Reviewed by: Brian A. Gross
Director: 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 MPA 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.