It has taken nearly twelve years for director Stanley Kubrick
to produce his eagerly awaited follow up to his previous film, the
powerful anti-war film Full Metal Jacket. Because it was shot over a
gruelling 18 month schedule and amidst incredible secrecy, and
completed just before his death earlier this year, Eyes Wide Shut has
become the most anticipated film of the year, after The Phantom
Menace. That it is also this respected director's final film means
that Eyes Wide Shut will probably be analysed from a misleading
perspective. Many commentators will be tempted to read more into the
film's themes and meaning than was intended.
Based on an obscure short story by German author Arthur
Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut is a sombre and deeply personal exploration
of sexual obsession, intimacy, fidelity, temptation, and jealousy.
The film basically follows a 72 hour period in the lives of Dr William
Harford (Tom Cruise) and his beautiful, stay at home wife Alice
(Nicole Kidman), who live in splendid comfort in a luxurious New York
apartment. However, after nine years their marriage has grown stale,
predictable and even boring as their daily routine seems to drive them
But then, during a lavish Christmas party thrown by one of
Harford's wealthy patients (director Sydney Pollack), the couple
inexplicably flirt openly with strangers. This leads to a
surprisingly intimate revelation from Alice, when she admits to having
sexual fantasies about a handsome sailor she met on their last
holiday. Bill is shocked, and his anger leads him to wander the
streets in frustration and confusion. He has a number of casual,
sexually charged encounters that actually lead nowhere. His
wanderings lead him to a secret, ritualistic-like orgy, in which all
of the participants wear masks and cloaks. He is left shaken and
deeply disturbed by this experience and its unsettling aftermath.
However, his experiences also serve to bring him and Alice to a
greater understanding of what has been lacking in their relationship.
Kubrick and co-writer Frederic Raphael draw some striking
parallels between Alice's lurid sexual fantasies and Bill's
encounters, and offer some deep psychological insights into the nature
of modern relationships. Its exploration of sexual relationships and
sexual attraction is unusually personal territory for a director
renowned for his aloofness and distance, and Eyes Wide Shut has a more
sympathetic view of women than many of Kubrick's previous films.
Despite its subject matter though, the film is tastefully done, and is
neither particularly pornographic nor erotic.
The cinematography is typically stylish and lavish. As usual,
Kubrick also effectively uses music to underscore the film's moods.
Jocelyn Pook's disturbing and deliberately discordant piano-driven
score adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the film's second half.
However, the careful build up of tension and atmosphere ultimately
leads nowhere. Like his earlier Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut is
visually quite stunning, superbly crafted and beautifully acted, but
it is also slow moving, ponderous and pretentious.
It bears all Kubrick's usual trademark touches, although it's
sometimes hard to see why this notorious perfectionist spent 18 months
crafting the film. (A sound technician can be seen reflected in an
early bathroom scene, a mistake that seems to have slipped by the
notoriously perfectionist film maker.)
Over the 18 month shoot, Kubrick has teased out of his two
stars their most complex, intriguing and mature performances yet.
Having this popular and highly visible married couple play the leads
in the film adds a further nuance and emotional depth to the on-screen
intimacy that would be hard to replicate. Cruise, who is on screen
for most of the film's overly generous 160 minutes, surprises with his
most confident yet insightful performance yet. Although the usual
mannerisms are present, Kubrick has been able to shape a more complex
performance from Cruise. Although she has far less screen time, it is
Kidman who grabs the acting honours with a gutsy, revealing and
painfully emotional performance.
There seems little justification for the highly publicised
replacement of Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was unavailable for
re-shooting. Marie Richardson takes over her role, for what is little
more than a cameo appearance. The performances from the ensemble
supporting cast are all superb, with Alan Cumming a stand out for his
delightfully sly turn as a hotel concierge.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King