Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Movie Review

Image for Eyes Wide Shut film

Title: Eyes Wide Shut
Year: 1999
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Play time: 2h 39min
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenwriters: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Todd Field

“If he wanted me even for one night… I was ready to give up everything.”

Eyes Wide Shut isn’t the masterpiece many were hoping to see in Stanley Kubrick’s final film, but it is an impressive achievement; a mesmerizing, haunting, adult psychodrama about marriage, fidelity and sex. It’s a Stanley Kubrick film from beginning to end, consistently exhibiting the auteur’s trademark penchant for long, continuous takes, his unparalleled deftness behind the camera and his uncanny ability to extract gorgeous performances from his exhausted cast (indeed, Eyes Wide Shut attained infamy even before its release for its notoriously laborious shoot: Kubrick, a renowned perfectionist, reportedly held his cast “hostage” on the set for nearly a year).

Big Names in Eyes Wide Shut – Cruise & Kidman

In an uncharacteristic maneuver, Kubrick cast two big-name stars in the lead roles, namely real-life husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. They play Bill and Alice Harford, a volatile couple who, during the course of a couple nights, ponder the validity of the idea that a husband and a wife must be faithful to each other. He is an M.D., she’s unemployed and we are introduced to them as they are getting ready to go to a fancy party. At the affair, they are both propositioned and both nearly succumb to the temptation to play around with someone else.

When they return to their lavish New York apartment Kidman (after smoking a dash of weed) inquires whether her husband had sex with two models who approached him during the night. He (truthfully) says that he did not and asks what happened with that Hungarian guy she was dancing with. They proceed to argue until Alice tells her spouse a lustful story: evidently some time ago, she had a thing for a young naval officer. She admits that she was ready to give up her whole future with Bill and their young daughter if this guy wanted her even for one night.

The ‘Long Night’ Starts

Bill is jolted by Alice’s story and we anticipate his reaction, but at that moment he gets a phone call and has to go “show his face” at the house of a just-deceased patient. This turns out to be the beginning of a long and eventful night on the town. The daughter of the dead patient hits on him but he wisely turns her down. He almost does the dirty deed with a kindly hooker who approaches him on the street. Then, through a series of coincidences, he winds up at a gothic mansion where a ritualistic (and frankly, creepy) orgy takes place, with costumed people performing various public sex acts on each other. Erotic dread mounts as Cruise (who’s not supposed to be there) wonders the spacious halls watching the “action” until he is discovered to be an outsider.

Much hoopla has been raised over the fact that Warner Bros. digitally edited the orgy scene. With the help of a computer, they put in cloaked figures to block some of the actual sex acts (they can still be seen, just not in all their glory) in order to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating. European viewers will see the film as Kubrick envisioned it. Roger Ebert calls the American version the “Austin Powers version,” and many others have bashed the alterations. I am of the potentially controversial opinion that the figures only supplement the scene’s mystical atmosphere.

An Gorgeous Production in the Dark – Eyes Wide Shut

The first thing one notices about Eyes Wide Shut is how it looks. This is an artful, distinctively gorgeous production, shot in dark, moody hues and featuring some elaborate, beautiful scenery. From the giant mansion used in the film’s centerpiece to the decor at the Christmas party to the Harford’s apartment, this film is always a pleasure to look at. To boot, a great soundtrack makes it more atmospheric still.

At the core, behind the graphic, controversial content and unappealing mood, this is a good-natured movie that emphasizes the importance of fidelity. It looks at sex as almost perfunctory by portraying it as unnerving rather than erotic. It’s something superficial and yet something necessary to achieve a deeper relationship. At the end, it seems, Bill’s eyes are wide open to the special kind of love he and his wife have for each other, more meaningful than anything he could ever hope to find on the streets of New York.

Kubrick elicits wonderful performances from both Cruise and Kidman. Tom is completely convincing as Dr. Harford, a man who seems guided solely by destiny, with no control of the course his life will take. Nicole projects a quiet intensity as the jittery yet aggressive wife and her performance is stunningly effective: she’s headed for an Oscar nod. The movie has some help from a similarly strong supporting cast, at the head of which is director-cum-thespian Sidney Pollock, enigmatic and articulate as Harford’s mysterious friend.

Complex Exploration of Jealousy and Faithfulness from Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut is not perfect: the last hour could have used a slightly more scissor-happy editor and both Cruise and Kidman are too good-looking for me to believe that either would have a very strong temptation to philander. Still, this is an important work from a great director, and while it may not be on par with some of Stanley Kubrick’s best it is a worthy final film, a complex exploration of jealousy and faithfulness.

Reporting news from the industry. Always looking forward to upcoming sequels.

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