Newest Review: ... by Bill's friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). At the party, Alice is propsitioned by a suave European bloke while Bill becomes the ta... more
Through the Looking Glass
Eyes Wide Shut (DVD)
Member Name: Jake Speed
Eyes Wide Shut (DVD)
Advantages: Looks good
Disadvantages: Bit boring and I can't take Tom Cruise seriously
Once again, there was a huge gap between Full Metal Jacket and the next Stanley Kubrick film. 1999's Eyes Wide Shut was based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (or Dream Story) and proved to be Stanley Kubrick's last ever film - its release posthumous. There hadn't been a new Kubrick film for twelve years at the time and when word filtered out that Eyes Wide Shut was going to be a daring erotic thriller starring real life husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, expectation and anticipation were relatively high. The end result - as usual - met with a mixed reception. However, while earlier Kubrick films found their status and reputation increasing year on year the same is not true of Eyes Wide Shut. Thirteen years (at the time of writing) on from its release, Eyes Wide Shut is not regarded to be one of the great Kubrick films or a cult classic. If anything, it's one of the Kubrick films that no one even remembers or have never seen. While Kubrick loyalists (including Martin Scorcese) maintain that Eyes Wide Shut is a great film, the general perception is that it's an interesting picture but not one that approaches his best work. Rather like later Roman Polanski films. Frantic. The Ninth Gate. The Ghost Writer. Very watchable and competent but not a patch on Chinatown or Rosemary's Baby. Actually, Frantic and Ghost Writer are probably better than Eyes Wide Shut. The film mostly revolves around Dr Bill Harford (Tom Cruise). Harford has made a good living as pysician to some wealthy clients and lives in a swanky upscale New York apartment with wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) and their young daughter. The film begins with them about to attend a Christmas bash hosted by Bill's friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack).
At the party, Alice is propsitioned by a suave European bloke while Bill becomes the target of two models looking for a tryst. They want to take him to the end of the rainbow apparently. Neither encounter goes beyond flirting but it makes them both question fidelity and and infidelity, even on a purely imaginary level. Alice (under the influence of marijuana) becomes piqued when Bill declares at the next day later that he knows she would never cheat on him. Woman are faifthful he says. Alice, iritted by his lack of interest or jealously in the thought of other men being attracted to her, announces that she once nearly cheated on him purely out of lust. Bill is mentally devastated by this bombshell and called away on an urgent medical emergency. Later, he walks the streets and gradually becomes drawn into a nether world of prostiutes and strange costumed gothic orgies organised by rich and mysterous people. Blimey. Eyes Wide Shut sounds more interesting than it ultimately proves to be. Despite the hype the film is neither shocking, erotic or a thriller. It's a meditation on sex, power and money, how people live with the knowledge that they have no insight or control over the inner life/mind of even those closest to them. The recurring motifs here are the dehumanising of society and the individual and mirrors. Lots of mirrors. The orgy scenes are a bit risible at times (whenever I'm presented with gothic cult groups and secret societies I unavoidably start thinking of Hammer House of Horror or something and find it hard to take seriously) and when Tom Cruise was rumbled and asked for a second secret password at one of these parties I was unfortunately reminded of a scene in the Marx Brothers classic Horse Feathers where Groucho has to supply the right password to bootlegger Chico to enter a bar. "Swordfish!"
The general story is watchable enough. New York looks beautiful here at times. Maybe too beautiful, like in a romantic Woody Allen flm. Harford's debauched adventures strain credibility somewhat but the look of the film almost suggests this is some sort of dream state (I believe the novel veered towards this structure) although that might just be Stanley Kubrick. As you would expect every single frame of the film looks as if it was planned for years. Long tracking shots, the camera constantly moving, Kubrickian colour schemes. More red. Even Sydney Pollack's billiard table is red! The big question here is can Tom Cruise carry the film and make you take it seriously? The answer is yes and no. He does well at times but then at other times you are always just aware that this is Tom Cruise doing a turn in a Kubrick film. He never completely loses himself in the character and makes you forget who he is. I do struggle to take Cruise seriously in dramatic roles. I think he's more of a star in popcorn fare than a serious actor despite the good work he has done in films like Rain Man and (maybe) Magnolia. One problem with Cruise here is that he always looks about fifteen years old with his spookily youthful looks and diminutive stature. He's hard to take seriously sometimes in dramatic films. Nicole Kidman is better as Alice and more convincing. There is an obvious anti-consumer message in the film, the picture festooned with Christmas imagery which Kubrick makes tacky and overbearing. The first line in the film by Cruise is teling. "Honey, have you seen my wallet?" Bill spends a preposterous amount of money in the film (his wallet is like the TARDIS) but we see that he is a small fry when he is confronted with real wealth and the secret underworld of New York.
Early on he meets an old friend at the lavish Christmas party named Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) who dropped out of medical school while he was there and now plays piano at posh parties like this for the rich. "Yes, or in my case, never a doctor, never a doctor..." It's an awkward meeting because the two men are no longer equals in terms of status or money. The message is of course that it shouldn't really matter. The money drenched shadows behind the secret parties have all the money in the world but they have to wear masks at their orgies. There is no communication or intimacy. It's all aloof and distasteful. There are some things money can't buy. Eyes Wide Shut feels more glossy and mainstream than some of Kubrick's other work despite the darkness. There is much going on and Kubrickians could spend years poring over the film looking for different meanings but it is the one film in his back catalogue that hasn't attained some sort of cult status. It's a decent film but considering the director and the long gestation an unavoidably disappointing one. There is something strangely superficial about Eyes Wide Shut and it's not a film that you ever find yourself curious to return to guage your initial impressions again. You can get a basic extras free version of this for a fiver or a two disc version which includes a Channel 4 Kubrick documentary and also a look at some of his lost projects, most notably his never filmed early seventies epic about Napoleon. Two years of research were undertaken and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery amassed but it never happened - the studio pulling the plug after the failure of Waterloo (a 1970 Napoleon themed epic starring Rod Steiger).