Drama / Films

Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut received a lot of attention upon its release. Kubrick’s bizarre sex odyssey was separated from the rest of his filmography by a 12 year gap – the director hadn’t made a movie since Full Metal Jacket in 1987, and critics were keen to see what had brought the reclusive Kubrick out of hibernation. This focus was further magnified by Kubrick’s death – he died just a month after completing the movie – as well as the sordid subject matter, and the starring couple. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were the Hollywood couple back in the 90s and audiences were perversely eager to see the two get it on; the marketing was built completely on this idea, showing a semi-naked Cruise and Kidman making out in front of a mirror. When the film was released, to huge media attention, it garnered negative reviews and was considered a damp swansong. This negativity was not isolated to Eyes Wide Shut – Kubrick’s previous movies, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket had all been panned upon release and subsequently recalled as classics over time, but with the added focus of cast, death and hibernation, these thoughts were exaggerated. Of course, Eyes Wide Shut is a fantastic movie, though an extremely surreal and unusual one; it’s a wonderful final note from one of cinema’s masters, and a great closing chapter to an impressive career.eyes wide shutThe film follows rich Dr. Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) who lives in a luxurious Manhattan apartment with his beautiful wife of nine years, Alice (Nicole Kidman). After a lavish Christmas party thrown by friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), the couple get high, and Alice reveals a hidden episode from the previous vacation; a naval officer caught her eye, and in that moment, she would have given up everything for one night with him. The revelation shatters Bill’s trust and leads him on all-night long sex odyssey as he bounces through a series of strange locations, trying to make sense of Alice’s imagined infidelities, and potentially, to get revenge.eyes wide shutAudiences expected a very different movie. It’s easy to understand why – Kubrick had talked for years about making a porn movie as art, and Eyes Wide Shut – especially with its saucy marketing – suggested just that; a blue movie with an A-list cast. What audiences got however, was remarkably different. It’s crucial to the narrative that Cruise and Nicole are never seen having sex; this is a movie about sex, and what it means to people, but also about a couple spinning apart, and the emptiness in the centre – the lack of intercourse – illustrates the sense of connections failing. Eyes Wide Shut is preoccupied with relationships, jealousy, and the secrets of married couples; it is, at times, a realistic portrait of a couple who can no longer find one another, realising they may not have known each other that well at all. It’s remarkably honest at times – Kidman’s stoned confession and the subsequent argument with Cruise perfectly captures a couple’s fight, with her frustration at his assumptions about her, and his frustration at not understanding where she’s coming from, or what the fight is even about. Scenes where the two discuss their issues quietly together, and then brighten up to talk toys with their daughter, are also very realistic, and there’s a real understanding in Eyes Wide Shut of a couple’s private world versus their public personae.eyes wide shutIt almost feels like the movie cheats the audience, which is partly the point. Kubrick subverts expectations about what the audience wants by denying sex, and puts them into the fragmented mindset of the film’s characters. Notice how the movie begins with Kidman and seems to be telling her story; we focus on her for the first half hour, but after her confession, the attention switches entirely onto Cruise, and Kidman vanishes for the rest of the narrative. We’re not meant to know where we stand here, which plays into the movie’s dreamlike atmosphere and disconnected state. The title says everything you need to know – eyes wide shut – is a contradiction, and the movie is built on paradox. Alice reveals a side of herself which counters everything Bill believes. Entire thriller plots are set up only to be revealed, potentially, as farces. Scenes at the costume shop are set up to suggest a police investigation and a daughter’s infidelities, but later, these points are ignored and brushed aside by all the characters involved. The creepy high-society murder plot which takes over in the second half is deliberately hard to judge, and like Bill, the audience are never sure what is true and what isn’t. A shot of a mask on a bed at the film’s ending can be read in several ways; is it a threat from those at the house, or did Bill simply leave it at the flat for Alice to find?eyes wide shutKubrick keeps everything ambiguous.The film is adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story and remains very faithful to the material. This is a fragmented and unfocused tale, working like 2001 and The Shining as a kind of odyssey; whilst those films focused on different kinds of journeys (heaven and hell essentially) Eyes Wide Shut is more ambiguous, a strange sexual journey which is difficult to understand. Dreams play heavily on the narrative and this is one of the most dreamlike films ever made, up there with Mulholland Drive – it’s difficult to get a grasp on what is actually happening. Kubrick stages the movie as a series of set-pieces and like a dream, his hero bounces from one moment to the next, his scenes seemingly having no connection. Flash thoughts of Alice and the naval officer crop up throughout, keeping it clear what drives Bill, but the audience do not know what he really wants. Does he want revenge? Bill is provided with options to get it, but pulls away at the last second. eyes wide shutYet he remains haunted by his wife’s confession; there’s a fantastic moment in which a smiling Kidman is overplayed with her previous nightmare account of fucking hundreds of men. There’s an eerie unsettled quality to the movie, almost as though the audience is trapped in someone else’s nightmare, and the plot veers around at will, turns back on itself and collapses; this is a disorienting and highly strange movie, one which isn’t defined by genre. It’s not a thriller, though it contains elements of one, and mixes gothic styles with Freudian sex themes as a perverse insight into a confused upper class. The dream tone is also heightened by a growing sense of menace, which comes out strongest in the orgy house scenes. These are bizarre to say the least, full of ritual and frightening medieval chants and synth scores. Music throughout is amazing, a mixture of classical and contemporary, with an interesting two-note piano beat which generates a piercing, uncomfortable tone.eyes wide shutThe technical skill on display here is utterly remarkable. Of course, Kubrick was a master of the lens, and here, as ever, his framing and compositions retain a photo-like quality and could all be seen as art. You could happily hang frames from this film on your wall. Even right at the beginning, as the camera confidently follows Bill around his apartment, you get the sense of watching a master at work. The film has an authority and level of control rarely seen in cinema; Kubrick knows how to put a movie together. It’s also a beautiful film to look at – Kubrick refused to use studio lighting so everything here is natural, but he takes advantage of the Christmas setting and casts everything in the garish glow of Christmas lighting. The movie’s colour palette is pumped up and there’s striking use throughout of contrasting reds and blues; this is a bright, vibrant movie, which lends it a carnival-like and surreal edge. This is further helped by the non-location shooting. Kubrick, afraid to fly, built New York on soundstages, which gives the film an off-centre quality. Manhattan residents have claimed the movie doesn’t look anything like New York, but this works in the movie’s favour, giving it a washed out and confused visual identity. The way sets are crafted too – rubbish on the streets, signs on the doors – is so meticulous that Kubrick’s New York here mirrors his Overlook Hotel, and his 2001 space ships. It’s another world. This is further highlighted by the orgy scenes, in which everyone is masked and robed; a great deal of surreal uneasiness comes from these sections, and they are deliberately nightmarish. This isn’t meant to be realistic portrayal of what happens in Manhatten’s high society, more a representation of darker, hidden sexual urges.eyes3Cruise is good in the role of Bill. He’s subdued and like most of Kubrick’s leading men, plays it down, letting the scenes roll around him. Bill is our vehicle into the underworld and Cruise is good, using his natural good looks and charm to his advantage. There’s a running joke of other characters finding Bill irresistible, and the way women (and some men) are with him borders on uncomfortable, such as the two models near the start who are literally pulling him upstairs. It’s interesting how Bill constantly uses his status of doctor as a means of validation and authority; it seems to be his last means of holding onto himself as he vanishes into the abyss. His wealth is important too; Bill throws hundreds away at will to get what he wants, and the film as a whole can be seen as a comment on the whims of the wealthy. Cruise is deliberately vanilla – he could be any rich, white doctor in the city, and his normality which makes the weirder elements of the movie work.eyes wide shut orgyKidman takes more time to warm up; it’s hard to read her drunken performance near the beginning, as it seems to border on weak acting. But later scenes completely contradict this and you have to wonder if this style was a whim on Kubrick’s part, possibly to distance us from Kidman in the party scenes. It’s fitting that when we first see Kidman, she’s on the toilet – there’s an exposed element to her character, and her stoned breakdown is raw and powerful. She’s annoyed that her husband makes assumptions about her based on gender, and hurt, attacks him with the truth. Though she barely appears in the film, her presence haunts the movie, and her later dream-recollection is stunning; one of Kidman’s finest acting moments, the monologue is haunting and shocking. Her and Cruise work well together, Kubrick taking advantage of their real-life marriage, though their reconciliation in the toy-shop could be seen as forced – perhaps that is the point however.eyes wide shutSomething has to be said for Warner Brothers’ censorship of the film however. On the film’s cinematic American release, Warner Bros digitally added extra people to cover the sex scenes in the orgy. If Kubrick had been alive, it’s hard to see how he would have allowed this, and the notion of censoring a movie like this is insane. Eyes Wide Shut is a movie made for adults about sex….so the sex scenes should be hidden in case non-adults happen to see it? The logic is baffling and luckily, the film was restored on DVD. There’s nothing actually sexy about the orgy sex scenes (they’re deliberately violent and cold) and it’s important they remain in the movie.eyes0Eyes Wide Shut is a powerful and surreal dream of a movie. It’s a rich film, with a beautiful cinematography and a wealth of psychology to unpick. It is not Kubrick’s best, and is perhaps overlong, but it’s a fitting end to his career, and stands as one of the most striking films of the 90s. It is now rightfully sitting upon its classic status.


10 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Shut

    • If you’re a Kubrick fan you’ll be in your element – it’s a very surreal and off kilter film, the only issue I have with it is it’s a tad overlong. But definitely worth a watch!

  1. Excellent review! This movie is on my top ten list. I’ve always loved the eerie Christmas lighting throughout the movie, and never knew that Kubrick refused to use studio lighting. Keep on writing – I look forward to your posts. ~M

    • Thanks Michelle, glad you liked it! The lighting is really striking – does give the film and eerie and unusual look. Yeah Kubrick forced all the lighting to be natural in the movie – same as in Barry Lyndon, which I think was shot entirely with candlelight and natural lighting, which is insane when you think about it!

  2. Good review Carl. Not Kubrick’s best by any stretch of the imagination, but a good note to go out on, especially if he was looking to freak the hell out of us. Worked on me.

    • thanks – it’s not his best but I tend to forget about it, then realise I love it when I get around to rewatching. It’s got great atmosphere and I wish more people made movies as strange and off kilted. Glad you liked the post.

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