America's foremost filmmaker leaves his fans something mature, provocative and moral to debate.
Seeing Through Kubrick's "Eyes"
In his final film, "Eyes Wide Shut," Stanley Kubrick continues to investigate his favorite subject: the dehumanization of society. Though the settings of Kubrick's films are wildly different, one could easily make the case that Kubrick remakes the same film over and over again. From "Dr. Strangelove" to "A Clockwork Orange," "The Shining" to "Full Metal Jacket," what intrigues Kubrick is man in crisis.
In "Eyes Wide Shut," the man in crisis is Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise). As we meet him and his wife of nine years, Alice (Nicole Kidman), everything seems perfect.
We watch as the two intimately and comfortably prepare for a party. Their conversation never lags as it moves from separate rooms to the bathroom, where he adjusts his tie as she finishes her toilette. This would be a charming scene of domestic symbiosis if not for the movie's opening shot. In it, the camera captures Kidman artfully disrobing and then a quick cut to black. With that single sexy unsettling shot, Kubrick alerts us to the fact that all may not be as it appears.
"Eyes Wide Shut" is about dreams and temptation, jealousy and failed retribution.
It is also very much not the sexed-up, hyped-up naughty movie being ballyhooed by "Entertainment Tonight" and other gossip shows of that ilk. To me, those titillating interviews and "revealing" out-of-context snippets from the film smack of Hollywood studio-types doing their job: Getting mainstream America to buy a ticket. Mainstream America, however, will be disappointed.
Every rumor about this movie is false. Tom Cruise does not engage in a drag scene; he does not entertain the idea of necrophilia; and no, real-life husband and wife Cruise and Kidman do not have "real" sex onscreen. If these three items were what intrigued you about the film, there's no need to read on.
"Eyes Wide Shut" is based on a lesser work by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler. Written in 1926, "Traumnovelle" translates into "Dream Story." Set among the decadent and wealthy, Schnitzler's story is singularly unimpressive. The most intriguing aspect of the work is that it intrigued Kubrick. In fact, it consumed him. When he read it in the '70s, he went so far as to have a popular film critic of the time buy the rights for him, fearing that using his own name would drive up the asking price.
The germ of Schnitzler's tale of "dreamed" sexual transgressions can be found in "Eyes Wide Shut," but Kubrick's talents and vision have made the proverbial silk purse from a sow's ear. As film number 13 in a career that spans 46 years, "Eyes Wide Shut" bears its maker's stamp on every meticulously crafted scene, every deliberately placed line of dialogue. Even the soundtrack particularly Jocelyn Pook's discordant piano notes are part of the narrative. Nothing just happens; everything has been planned by the arch-controlling auteur.
So what does happen? Nothing. And everything.
Domestic harmony comes to a screeching halt one night, as Alice and Bill really begin to talk about the sexual restlessness in their relationship. When Bill says he never worries about Alice being unfaithful, she enlightens him. The previous summer, while on vacation, Alice spied a young Naval officer who so captivated her fantasies that she would have given up everything marriage, daughter, security, future had the officer but asked her. This admission shakes Bill to the very core. For you see, his fidelity was based on his belief that Alice would never be unfaithful.
Shaken, Bill is called away to a dying patient's home. But he can't rid himself of thoughts of his wife and this Naval officer. The night takes on a surreal edge as he wanders the streets. Angry, disturbed and disbelieving, he too wants to engage in meaningless sex. He tries. First with a hooker, then at a secret orgy where the men and women are masked.
Leisurely paced at just over two-and-a-half hours, "Eyes Wide Shut" is something to behold. For me, however, it often bordered on boring. Partly because of Kubrick, partly because of Cruise. As the sexual pilgrim, Cruise's performance is distracting in its unevenness. Though he is never really likable we follow his psychosexual meanderings because Kubrick makes the journey so enticing. Luckily, the same does not hold true with Kidman's Alice. Teasing, taunting, hurtful and shockingly candid, Kidman bravely shows us an Alice that can be as strident as she is beautiful.
It is obvious that "Eyes Wide Shut" meant a lot to Kubrick. Otherwise why fight so long to make it? Although I found the film too '70s-like in its look, feel and regard of the power of sex, it is arguably the most humane film Kubrick has made. The dehumanizing aspect of meaningless sex is not necessarily what has Kubrick befuddled, but rather how we struggle to create love. His concern in "Eyes Wide Shut" is the harmful nature of meaningless sex with those we
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