Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

reviewed by
Luke Buckmaster

EYES WIDE SHUT Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field, Marie Richardson, Rade Serbedzija, Vinessa Shaw, Leelee Sobieski Director: Stanley Kubrick Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael, based on the novel Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler Reviewed by Luke Buckmaster

On the Buckmaster scale of 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 4 and a half stars

"The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle." -- the late Stanley Kubrick.

For those of you who were looking forward to seeing two and half hours of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman going at it like dogs, let me say this right off the beat: this movie is _not_ a porn flick. And, contrary to some disgruntled viewers, the late Stanley Kubrick did not film it with his eyes wide shut.

In the Kubrickan universe, where war, sexual satire, and even the evolution of man have been explored, infidelity in marriage doesn't seem like an important topic in comparison. Or perhaps it's the most important of all. Whichever way to decide to interpret it, perfectionist and ultra-reclusive filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's historic last film - he passed away shortly after completing post-production - is about intimacy, or a lack thereof. It's a film that will be studied and scrutinized, criticized and praised, liked and loved, hated and loathed; but it shouldn't be underestimated. Kubrick's beautiful use of visual art and music is spectacular, and his assurance in himself is unmistakable. 'Eyes Wide Shut' is a story told by a director who truly knew how to tell it.

Allegations that Kubrick became a dirty and perverted man in the last few years of his life are, I'm certain, very false. 'Eyes Wide Shut' is no more unsanitary than the violence in 'A Clockwork Orange' or 'Full Metal Jacket,' the difference between these films, obviously, are their genres. It's true that 'Eyes Wide Shut' is intentionally a film that has some sleazy moments, but Kubrick was never a director to take cheap shots. He slowly, quietly constructs his New York settings as the seedy undercurrents of American culture, then abruptly and powerfully reminds us that the true terror of the surroundings lie in the behavior of those who inhabit them. This all contributes to the film's itchy physiological feel - 'Eyes Wide Shut' is dark and cynical, and reverberates in your mind like a nightmare that never quite leaves you alone. Who would have thought that Stanley Kubrick would have ended his career directing with almost Poe-like quality, reaching the inner recesses of the human mind, and revealing just a few of the evils that lie within.

Once again Kubrick endeavors to film the un-filmable. It's no coincidence that 'Eyes Wide Shut' boasts some of the most startling and disquieting screen moments you're likely to see all year; also no coincidence was the immense hype surrounding its release. Kubrick reportedly masterminded the film's advertising campaign, by revealing small tidbits every now and then (including the much talked about mirror scene), refusing to provide media outlets with a synopsis of the story, and billing 'Eyes Wide Shut' as a Cruise/Kidman/Kubrick collaboration.

Tom Cruise, however, takes the spotlight for the majority of the film's 160-minute running time. He plays Bill Harford and Kidman plays his wife, Alice. They are a wealthy New York couple, married nine years with a daughter, and seemingly have it all. That is, until one peculiar night in which Bill prowls around the grim streets of New York, encountering sexual temptation after sexual temptation, longing for a release, or even a vague sense of joy. Without going into much depth, some of his journeying - both literal and metaphorical - results in an encounter with a hooker, an all-too-young looking teenager (played by 'Deep Impact's' Leelee Sobieski), and, of course, the invitation-only orgy that everybody's been discussing ("Does Tom Cruise really wear a dress?" "Is it true that he molests a goat?")

No wonder everybody's been talking about it - it's quite a scene. But just labeling this and a couple of the film's other breathtaking moments as "visually stunning" or "money shots," I fear, doesn't give them justice. The "orgy scene" has every actor in it wearing bizarre yet strangely charismatic masks, the kind which would suit a screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Masque of the Red Death' (in fact, that is 'Dark City' director Alex Proyas' next film), if you're familiar with it. Kubrick's use of imagery, editing and a recurring and chilling music score inflates the already absorbing atmosphere he creates. As we gaze at the screen, fixated into the world that Harford penetrates, it is clear that we are under the spell of Kubrick's full-throttle direction.

If the film's characters seem lost to you, that's because they are - they're confused, insignificant people floating around dangerous worlds that are obviously out of their league. 'Eyes Wide Shut' flows like a dream, like reality, and like a dream of reality; Kubrick never makes it clear what we, as an audience, should be looking for, if we should be looking for anything at all.

Managing to keep a frowned face for most of the ordeal is Tom Cruise, whose performance is as much about daily behavior as it is the unpredictable circumstances that his character gets swept up in. Only Stanley Kubrick could have made Tom Cruise walking down a street look interesting, and only Kubrick could have refused to cut to a different location until he well and truly needed to. Cruise is strong - perhaps his strongest ever - as is Kidman, although her dialogue at times seems just a little lengthy and abstract. Arguably the world's most famous couple, Cruise and Kidman this time refrain from using their charisma to slap a grin on our faces; instead, they relied on Kubrick to see them through. No one needs to tell them that this was a safe bet.

Whilst the film's advertising hype was a great commercial ploy, it will also draw to the cinema people who wouldn't have come otherwise, and many of these - I suspect - will dislike and be frustrated by 'Eyes Wide Shut,' due to its slow, quietly menacing pace. Already, Internet message boards and newsgroups have been plagued by comments from disgruntled viewers; some of them have dubbed it 'Eyes Wide Shit,' others have suggested that the Cruise/Kidman combination should be replaced by Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra. If you don't think that 'Eyes Wide Shut' will grab you, I suggest you don't see it.

On the other hand, why miss out on such an extraordinary film experience? I'm certain that many viewers will be quick to contact me, and inform me of their dissatisfaction with the movie, but allow me to propose something first: perhaps you've missed the point. 'Eyes Wide Shut' is a thoroughly dissatisfying film, yes, but this is (here's that word again) intentional. It remains a captivating physiological thriller that builds a creepy, unsettling momentum, and leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Even the film's very last line of dialogue is bound to leave you in your seat - if only for a few moments longer than normal - as everything before it suddenly takes on greater resonance. For those of you who want to see 'Eyes Wide Shut' for its depth, not its sex, or for its content rather than its hype, the following warning is for you: it's sometimes hard to watch a film seriously when everybody around you are there purely to satisfy their curiosities. Whether you like it or love it, hate it or loathe it, one thing's for sure - you'll have never seen anything quite like it. Kubrick's last hurrah is, thankfully, another masterstroke to add to the list of a man who was truly one of Hollywood's most audacious filmmakers.

Review copyright Luke Buckmaster

Read more of my reviews at In Film Australia

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