A Quick Note on Lighting in Eyes Wide Shut

In Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which I screened earlier today in my Ways of Seeing class at Pratt in support of teaching mise-en-scène, I observed a use of lighting that I didn’t get to cover in class.

In the scene where Bill and Alice are in the bedroom and begin the conversation about the sexual appetites of men and women, the are shown in a single shot, embracing each other.

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The lighting cast on both Bill and Alice in this shot is the same. However, the background has two distinct colors to it:

  1. a warm light cast by an incandescent light in the bedroom, presumably from the lamp on the bedside table, and
  2. a very cold, blue light cast from outside, visible behind Alice, that washes over the bathroom in the background.

At this point in the scene, the two begin their debate which escalates to the point that Alice leaps up from the bed, away from Bill. The two continue their disagreement but now are framed in separate shots, stitched together through editing.

Bill is still on the bed and primarily lit by the warm incandescent light from the lamp. The entire shot glows like that light.

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However, Alice is now opposite Bill, over by the bathroom, and though she is still illuminated by the lighting cast from the bedside lamp, the shot glows in a much colder, blue color.

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The visual differences between warm and cool lighting illustrates the split that Bill and Alice have encountered in their relationship. This split will activate the crisis throughout the rest of the film and will only get resolved when they are both cast in similarly cool light after both sharing traumatic experiences.

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