I’ve rewatched The Shining recently and went to the Astor Theatre with a friend to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I kept Stanley Kubrick theme going and revisited his last movie made with pre-divorce Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
I haven’t seen the film since its release in 1999 and what stuck the most in my memory, apart from the infamous orgy scene and the sinister piano, are the bright primary colours and the holiday lights of the Christmas season which Kubrick stuck in wherever possible it seems. Though in this movie they have an unsettling effect rather than a jolly one. In some scenes, I swear I had one eye on the story while the other was just drinking in the unearthly beauty of the contrasting colours, like the orange and blue in the above hero shot. The garish colours and the lights give the movie a dreamlike and wilfully artificial vibe. For that reason, I wasn’t bothered by the actors’ unnaturally slow line deliveries, or the fact that Cruise and Kidman’s characters didn’t resemble normal human beings.
Dr. Bill and Alice Harford are a married couple living an affluent lifestyle and moving in rich and glamorous Manhattan society. In the beginning of the film they attend a posh party where they both dip a toe into flirtation with beautiful strangers without crossing the line, she with a comically suave silver fox Hungarian and he with a couple of models. Bill also gets to help out their host (Sydney Pollack) with an overdosed prostitute upstairs who needs doctor’s help.
The next day, in their bedroom, the couple smoke a bit of pot to get in the mood, and get into an argument after Bill makes a stupid comment about women’s capacity for sexual fantasies. To spite him, Alice describes a fantasy she once had about a young naval officer she saw during their holiday, which was strong enough to make her briefly consider abandoning her husband and child. Bill, his mind blown, leaves the house and wanders the streets, his mind constantly replaying the images of Alice getting it on with the officer. His night turns into a sexual odyssey, with one tempting scenario after another; either Bill is simply fuelled by jealousy, or his imagination is set loose by his wife’s story.
It all culminates with a masked party at a grand country manor, which Bill gatecrashes, looking on the bizarre rituals and writhing naked bodies everywhere. There is a sinister, hypnotic pagan feel to the proceedings, made even more unsettling with the impassive masks and the guttural-sounding musical accompaniment. Though none of this is even remotely sexy. I’ve seen Eyes Wide Shut described as an erotic thriller, but I don’t think that cold and clinical Kubrick could do erotic if his life depended on it, nor do I think that he was actually going for it in this movie. Some developments later give the film a shade of a cautionary tale, though I’d rather see it as a black comical tale about a fragile ego.
After the high point of the orgy, the remainder of the film is unfortunately bogged down with some tedious thriller elements as Bill tries to figure out what happened at the party and whether people got hurt as a result of his intrusion. Not enough to ruin the movie, but I did find these scenes a bit of a chore to sit through. Though the movie begins with Bill and Alice sharing an equal amount of time, Kubrick as always finds it much easier to follow the male protagonist, so Alice’s presence is drastically reduced after the pot smoking scene, where Kidman is rather fantastic as she pours scorn on her husband. It’s hard to say whether Cruise’s acting is actually good, but his movie star status fits bizarrely well with the artificiality of the entire film; I couldn’t see his role played by someone with a more down-to-earth character actor presence. Leelee Sobieski pops up memorably as a precocious teenage daughter of the costume shop owner; to describe his attitude to his daughter as creepy would be an understatement. Where have you gone, Leelee Sobieski?
While Eyes Wide Shut has some dull patches, its rich eerie visuals are beautiful to watch and it’s a fascinating trip into the mind of Stanley Kubrick (nevermind the Hollywood star casting, in a Kubrick film the director is always the main star).