DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: EYES WIDE SHUT

Monday 24 September 2007


Eyes Wide Shut (1999) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman


I have tried really really hard to love Master Kubrick’s final film, but I just can’t do it. Some find “Eyes Wide Shut” a beguiling and seductive dream-story masterpiece and worthy of his other classics, but for me, it succeeds in teasing me without paying off in the profound way Kubrick wanted it to.

Throughout the mid 90’s there were several rumours about new Stanley Kubrick projects. There was the salivating sci-fi project, “Artificial Intelligence”, or the holocaust story, “The Aryan Papers”. But when it was announced he was filming a Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman film heads turned (at least mine).

After an incredible 15 months of production, key casting changes during reshoots, and tall tales of obsessive behaviour from Kubrick the film was released in July of 1999. My expectations were high – too high in fact - and I was severely disappointed. But as with many of his films it requires many viewings to get through the dense themes. After 8 years and several viewings I can finally write about it.

The film opens with a Kubrick trademark - a waltz. Shostakovich's Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra plays over Bill and Alice Harford (Tom and Nicole) as they get ready for a Christmas party. They are a New York Park Avenue couple. Bill is a doctor and Alice stays home to raise their young daughter. At the magnificent party of their friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) the couple get separated and start exploring the premises as singles. Alice gets hit on by a handsome Hungarian playboy, while Bill flirts with a pair of playful young gals. Before anything moves further, Bill is summoned to the Victor’s bedroom where his mistress has just over-dosed on drugs. The woman lives and Bill goes about the evening.

At home Bill and Alice get into an argument about their near-philandering activies. After much bickering about the sex-obsessions of men, Alice reveals to Bill a time, years ago, when she almost sacrificed her marriage for a lustful encounter with a stranger. It never happened, but the story shakes Bill to the core. Before the two can reconcile their argument Bill is called out to work. For Bill the night and the next few days becomes a journey into his own subconscious fueled by the jealousy from Alice’s shocking admonition. Bill moves from one odd situation to another where he is tempted into adultery, and climaxing with a dangerous ritual orgy which threatens Bill’s life.

The film is structured like a dream – the events in Bill’s rabbit hole journey are born from his psychological fantasies. You’ll notice that each and every time Bill seduced, just as he’s about the move into adultrous territory he is interupted by something outside his control. Ie. Before the two girls take Bill to the other room at the party he’s interupted by Ziegler’s assistant; Just before he gets naked with the kindly street prostitute his cell phone rings. So for this reason his frustration is our frustration as audience members. Some of these vignettes work, some don’t. Seeing the film for the first time, you’re fooled into thinking these events will somehow payoff later on down the line – but they don’t. It’s kind of a cruel trick of Kubrick to tease us - like a peep show, without ever showing us anything.

During these encounters Bill is inactive as a protagonist. Then he meets Nick Nightengale. With his sexual frustration at it’s peak he finally takes action and wills himself into the exclusive masked sexual ritual, which is the major set piece in the film. It is a classic scene. Kubrick expertly sets this scene up with unbearable suspense and his ominous and brooding Tamil chanting music. Kubrick continues his career-long fascination with masks, which adds to the creepiness of the sequence. But even this sequence teases us with threats of violence and we see ample amounts of graphic fornication. But does it really payoff? Unfortunately I can’t spoil anything here.

As expected the film looks fantastic. Kubrick improves on his traditional natural flat lighting with a gorgeous array of Christmas lights creating an omnipresent glow in the background. He also uses an unnatural but mood-altering blue light in the windows of his interior sets. There’s a few trademark tracking shots, but it’s surprisingly light on the camera gymnastics. Everything about the look works for the film. I think it's his best lit film.

“Eyes Wide Shut” is high on mood, chills and the usual technical brilliances we expect from his work. And even though I tried really hard to find the profoundness in the film, it’s no masterpiece for me. Though the film is supposed to express Bill’s sexual frustration, it still frustrates me. Maybe that’s the whole point of the film - that the events in Bill’s life never pay off. So for me, where Kubrick has made a film about impotence, not jealousy. Enjoy.

Buy it here: Eyes Wide Shut (Two-Disc Special Edition)

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I think the movie is actually about fidelity in marriage. The message is that within the bounds of marriage you can find all kinds of sexual pleasure but going outside of marriage causes trouble, i.e. AIDS, the death of the prostitute, and the trouble Bill got into at the orgy. The orgy was a stylized marriage. To get into the mansion one had to pledge fidelity. Once inside you had to go through a ritual then you were allowed to fulfill your every sexual fantasy. Bill got in trouble because he falsely pledged fidelity. Whenever Bill strayed away from the marriage he got into trouble. Interestingly in the beginning of the movie Alice undresses just like all of the women at the orgy. Curious how a movie ostensibly very sexual, (scenes were digitally censored when it was first released), is in fact affirming marriage.