Directed By Stanley Kubrick
By: Eric G.
Even if the story were atrocious (it is not) and the acting were terrible (it is not) this film would be amazing just as a visual spectacle. Stanley Kubrick, if he knew anything, knew lighting (he was a photographer for Look Magazine in his teens). Eyes Wide Shut is drenched in a golden sheen that invokes the feeling of a dreamscape that is precariously poised on the brink of a nightmarish unreality. Kubrick uses this look to keep a tight reign on our senses. It is the foundation upon which this film succeeds.
Eyes Wide Shut is a simple study of the effects of jealousy on a seemingly impenetrable man. Tom Cruise plays a doctor wanting of nothing, and Nicole Kidman plays his gorgeous, intelligent wife, who is frustrated by her husband’s inability to admit adulterous thoughts, and therefore plays a mind fuck on him, deconstructing everything he thinks to be true about her love, trust, and devotion. Kubrick wanted a real life husband and wife to play these characters to see how they’d handle the subject matter on camera. It didn’t hurt that he got two of the world’s biggest stars.
My stock in Tom Cruise went up hundreds of points after this seeing this film. Critics have always given him the shaft because of his intimidating good looks, but he really seemed to be submerged in this role (the guy got an ulcer from it for God’s sakes). I’ve seen him in countless films, and usually you can predict an actor’s expressions and mannerisms, but Cruise truly seemed to have adopted an entirely new set of emotions for this role. His everyman bravado seemed shattered for the first time. The look in his eye revealed a total loss of control.
Kidman’s role was lesser but still effective. Her stoned monologue set the film in motion. It was a slow and painful speech, which I’m sure was shot countless times to achieve the perfect pitch for Kubrick’s meticulous taste. Her voice and naked image haunt the rest of the film. We are never sure of her motives after she ruthlessly shatters her husband’s security, and therefore view any scenes of her with a suspicious eye. Her hair and skin tone merge with the ominous look of the lighting, adding to our innate apprehension of her.
Strong supporting roles add brief moments of humor and reality to the languid pacing. Kubrick keeps his silliness at bay throughout the film, playing off Cruise’s celebrity in one of the film’s recurring in-jokes. Almost every time he enters a room people act completely star-struck and smitten by his looks. In one of the films funniest scenes a woman calls her doctor over because her father has just died. Cruise arrives at the solemn apartment and tries to console the grieving daughter, who recklessly blurts out that she’s in love with him and practically throws herself at him. It’s an absurdly funny sequence that feels like a wink from the director.
The average Joe just hoping to get a glimpse of Nicole Kidman’s naked ass is in for a long night. This film is engrossing but psychologically not physically. The now infamous orgy sequence (brutally obscured by American censors) is so totally bizarre that it disturbed the living shit out of me. Those masks and that stark, two note piano line had my insides all twisted up and my heart racing. Kubrick revels in the emotional depravity of this scene, knowing full well that your imagination is running with the deepest, darkest thoughts it can muster, making it all far worse than it seems. The scene actually works better that we never really find out any details as to the inner workings of that bacchanalian festival of debauchery.
The ending is abrupt and strange but very befitting of a Kubrick film. I’ve read complaints that it tries to moralize and tidy up an otherwise shattered relationship, but that’s only if you trust anything that comes out of Nicole Kidman’s character’s mouth (anyone who would deliberately harm their partner on the levels that she did can’t be too trustworthy). I found it even more daunting and ironic that she could think that something as simple as a “fuck” could repair their troubles. Kubrick, of course, leaves it all up to us to decide, and judging from the wide range of reactions this film is getting, people are doing just that.