Somerton seems to have hired Lucifer himself to decorate the place, as there are red carpets everywhere, and even the walls seem to emit a deep red glow. Bill straps on his mask and the final cards have been laid. Now he's drifted far, far away from the sanctity (or, at least, trust) of marriage. He's full of self-denial and doubt, and it's just a big metaphor for all the lies he tells his wife. (Even when he told her "I've never lied to you. . ." well, we know how men are.) Bill's then led into the ballroom or whatever it is, where the ritual takes place. I don't really want to say much about it except that it's probably one of the coolest things ever filmed. Some people have likened it to pagan ritual, others to groups like the Masons. I really don't know what it's "like," I only know that it's very heavy and extremely important to the people involved. The women in the circle seem to be wearing masks that (in at least some cases) reflect Egyptian deities or motifs, and the music that plays throughout is a reversed track of some language I can't discern, so it just makes for a real creepy scene. The red guy (referred to in the screenplay as "Red Cloak") in the middle, of course, is the symbol of all that is destroying Bill. Depravity dressed up like decadence. The true essence of the party isn't the sex, it's more the incredible emptiness that lies within the sex. It's completely meaningless and is the kind of stuff that is referred to as "fucking," and, to Bill's credit, when he gets kicked out I think it's for a good reason: he cares too much about the passion of lovemaking to exist within the party. (whoa. . .1984!) Er. . .obviously, he's been hurt by his wife's admittance that she was thinking of another man for complete physical reasons, and he goes seeking the same sort of attraction, but never really finds it. Somehow he's always blocked from it (phones, other people, etc.)
Bill is recognized by someone at the party, a masked man on the balcony, who we never realize the identity of (screenplay calls him "Tricorn," referring to his mask), and I suppose could be Ziegler, but it's pretty nebulous. The man gives Bill a knowing nod that Bill returns, and this is probably the most inexplicable part of the film. After a lot of deliberation, I've narrowed this down to four possibilities:
1) This is nobody in particular, and this only establishes a sense of trepidation.
2) These people aren't real, and are, instead, a manifestation of Bill's fears of being recognized.
3) This is Dr. Carl and Marian -- notice the tear on the cheek of the female mask. (I highly doubt this is Ziegler.)
4) The couple is possibly Szandor and Alice. 5) This is a misstep, a throwaway that Kubrick would've removed if he had lived.
I'm not sure which of those answers this mystery, but . . . is an answer necessary?
Well, after the ritual, a woman with a big feathered mask picks Bill to come play some game with her, tic tac toe, probably, and then she warns him of all the bad stuff that can happen to the both of them if Bill doesn't skeedaddle, and quick. She's then pulled away by someone else, a man wearing a Napoleon mask. Now, Kubrick used to idolize Napoleon because Napoleon had a Kubrick complex. . .or maybe it was the other way around. And, anyway, Kubrick was going to make a film about Napoleon but put the 86 on the project, for varied reasons. In Lobrutto's biography, it says that Kubrick and an assistant used a grid system to actually count the number of infantry in Napoleon's army (from a painting.) As you can see, Kubrick seemed quite devoted to the project at one time and amassed a huge personal archive of Napoleon information, and yet the film was never made. He actually contacted Anthony Burgess about writing a screenplay on Napoleon's life structured around a Beethoven piece, which Burgess eventually wrote as his own novel. So, owing to the nature of this never-completed gargantuan project (I believe it cost too much, actually), I guess this guy is probably some impotent fella trying to give it another shot with the Feather Girl, whom I'm going to refer to as Mandy because we all know it's the junkie girl from Ziegler's WC. Of course that's just all creative speculation. Oh, also, Tom Cruise is pretty short, and perhaps Napoleon's relationship with Josephine might be a little representative of our favorite couple in Kubrickland. We constantly see Alice (and women in general) dominating over Bill.
Then Bill walks through the orgy scene, which is bleeding red, but I'm not going to talk about it because I'm just so disappointed with the MPAA. For our European friends, the MPAA is a group of very old, very conservative men with big hard-ons for ruining art. They don't understand film and perhaps never will, and they disliked Stanley Kubrick so much that they decided to ruin one of the most important scenes he ever filmed after he was dead, so he couldn't yell at them. Thank you, MPAA, for all of your hard work and dedication in protecting America (and Canada, too!) from itself! *applause!*
Another note: this scene has become sort of infamous lately for another reason. Jocelyn Pook, who orchestrated the bizarre music linked to Somerton, included a phrase from the Baghavad-Gita in the score to this part of the film. Some people representing factions of the Hindu community became extremely riled about this and threatened to sue Warner, Kubrick's estate, and everyone else because of this. Now, this is not an attack on Hinduism, which I respect with all my heart as I respect any religion that is not used as a weapon, but I think that in this case the people who took offense to this are completely out-of-line for threats of lawsuits. People tend to forget that film is supposed to be art. Art is, sometimes, "offensive," but that is the nature of art. Kubrick was an artist and made an artistic decision to use this song for the score, and it includes a passage from the Baghavad-Gita, one of the world's most widely-read pieces of literature. The fact that it is sacred gives these people no right to bring suit against Warner and especially Kubrick's estate. It is a piece of literature in the public domain, and anyone may use it as he or she sees fit. That goes for the Bible, for the Torah, for the Koran, and for the Upanishads and all parts of the Baghavad-Gita!
In a bit of settlement, Warner removed the speech track from that part of the score for release in India and other Hindu countries, but that doesn't really address the problem of people trying to oppress art in the twenty-first century. The Fatwa made the Muslims look bad, and this is beginning to make the Hindus look bad to many people. Anyway, all of this goes far beyond that and yet it belongs in its own essay, so now you can get back to Kubrick. Again, I have no qualms and deep respect for anyone who practices Hinduism, Islam, and any religion with sensible acceptance of other cultures and human nature, so please don't send me hate mail.
Back to the facts, Bill is met by another striking masked beauty (led in by Tricorn) who wants to play tag with Bill, or something, and I think he's about to fall into her tempting arms when Mandy comes back. She makes with more of the "you're in serious danger, you shouldn't be here" talk, while "Strangers in the Night" wafts up from the party below and blue light seeps in from the window behind them. He then asks Mandy, "Let me see your face." "No," she says, in some ways saying "I will always be a prostitute, I have no plans to do otherwise."
Soon Bill is lured away when another bald man (with the staff's trademark gold masks) asks if Bill is the man with the taxi waiting, to which Bill says "yes." "Well, sir, your driver is waiting at the door, he has an urgent message for you." Bill follows the man, who leads him to the circle, where the rest of the guests surround the seated Red Cloak, who is flanked by two guards wearing purple robes. You know, this is extremely impressive: those cloaks that looked so black before seem to turn an eerie shade of. . .blue. . .when they are under the great lights that illuminate the place.
Then come the lonely notes of the Musica Ricercata II by Ligeti, the important and yet underappreciated Hungarian composer who provided "Atmospheres" for 2001. The notes bounce off one another in a baroque and devastating dance of death, battling each other until they explode in a succession of rolling octaves. This is a very important marker in the film. Much like Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra in 2001, the theme music means something more than it does in most films. Kubrick was more than a filmmaker; the man knew where and when to use exactly the right kind of music. (Though some people chided his use of the too-familiar "Blue Danube" in 2001.)
"Please come forward," says Red Cloak, in a snide British accent. "What is the password?" he asks.
"Fidelio," says Bill. There is a murmur amongst the crowd.
Red Cloak chuckles. "Yes, that is the password. . .for admittance. What is the password. . .for the house?"
Bill ponders. "I. . .I seem to. . .to have forgotten it."
Murmur. The piano notes pound away.
"You will kindly remove your mask." Bill follows the instructions, bearing a face of shame. He clutches his beloved mask tightly.
Bill is then asked to remove his clothes, and all sorts of possibilities fly through our minds -- any number of humiliating games or terrible tortures are imagined, though we are not surprised. Truly, Bill is already naked before these people.
Suddenly, a voice, and the camera zeroes in on Mandy, standing on a balcony, blue light washing out from behind her. "STOP! Leave him alone!" She goes on to "redeem" Bill by offering herself in his stead, and she is taken away. Red Cloak agrees to release Bill, but warns him: "If you reveal this, there will be dire consequences for you and your family. Remember: when a promise has been made here, there is no turning back."
I'm not sure what to say about all this, but we'll start from the beginning of this complex scene.
Mandy warns Bill that he is in great danger of being exposed -- perhaps Bill's greatest fear. He fears the exposition that he, in some way, does not satisfy his wife's needs, and fears the exposition of his great jealousy. "I'm not the jealous type," he says, but we all know he is. Then Bill is taken away and his fidelity is questioned. This seems to say "fidelity is more than a word. It is a concept which is more than simply a password. Just because you can say I will be faithful does not give you access." This seems contradictory, in that fidelity seems the antithesis of this place, but it is a piece of bitter irony that Bill must understand. The irony is that these people, the whores and the backstabbers, teach Bill something about fidelity. Fidelity is not the password, Bill. It's something that you can't gather yet. Then Bill removes his mask, as if to say, "Here I am. I am weak. Strike me down." Yet, this strikingly (and I can hear Kubrick giggling below) feministic film saves Bill via the "weaker" sex. This whore, this corpse, even, will give herself over for a man who she doesn't even know. Perhaps that is love.
Then Red Cloak gives Bill a bit of advice, if not a pretty accurate horoscope: if you tell anyone about this, it means hell for your family. Indeed we see that when he confesses his secrets to Alice, things turn shaky and terrible. Red Cloak's note about promises is pretty weighty, too, as if to stress the "till death do us part" thing. Stick-in-the-mud.
So now Bill is expelled from the dreamworld of meaningless screwing and excessive wealth, and forced back into the real world where he has to deal with his real problems -- he has a wife who has confessed thoughts of another man, and a daughter in the betting pot.