Case Study: Eyes Wide Shut

It has been objected that Bill Harford is unrealistically ignorant of the world of commercial sex, but this argument is false; it is totally credible that he has no idea of what it is like to have to pay for it. He is, after all, a handsome doctor. This may be why he is shown as courteous towards working girls; as at any rate Victor Ziegler, who seems to have much more experience than is good for him, is not. Ziegler’s belief that the dead girl was a “hooker” and so doesn’t matter is deeply offensive. I am, however, by no means convinced that treating working girls as real people is reliably correlated with never having met any.

There are several ladies to discuss here. I have nothing to say about the nymphet Leelee Sobieski character. As regards the women at the party and masked orgy, I am not sure that dying of an overdose of snowballs is any more characteristic of the high-class call-girls that a Ziegler would lay on than of minor actresses and jet-set “party girls”, who are by convention not considered prostitutes; but my familiarity with his social stratum is necessarily limited. Yes, of course it is exceedingly unlikely that a courtesan would sacrifice her life for the good doctor, even if she had been that patient of his, which I do not think she was – and this would suggest that Ziegler’s final story is a lie and that Bill’s initial paranoia was entirely justified. That Dr. Bill actually believes the self-sacrifice schtick tells us nothing about working girls and everything about the colossally complacent vanity of the character, which was also what annoyed his wife.

Domino has been criticised for being impossibly sweet-natured; it is said that a New York streetwalker would be harder. That may be so, but if the argument is generalised to all working girls being harder, then it is wholly false. Domino and Sally, with their courtesy and gentleness, would be wholly credible as a couple of mid-range providers in Europe; and the same goes for their boudoir and her apparently uncommercial offer of coffee. What is far less credible is Domino’s bashfulness about naming prices and services, and the implication that he is being such a gentleman by paying her for her time anyway. In real life, Bill would have had to pay her before she even took her fur coat off, and her trying to refuse the fee is extremely improbable. This is, after all, her living.

Wildly incredible is the whole business with her testing HiV-positive; the infection rate among non-needle-using working girls in Western countries is actually lower than in the general population, for the very good reason that condom use is mandatory, which can by no means be said for the sex that occurs at parties and at beach resorts. Sally says that Bill needs to know that Domino has tested positive because he has “been with” her, rather than because he “has met” or “obviously liked” her; the implication is that she believes that they had unprotected sex. Unless the New York scene is radically different from the norm in real life, this is simply ridiculous, a movie trope of the same kind as swords making sinister swishing noises in empty air.

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