What does the mask on the pillow at the end of Eyes Wide Shut mean? Eyes Wide Shut cast Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a married couple, with the former playing a doctor who goes on a strange, sexually charged journey one night when his wife admits to having had adulterous thoughts. The movie is based on the 1920’s novella Dream Story and Kubrick developed the project for decades, and once considered a slightly more comedic take with Steve Martin in the lead role.
In keeping with the filmmaker’s quest for perfection, the shoot for Eyes Wide Shut famously rolled on, with the movie holding the record for the longest consecutive shoot, as filming began in late 1996 and wrapped in mid-1998. Tragically it was the director’s final film with Kubrick dying less than a week after screening an incomplete cut for the studio and its stars. The movie went through post-production following Stanley Kubrick’s death, though some have argued about how much it represents his intended vision.
While the final movie was greeted with somewhat mixed reviews at the time, the appreciation for Eyes Wide Shut has only grown since its 1999 debut. Like much of the director’s work like The Shining, movie fans love to debate the symbolism and meaning of Eyes Wide Shut. There are many, many readings of the story available, with the movie itself embracing a sort of dream/nightmare logic. Masks – both literal and figurative – are a major motif, and one of the most important sequences is when Bill infiltrates a masked sex party at a remote mansion, which is being held by members of high society. He’s eventually discovered and forced to remove his mask but is saved from a bleak fate by another masked woman who tried to warn him to leave earlier.
The second half of Eyes Wide Shut sees Bill being given ominous warnings from this secret society, and he can’t seem to find his mask from the party. In one of the final scenes, Bill comes home and as he comes to bed he sees Alice (Nicole Kidman) sleeping next to the same Venetian mask he wore at the party. He then breaks down crying and confesses to Alice his misadventures of the past few days. The big question is how did the mask get there, and who left it?
The most obvious answer is Alice found the mask and left it out as a way to let Bill know she knew something was going on. This is the implication of Dream Story too – with the movie being quite faithful to the structure of the novella – though Kubrick obviously leaves this moment up to interpretation. The second, and more terrifying suggestion, is the mask is a final warning from the secret society for Bill to drop any further investigation or the fate that befell the woman who saved him could be visited upon Alice.
One intriguing reading of the Eyes Wide Shut mask being on the pillow is that it’s only in Bill’s head as if he’s exhausted by trying to hide his attempts at infidelity or true feelings from Alice, leading to an emotional breakdown. Other interpretations are floating around, including the idea Alice was also at the party, and while there’s no set meaning for how the mask got on that pillow, the idea Alice put it there herself seems to be the prevailing theory. Given how upset she appeared following his confession, it’s very unlikely she knew exactly what he was out doing, however.