“Mind Wide Open”
by Scott Mantz
“Eyes Wide Shut”
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
|“Cruise can’t handle the truth in
‘Eyes Wide Shut'”
In the 90’s, hype and event film go hand in hand. Its almost impossible for recent films, like that outer space prequel, to live up to the hype that surrounded its release. However, here’s a film with justified hype–“Eyes Wide Shut”. Think about it. Tom Cruise hasn’t been seen on the big screen since 1996’s “Jerry Maguire”. Real life wife Nicole Kidman spends much of her screen time undressed. The plot, largely kept secret, centers around sexual obsession and even boasts a bona fide orgy scene. Principle photography kept Cruise and Kidman on the UK set for 20 months. Finally, notoriously press-shy director Stanley “did-somebody-say-take-100?” Kubrick passed away 3 months ago only days after screening the finished product for its stars. That’s a lotta hype!
Don’t be fooled. “Eyes Wide Shut” is not by any means an “event” film, but is instead a very expensive, high profile “art” film. Moviegoers expecting typically crowd-pleasing Tom Cruise fare may come away disappointed, but fans of Kubrick’s unique style will, over time, find plenty to admire.
Having never seen a Stanley Kubrick movie on the big screen without seeing it on video first, I was looking forward to seeing “Eyes Wide Shut” on its opening weekend in full 70 MM glory. (I am, after all, a product of the so-called “Generation X”, and the last time Kubrick directed a movie was 1987’s “Full Metal Jacket”.) But let’s be honest. Box office records aside, 1999 hasn’t produced too many memorable films, so the time was right for “Eyes Wide Shut”.
Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle (Dream Story) from 1926, “Eyes” tells the story of Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), a high society New York City physician whose wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) is way past her seven year itch. They attend an upscale Christmas party held by Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), where both spend the night flirting with other guests. Fueled by her marijuana intake, Alice prods Bill about his hidden desires for other women. While Bill strains to be politically correct with his answers, she finally confesses, with complete liberation, about her own sexual fantasies regarding a naval officer she briefly met a year earlier. Bill is shocked by his wife’s revelation before he is interrupted by a phone call that one of his patients has died.
As Bill wanders confused and obsessed through the streets of New York, things get surreal as he finds himself in the some bizarre circumstances while exploring his own sexual fantasies. The woman who places the house call professes her love for him. He is later picked up by an irresistible hooker. Finally, he catches up with an old med school buddy who just so happens to play piano blindfolded at a top-secret costume party of sexual exploitation. When he finds his way into the party, his night of sexual experimentation turns deadly.
After Kidman’s confession, its Cruise’s movie. As he ventures deeper into the night, he is challenged by the darker side of society, not unlike Kyle MacLachlan in “Blue Velvet” or even Griffin Dunne in “After Hours”. While Bill explores this sexual world, he never takes any action. He is merely an observer who uses these events to finally re-evaluate his love for his wife. While this performance is not a stretch for Cruise, he is convincing as the confused, lost, and obsessed Bill.
Kidman, on the other hand, puts in her finest performance since “To Die For”. Alice’s boredom is evident the minute she turns up on the screen, but the energy she gives off while flirting with a charming Hungarian party guest is electrifying. When Alice confesses her fantasy to Bill, her cold, liberating delivery is what sets him on his deep, dark journey.
As for the movie itself, lets not forget that many of Kubrick’s films received negative reviews on arrival. Only with the passage of time did “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” really catch on and become true classics. Kubrick’s films take time to sink in. They need to be dissected, absorbed, analyzed, and even seen again before they begin to make any sense. “Eyes Wide Shut” is no exception to this rule. To define the plot as simply “an exploration of jealousy and sexual obsession” is not enough. There’s something else going on here, something surreal and haunting. “Eyes Wide Shut” succeeds, if for no other reason, because there is nothing else like it. It stays with you long after you leave the theater. As for its classification as a “masterpiece”, only time will tell.