Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Eyes Wide Shut

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug-related material

Reviewed by: Brian A. Gross
CONTRIBUTOR

Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Thriller Drama
Year of Release:
1999
Length:
2 hr. 33 min.
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures click photos to ENLARGE
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Vinessa Shaw, Madison Eginton, Jackie Sawiris, Sydney Pollack, more »

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Producer: Hobby Films, Pole Star, Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, Brian W. Cook, Jan Harlan, Stanley Kubrick

When Stanley Kubrick passed away in March of ’99, the fate of his new film, “Eyes Wide Shut”, was unknown. From the beginning of filming, the director shrouded the project in secrecy and it remained so throughout its estimated 362-day shoot. Its principal players saw Harvey Keitel’s scenes axed and Jennifer Jason Leigh replaced altogether by Marie Richardson. It was found that at the time of his death, Kubrick had finished the final edit, but the next hurdle would be the Warner Bros. contract he had signed. It obligated him to turn in an “R-rated” film but the MPAA thought the sexual material too graphic to give it anything below NC-17. Tom Cruise vowed to fight any further editing by the studio.

The finished product is parts “Last Tango in Paris” and “Rosemary’s Baby”. (There is a bit of “North by Northwest” too but I do not want to taint that terrific film with the likes of “Eyes”.) It is sexually adventuresome and frank like “Last Tango”, but doesn’t manage to tell us why it is being so. The storyline is simply about sexual jealousy and obsession and is very simply played out. After an evening of pot smoking, art curator Alice (Nicole Kidman) rambles on to her husband Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) about the fantasy lives of women like he was a wet-behind-the-ears child who doesn’t understand sexual desire. His actions up to this point indicate that he is a caring and loving husband and not nearly so detached as to need a lesson. That doesn’t deter Alice from hatefully recounting every step of a wished affair during their last vacation. It rocks the foundation of Bill’s world.

The information sends Bill on an odyssey of the sexual underworld. His earliest attempts to dabble with other women that night fail and the adventure is culminated when he sneaks into a secret gathering of debauchery. The orgy scenes reminded me of “Fellini’s Satyricon”, with the masks of all showing different emotions and hiding the human faces. (Throughout the film, Kubrick is clearly pointing us towards the symbols of sight—glasses, mirrors, masks—to teach us something about perception and reality. His next film, “A.I.,” was to be about Artificial Intelligence, where he presumably would have taken the concept to the limit.) It is these sequences that the “Rosemary’s Baby” influence plays prominently—the group is a shadowy one made up of possibly high-level people in places of power, performing occultist pagan sex rituals like the ancients. It is also the place where the censors won out, and performed a precise bit of editing. They placed stationary figures—some nude women and some cloaked participants—in front of the action that was deemed too explicit.

The story throughout varies from the murky and vague art house film to downright simplistic and bad filmmaking. The dialogue is banal to the point of boredom and does get purely awful. For a man of Kubrick’s talents he should have seen the need for a serious bit of polishing to the screenplay to consider it complete. What is clear is that Kubrick wanted to show a lot of gratuitous skin. Kidman is in states of undress far more often than necessary—for either the plot or for the scenes—and several others in lingerie (at most) for the entire picture. One man’s exploration is another man’s pornography and prurient interest is the only likely motive to have so many beautiful women nude and in provocative dress.

“Eyes Wide Shut” almost confirms my conviction that the reclusive director had all but lost his passion and vision in these later years. His previous effort before “EWS” was the 1987 Vietnam film, “Full Metal Jacket”, and that is a one-act picture. The boot camp scenes are what are remembered, while the actual battle scenes appear like another man shot them. In the end, after the sundry hazards of Alice’s mind and Bill’s actions are over, Alice tells him, “At least we have woken up now.” I’m afraid the audience will have to do the same to get home.

Violence: Implied violence and duress in a key scene. Language: Frank and brutal dialogue with plenty of obscenities (about 20 F-words) and a few vulgarities.

Sex/Nudity: Several scenes of complete frontal female nudity; an orgy sequence with dozens of topless women in thongs and graphic sexual activity up to blocking actual penetration.

Viewer Comments

** Please note **
Most Christians have chosen not to view this film for many reasons. However, some Christians (many who are art-film lovers) have seen “Eyes Wide Shut.” While Spotlight does not recommend the viewing of this film, here is what some Christian viewers have said about it:
I am struck by the number of 20-something men who wrote in favor of the movie. I, too, am a 25-year-old man. Paul tells us we should FLEE from sexual immorality.

Now, I know that secular art has many things to teach us about God, and that God is in all things. This does not mean that God approves of all things, as we know because sin exists in a world that God controls. Kubrick was an immoral man who made immoral films.

The fact that he was a highly articulate and expressive genius does not change that. God gave him a gift and Kubrick perverted it. Sexual sin is probably the most prevalent of all sins in this day. Don’t even think about the possibility of tempting yourself. I am sorry a reviewer even went to see this film.
—Thomas Quinlen, age 25
I agree with the other viewers that the theme of EWS is that infidelity leads to death and Hell. The nudity and especially sex scenes are presented as cold, emotionless, and devoid of passion and were not a “turn-on”. Christians are to flee temptation but sometimes we do flirt with it since we’re redeemed sinners. Cruises' character “Bill” is lead down the path to Hell but is providentially saved from ruin but is not unscathed.
—Jerry Randall, age 42
“Eyes Wide Shut” is a masterpiece. I say that not only as a Kubrick fan, but also as a cinema fan and as a Christian. I am not married, but I am in a serious relationship and can identify with the jealous battles that spur the hero on his journey. I have never gone to the lengths he did, but I know the feelings. This film is one that causes meditation on the state of human desires and trust, as well as the “masks” we all wear. I really feel that to avoid this film on the sake of nudity alone is to miss out. Yes, its gratuitous, but compare it to Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam” which features sex as a leering act of degredation rather than an act of love. This film seems to assert that infidelity and promiscuity lead to Hell. (Notice all the red in places of lust, like the bar and on the orgy-master…) It is by no means a recruiting film for Christianity, but a springboard for discussion of Christian themes…
—Andrew Hager, age 18
First off, I think all the hubub over the rating is irrelavent. This film is clearly marketed as an adult film and only went for the “R” rating to avoid the “NC-17”, which is still unfairly equated with pornography, which this film most definitely is not. The statement of the film is all about the eternal struggle with temptation and taking things for granted.

Bill assumes that he is the center of Alice’s universe and thus doesn’t appear insecure or threatened by other men who advance on her. I think jealousy for one’s significant other is a necessary emotion. When Alice grills him during the argument with her own tales of lust that was never acted on, Bill immediately tries to one up her and begins his odyssey.

I admit, the orgy scene is twenty minutes of depravity, but the sex is presented as cold and heartless, which was brilliantly indicated by the masks. All night, Bill sees betrayal and pain inflicted between spouses, friends, and even fathers. You feel his discomfort, as we are supposed to.

There is, also, some obvious Christian symbolism, particularly Domino, the prostitute, played brilliantly by Vanessa Shaw, who is, in a sense, Mary Magdeline. Even the girl at the orgy who redeems Bill when he is sought to be crashing the party maintains nobility through a simple act.

The photography is hypnotic and enthralling. The nudity abounds, but is presented in a very cold and un-titillating way, like in eighteenth century portraits. Finally, Bill gathers his bearings and comes to terms with what he stands to lose. It is a brilliant morality play that left me hushed and shaken when the end credits rolled…
—Kelly Hefelfinger, age 20
“Eyes Wide Shut” is one of the most magnificant films that I’ve seen in years. Kubrick has created a haunting masterpiece with wonderful symbolism and displays a brilliance of filmmaking rarely seen in Hollywood today. The film is the story of the fall, told as an analogy. Cruise and Kidman play a married couple with an idellic view of their marriage.

They live in a paradise of love. But at the party, Kidman is tempted by the snake. While she dosen’t succomb to his advances, the apple she does choose to partake of is far more subtle. She begins to see the world as impure. And she hands the apple to her husband when she tells him that had at one point lusted after another man.

The story then focuses on his oddessy through a sexual underground and we watch as his eyes are opened to the perversion and decadence of sexuality in the world.

He may want to partake in the “pleasures” of the world, but he is pulled back from the brink several times. By the film’s ending, the two have confessed their transgressions to one another.

Their innocence has been lost, but they realize that they must work through that loss and we are left with the feeling that, though they both have been wounded, they will come through this stronger and even more in love. A quick note on the sexual content of the film. While there is a lot of sex and nudity, Kubrick films it in a very interesting way. Instead of being meant to arouse or to tittilate, it is filmed in a very cold, almost analytical way.

There is almost no way to describe the style it is filmed in—only to say that it is very different than nudity in most films today. Finally, yes—there is a lot of content that is objectionable in the film. Yet, the message of the film is really very strong and powerful.

The content, in context, is equally powerful. We wouldn’t feel the need for Cruise to confess of his transgressions if we weren’t plunged, along with him, into this disturbing sexual underground. It is an artful film, and one of the best I’ve seen in recent years. It makes you think about the film and its many layers of meaning weeks after having seen it.
—Joshua Hornbeck, age 22
Before I go on, this is not a family film. And, in order to understand what this film is about, we need to disassociate the words “family” and “Christian.” No, this is not a movie I would recommend to parents to take little Johnnie and Janie to on a Saturday afternoon. I also wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who struggles with issues like lust. It is, however, an important look at the consequences of sin and the value of God’s marital covenant. Tom Cruise’s character is a man who takes his wife for granted. He places her on a pedestal of perfection, and when that pedestal is shaken, he, too, is shaken.

He seeks his retribution through psychological revenge (“If she did this to me, then I’ll do even worse to her…”). His journey, though, ends up being much more dangerous than he believes. At every turn, the joys of faithfulness are blatantly on display, except at the “orgy scene.” Here, debauchery is put on display, in all of its ugliness. Sin is shown for what it really is: inhuman, evil, intriguing (but by no means entertaining), and deadly. One of the people (the woman who maybe saves Tom’s life) ends up being HIV-positive and ends up infecting MANY people (wages of sin…).

Cinematically, Kubrick is an absolute genius, even going as far as to poke fun at some of his previous films (twin elevators… yellow halls…). The camera work, lighting, and music are errily beautiful. His use of timing and all of the cinematic arts makes this a true masterpiece. If you are a Christian adult who can handle this heavy, thought-provoking movie, I highly recommend it.
—Scott Ward, age 26
Kubrick was a filmmaker whose films people either love or hate. “Eyes Wide Shut” is no exception. Most mainstream audiences will find the film boring. But if the audience were to stay awake for the entire film, they would find out that it is one of the most emotionally complex films they had ever seen.

They would, also, find out if they got beyond all the nudity and profanity, that it was a film about the dangers of marital infidelity and the wisdom of sticking to one’s spouse. There IS a moral and a point to the film. Many of the films points could be pulled straight out of Proverbs 5. Although Tom Cruise’s character, enraged by his wife’s admission of desire for another man, goes out seeking to sleep with someone, he never does, and we find out that if he had, it would have cost him his life (Incidentally, it is his wife’s phone call that saves him). Not to mention that if a stranger at the cult orgy hadn’t redeemed his life with her own, he would have been killed by the people there.

On a technical level, “Eyes Wide Shut” is a masterpiece. The camerawork is precise and gorgeous; the slight underexposure, along with mirrors and masks gives the whole proceedings a dream-like atmosphere (it is only at the end of the film that the characters “awake” from the dream/ nightmare of the previous night to the reality of their situation).

The acting is phenomenal. Yes, much of the dialogue is banal, but part of the point of the film is that it involves normal people putting themselves in extremely abnormal and dangerous situations. You sense that these people have lives beyond what is portrayed onscreen. Also to be mentioned is the use of music, which, again, is impeccable.

So is it a good movie? Yes, it is. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it got some serious Oscar attention. Is it worth seeing? Probably NOT. Most of the nudity is completely gratuitous. Since “Clockwork Orange,” Kubrick’s work has, for seemingly no reason other than to feed the director’s own fantasies, featured women in various stages of undress. The movie should have been rated NC-17.

However, in a rebuttal to Dr. Baehr, (no disrespect intended), there was no masturbation in the film, and none of the critics I have read have said that the unedited version of this film deserved an R-rating. What they HAVE said is that Warner Brothers should not have released the edited version, and released the unedited version as NC-17 or “Unrated”.

I would agree with them. Releasing this film as “R” does service to nobody except the production company, who would lose out in box office revenue, as most theaters will not play films without a rating, or with an NC-17 rating. All an R-Rating does is allow people younger than 17 (who shouldn’t be allowed into a film like this by any means) to see this.

Secondly, Kubrick is not acclaimed for making pornography. This film is not acclaimed because it contains sexuality. In fact, the scenes containing any sort of nudity comprise about 10% of the film. Kubrick IS acclaimed for having made some of the world’s most influential films (e.g. “2001”, “Clockwork Orange,” “Dr. Strangelove”) and for really broadening the language of “this magnificent art form.” Almost all of the filmmakers working today have been influenced by his stylistic innovation.

Likewise, “Eyes Wide Shut” is acclaimed for its characters and its emotional and stylistic complexity, to name a few things.

There was one line in “Eyes Wide Shut” that really stuck with me as one of the director’s most telling lines. Cruise’s character asks his wife if she will love him forever. She replies “Forever… Don’t use that word. It scares me.”

I wonder if Kubrick wasn’t aware that he didn’t have much time left here, and was deeply concerned about it. It is extremely sad that a man so intellectually and artistically brilliant died without knowing (or possibly consciously rejecting) Christ.

It is also sad that we will probably now never see “AI”. “AI” was to be a “Pinocchio” story about a young android boy struggling with not being a real boy. I really do wish that Kubrick had received funding to make “AI” instead of “Eyes Wide Shut.”

As a final note, in much of the film industry now, sex is portrayed as consequence-free, and something that “everyone is doing anyway” (look at “American Pie,” “Cruel Intentions,” “Austin Powers,” or any number of other films). Even more films contain crudity just for laughs (“Big Daddy,” “South Park” et al) These films are marketed directly at teenagers, because that’s where the money is for movies such as those. Then a film like “Eyes Wide Shut” comes along. It does have nudity that is gratuitous, but it also portrays sexuality as something that is central to the human person and something that has real consequences, both emotional and physical. It is also marketed directly at adults.

It should not be acquitted for its wrongs by any means, but there’s far more coming out of the film industry now that is far more detrimental, and actually deserves the title “trash,” although on the surface it might cause less stir because it’s so widely accepted now. THAT is something far more pressing, in my opinion, that American people and parents should voice their concern over.
—Jason Murphy, age 20
Positive—I cannot stress how important it is for every married couple to watch this film! For that matter, every person who’s planning on getting married, or even on entering a deep, committed relationship, should watch “Eyes Wide Shut.” Except, of course, if you have strong issues with controlling your lust. Then maybe skip it.

But, otherwise, “Eyes Wide Shut” is the greatest insight into marriage that I have ever seen onscreen. It is about Bill Harford, a successful New York City doctor, and his wife Alice. One night she admits an incident in which she was ready to give up their entire marriage to sleep with one man she didn’t know; this never happened, but the idea behind it is just as raw for Bill, just as shattering as if she had actually done it.

The rest of that night takes another hour of the film, in which Bill roams New York City, upset and confused. As if in retaliation for his wife’s thoughts of infidelity, he has his own—in fact, he confronts fantasy after fantasy in a series of episodes each as eye-opening as the last, until he finally stumbles upon a secret sexual society that links him with a possible murder case and lands him in more trouble than he bargained for.

I won’t go past that area in the plot. While that may seem to be the climactic moment of the film, it isn’t: the last half of the film deals with the consequences of Bill’s sexual odyssey, and the resolution is one that’s well worth the movie’s 160-minute runtime. In the end, Bill and Alice’s marriage is reinforced because of their honesty and made stronger through their trials. And they realize that, despite what has happened (or maybe because of it), they still love each other—very much so.

And this is why I suggest the film to all married couples and people in deep committed relationships. It deals honestly and unflinchingly with sexual fantasy, yet arrives at a conclusion that satisfies, even in a Christian sense. In fact, I thank God that I have watched this movie, because it more than any other film has made me promise myself to keep my future marriage strong.

Now for the question I know you all are bursting to ask: What about the graphic sexual content? Yes. It is very graphic. In terms of actual sex, there is only the 2-minute orgy during the sex party. However, there is further nudity that is frequent and sustained. That’s why I discourage those who have strong issues with lust from watching this film. …Yes, it may offend you. But that’s the nature of complete honesty: it holds up a mirror to things we’d rather not look at.

By the way, the moviemaking quality is of the utmost calibre. This movie breaths as if on the zephyrs of a dream! Completely engaging—time has a completely different definition for this movie! It doesn’t feel shorter or longer than 160 minutes, but nor does it feel like 160 minutes, either. It’s on its own plane of time, and all you can do is marvel at how beautiful and deep Stanley Kubrick’s final masterpiece is. Put your thinking caps on! There’s nothing mindless in here.

P.S.—This movie holds up under multiple rewatchings, too! Now past my 8th time, I’ve decided to name this as my favorite film ever—and I don’t bestow that title lightly!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jm, age 18 (USA)
Movie Critics
The edited version still includes explicit scenes of graphic fornication and masturbation. The edited version itself deserves an NC-17 rating. I am, therefore, absolutely astonished and deeply saddened by the fact that the Los Angeles and New York film critics think that the unedited version of this pornographic movie deserves an R-rating. What are these people thinking? These misguided people have debased a magnificent art form by giving accolades to trash! No filmmaker, no matter how talented, should be so highly respected for creating pornography. The American people should rise up and voice their concerns.
—Dr. Ted Baehr of Movieguide