Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A New York City doctor pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him.

  • After his wife, Alice, tells him about her sexual fantasies, William Harford sets out for a night of sexual adventure. After several less than successful encounters, he meets an old friend, Nick Nightingale - now a musician - who tells him of strange sex parties when he is required to play the piano blindfolded. All the men at the party are costumed and wear masks while the women are all young and beautiful. Harford manages to find an appropriate costume and heads out to the party. Once there, however, he is warned by someone who recognizes him, despite the mask, that he is in great danger. He manages to extricate himself but the threats prove to be quite real and sinister.

  • Dr. Bill and Mrs. Alice Harford are a young, upper middle class couple living in a lavish apartment along Central Park West with their seven year old daughter, Helena Harford. It's the Christmas season, and like they have been the past several years, they are invited to the annual lavish Christmas ball hosted by Victor Ziegler, one of Bill's wealthy patients. Based on their individual encounters at the party, which includes Bill secretly providing his professional services to a guest, Bill and Alice have a frank discussion, largely initiated by Alice, about their sex life, their sexual fantasies - most specifically if those fantasies include other people - and fidelity. As a result, Bill begins to notice those sexual opportunities available to him outside of their marriage. Although he contemplates seizing upon some of those opportunities, it's the one mentioned to him by Nick Nightingale - a former medical school colleague who dropped out to become a full time musician, and who was the pianist at Victor's party, where he and Nick were reacquainted - that piques Bill's interest the most. Bill's interest is probably increased by Nick's pleas for him not to follow-up on what he tells him. That opportunity is a secret, by invitation only party, the latest in a series, where Nick is hired to play blindfolded, with the party location divulged to him only one hour prior to his arrival. It was during a previous party that Nick saw beneath his blindfold that it was a sex party, all the participants dressed in costume and wearing masks, probably to provide anonymity to all the attendees. Bill is able to sneak his way into this latest party, which is even more elaborate than his wildest fantasies. But what happens at the party may irreparably affect his marriage, his sex life with Alice, and their lives in their entirety.

  • A doctor becomes obsessed with having a sexual encounter after his wife admits to having sexual fantasies about a man she met and chastising him for dishonesty in not admitting to his own fantasies. This sets him off into unfulfilled encounters with a dead patient's daughter and a hooker. But when he visits a nightclub, where a pianist friend Nick Nightingale is playing, he learns about a secret sexual group and decides to attend one of their congregations. However, he quickly learns he is in well over his head and finds he and his family are threatened.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Bill and Alice Harford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman), a well-to-do Manhattan couple, have been married for nine years. Bill is a doctor with his own private practice and Alice is a full-time mother, though she has managed an art gallery in the past. They have a seven-year-old daughter named Helena (Madison Eginton), whom they leave with a babysitter for the evening while they attend a Christmas party thrown by wealthy attorney Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) and his wife Illona (Leslie Lowe). While at the party, Bill runs into an old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field). Nick dropped out of medical school to become a pianist. Before returning to his place among the band, he invites Bill to come see him at another gig while he's in town. While Alice drunkenly fends off the advances of an unctuous middle-aged Hungarian businessman named Sandor Szavost (Sky du Mont), Bill flirts with two models. Alice dances with Sandor but finally gives him the slip when he invites her upstairs, citing the fact that she is married. Just as the models offer to show Bill "where the rainbow ends," he is discreetly summoned upstairs for an apparent emergency.

    Ziegler had been partying upstairs with an escort, Mandy (Julienne Davis). When she shot up a mixture of heroin and cocaine, she passed out, scaring Ziegler. Bill rouses the naked woman back to consciousness; determining that she'll safely recover, he chides her to get some help for her addiction. Ziegler makes Bill promise not to mention the incident to anyone.

    The next night, Alice rolls a joint and she and Bill get stoned. She asks Bill what he was doing with the two models the previous night. He denies hitting on them and asks Alice about the man he saw dancing with her. She says he wanted to have sex with her, which Bill jokes is understandable. Alice turns Bill's comment around and argues that Bill must have wanted to have sex with the models. He assures her that he would not break his marriage vows by cheating on her, but this only further inflames Alice, who infers that the only reason Bill didn't have a fling with the models is out of some sense of marital duty. When Bill smugly claims that women require love before they can have sex and that he has never been concerned she would cheat on him, Alice laughs mockingly. She reminds Bill of a family vacation they spent one summer at a resort in Cape Cod, and asks him if he remembers a certain naval officer. Bill draws a blank. Alice explains to Bill that she wanted this man so badly that she couldn't stop fantasizing about him even while she made love to Bill and attended to Alice. She states flatly that she considered throwing away her life as a wife and mother just to have sex with the handsome stranger. Bill appears stunned and deeply troubled by Alice's confession that when she learned that the naval officer had left the resort, she felt sorry that he was gone, but also "relieved" that fate had prevented her from sleeping with the man, which she most certainly would have done if he had stayed. Their discussion comes to an abrupt end when the telephone rings and Bill is called away to the home of one of his patients, but thoughts of Alice being ravished by the naval officer continue to haunt him.

    Bill arrives at the lavish apartment of his patient Lou Nathanson, who has just passed away after an illness. He offers his condolences to Nathanson's grief-stricken daughter, Marion (Marie Richardson). In the middle of discussing her engagement and future plans, Marion suddenly confesses to Bill that she is deeply in love with him and needs to be near him, even if she will never get to see him. Bill politely declines her advance, telling her that she is distraught and confused by her father's death. Marion's fiancé Carl (Thomas Gibson) arrives and Bill takes the opportunity to make an exit.

    Walking through the streets, Bill sees a hooker making out with a john and continues to be plagued by images of his wife with the naval officer. Minutes later, a group of drunken frat boys shove Bill down on the sidewalk, baiting him with homophobic taunts.

    As Bill continues wandering downtown, a prostitute named Domino (Vinessa Shaw) propositions him. He hesitates, but agrees to accompany her to her apartment nearby. Just as they kiss in her bedroom, Alice calls on his cell phone. Bill lies that he is still at Nathanson's apartment but after hanging up, thinks better of his decision to solicit Domino's services. He pays her and leaves without taking things any further.

    Resuming his walk, he passes the Sonata Club, where his former medical school chum, Nick Nightingale, is playing piano with a group. Bill decides to stop in to listen. After the music number is up, Nick meets with Bill for drinks at a table. He reveals that he is scheduled to play piano at a sex party later that night and he is waiting for the code word. When Nick answers his cell phone and appears to be discussing admission to the party, Bill hectors him for more details -- he wants to attend. Nick reveals the code word, "Fidelio," by writing it down on a napkin and explains that the orgyists wear costumes. Nick says he doesn't know much else because he's always blindfolded when he plays at the parties.

    Even though it is after 1:00 a.m., Bill walks to a costume shop called "Rainbow Fashions" hoping the owner, a patient of his, will help him with a costume as a favor. However, the store is under new ownership, and the man who answers the door, a middle aged European named Mr. Milich (Rade Serbedzija) tells Bill to come back during business hours. Bill offers Milich a generous amount of money to rent him a costume now. While taking Bill through the showroom, Milich catches his teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski), clad in only her underwear, cavorting with two similarly half-dressed older Japanese businessmen in a dressing room. As his daughter cowers behind Bill, Milich expresses outrage at their lack of decency. He locks the men in the room and threatens to call the police on them after he has served Bill.

    On the way to the party in a taxi, Bill continues to obsess about his wife with the naval officer. Using the password supplied by Nick, he gains access to the party, held at a remote mansion in Long Island. As Bill enters the main room he puts on his mask and sees a large gathering in the foyer of masked and robed people wearing masks and black robes. A man wearing a red robe stands in a circle of thirteen masked women at the center of the room. The women remove their cloaks to reveal that they are clad only in thong bikinis and engage in a quasi-religious ritual before an audience of similarly cloaked and masked men and women. Nick, blindfolded nearby, plays the electric organ. The partygoers then retire to watch or participate in a variety of sexual acts in other rooms throughout the mansion. One masked woman comes to Bill, takes him aside and warns him that he does not belong there.

    Bill walks through the mansion where various orgies are taking place from the living room, to the dining room and the library. After a few minutes, Bill meets another masked woman who accompanies in watching the library room orgy. Just then, the first masked woman catches up with Bill and takes him aside out of the room where she again tells him to leave and insists he is in terrible danger, for the others suspect that he is an outsider. Bill demands answers and urges the woman to leave with him, but she refuses, saying that it could cost her life and maybe his. The masked woman runs when Bill is then interrupted by a masked porter who tells him that the taxi driver who is waiting outside wants to speak with him. However, the porter takes him to the main room where the masked, red-cloaked Master of Ceremonies confronts Bill in front of the anonymous spectators with a question about a second password, which Bill is unable to answer. The Master of Ceremonies asks him to "kindly remove your mask," and once he does, requests that he also remove his clothes. Before Bill is forced to disrobe, the young woman who had tried to warn Bill intervenes and insists that she be punished instead of him. As she is taken away, Bill asks what is going to happen to her. The Master cryptically replies her fate is sealed. Bill is allowed to leave, but he is also warned not to tell anyone about what happened there or he and his family will suffer "dire consequences."

    Bill returns home at dawn, guilty and confused. He hides the costume in a locked bureau in his office. Alice awakens and tells him of a troubling dream in which he and she wandered naked in a deserted city. She felt frightened and ashamed while he went off to try to find their clothes. After he left, she felt better, finding herself, still naked, in a beautiful garden. The naval officer emerged, stared at her, and the two of them began making love surrounded by many other couples doing the same. She then started having sex with many of those men and laughing at the idea of Bill seeing her with them.

    The next morning, Bill goes to a restaurant next door to the Sonata cafe in search of Nick Nightingale, where he learns from the waitress where Nick is staying. Bill goes to the hotel to talk to Nick, but the front desk clerk (Alan Cumming) informs Bill that Nick checked out several hours ago. When Bill asks the desk clerk if there was "anything odd" about Nick's departure, the desk clerk tells Bill that Nick returned to the hotel just before dawn, accompanied by two well-dressed and well-spoken but burly men, one of whom went up to the room with Nick while the other paid his hotel bill. When Nick came back downstairs with his luggage, the desk clerk tells Bill that Nick tried to pass him an envelope, but one of the men noticed this and intercepted it. The two men then forcibly escorted Nick into a waiting limousine parked outside the hotel and they left. The desk clerk adds that Nick appeared to be frightened and his face was bruised.

    A little later that day, Bill goes to return the costume to Rainbow Fashions, but the mask isn't in the bag with the rest of the costume. Milich adds the missing mask to Bill's charge. Milich's daughter and the two businessmen appear again. The men, now attired in expensive suits, exchange a few pleasantries before they leave. Milich's teenage daughter is still in her underwear. Bewildered by the sudden turn of events, Bill reminds Milich that he was going to report the men to the police. The shopkeeper smilingly informs Bill that he and the businessmen have "come to another arrangement." With his daughter by his side, Mr. Milich states he can do other favors for Bill "and it needn't be a costume." His daughter simply stares at Bill enigmatically.

    More disturbed than ever, Bill returns to the site of the party, where he is handed a note at the front gate... addressed to him. Although the people there saw his face, he had never told anyone at the party his name. The note tells Bill to cease his inquiries about the previous night's events and to consider the note his "second warning."

    Throughout the rest of the day, Bill cannot get visions of Alice and the naval officer having passionate sex out of his head. After he returns home from work, he thinks about Alice's recounting of the scene while he watches her instruct their daughter in math. After dinner, Bill lies to Alice about having appointments at his office that very night. He goes back to Domino's apartment and when she is not home, he tries to seduce Sally, Domino's roommate (Fay Masterson). Sally seems interested, but the mood is dampened when she feels obliged to break the news to Bill that Domino has learned that she is HIV-positive. Bill then attempts to call Marion, but hangs up when her fiancé, Carl, answers the phone.

    Walking down a street, brooding, Bill notices a well-dressed stranger trailing him. Bill ducks into a nearby coffee shop and apparently loses his pursuer. There, Bill reads an article from a discarded newspaper, the New York Post, that a woman named Amanda Curran, a former beauty queen, was found dead of a drug overdose in a hotel room that morning. Using his doctor's credentials, Bill goes to the morgue to view the body. He recognizes Amanda Curran as the same "Mandy" who overdosed at the Zieglers' Christmas party two nights earlier, and suspects that she may also have been the same masked woman who tried to warn him during the orgy. Bill now fears that she died to protect him.

    As he is leaving the hospital, Bill receives a call on his cell phone from Ziegler, who wants to meet with him. In the spacious living room at Ziegler's house, after a few minutes of casual talk, Ziegler suddenly reveals that he knows all about what happened to Bill the previous night because he was at the orgy Bill crashed and pleads with him to give up his investigations. He admits to having had Bill followed because his own position with the mysterious group has been jeopardized by Bill's intrusion, and curses Nick for having told Bill about the event. Ziegler assures Bill that beyond voyeurism and sex, nothing untoward happened at the party. All of the warnings and the "trial", Ziegler suggests, were staged to frighten Bill into keeping quiet.

    Ziegler further tells Bill that the masked and costumed attendees at the orgy party are very wealthy, important, powerful people who want to protect their privacy. They already suspected that Bill didn't belong at the orgy because he came in a taxi and left the rental receipt for the costume in the pocket of his coat; also there was no second password. Bill would like to believe Ziegler, but can't simply overlook the death of Amanda Curran, whom Ziegler identified as the woman at the party as well as the same woman from the orgy who "sacrificed" herself to prevent Bill's punishment. He also wonders about Nick's fate. Ziegler claims that Nick is safely back home in Seattle, and that Mandy was simply a prostitute who had a bad drug problem and died from an accidental overdose. Ziegler quotes: "Life goes on, until it doesn't. It always does."

    (Note: Bill clearly struggles to accept everything Ziegler is telling him. Ultimately however, Ziegler is one of Bill's patients and socializes with many of Bill's other wealthy patients... some of whom are surely the same people involved in these strange ceremonies. Ziegler could effectively put an end to Bill's medical practice if he were to decide to cause any further trouble or question Ziegler's answers, not to mention taking other, more sinister measures against Bill of which he has hinted he is capable. Bill has no choice but to acquiesce and try to forget everything he's seen-- or thinks he's seen.)

    Bill returns home. He sees his mask from the orgy lying on his pillow next to a sleeping Alice. He breaks down in tears and wants to tell her everything. The next morning finds them both red-eyed and emotionally drained. Later that day, Bill and Alice take their daughter Christmas shopping at F.A.O. Schwartz. In a private moment, Bill asks Alice what they should do about their problems. She responds that she is grateful that they have both survived their recent real-life and dream-life adventures, and that they're both "awake" now. When Bill seeks reassurance that they'll remain awake "forever," Alice hedges, saying that while she loves him, the word "forever" frightens her.

    In the meantime, she suggests, they should get home and "fuck" as soon as possible.

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