Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael

Despite having consumed 6 Stanley Kubrick films before this one, each with its fair share to make an argument that he is easily one of the most unique and best directors of all time, I still hesitated with this film. For one, I knew it was highly sexual, which basically means that I have to watch it after hours because even though I can say, sheepishly, when my parents catch me watching it, “Hey, it’s Stanley Kubrick,” it would still be awkward. The sexual themes, however, do not bother me. Even though I have not seen many sexual thrillers, I know it can’t be the sex that pushes me away because I really liked something like Chloe from last year. Different films to be sure, but the runtime, Nicole Kidman, and a Tom Cruise it didn’t seem I would like made me hesitate. Stanley Kubrick and it’s expiring on Netflix Instant, however, had different ideas about it.

Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) is a doctor in New York City and quite successful. He is married to a beautiful woman, Alice (Nicole Kidman), and has a beautiful daughter. One night he attends a party at a friend’s home with his wife. While there he is whisked upstairs by the host, Victor (Sydney Pollack), to help a hooker who has OD’d on Victor’s watch. But he also encounters a long lost friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field). When the Harford’s return home the couple has a fight and Alice reveals that she has fantasized about another man, but has not acted on her impulses. This sets Bill off to find a sexual fix if you will, and after hearing about a sexual party from Nick, ignorantly attends the party, gets found out, and has his family threatened if he reveals to anyone else what he saw that night. Bill now looks over his shoulder, wondering if someone is following him, and if his relationship with Alice will ever be the same again.

This was really a mixed bag for me. The hand of Kubrick is a helping one here behind the camera, but not so much with the pen. The problem I had with the film is that it postures at something big to only be a huge letdown. There seems to be gratuitous nudity of Kidman, and then a fairly graphic, and overly long scene at the party in question which includes tons more. It makes some sense in terms of setting up the stakes of Harford’s knowledge of this party, but I also felt it was a bit much. Bill is now in a fix and unsure whether he has helped kill his friend Nick, whom he cannot find the day after, or a friendly girl, who tried to warn him then took his place when it was revealed he did not belong. She turned up dead. Everything is set up for a great thriller mystery, but everything is fizzled by the ending, which is a dud and basically sums it up by saying it was always just about sex.

Sure, perhaps this was Kubrick commenting on the nature of life, it was always just about sex, and perhaps that is where I am missing what many others have loved about this film, but it didn’t work for me because after building up a brilliant mystery, setting the stakes so high with mysterious characters and elements, everything tumbles into nothing. Damn. I feel like I’ve been had. Sitting here writing this kind of puts things together and yet I don’t want them too. Maybe Kubrick is the mad genius I thought he was and he made a brilliant mystery/thriller with no ending because life is a brilliant mystery/thriller with no ending. Then again maybe I am reading way too much into it.

Anyway, I liked Tom Cruise alright. He has been better, and much better (including that same year in Magnolia), but Nicole Kidman on the other hand kind of made me mad. I have never really been all hat fond of her, but here I felt she was really terrible. And of course Sydney Pollack is solid as a rock, has he ever been anything else? This was such a strange viewing experience because I entered with mixed expectations: I like Kubrick, but what is the deal with this plot? And even as I was watching the film I was put off by a lot of things, and yet was involuntarily trapped by the brilliant strokes of mystery that were so gripping and thrilling there was no way I wasn’t going to finish it. Then, after deciding I didn’t much care for the film, I sat down to write as much and found out maybe Kubrick really is a genius, and through a manner in which only Kubrick could, he crafted his own twisted masterpiece to rival another by him, A Clockwork Orange. I don’t know anymore, I throw my hands up to Kubrick. How does he do it?

 

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

2 comments

  • I have this in my top 100 list, so I guess I like it more than you. I like to think of it more as an absurd comedy than a serious mystery/thriller movie. Sure, it's not overtly hilarious but when you look at all the things going on and Cruise's reaction to them I think you can justify the idea.

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