Director : Stanley Kubrick
With : Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Sidney Pollack
At the ripe old age of eleven I saw my first Kubrick movie, “The Shining,” unbeknownst to my parents while sleeping over at a friend’s. There was something so eloquently dark and legitimately creepy, about Nicholson and his decent into madness, that I remember thinking that it was a movie that even adults would like. And so slowly but surely I begin to tick off and file among my favorite films most of the movies by Stanley Kubrick. As a teenager “Clockwork Orange” was my favorite film, in college it was “Dr. Strangelove” or “2001.”
So like most Kubrick fanatics the years of hearing whispers about the “Eyes Wide Shut” mixed with the ensuing media events surrounding the film led me to the theater with a mixed dose of anticipation and apprehension. The idea of Hollywood’s most visible couple starring in the final film by Hollywood’s most reclusive genius would either be a brilliant boom, or marvelous failure. Most critics and viewers inevitably had severely bifurcated views on the film, but that being said, at least every opinion was at least a strong one. In my book validates the movie as a success.
“Eyes Wide Shut” is a film that makes you think, sense, speculate, sympathize and loathe at intermittent intervals. It’s content, context and deeply allegorical narrative lines are difficult to grasp and process while attempting to merely relax and watch the film. It is a 2.5 hour descent into a very dark place, but for the serious film buff, or the person who wants every movie they see to have a meaning beyond sheer mindless entertainment, Kubrick has once again managed to shock, entertain and stimulate.
Like all Kubrick films, “Eyes Wide Shut” is an impeccably shot, artfully lavish production where the screen becomes a canvas to be saturated by deep rich colors. This adds both a texture to the way the film looks as well as to how it feels. There is a kind of vivid darkness that hangs around the film, seediness lives and breathes but in a kind of wonderfully sensuous way. In addition to painting a picture that looks different than most other, Kubrick has also set out cut and shoot the film that feels different as well. There are two kinds of shots in the film, the first being the intense close-up where Kubrick centers a character perfectly in the center of the screen and holds he/she there for long period of time. The second is a kind of slightly grainy moving camera shot to distort, I assume, both the clarity of the geography and of the situation. The juxtaposition of these clean, crisp close-ups and grainy dark setting and mood shots creates a kind of natural motion and pace to the film.
Without giving away the plot, or confusing the directors intent, I will say that the film is an exploration of the consequences of adultery, the differences in men and women’s reaction to sexual intrigue and fulfillment, and an examination into contemporary sexual morality. Tom Cruise and onscreen wife Nicole Kidman play socialites paralyzed and preoccupied by jealousy. What is curious is that neither performance was particularly good or bad, which might have been Kubrick’s intent. The film is more about the central ideas, cinematic tension and pacing than it is about acting, or any one particular character distracting from the overall feeling. Reflecting back even on the film even Sydney Pollack, Todd Field and others seem withdrawn and not quite themselves. In the end I will give Kubrick the benefit of the doubt, because he was a man who made his living getting the most out of actors, I assume this kind of detachment was intentional.
What seems to have troubled most people about this film is the thing that I actually appreciated most about it: the lack of resolution. There are almost no loose ends tied, which allows the viewer to make his/her own judgements about the film without some sort of artistic closure that serves as validation. I have my own theory about the meaning and symbolism of the film, but often meet with ardent disagreement from at least half the people with whom I share this thesis. But that to me is the beauty of the film- it makes you think, is sparks animated debate, and incites emotion. This film represents the perfect end to a near perfect career of mystifying and amazing audiences with a slate of films each vastly different than the last.
“Eyes Wide Shut” is an epic film, one with both grand cinematic and intellectual aspirations. It is a statement about humanity and a statement about individuals. For those people who didn’t enjoy or at least appreciate the film I would argue that it was more a problem of expectation than of execution on Kubrick’s part. By the time he decided to make this film he was probably somewhat certain that this would be his last. And so he took a shot, made a statement and someday people may come around to the film, not just as the last chapter in a brilliant career, but also as a freestanding exploration of emotions not often attempted on film.