Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
  • Time: 159 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Romance
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field


Sexual jolts disrupt Manhattan physician Bill Harford’s equilibrium. At an elegant Christmas party, two “models” hit on him, he watches a Lothario try to pick up his tipsy wife, he aids a woman sprawled naked in a bathroom after an overdose. The next night, his wife reveals sexual fantasies with a stranger; a dead patient’s daughter throws herself at him; as he walks, brooding, six teen boys hurl homophobic insults at him; a streetwalker takes him to her flat; he interrupts men having a sex party with a girl barely in her teens. His odyssey, which next takes him into a world of wealthy sex play at a masked ball of hedonism, threatens his life, his self-respect, and his marriage.

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  • “They did a bad, bad thing,” Chris Isaak croons over the intriguing trailers for Eyes Wide Shut. Sexual obsession, jealousy, psychological suspense, the (dis)illusion of love and marriage are all heavy topics and, irony of ironies, they are all spun from a bad, bad thing that was never even done.

    Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman portray Bill and Alice Harford. He’s a physician, she’s a former manager of an art gallery in Soho who now spends most of her days taking care of their young daughter Helena. Comfortably settled into married life — he adjusts his tie in the bathroom while she’s taking a pee — perhaps they need a bit of conflict to jolt themselves out of their complacent life.

    One night, during a holiday party thrown by one of Bill’s wealthy patients, a certain Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), both Bill and Alice are touched by temptation. Two models flirt with a responsive Bill while a tipsy Alice lets herself be charmed by an older Hungarian. Temptation leads to truthtelling — when Alice broaches both incidents to Bill while they’re in bed, Bill says it’s understandable that the Hungarian would act the way that he did: Alice is a beautiful woman. Alice is offended — hasn’t Bill ever been jealous about her? Bill responds by saying he knows she would never be unfaithful. “You’re so sure of yourself, aren’t you?” she says. “I’m sure of you,” he replies.

    So Alice proceeds to tell him of one summer in Cape Cod and how a young naval officer caught her glance. And how she wanted him but nothing ever happened. But if that naval officer had approached her, Alice says, she would have given everything up — Bill, their daughter, herself — to be with him. When she realized that the naval officer had left, she was relieved. “But you were dearer to me than ever,” she tells Bill, ” and my love for you was both tender and sad.”

    This scene is the crux of Kubrick’s film. It is the masterpiece within the flawed dream he has put onscreen. It is dangerous territory Bill and Alice enter and once they have reached its deepest part, one marvels at how they could have gotten there so quickly and even blindly. Alice knows how this will hurt Bill and she seems completely unaware of her malice. Kidman’s eyes flash a predatory shade of blue and she runs a complex gamut of emotions with a new depth of daring. Flirty, destructive, penitent, resigned — whatever emotion she is asked to express, Kidman does it with every pore alive.

    Which is why it’s tremendously disappointing when she disappears from the middle of the film. That section has Bill trying to deal with the image of his wife having sex with the naval officer. Bill tries to avenge himself by courting temptation but he can’t ever fully realize his want. Each temptation grows ever deadlier — a hooker, an underaged pretty baby and a masked orgy — and the presence of impending death or existential doom becomes more pronounced.

    Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle (Dream Novel), Kubrick’s film certainly looks, feels and plays like a dream. The image is never quite in place and it has its own internal logic. There are amazing set pieces, such as the masked orgy, but as with most Kubrick films, it’s a touch clinical. Apart from the stellar work by Cruise and Kidman, there are randy performances by Alan Cumming (as the desk clerk infatuated with Bill) and Leelee Sobieski, goodness all tarted up and looking for a good time.

    Eyes Wide Shut ultimately haunts with its images — a baldheaded man staring at Bill, the masked participants of the orgy like some tableaux come to half-life — and its musings — does every truth have to be told? Can emotional intimacy ever be too intimate? Is marriage an illusion? Is love? What’s real and what’s a dream? Why do certain thoughts haunt us so? Why do we harm ourselves and the ones we love the most?
    However it may be described or received, Eyes Wide Shut bears viewing for one can’t quite capture in words what Kubrick has captured on film.

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