Bill and Alice Harford, the decidedly gentile married couple that the actors portrayed in 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, are about as kosher as a bacon milkshake. But when Stanley Kubrick first conceived of adapting Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle in the Seventies, the filmmaker allegedly envisioned the male lead as Woody Allen, a man so Jewish that Shabbat practically observes him.
Kubrick’s initial casting idea, which is all but inconceivable to anyone who’s seen the finished film, had been prompted by fidelity to its Freudian-to-a-fault source material. At some point during the intervening decades between Kubrick’s decision to bring the Schnitzler story to the screen and the first day of production, he had a change of heart. According to Kubrick’s credited co-writer, Frederic Raphael, the director eventually insisted that his protagonists be made “vanilla” Americans so as to establish a more perfect sense of normalcy for his smirking erotic psychodrama to defile. He wanted these characters to be privileged above all prejudice, capable of walking into any room as though they belonged there.
And when Stanley Kubrick made a decision, there were no half-measures. On the contrary, he took things to the other extreme, turning Bill and Alice Harford into the Mitt and Ann Romney of the Upper West Side, planting a Christmas tree in nearly every scene, and — in much the same way as he had previously used candlelight to create the chiaroscuro world of Barry Lyndon — flooding the film’s interiors with the opioid haze of holiday lights so that every room feels tongue-kissed by temptation.
This may seem like a minor cosmetic change, a quirk of casting stars capable of financing the movie, but its profound effect on the story can’t be overstated. As Kubrick’s swan song finds itself becoming an unlikely seasonal favorite — daily December showings at Manhattan’s IFC Center have performed so well that the theater plans to make them an annual event — it’s becoming increasingly clear that Eyes Wide Shut isn’t a perennial Christmas movie because it’s a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece because it’s a Christmas movie.