Let not slip the bonds of repression. This was the message I took away from a matinee viewing of Eyes Wide Shut this weekend. It’s a classical notion, certainly, and what counts as repression has changed only minimally over the centuries. When Oedipus broke the Olympian rules, the Gods punished him swiftly and absolutely. When Satan, we are told, dared defy the might of the Lord, he was cast to Pandemonium with the lot of rebel angels. In Milton’s great yarn, it’s hard not to feel for the swashbuckling darkling, for what was his crime, really, if not but to feel? But when we find ourselves feeling alongside him, comes swiftly Milton’s birchen rod to put us in our place. Bad, bad reader; Paradise Lost is a book about sin, after all. You’re not supposed to sympathize with Satan. Et voilà, the lesson in a nutshell: there is no greater tool for the would-be repressor than temptation, no surer way to out the impulse you suspected was there all along.
So the tease/chastise game is an old one, played by many a master. To find Stanley Kubrick playing it, then, should be no surprise. Nor was it. Watching the opening credits end with Nicole’s dress falling off her naked shoulders to reveal rump, cleft and all things tempting was more or less what many people paid a Hamilton for. And, watching the movie, feeling ourselves identifying with Tom as his skein of repression was steadily unwound, we knew, in some still-available corner of our sensors, that we were being set up in a morality play. Most cinematic narrative works this way, placing the viewer in a privileged position to experience the events alongside (or as) the protagonist. Wrapping up a movie, then, tends to be no more difficult than spelling out the moral, lest the viewers scratch their pates ascending the escalator toward the doors. And here, too, Kubrick chose not to rewrite tradition. What he did do differently was enact the mental processes of a person coming to realize that the world prevailing is not so morally bound as he, allowing the viewers (or, more appropriately, the heterosexual male viewers) to learn, each in his own way, that far more license is taken here, there and everywhere than we would ever allow ourselves. At the outset of the film, Cruise is untouched, literally, by the cosmos of temptation around him (models, female patients, girl prostitutes, gay hotel clerks), but once the knot is loosened, all hell is loosed. If nothing else, Eyes Wide Shut does a good job of making you know just what the letting go feels like. Being utterly, truly, primally and absolutely out of control, sliding down the endless fireman’s pole of your long-pent urges, is to know fear fear in any moment you recover perspective, rapture in any moment you do not. Knowing this, watching it happen, one is forced to ask, is Eyes Wide Shut really an anti-sex manifesto, an apparatus of repression, coaxing us out then guilting us once we’re there? Most certainly. After a twenty-four-hour romp, Tom returns to Nicole with his tail between his legs, but she has no illusions. He asks for forever; she promises nothing. It’s rather clear that she knows it is not intention but temptation that stains a man. They say that if a rat has never eaten meat, it will never bite humans, and makes a great house pet. So you want a moral? Having tasted flesh, you learn to bite.* * *
All this as preamble to the last installment in Naughty Pushkin month. It concerns Pushkin’s lifelong desire for prostitutes, which were made, it seems, only the more enticing by the transgression of infidelity. He appears to have wanted to be true to his wife, but, finding himself failing, he gives himself over entirely. Pushkin’s tack is the opposite of Kubrick’s, but they both ask the same question: When temptation strikes, do you nibble?
From Secret Journal 1836-1837 by Alexander Pushkin
I told myself that when you fuck a whore you do not cheat on your wife. But in the same moment I realized that I had broken my marriage vows, and that from that day on my life with N. would be changed irrevocably, even if she never found out about it. I told myself over and over again that a poet cannot live without quivering and is not intended for the world of marriage. I had to put up with the death of quivering because it is the law. God does not prevent us from learning his laws, but he punishes us for any attempt to change them. I had to believe, but I dared to test them, and this is possible only by breaking God’s law. Having broken the law once already, I could not stop. N. sensed it first and then learned about it from me, as well as from others. I fell greedily on lewdness, and if it can be called dirty, then honey smeared all over, from top to bottom, can be called dirty as well. However, it will not become less sweet.
My favorite exercise was to make a whore fall in love with me. To make an inexperienced girl fall in love with me does not cost much (speaking literally or figuratively). But to make a whore, whose profession is to stay insensible, love me, now that was a challenge to a man’s skill. Whores learn not to find pleasure with clients. Those rare few with fervent natures cannot resist, and it wears them out very fast. No fun to be with the latter ones. I select a whore who is more experienced and colder. I get in bed with her and caress her honestly and with no rush and keep repeating how pretty she is and how much I admire her. She looks at me with a smile on her face, with distrust, or with no expression, but I know she likes to hear my words. Occasionally she will echo me and say how handsome I am and how much she loves me. But she is paid and I say it unselfishly, therefore it is much more pleasant for her to hear then for me to hear. I lie between her legs and lick her love button clean. She lies with her eyes open, not letting herself get carried away. Her sad experience tells her that a guest will drop all these silly notions soon, will shove his cock in somewhere and come. Or she lies with her eyes closed and starts to moan affectedly and move her hips. I know, though, that it is still too early. I insert my index finger in her pussy and gently scratch her womb with my long nail. I wet my middle finger in her pussy and slide it smoothly into her anus. I caress her nipple with my free hand. I am persistent, I lick tautly and in different ways, searching and finding her favorite movement. Hope comes to her what if I really bring her to the end? The whore relaxes and the woman in her comes out. Her belly starts to strain. She half-opens her eyes and looks down to see whether my intentions are serious and our eyes meet. She closes her eyes, still prepared for my betrayal, but at the same time is seized with growing hope. At last she feels spasms approaching. She grabs my head with her hands as if saying: no don’t stop now and tingles. Waves wash over her but cannot break over her head. Here she strains like a cock before coming and my fingers are squeezed by a succulent pussy and tightly gripping ass. The woman pulls me up to come in her. She smiles and invites me to be her guest again and promises that next time she will not charge me anything. Isn’t it a declaration of love?
Secret Journal 1836-1837 by A. S. Pushkin
Published by M.I.P. Company
P.O. box 27484 Minneapolis, Minnesota 55427
reprinted with permission