Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick has always been considered a genius filmmaker. A master of his craft, he had the gift. While his subject matter has varied greatly over his career, his technical audacity has always pushed the limits of standard motion picture production. (Barry Lyndon for instance, included night scenes illuminated only by candles, and required custom lenses.) Eyes Wide Shut is no exception.

While Kubrick was born in Brooklyn, his scorn for the USA led him to eventually relocate across the pond and settle in England. And his refusal to return stateside for any reason, led to a studio recreation of lower Manhattan for his last film: Eyes Wide Shut. While this option was certainly more expensive than simply shooting on location, it added a creepy, surreal feel to the film.

Crafted after the short novel Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler, EWS stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. They play a married couple in the film, and were actually married in real life during production. While the film didn't fare particularly well with critics or fans, there is enough subject matter and style in this film to at least warrant a deeper look under the hood.

Cruise plays Dr. Bill Hartford. The film beginning sequence features him getting ready with his wife Alice, for a party of a close friend. It is an interesting and visually rich scene, that treats us to an insiders view of the couple's safety zone. The Manhattan apartment they live in is well-furnished and comfortable. They appear comfortable as a couple, and we learn they have a young child that will be watched by the babysitter. The Hartfords then leave to attend a very formal and upscale gathering.

Kubrick effectively draws the viewer into a place that feels real, appears tasteful, and as one on the other side of the fence might imagine - enjoyable. But this is where things become very unreal and dreamlike. And false representation becomes the central theme of the film. Almost immediately upon arriving at the party, events seem to conspire against the couple. The world outside of their home seems to be wrought with sexual peril and temptation. And while Dr. Bill Hartford's character seem amazed by it and seeks to follow it in fascination and want to put it under a microscope, Alice is liberated and simply tempted by the sheer thrill of the carnal possibilities.

And thus Bill's journey begins, his slow-motion journey into the shadows of the night. A bellicose dance with the good and bad in his heart, that eventually finds him with a fulfilled sense of emptiness and guilt. The original complaints about the film included a shallowness in the Cruise/Kidman characters. And that Manhattan didn't look like Manhattan. But upon reviewing the DVD, the lack of real city detail or even sunlight in this film, adds credence to the unconfirmed nature of the characters and their place in the universe. Its ambivalence allows the viewer to adapt the concept that all conscious decision is born from the subconscious. And harmony can on be achieved through the balance of the two.


ffleur said...

You write extremely well Flix. Intelligently too.

I didn't like this movie. Nicole was fine and believable but Tom was not. He wasn't submerged in his character.

Also, although maybe this type of nightlife exists (ok, I'm sure it does) its so out of my stream of life that I find it sort of pretenious, preposterous and well, just silly.

I've seen lots of Kubric's films (2001, Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove) and they are all different and facinating. This one just seemed pedestrian and uninspired.

Its sad this was his last film.

GetFlix said...

Thanks Ffleur. Your feelings towards this film mimic my original thoughts, when I first saw it in 1999. But I have modified my thoughts since seeing the film again on DVD.

prunella jones said...

This is one of those films I always meant to see but never got around to. I just don't like Tom Cruise films usually because he's always being Tom Cruise instead of acting. I do like the Kubric movies Ffleur mentioned above and I'll probably see this one eventually. Maybe I can play a drinking game where I'll drink everytime Tom grins or acts intense.

M-M-M-Mishy said...

I've enjoyed many of his films such as A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, but this one just did not appeal to me.

But, I will say that this movie did teach me a valuable lesson, which I believe may apply to many other people. Trust me when I say, its not a good idea to watch movies which contain scenes of a *graphic* sexual nature with one's parents. Especially when you are 16 year old. Awkward is a mild way to describe that one.

But I can honestly say, this wasn't the thing that turned me off of the movie. Tom Cruise just doesn't do it for me. Never really has.

P.S. Full Metal Jacket is probably my favourite. Vincent D'Onofrio was fantastic as Pyle!

P.P.S. Great write-up!

joy said...

The script was almost thirty years old.

I think it would have been an across the board critical hit in the late sixties.

The whold secret sex society and it's pomp was much more suited for that era.

Missed the boat, when I see pictures right now , where the scripts were layin around since the eighties you can tell.

I f the time passes you by, you should let it go.

It may have worked if Kubrick would have set the film to be in the late sixites.

GetFlix said...

Prunella, that sounds like a good way to enjoy it!!

Mish, Full Metal Jacket rocks. That was also filmed in England.

Joy, I hear where you're coming from. The premise is dated, even ridiculous when viewed under contemporary considerations. But the original novel was supposed to be a dream, not reality. If i keep that in mind, I enjoy it more.

pelegrim said...

I actually liked this film. If you really want a cool experience, turn the sound down and turn on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon concurrently. Awesome!

I know, I know...that's the Wizard of Oz, but I do it with every movie now.

v said...

Great review. I'm a big Kubrick fan and enjoyed EWS when I first saw it. An interesting tidbit I always like to mention is that Kubrick loved all types of genres and made films in a variety of them. There's some talk EWS was his porno genre. While the film is deeper than such a superficial comparison, the comparison isn't totally off.

GetFlix said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GetFlix said...

Pelegrim, now that's an idea! Might be fun to run the film with Floyd at a party, too!

V, thanks! I have to agree with the porno genre. The USA got the hard R version, with the digitally altered orgy. Europe got the X version.

prettykitty said...

i really liked this film. this was before all the tom cruise hype, when he and nicole were pretty low key. it was not surprising that they split up soon after. i heard that kubrick made them redo scenes until hey were exhausted. tom almost got an ulcer, and nicole must have figured out what he was really like to be around.

all in all, i really enjoyed this film, and every time it's on cable, i stop and watch a bit of it. i thought this was one of the highlights of tom's career, along with magnolia. and then of course, he went kookoo for cocoa puffs.

great review, GF. i do admire your writing style!

GetFlix said...

Thanks PK! You raise another great point about EWS, well maybe about any Kubrick movie: You can watch different parts of it at different times, and it's still really good. I also think it must be tough being an actor under Kubrick.

anaKonda said...

I have mix feelings about this movie, but every time it’s on I give it a check mainly because I love the atmosphere created by Kubrick, the sets are beautiful and elaborate and the lightning and filming are excellent, very hypnotic, imo.

For me the story line and acting are the worst part. Tom and Nicole’s characters are shallow and detached from (their) reality, it seems to be no bond between them and their motivations are unclear.

The same thing goes for the story line, scenes seem to have been glued together without a nexus and there’s nothing amazing about the secrecy surrounding the sex society, I would say it’s even an absurd concept.

You said the novel was supposed to be a dream, in that case the whole disconnection felt between characters and story makes a little more sense…maybe?.

GetFlix said...

AnaK, I couldn't believe the lack of chemistry between Tom and Nicole. I think this film marked the end of their marriage.

prettykitty said...

this film was actually when i started to see nicole's potential as an actress, if given the right material. i did believe their chemistry on film mirrored their offscreen chemistry. also, the movie had to be completed after kubrick's death, which is why it seemed so cobbled together. but watching it, i see the potential had it been edited to his satisfaction. he was an amazing filmmaker and i can go back to his movies again and again and find something new.

GetFlix said...

How true, PK.

Jennifer said...

I haven't seen this movie yet, but I was going to watch it. I put it up at the top of my list in my Netflix queue and I literally JUST bumped up another movie in its place. I think I will give this movie a chance after this review. It looks deliously cultish and sexual.

GetFlix said...

Jen, it's definately cultish, and sexual in a sorta mechanical way. Not hot and sweaty. But still fun to watch.

Thanks for the visit!!!

Pope-rah said...

While I love the look of this movie, I feel it was a weak story that could have been fantastic. There goes three hours of my life I'll never get back.