What does the phrase “eyes wide shut” really mean? It seems to be a contradiction. No one can answer this without talking about the Kubrick film, and yet I also read le Carre use the same phrase to talk about a spy walking into a “honey trap” seemingly aware but uncaring of the consequences. Below find a typical explanation:

  1. It's a title of an excellent movie by Stanley Kubrick (director) [1], based on the 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler.
  2. It means a person refuses to see something in plain view, because of preconceived notions of what this something should look like. This frequently happens to naïve people. In the said movie, the title refers to sexuality, specifically to female sexuality, and refusal of the protagonist to see that women can have both sexual fantasies (besides her primary partner) and substantial sex drive. https://www.quora.com/What-does-the-phrase-eyes-wide-shut-mean

The phrase predates the movie so I suspect the definition should not depend on it.

  • 3
    You've answered your own question, I think. The expression is a humorous coinage, word-play by oxymoron.
    – Rob_Ster
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


I used this phrase on myself when my marriage ended for reasons that I knew existed prior to but chose to ignore or had a notion I could change. In the end, I said, " Well, I went into it with my eyes wide shut". Therefore, the definition to me is very much a play on words. It doesn't only apply to a naive individual. It applies to those who choose to enter into or take on something and all the while are fully aware of the perils or dubious outcomes that may lie right before them. It's a connotation that could be one of romanticism or that of ignorance to the obvious and not listening to intuition.

  • Where is “ot”, and why would you go therein? Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 1:30

To truly understand this phrase it is important to understand that it is a play on words.

The original, and extremely common phrase is "Eyes wide open" which broadly means taking in a lot of information or at least being receptive to it.

From that someone thought is was clever to use the opposite word to make the opposite meaning. It was clever at first but over time it became cliche and over used.

So the opposite of open is shut and the open of being receptive to information is being non-receptive to the information.

In short the phrase usually means to be closed minded but it sometimes gets misappropriated by artsy types because it sounds cool. In these instances it has no actual meaning.

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