Eyes Wide Shut, 1999, UK/USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman & Sydney Pollack
Has there ever been a film that has been as cruelly misunderstood as ‘Eyes Wide Shut’? Stanley Kubrick’s final film was released posthumously and to, understandably, monumental expectations. Due to these circumstances, the film failed to impress a majority of the masses. In recent years ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ has gained a more favorable look and was even ranked as 4th on Martin Scorsese’s best films of the 1990’s. But to me, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is still no aware as heralded as it should be.
After the revelation of his wife’s intentions of an affair in the past, Dr Bill Harford takes a stroll through New York City in an attempt to vent his frustration, but in doing so, Harford has begun a mysterious odyssey that sees him stumble onto something sinister.
I have no misconceptions when I label ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as a masterpiece. I don’t put this view down to my Kubrick fandom but instead due to the films quality. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is an endlessly intricate tour de force that is being assembled by a master of cinema. At its heart, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is a dream, as Mr Scorsese said ‘’it's not to be taken literally. Its Manhattan as you’d experience it in a dream, where everything feels familiar but very strange’’ this quote from Scorsese got me thinking about the films location. Due to Stanley’s fear of flying the entire film was shot in England as a stand in for Manhattan. To me, the film never feels like it is actually taking place in New York, now I have never been to either the NYC or England but I know how these places come off on film and its seems very evident this is taking place in England. Maybe this feel is simply down to Kubrick’s fear of flying but the fact that the Manhattan portrayed in the film doesn’t feel like Manhattan, this perfectly complements Scorsese’s statement and drives home the theory that the events being portrayed on screen are merely a dream, but then again ‘’no dream is ever a dream’’.
I’m a huge admirer of films that take a central character and send him on an odyssey, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ ranks along ‘After Hours’ when it comes to this category. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is definitely a fantastical but Kubrick is able to keep the events frightening and always engaging. Like he did with ‘The Shining’, Kubrick asks more questions than he answers, while that can infuriate some viewers for being so vague, Kubrick makes it all seem so mythical and is subject to decades of debate.
One scene that must be talked is the orgy scene where Bill Harford arrives at the party in the mansion. This is perhaps one of the most, eerie, intense and spellbinding scenes I have ever witnessed. The visual of a crowd of wearing cloaks and masks watching what appears to be a spiritual ceremony taking place. As unsettling as the scene would come off in the script, Kubrick makes it even more unforgettable due to his use of camera angles that make see through Bill’s perspective, giving us the sense that we are an onlooker at this bizarre goings on. We then follow Bill through the house where there are many sexual activities taking place and even more masked people are looking on. There is also the use of that incredible piano theme which sends chills down my spine and elevates the scene even more.
As is the case with almost all of Kubrick’s work, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is highly rewarding on a rewatch. There are so many little small details and clever camera shots that can escape the viewer on an initial viewing but can become omnipresent on a revisit. For example, the opening scene in which Bill and Alice are getting ready for Ziegler’s party and when the two exit there front door there is a transition from that shot to the next which is the front of Ziegler’s mansion, so that it seems as if Bill and Alice have walked right out of there front door and straight into the location of the next scene. Its small details like this that separate Kubrick from the average filmmaker, this attention give audiences the sense that the man orchestrating the film you’re seeing is truly passionate about what he’s making. Unlike others who simply point out where they want the next explosion to take place.
This is a film that is very much a one character film; everyone else on screen is simply a part of Harford’s dream. I know Tom Cruise can catch some flack in the acting department but every time I hear this argument I simply the likes of ‘Magnolia’ and of course ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. Cruise is great here, sure there is Cruise-esque like antics but they all seem to have a place here. Bill Harford is a character that, despite his choices, is still a sympathetic character and pretty easy to follow. Nicole Kidman is good here but despite her billing, is a big name bit role. There are plenty of great characters that round out the cast including Sydney Pollack who is really awesome here. Also this film marks one of only two (apparently) Stanley Kubrick cameos; he is a man sitting at a table in the restaurant where Nick Nightingale is playing.
I regard ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as one of my all-time favorite films and I honestly believe it is the very best film of the 1990’s. A frightening yet beautiful swan song for cinemas greatest son.