Why did Stanley Kubrick cut this boating scene from Eyes Wide Shut? Why didn’t he want the audience to see it anymore? What’s in it exactly? And what was he trying to say? What relation does it have to the film’s original source novel Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle? Where would it have been placed within the film? Did it no longer fit the film’s rhythm, thematic or mood? Or was it taken-out for deeper, darker, and more personal reasons?
Since Kubrick is no longer alive and there’s no way to know the real answers to these questions (though he was never really one to be vocal about his films) the best that we can really do is speculate. Eyes Wide Shut is an important film for Kubrick. Just listen, for example, to Christiane Kubrick and Jan Harlan, two of his closest collaborators, discuss it with such awe and admiration. Kubrick was trying to say something here which we are still trying to demystify to this day.
It is well documented that Stanley’s daughter Vivian Kubrick broke with the family when she joined the Church of Scientology (c.f. Nicole LaPorte’s article) and Michel Ciment has even speculated that Stanley, a family loving man, had his heart attack, which he had while he was editing Eyes Wide Shut, due to being harassed by his daughter for money. This is significant especially in relation to one of the key scenes of the film where Dr. Harford, when he just barely is given permission to leave the secret society and their mansion, is told by the mysterious robed leader: “If you say a single word to anyone about what you have seen, there will be the most dire consequences for you and your family.”
With this in mind the boating scene with its emphasis on family and childhood resonates even more strongly. What we know about this scene comes solely from one picture in Stanley Kubrick Archives. In the picture Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) is rowing a small boat with his wife, Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman), and their daughter, Helena. Bill is wearing the same sweater as the one he’s wearing at the end of the film in the toy store. The mother and daughter are a lot closer to each other. It’s an idyllic scene. The boat is on what’s meant to resemble Central Park’s Lake (though the film was actually shot in London). The scene is reminiscent of similar leisure scenes in Barry Lyndon. The picture with its great pictorial qualities recalls an Édouard Manet painting or even one of his wife’s. The colors of the shot also stand out: the reds recall the oppressiveness of the previous ritualistic scenes. The blues provide a lighter counter-point. And the greens of Helena’s dress and the lake recall nature and spring, and ideas of innocence and rebirth
This rowboat scene is synchronous to Alice’s fantasy of ‘fucking’ a sailor, and which would have provided a more calm and peaceful counterpart. But this isn’t what the film is about. It’s dark and pessimistic and supposes that intimate relationships are based on deep uncontrollable passions that can never be fully explained.
Illum1nat1 also discusses another short scene that was also unfortunately cut from the film of Dr. Harford walking down an empty hallway and seeing an empty ceremonial room, which would have been very significant. And Welcome to Somerton brings up there was also another deleted scene where Alice and Helena were supposed to go horse riding in one scene. These missing scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s film, as Justin Morrow suggest, bring out and further contribute to one of Kubrick’s films most important qualities: their mystery.