After the party, Alice, angry at her husband’s smug implication that women have no desires of their own, describes feelings she had during and after looking at a handsome Naval officer when she and Bill had been on vacation. This description unsettles Bill enough to send him on a two-day search to re-affirm his sense of male dominance, a search that involves, among other things, buying (unconsummated) services from a prostitute and intruding on a ritual where the ultra-powerful play out their sexual fantasies with beautiful women in a fabulous mansion called Somerton.

    I thought this film would be a good way to continue the discussion of desire and introduce Lacan’s concept of the Gaze, a concept he originally related to the mirror stage:

    By viewing himself in the mirror, the subject … begins his entrance into culture and language by establishing his own subjectivity through the fantasy image inside the mirror, an image that the subject can aspire towards throughout his life (a stable coherent version of the self that does not correspond to the chaotic drives of our actual material bodies)…

    In his later essays, Lacan complicates this understanding of the narcissistic view in the mirror by distinguishing between the eye’s look and the Gaze. Gaze in Lacan’s later work refers to the uncanny sense that the object of our eye’s look or glance is somehow looking back at us of its own will…

    Felluga, Dino.[1]

    Tim Krieder, in the his review, “Introducing Sociology,” shows that, in Bill’s eyes, women (including his wife) are objects to be bought:

    Alice’s real status is unmistakably suggested: the wife as prostitute. She’s identified with the hooker Mandy through a series of parallels: they’re both tall redheads with a taste for numbing drugs, we first see them both in bathrooms, and Mandy’s last night “being f*cked by hundreds of men” is distortedly echoed in Alice’s dream. Alice is also associated with the streetwalker Domino by the purple of her sheets and Domino’s dress, and by their conspicuous dressing-table mirrors (the essential accoutrement of anyone who lives by her looks). [2]

    Bill’s worldview makes Alice’s revelation deeply disturbing:

    to come too close to [the object of our desire] threatens to give us the experience precisely of the Lacanian Gaze, the realization that behind our desire is nothing but our lack: the materiality of the Real staring back at us.

    Felluga, Dino. [3]

    Padraig Henry, from The Kubrick Corner, points out that, in a movie based on a novel entitled Traumnovelle (“Dream Novel,”) the only dream is “Alice’s dream about Bill’s humiliation. This, like her confession about the Naval officer, is the problematic desire whose exclusion – from the ‘reality’ of the Harfords’ marriage – the film is about.” [4]

    In Bill’s troubled wanderings he comes upon a club where he meets his old friend Nick Nightingale, who had played piano at Ziegler’s party. Nightingale tells him about a gig where he is made to play blindfolded: “And…the last time the blindfold wasn’t on so well… Man… Bill… I have seen one or two things in my life but never… never anything like this… And never such women.”

    Bill induces him to give him the address of and password to the Somerton mansion, even after being told that everyone at the mansion is costumed and masked. Although (even at that late hour) he is able to procure the proper attire, he is discovered – he is only saved by a mysterious woman who sacrifices herself to “redeem” him.

    In the end, we find that Ziegler had also been at Somerton, and had had Bill followed after his expulsion. He intimidates him to cease looking into what happened to the woman who had saved him (clip here[5]). In the Kubrick Corner link above, Henry points out that:

    Ziegler appears to be saying two contradictory things at the same time (a classic double bind): what happened at Somerton was a mere charade, of no consequence; what happened there was enormously, dreadfully important.[6]

    Henry analyzes how the Somerton plot relates to Bill and Alice’s Story:

    Where do Somerton and Ziegler fit in to this picture? Are they on the side of desire or of ‘society’? Ziegler would ostensibly seem to be on the side of society, the symbolic order, patriarchy: yet he is also something of a Sadean libertine, a repulsive superegoic figure, the classic obscene pervert. He is both the Father who says No (guarantor of the symbolic order) and the Father who enjoys (wrecker of the symbolic). But what is definitively excluded from Ziegler/ Somerton’s desiring-circuit – and from Bill’s? – is female desire. Women only gain entry insofar as they are passive, bought, marginalized, abused.[7]

    “Introducing Sociology” brings up another aspect of Ziegler’s explanation: “does it really make a difference whether Mandy was ceremonially executed by some evil cabal or only allowed to O.D. after being gang-banged again?” [8]

    Trivialization of brutal rapes – Where have I heard about that recently[9]?

    As Bill says in the clip, “maybe I’m missing something here…”

    1. Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze.” in: Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Last Update: Jan. 31, 2011.
    2. Tim Kreider. “Introducing Sociology: A Review of Eyes Wide Shut.” ©2000 by the Regents of the University of California.
    3. Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Lacan…
    4. Padrig Henry. in: “CONVERSATIONS FROM ALT.MOVIES.KUBRICK.” in: The Kubrick Corner, Part 12. 1997 – 2001.
    5. Degenerate Times. “Eyes Wide Shut = NEUROTIC view of the world.” In: Youtube.com. Uploaded on Nov 20, 2011.
    6-7. Padrig Henry. in: “CONVERSATIONS FROM…
    8. Tim Kreider. “Introducing Sociology…
    9. Carl Gibson. “Patriarchy Dominates Media Steubenville Coverage.” in: The Huffington Post. 03/20/2013 10:57 a.m.

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