Traumnovelle


Traumnovelle
   (Rhapsody:A Dream Novel)
   Originally published in German in 1926, ARTHUR SCHNITZLER’s novella forms the basis for FREDERIC RAPHAEL and STANLEY KUBRICK’s screenplay for EYES WIDE SHUT (1999). Schnitzler’s story bears one significant characteristic in common with ANTHONY BURGESS’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962): it is short enough to allow a reasonably faithful adaptation to film. Except for the transposition of period and locale—the Schnitzler book is set in Vienna at the end of the 19th century—Eyes Wide Shut, set in New York on the eve of the 21st century, follows the original story fairly closely. Traumnovelle examines the marriage of a physician named Fridolin and his wife, Albertine, who, after years together, begin to confess the temptations they have had over the years to be unfaithful to each other.
   After an evening out at a masked ball, at which both Fridolin and Albertine have flirted with other guests, Albertine (partly motivated by jealousy, to get revenge for Fridolin’s flirtations) tells her husband about a sailor who had caught her fancy the prior summer, while the couple was on holiday on the coast of Denmark. Fridolin retaliates with a story of a pubescent girl he encountered near the beach one morning, on that same Danish holiday; the girl had exchanged knowing looks with him, and he admits to his wife that he had to make a great effort in order to keep from pursuing the girl.
   Though the hour has grown quite late, Fridolin is called away; one of his patients, a prominent lawyer, has taken a turn for the worse. When Fridolin arrives at the posh home of the Court Counsellor, the man has already died. Marianne, the adult daughter of the deceased, blurts out a declaration of love for Fridolin, who is embarrassed by her advances, especially as her fiancé is in the house. As soon as he is able, Fridolin leaves and starts walking home.
   In the street, he is harassed by a group of drunken fraternity students. Maturity prevents Fridolin from scuffling with the young men, and he walks away; yet he is disturbed by his failure to stand up to them, and he even feels emasculated by the incident. His troubled thoughts distract him from his intended route, and he soon finds himself in an unfamiliar area.
   A prostitute approaches him and invites him to her apartment. Fridolin declines sex with the young woman at first, preferring simply to talk to her. Assuming he is afraid of contracting syphilis, the woman says he is right to be cautious. Fridolin then attempts to make love to her, but the prostitute now is uncomfortable, and he desists.
   Back out in the street, Fridolin wanders into a café, where there is soft piano music in the background. After a while, he recognizes a man seated nearby as Nachtigall (Nightingale in the 1999 English translation), formerly a fellow medical student. Nachtigall joins him and confesses that it was he who had been playing the piano. After they both “catch up,” Nachtigall tells Fridolin of the unusual gatherings for which he occasionally plays piano-ritualistic orgies, with all the men masked and in robes and all the women wearing only masks, during which Nachtigall plays blindfolded. There is to be such a gathering that night, and Fridolin convinces Nachtigall to help him get in. Against his better judgment, Nachtigall gives Fridolin the password for entry: “Denmark. ” Fridolin notes the ironic coincidence.
   Fridolin knows of a costume shop that might be open late, so he goes there to rent a monk’s habit and a black mask. While the proprietor, Gibiser, is assisting him, they hear a noise in the shop. Gibiser discovers two men—dressed in red judges’ robes and white wigs—in a compromising position with his very young daughter. The girl runs over to Fridolin and embraces him, “with mischief and desire” in her eyes. Gibiser threatens loudly to call the police on the two men, and he hints that the girl is mentally ill. Fridolin leaves with his costume just in time to follow Nachtigall’s carriage to the mysterious gathering.
   Soon after Fridolin gains entry, a female reveler warns him that he must leave immediately, while there is still time. Heedless, Fridolin remains, watching the gaily costumed men dancing with the nude, masked women. He senses that some of the men are becoming suspicious, and a second woman approaches him, inviting him to join in the fun. Then the first woman reappears and steals Fridolin away momentarily, to offer him one more warning. She is whisked away by one of the other men, and Fridolin finds himself alone. Suddenly, one and then several men demand the “password to the house,” from Fridolin. As he is unable to supply it, they demand that he remove his mask. By this time, all the revelers are looking on. Just as someone begins to forcibly remove Fridolin’s mask, the woman who had warned him offers herself, so that Fridolin might be spared his fate. Despite Fridolin’s protestations, he is escorted out and warned sternly against attempting to investigate further. A carriage drives Fridolin to the outskirts of town.
   He arrives home at 4 A. M. , locking the mask and habit away in his office. He finds Albertina asleep, but suddenly she breaks into hysterical laughter, apparently dreaming. He wakes her, and she describes the nightmare she had just been having: The dream begins as a metaphor for their love for each other, their marriage, and the struggles to make a life together. But while Fridolin is away, gathering precious gifts for Albertine, she becomes distracted by a lover, who may be one man or several. She lies nude with him in a meadow with thousands of other naked couples, and she can see an angry mob pursuing Fridolin, intent on killing him. As they are about to crucify him, the princess of the land offers to save him if he will marry her and become prince. Fridolin refuses, to remain true to Albertine, who rises up to go to him. She laughs at the absurdity of Fridolin’s fidelity, that he would sacrifice himself for her. She wants to get to him, not to save him, but so that he can hear her laughter as he is being nailed to the cross. So she starts laughing as loudly as she can. That is the moment at which Fridolin awakes her from the dream.
   The next day, Fridolin is filled with a profound hatred of Albertine, and he is convinced that there is no course for him but divorce. Meanwhile, he discovers that Nachtigall has vanished, having been spirited away from his rooming house the night before by two imposing men.
   Fridolin then returns to the costume shop, under pretense of inquiring about the mental health of Gibiser’s daughter. Again he sees the two men who had been dressed as judges, and he asks Gibiser if he had not called the police. Gibiser replies that they have “come to a different understanding,” and he strongly hints that, for a price, Fridolin too can know the pleasures of his young daughter.
   Later that day, Fridolin manages to find the mysterious house where the dark proceedings had unfolded the night before. A servant meets him at the gate, with a letter addressed to Fridolin by name. The letter offers a second warning that he must give up his inquiries at once.
   That evening, he pays a visit to Marianne, half hoping that she will try to seduce him and that he will thus be able to take some revenge on Albertine for the cruelty of her dream. Instead, Fridolin is appalled at the pathos of the situation, as Marianne seems to be genuinely in love with him and crushed that he does not try to prevent her impending marriage. Fridolin wanders the streets, half considering the possibility of leaving town altogether to start a new life elsewhere. He finds himself at the apartment house of the prostitute, Mizzi, from the night before, but her roommate informs him that Mizzi has been hospitalized (we presume for syphilis). As he continues to wander the streets, for no other reason than to avoid going home, Fridolin stops in a café and reads the newspaper. In it, he learns of a young woman, a “Baroness D. ,” who had committed suicide by poison the night before. He gets the idea that Baroness D. could be the woman who warned him at the orgy, so he goes to the morgue to inspect the corpse. Fridolin is deeply moved by the dead woman’s body, although he is not certain it is the same woman.
   Leaving the shadows of the previous night behind him, Fridolin returns home at last. He finds Albertine sleeping, and on the pillow next to her lies Fridolin’s black mask. He unexpectedly breaks into tears. Albertine awakes, and Fridolin tells her of the previous night’s adventures. Afterward, in the gray light of dawn, the two of them decide that they are lucky to have survived all their pitfalls, whether dreams or real; awake for the moment, they get ready to face a new day together.
   Kubrick had been introduced to Schnitzler’s work by his second wife, RUTH SOBOTKA. In 1960, he explained his admiration for the writer in an interview with Emmett Ginna:
   It’s difficult to find any writer who understood the human soul more truly and who had a more profound insight into the way people think, act, and really are, and who also had a somewhat allseeing point of view—sympathetic if somewhat cynical.
   When Frederic Raphael first read Traumnovelle, he told Kubrick that he found it to be somewhat dated, and that quite a lot of work would be required to translate the story to present-day New York. In Eyes Wide Open, Raphael recounts their conversation:
   S. K. : Dated in what way?
   F. R. : No cars, no phones, but that’s not the problem [indeed there are phones in the story].
   S. K. :What’s the problem?
   F. R. : Underlying assumptions. Which are dated, aren’t they? About marriage, husbands and wives, the nature of jealousy. Sex. Things have changed a lot between men and women since Schnitzler’s time.
   S. K. : Have they? I don’t think they have.
   F. R. : (After thought) Neither do I.
   The popular press could not have disagreed more. Eyes Wide Shut met with much critical hostility and public consternation. Rather than recognizing the film’s exploration of the emotional and psychological complexities of a marriage, critics faulted the film for failing to be what they expected: a quasipornographic, erotic thriller. Part of the blame lies in the way the film was marketed and publicized, as “the sexiest film ever made. ” Furthermore, audiences and critics seemed to miss the dreamlike quality of the film and the story itself, offering such banal observations as that the streets in the film look nothing like New York City streets.
   Frederic Raphael saw the bulk of Fridolin’s adventures as a dream, but in Eyes Wide Open, he reports that Stanley Kubrick did not. Raphael quotes Kubrick as saying,“It can’t all be a dream . . . if there’s no reality, there’s no movie. ”Yet Raphael is correct to point out that Schnitzler suggests that Fridolin’s night of adventure is a dream. Having the password be “Denmark” mirrors the fact that Albertine and Fridolin had seen their fantasy lovers, the sailor and the young girl, in Denmark—something they had been discussing just before Fridolin went out for the night. Raphael points out the highly Freudian aspects to the story, and Kubrick mentions that, in fact, Schnitzler knew SIGMUND FREUD.
   On the other hand, Kubrick was right to dismiss Raphael’s facile contention that “the whole thing is meant to be read as a dream. ” Schnitzler’s story navigates the gray area between reality and dreams (or fantasy), between action and desire, between the conscious and the unconscious—waters through which some of the best literature and films, like Traumnovelle and Eyes Wide Shut, take us, if we allow them to do so.
   References
   ■ Ginna, Emmett, “Legacy: The Odyssey,” 1960 interview with Stanley Kubrick, on Entertainment Weekly Online, http://www.ew.com;
   ■ Raphael, Frederic, Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick (New York: Ballantine, 1999);
   ■ Schnitzler, Arthur, Traumnovelle (1926), English translation by J. M. Q. Davies (New York:Warner Books, 1999).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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