Eyes Wide Shut

After attending an evening of drinking and flirting at a Christmas party, Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) retire to their swank Central Park West apartment for a little dope smoking and mind games.


eyeswideshutAlice expresses jealousy over Bill’s innocent romp with two party girls, while Bill shows little interest in Alice’s cheek-to-cheek encounter with a man on the dance floor. Alice feels betrayed when Bill comments that he wasn’t jealous, not because he is sure of himself, but because he is sure Alice would never betray him.

That is when Alice leads Bill down a rabbit’s hole of “what if.” She begins to relate an incident that almost drove her to the point of having an affair with a handsome naval officer. She even goes as far as telling Bill that while she was making love to him that particular evening, she was thinking of the officer. Jealousy is a monster that is hard to cage once it is let loose, as Bill soon learns the hard way.

Bill and Alice are the central characters of Stanley Kubrick’s final film, a failed cautionary tale on the adversity of not keeping one’s fly zipped up.

“Eyes Wide Shut” looks like a Kubrick film, with its artificial trappings standing in for the real thing. The film takes place in New York, but was shot entirely in London. Even though Kubrick manages to capture the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps, he has also delivered a film that is almost guaranteed to put you in a slumber state.

Kubrick has committed the worst crime a filmmaker can be accused of: “Eyes Wide Shut” is a monumental bore, a 2 hour and 40 minute snooze fest that lacks genuine emotion and passion. Here is a film about sexual obsession and jealousy that plays like one of those dated sex education films we saw in junior high school. Everything about the film is so mechanical.

Even the performances seem artificial. As a director, Kubrick is noted for his extensive takes. He’ll shoot one scene 40-50 times in his quest for perfection. Unfortunately, that quest takes its toll on the performers, who appear more as puppets. Everything is so calculated that there is little room left for such invigorating players as Cruise and Kidman to breathe. Instead, they do this little Kubrick dance that wears thin after about 45 minutes.

The screenplay by Kubrick and Frederick Raphael (based on the novel “Traumnovelle” (“Dream Story”) by Arthur Schnitzler) is cold and impersonal. It’s obvious that Kubrick wanted us to be voyeurs instead of participants in the film. He doesn’t want us to get close to the characters, but instead sit back and watch their lives spiral out of control. Maybe he wanted us to feel as alienated and lost as the characters, but it is a misstep in my opinion.

The message comes through loud and clear, even if the delivery is deliberately hazy. Meaningless sex comes with consequences, and women are nothing more than objects for men to bargain for. To that end, Kubrick goes to great lengths to ram that message home. Except for Kidman’s Alice, who dissolves into the background after the first half of the film, the rest of the women in “Eyes Wide Shut” are nothing more than window dressing. Most spend their time on screen completely naked, leaving very little to the imagination. Most of the female characters, including a teenage nymph played Leelee Sobieski, are depicted as whores. Cruise’s character even manages to sneak his way into a exclusive floating sex party, where the men dress in robes and hoods, and women prance around in Mardi Gras masks and nothing else. The message the writers send is that women are nothing more than warm bodies. We don’t need to see their faces or know their identities. The writers may see this as mysterious, but it comes off as exploitative. It’s that old joke: put a bag on any woman’s head and she’s doable.

Well, the joke is on the audience, and it is too bad that Kubrick isn’t still around to defend his work. While I found the theme of the film inviting and intriguing, I felt betrayed by Kubrick’s delivery. This is definitely one case where you should blame the messenger.

I understand Kubrick’s desire to make us feel distant, but it is hard to sit through such a long film without ever connecting with the characters. There’s very little passion in this film, especially in the characters and their motives. We already know that casual sex with strangers can be detrimental and even devastating, yet by the time Cruise’s character figures it out, we’re either too tired to care or bored out of our minds.

As a director, Kubrick has always taken chances. He has a unique vision, one that will truly be missed. It is sad that “Eyes Wide Shut” had to be the finale to his career. It lacks the insight and dynamics of his previous work, and at times, seems overly exploitative. Even though the film is about sexual obsession, Kubrick has made sure to keep the male form hidden. Even during the orgy scene at the private party, you hardly even see a glimpse of male thigh. However, there is more bush on display here than on the current Presidential campaign trail

Kubrick revels in the female form, and perhaps he was trying to numb us with all of the flesh on display. However, it seems odd that a film that deals in sexual obsession and jealousy could be so one-sided. I don’t know what it takes to get Nicole Kidman to take her clothes off (probably just asking her), but Cruise and the other man in this film wear “Full Metal Jackets.” Even the infamous mirror scene is shot to take advantage of Kidman’s naked torso while leaving her husband’s Cruise Missile out of the picture.

“Eyes Wide Shut” is a somber experience. Even attempts at suspense are so obvious that they fail miserably. Even the music sucks big time, a grating piano solo that sounds like a child banging on the keys for the first time. It is supposed to help make you feel uncomfortable, but it only pissed me off.

So did the finale, in which Alice suggests to Bill that they head home and fornicate. Of course she used a different word, a word that perfectly sums up how most audience members will feel after sitting through this waste of time. Stanley Kubrick may be dead, but “Eyes Wide Shut” is 2 hours and 40 minutes of my life that I’ll never be able to get back again. And we waited ten years for this?

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) 1.33:1 Full-Frame

Delivered in the director’s ratio of choice, the digital transfer is clean and actually quite impressive. The colors are outstanding, from the muted tones to the garish neons. Blacks are positively impenetrable, while shadows and whites benefit from a pristine negative. Depth of field is amazing, as is attention to detail. No real compression artifacts or noise. Flesh tones are lifelike, while overall image is stunning.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Kubrick’s meticulous sound design is perfectly captured in the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Dialogue is crisp and clean, while front sound field shows definite split. Spatial separation is okay but not overwhelming, while surround effects are also a little slim, but that is the nature of the beast. Not much bass action, but the high and lows ends are startling. No hiss or distortion.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing Subtitles in French

COORDINATION: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Interviews with stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, plus director Steven Spielberg

check.gif (406 bytes) Original Theatrical Trailer

check.gif (406 bytes) Two Television Spots

check.gif (406 bytes) Cast & Crew Bios

check.gif (406 bytes) Handsome, animated main menu plus scene access menu.

PROGNOSIS: Fit

check.gif (406 bytes) As a testament to the lasting legacy of director Stanley Kubrick, “Eyes Wide Shut” falls short. Fans will appreciate owning the DVD, for everyone else, a rental.

VITALS:

check.gif (406 bytes) $24.95/Rated R/159m/Color/38 Chapter Stops/Snapcase

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: EYES WIDE SHUT

BIRTH DATE: 1999

HMO: Warner Home Video



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