Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug-Related Material
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael
(based on the novel DREAM STORY by Arthur Schnitzler)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Serbedzija, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Leelee Sobieski & Alan Cumming
Stanley Kubrick had a long, storied career in cinema. Kubrick is known as one of the greatest directors who ever lived and he also directed three of my favorite films of all-time (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET). Kubrick’s final film arrived four months after his death, but it’s worth noting that he completed his final cut a mere six days before his passing. EYES WIDE SHUT opened to lots of mixed reception from audiences and polarized critics. Having seen this strange film for the first time, I love it and at the same time know that there’s lots of themes that I haven’t even uncovered yet. Also, this is technically a Christmas movie, so consider this to be 2017’s Christmas review!
Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are part of the upper-crust crowd in New York. After visiting a Christmas party where they both get hit on by other people (Alice by a much older man and Bill by two sexy younger women), Bill and Alice decide to smoke some potent pot. Their casual night of getting stoned results in a heated argument about sex and Alice reveals that she once contemplated cheating on Bill. As a result, Bill goes to take a house call and winds up on a strange night-long journey that takes him into the seediest areas of New York. Curiosity and perversion quickly land Bill in the clutches of a secret society…and he slowly realizes that his life and family may be in very real danger from this mysterious masked group.
As far as the technical side of EYES WIDE SHUT goes, Stanley Kubrick continued to demonstrate his skills as a master filmmaker. The Christmas setting doesn’t just add a touch of irony to the very adult-oriented story, but simultaneously provides an excuse for lots of beautifully lit settings. Apparently, Kubrick used natural lighting and drew off of the many random Christmas decorations for the atmosphere in certain scenes. This colorful effect provides an almost dream-like quality to the entire film that seems appropriate, especially given the surreal nature of the story.
At the time of this film’s production, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were married and their chemistry definitely comes across on the screen as the film’s main married couple. Kidman plays her seductive role very well and the viewer never quite knows what she has on her mind, especially during the argument scene that really thrusts Cruise’s protagonist onto his torrid journey across a sex-filled New York. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise almost shows shades of Jack Nicholson in his performance as Bill, especially when he flies off the deep end in moments. Even though Cruise and Kidman clearly have obvious chemistry, there are hints that they are fooling themselves to stay in love. This relationship dynamic directly parallels other (more suspenseful) plot developments and is further highlighted by the film’s title (referring to the willful deception of someone, in this case, these two main characters).
EYES WIDE SHUT’s supporting cast mostly seems like means to an end, but that’s not necessarily a flaw in this film. Each character has a distinct purpose and that purpose benefits the story arc that Cruise’s character ultimately goes through. The fairy tale atmosphere is further heightened by the ridiculous nature of a few of these folks. Alan Cumming is a colorful hotel clerk who delivers verbal clues in a single scene. Rade Serbedzija is a crazy costume store owner, whilst Leelee Sobieski has a soft-spoken part as his promiscuous daughter. Vinessa Shaw has a few minutes of screen time as a prostitute, but makes a big impression. Todd Field plays a loud-mouthed pianist who tempts Cruise to venture further into dangerous territory. Finally, Sydney Pollack serves as Cruise’s best friend and ultimately drives forward the film’s bizarre dialogue-filled finale.
Speaking of the finale, this paragraph may dive into minor spoilers. If you want to go in spoiler-free, then skip to the next paragraph. The final third of EYES WIDE SHUT plays out like a bizarre paranoid thriller and the viewer ultimately doesn’t receive many concrete answers by the conclusion. Instead, Kubrick places us into the exact same position as Cruise’s main character and leaves us to decide if want to accept one explanation over another. There is an explanation given to Cruise’s main character in a speech, but it doesn’t exactly seem completely believable. However, the alternative explanation is far more sinister and leaves vague possibilities open for interpretation. Personally, I choose to go with the latter choice, but some viewers might find themselves frustrated by the ending’s sheer ambiguity.
It goes without saying, but EYES WIDE SHUT is filled with sex. However, Kubrick doesn’t simply focus on the pleasures of sexual acts. He also dives into darker territory. The crazy costume owner and the single-scene prostitute’s storylines are both briefly returned to after the initial night’s journey, with disturbingly tragic results. Also, the masked orgy sequence that earned the film an NC-17 from the MPAA seems far more creepy than it does sexy. Maybe it has something to do with the bizarre masks, but it seems like the unsexiest orgy to ever hit the big screen and that sort of seems to be a point that Kubrick was aiming for in this film.
EYES WIDE SHUT is definitely an acquired taste film. Even diehard Kubrick fans seem split down the middle on whether this is a misunderstood masterpiece or an ambitious misfire. I fall on the side of loving this film. It left me with a lot to think about and the nearly three-hour-long running time rushed by. From a sheer technical standpoint, Kubrick’s directing is flawless in EYES WIDE SHUT. From a narrative standpoint, the ending is unsatisfying in the best possible way (if that makes sense)…as we’re placed into the exact same position as the main character. If you want an unusual Christmas flick for adults or just want to dive into another bizarre journey from one of cinema’s best directors, then definitely give EYES WIDE SHUT a look. Just be prepared for lots of nudity, sex, bizarre moments, and an appropriately uncomfortably brilliant viewing experience.