Feb 15, 2023 I Brent Swancer

Stanley Kubrick, the Illuminati, Eyes Wide Shut, and a Conspiratorial Death

Few filmmakers have had as much of a lasting legacy and influence on modern cinema as the American film director, producer, screenwriter, and photographer Stanley Kubrick. Born in 1928 and raised in the Bronx, New York City, over the course of his illustrious career he created such groundbreaking and often controversial films as Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket, to name just a few, many of which have long had a reputation as being among some of the best movies ever made. Kubrick frequently pushed at the boundaries of filmmaking with innovative special effects, cinematography, the perfection of new filming methods such as the use of a Steadicam for stabilized and fluid tracking shots, realistic attention to detail, and extensive set designs. Perpetually holding a rank as one of the greatest film directors of the 20th century, he has continually influenced filmmakers and movies right up into the present, but he has also long been a magnet for dark, often very strange conspiracies, and one of these is the claim that he had dealings with a sinister secret society that may have led to his death.

Kubrick has long been no stranger to various conspiracy theories orbiting his work. The notorious taskmaster and perfectionist was known for his meticulous, detail-oriented nature, with full control over every aspect of his production and countless small, often surreal details buried within them. This attention to detail, in addition to the fact that his films work so heavily on a subliminal and subconscious level, invite endless analysis for sub textual meaning, clues, and secrets hidden within his works, and this in turn has fueled various conspiracies tied to him and his films. Perhaps the most infamous of these is the notion that not only was Kubrick hired by the US Government to fake the Apollo 11 moon landing in order to one up the Soviets in the space race, but that the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was a practice run for seeing if it was possible and that numerous clues can be found hidden within the film The Shining admitting to it all, seen as being a sort of catharsis and apology for Kubrick’s guilt at his deception. So prevalent is this belief that The Shining has long been pored over and picked apart by conspiracy theorists, putting practically every frame under the microscope for analysis for hidden clues, and it is widely discussed and debated to this day. Although this is perhaps the most well-known of Kubrick’s many conspiracies, it is certainly not the only one, and for a particularly dark and sinister conspiracy we must look at another one of his films.

Stanley Kubrick

In 1999, Kubrick released the erotic psychological drama Eyes Wide Shut. Starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, it is based on the 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler, with Kubrick transposing the setting from decadence-era Vienna to 1990s New York. The story follows a doctor (Cruise) who finds himself embroiled in the dark underworld of a mysterious unnamed secret society after his wife (Kidman) confesses a former fantasy about leaving her husband for someone else. Throughout his strange journey the line between reality and fantasy blurs as he becomes further drawn into a bizarre world of decadence, sex orgies, murder, the occult, and conspiracies, all filmed with Kubrick’s typical obsessive, almost maniacal attention to detail over an exhausting 400 days of filming, earning a place in the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot. The film generated much controversy upon release for its explicit sexual content, but it was also Kubrick's highest-grossing film and one about which he personally claimed was his “greatest contribution to the art of cinema.” However, although it does not have the standing among fans that many of his other works enjoy, it has a stubborn conspiracy that is allegedly directly tied to Kubrick’s death.

The idea is that Eyes Wide Shut was not mere fiction, but rather a real depiction of the goings on of a real secret society composed of society’s elite that hints at a massive, wide ranging Freemason-Illuminati conspiracy involving the occult, mind control, pedophilia, and human trafficking. As with many of Kubrick’s other films, much of the fuel for this conspiracy comes from the meticulous analysis of the film, which many say is redolent with secret nods that it is based on actual reality. Notably, there is the film’s party and sex orgy scene, in which there is an extravagent party that takes place a grand hall of masquerading uber-rich occultists that engage in all manner of depraved acts, some with apparent underage girls, and is scored with a reversed recording of Romanian priests singing Orthodox Liturgy. It is all quite surreal to say the least, and the idea is that this was just a thinly veiled depiction of the real inner sanctum of the Illuminati and their true debauchery behind the scenes, the main character of the film, who is not supposed to be there, being a surrogate for us, the viewers, a sort of conduit for the audience to peek into this distubing, twisted world hiding beneath the veneer of what we think we know. The character even receives a note when he returns to the manor the next day, reading “Give up your inquiries, which are completely useless, and consider these words a final warning. We hope, for your own good that this will be sufficient,” which conspiracists see as an admission to the kind of threat Kubrick felt he was really facing for showing this on screen and indeed a warning to his fans that they should not look too deeply into it themselves.  

The movie is supposedly absolutely riddled with such scenes, hints, visual cues, and other alleged evidence that supposedly further reinforce the idea that Kubrick was exposing the underbelly of illicit activities carried out by this very real secret society, all propelled by the director’s signature heavy emphasis on esoteric symbolism. Indeed, there have been whole point by point analyses done on these clues, notably that of film buff Rob Ager, who has dissected many of Kubrick’s films looking for conspiracy theories in a series of YouTube videos. There is also the fact that large portions of the film were changed or removed by the studio prior to release, and although this was likely due to their explicit nature and a supposed uncut version of the film was eventually released, conspiracy theorists hold that there are still sections missing that have never seen the light of day and that they were cut by someone who thought they showed too much. All of this might normally be written off as just a bunch of typical harmless conspiracy theorist nonsense and mumbo jumbo dredged out of the dead filmmaker’s work, but the conspiracy behind Eyes Wide Shut takes a rather dark turn in that it has been directly tied to Kubrick’s death.

Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove

On March 7, 1999, Kubrick died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 70. This might not be so unusual considering he was a 70-year-old man who was not in the best shape of his life, but conspiracy theorists point to something more ominous going on. The main thrust of this idea comes from the fact that Kubrick just happened to have died 6 days after first screening Eyes Wide Shut to studio executives at Warner Bros, making it the last film of his career and taking the power out of his hands to prevent anything from being removed or changed in the final cut. The timing of this death is seen by conspiracy theorists as being too suspicious to be coincidental, and they maintain that Kubrick was actually assassinated for showing too much in his film and pulling the curtain back too far. In this scenario, he was killed by poisoning that caused his heart attack, much as like is actually depicted in a murder in the film itself. Kubrick was well-known for being a consummate perfectionist who was constantly modifying and tinkering with his films right up to the last minute, so had the studio and the insidious powers that be seen something they did not like and had Kubrick killed to silence him? It seems intriguing, but if someone really had that much power, why wouldn’t they have just made sure the film was never made at all, or at least do more to cover it up? Author Thomas Leatham has said of the conspiracy:

The fact that Kubrick died before the films had been shown to the public raised some eyebrows amongst the more skeptical and conspiratorially aligned, even though by 1999, Kubrick was 70 years old. The fact that Eyes Wide Shut had seemingly exposed the illicit sexual occurrences of secret upper-class organizations seemed to suggest that perhaps Kubrick’s death had far more to it than a mere heart attack. Some have suggested that Kubrick had, in fact, been murdered by way of a Masonic Satanic poisoning in line with the subjects of the film. Kubrick had suffered a myocardial infarction in his sleep, which is said to be easy to induce through simple poisoning. However, it ought it be stressed that if anyone has a need to keep something secret, then it would likely be the organizations depicted in Eyes Wide Shut. So too, do those sects have the financial power to keep things hush, whether by paying off artists and journalists or engaging in strict confidentiality of its members.

Many of the elite also have a vested interest in the film industry. Eyes Wide Shut was based (like many of Kubrick’s works) on a piece of literature. This time was Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Dream Story. However, film is by far a more popular medium than literature, so whoever had their hands on the working knowledge and understanding of Eyes Wide Shut knew that, given Kubrick’s stature, the film was likely to be viewed by millions. So while it is understood that Kubrick’s cause of death was a heart attack, several signs suggest that perhaps it was not as simple as reported. Although Kubrick had already completed the film, and it was ultimately released to acclaim, so whoever may (or may not) have wanted to stop the film from being shown could have done more to prevent it (especially given their suspected power).

The problem with this conspiracy and others connected to Kubrick’s filmography is that is all based on very little hard evidence and leans heavily into subjective interpretation, extensive nitpicking, and wishful thinking. Anyone who had any real association with Kubrick has flat out denied that any of this is true in any sense at all, and the filmmaker himself never explicitely admitted to any of this in any way. The ones who propose these theories are often seen as ranting whackos with too much time on their hands, which only muddies the waters because it is unclear what parts of these theories might possibly hold some truth and which are just delusional rantings. Wired gave a typical damning review of such a theorist when they wrote of Ager’s Kubrick conspiracies:

Ager's analyses are a screwy mixture of intelligent film theory and zany conspiracy theories by a very intelligent and fascinating nutball. Ager has oscillated wildly between extremely insightful commentary on the symbolism and psychology that made The Shining so effective and Ager's own wishful-thinking political wankery… an odd, fascinating mix… it's nutty, but despite Ager's weirdo conspiracy theories, he does make a convincing case that Kubrick may at least have shared his theories.

Is that all this is? Just a bunch of woo woo nutjobs reading between the lines just a little too much? Or is there perhaps any more to it all? Was Kubrick really privy to insider secrets of the inner sanctum of some high society elite cult or secret society, perhaps even a part of it all? Was he trying to release this information through his film and perhaps paid the ultimate cost because of it? For now it is a fringe theory to be sure, just another of many that swirl around Kubrick's works, and whatever the real answer is it is all damn strange nevertheless. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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