Monday, June 7, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Title: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise


Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is a film that explores what happens when a relationship becomes stale. This is something that can happen when two people have been living together for so long, that the spark that was once there when the couple first met is gone. There is none of that thrill and excitement that the couple might have felt in the early stages of their relationship. So they start considering infidelity, they start looking outside of their established relationship for that thrill. The question that the film asks is: are you sure you want to do that?

On this film we meet a couple who has reached success in their lives. They each excel on their respective fields, they have a daughter, and they have an enviable apartment. This wealthy couple has wealthy friends who invite them to expensive parties where the rich and powerful mingle. But, even though this couple has everything they could hope for in terms of material things, their relationship is in shambles. The routine and hassle of their daily lives has destroyed a once fruitful relationship. So much so, that they both toy with the idea of betraying their matrimonial vows. They even have an extensive conversation about it while smoking a joint. Nicole Kidman’s character goes into this whole monologue about how she was mentally unfaithful to him years ago, how she desired this other man. One day Tom Cruise’s character meets up with an old college buddy of his who ends up giving him the address to a secret gathering. He doesn’t give him details as to what goes on in these gatherings, but Cruise is intrigued. What does this exclusive group of people get together to do? And should he even be considering going there?

On this film Kubrick was exploring various themes. One of them is how the rich and powerful can numb themselves with every possible sensation and experience money can buy. And then they get bored. They have it all, they’ve seen it all, so now they feel compelled to look for new thrilling experiences to entertain themselves with. This is a theme I saw played out in an old Hammer film called Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), a film in which four rich dudes are so bored with everything that they accept the invitation to participate in a black mass to resurrect Dracula himself. Of course, they end up regretting they ever accepted the invitation and end up paying dearly for their lust for excitement. On Eyes Wide Shut, the rich protagonist is looking for new ways to entertain himself as well. He is bored with his married life, so he is looking for outside entertainment; something new to liven up his sexual life. But instead of participating in Black Mass like the aforementioned Hammer film, Cruise decides to join a group of rich people who like to participate in all sorts of sexual escapades. By sexual escapades I mean of course orgies.

The group behaves in many ways like a religious cult. Their religion being sex. They gather in a secret temple, they perform ritualistic dances and ceremonies before indulging in their sexual acts. They wear ceremonial garments which include these awesome looking masks. By the way, whoever was responsible for making the beautiful masks in this movie deserve some sort of mask making award. But I don’t think Kubrick was necessarily trying to comment on the nature of cults and religion. He was talking more about sexual behavior. The question the film asks is, are you sure you want to venture out into the world in search of a more intense sexual experience? On the one hand, Cruise tries to have sex with a prostitute, in search of this new excitement, but the film shows us that that kind of search can lead to all sorts of dangers, of the venereal kind. So in this way Kubrick is saying: you go out looking for sex in the streets you might catch something you don’t want to catch! It is a dangerous game to play, with way too many risks.

The other comment Kubrick makes is on how much aberrant sexual behavior there is in the world. There is one moment in the film in which Cruise is walking down the street, he walks past a bunch of porn shops, a porn theater, and he walks by a group of teenagers which hurl sexual insults at him. This scene encapsulates how sexually charged the world is, in a way expressing what Freud said about humans being entirely sexual creatures. Sexual desires can lead one down dark paths, if you don’t think so then you should watch the first ten minutes of a film called Irreversible (2002), where a character walks into a night club for people who enjoy the truly twisted and downright sick part of sex. There are a couple of characters in Eyes Wide Shut that represent this type of behavior; Kubrick is obviously warning us with this film about the dangers of choosing to go down these perverted paths.

Visually and technically speaking, Eyes Wide Shut is flawless, as is the norm with a Kubrick film. But I noticed one thing was different with this movie: the colors. Kubrick is known for the use of whites and blacks in his films; white being the color that dominates most of his works. But on Eyes Wide Shut things were a little different. Warm colors dominate the films palette. I thought this was very adequate because of the films sexual themes. Another interesting aspect of this film is how it contrasts these warm colors (mostly different shades of yellow) with blue, a color that can be considered cold. Was Kubrick contrasting the warmth of sex with the coldness in the main couple’s relationship? I thought so.

I’m going to wrap this review up now, sorry if I stretched things out too long, but when a film is this good, reviews just flow out of me and I can’t seem to stop typing! Eyes Wide Shut was made in 1999, yet the film felt timeless. In contrast with other Kubrick films which obviously reflect the times they were made in, when I re-watched Eyes Wide Shut the film felt like it could have been made yesterday. Another interesting aspect of Eyes Wide Shut is that it was made while Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were still married, which of course makes the intimacy between the characters that much more legitimate and genuine. But I’ll warn you, if you are expecting an explicit or graphic sex scene between Kidman and Cruise’s characters, you will be disappointed. This never really comes to be. Strange how a couple of years after this film -a film which tries to reinforce the importance of strengthening the marital bond- Cruise and Kidman split up. Maybe the themes they explored while making this film touched them in a deeper way than they expected? That being said, I think a great job was done by all. Kidman and Cruise gave stand out performances, and Kubrick delivered his last great film.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Eyes Wide Shut (2-disc Special Edition)Eyes Wide Shut (R-Rated Edition)


Unknown said...

For me, this is the film where Nicole Kidman really came into her own as an actress. I really think that Kubrick got some incredible performances out of her and Cruise. He clearly played on their real-life relationship but then gave it a perverse twist. I also found it interesting how Kubrick played around with Cruise's image. If you think about it, the entire film is about his character trying to get laid and it never happens! Just when he gets close (the two girls at the party early on in the film, the prostitute in her apt.), something happens, he gets interrupted before he can get into it. Very interesting.

Like all of Kubrick's films, I have found that EWS has really improved with age and whenever I watch it I tend to find something new that I hadn't noticed before or get to thinking about something one of the characters says that I didn't pick up on the last time...

Unknown said...

excellent review. I'm a huge fan of this film, because I enjoy Kubrick's work and style with the many psychological layers and the small details that are there for viewers to take in. Unfortunately, it wasn't a massive success because so many movie goers don't want to think or ponder...they just want it all laid out for them. This is a fantastic film and I also recommend it highly. In your review I'm glad you mentioned the color palette, it's something I hadn't really appreciated before.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

This was heavily misinterpreted when it came out, and I think like most Kubrick films, as the years pass it will attain a major reputation. That said, I think it is easily one of the dullest Kubrick films. Not a lot happens, and it goes on and on and on...As a finale to such an impressive career it feels very underwhelming. I agree with previous comments about Kidman, but Cruise is deadly dull in this. Sex is curiously devoid of passion in Kubrick's films, making EYES WIDE SHUT surely the most un-erotic erotic film ever made.

Franco Macabro said...

@J.D. same thing happened to me with this movie, Ive come to appreciate it a whole lot more with time. Visually, and thematically, the movie matters more to me know then when I watched it when I was in highschool.

I think the fact that Cruise never gets any action on this movie is part of the whole theme Kubrick is playing with: Cruise's character is playing with fire and he is so close to getting burned! Its that whole idea of being CLOSE to danger, but being lucky enough to escape unharmed and learn a lesson from it.

@JayAmabile: Yeah, this is one of the things that makes the movie different, its colors. Kubrick also used so many christmas lights to illuminate the scenes, it gives it that warm glow you get with the x-mas lights. And the fact that this twisted tale happens during christmas makes it even more schocking.

@Shaun: I agree with ya about the un-eroticness of this film, and the rest of Kubricks repertoire. Even the sex scenes in A Clockwork Orange were ugly (the rape scene) or in fast forward. I guess Kubrick didnt think he needed nudity to enhance his films, which is fine by me, sometimes nudity can cheapen a movie in a way. On this one, Kidman does show some skin and its a very beautifully shot scene where she is undressing, but that was a rarity for Kubrick.

But I do love the way the film unfolds, Kubricks films have always had a deliberately slow pace, I mean, think about 2001, The Shinning, LOLITA, all slow films, EYES WIDE SHUT was no exception. But I find it a beautiful film to look at, I loved the colors, the performances, and the themes. I dont know what the film has about it, but it captured my full attention!

Kidman's pot induced scene was awesome, Cruise's reactions to her dialog was freaking great as well.

Bryce Wilson said...

This is one of my favorite Kubrick films. Well done.

One detail that has always cracked me up, Kidman and Cruise must have had the greatest weed dealer in the world. They get so ripped in that scene you'd think they where smoking opium.

Franco Macabro said...

After this re-watch, its turned into one of my favorite ones as well.

The weed induced scene was cool, it gave Kidman's character the chance to really just blab whatever was on her mind. It was a chance for her character to say things about their relationship she normally would have never said had she not been high.

That scene actually comments on things that couples dont say to each other. Kidman's character had gone through this event years ago, and it affected her in a big way, yet she had never said anything about it, until that moment.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

BARRY LYNDON = Kubrick's true masterpiece.

Franco Macabro said...

Barry Lyndo= a Kubrick film I NEED to watch! Its next on my list!

Reina said...

I loved this movie! I did think the movie had some erotic moments, but maybe just not in a good sense, like in the sex cult or whatever...To me the ending was brilliantly ironic, and I didn't get bored at all! Excellent review as always!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for commenting babe! Eyes Wide Shut did have some erotic scenes, but none between the main characters. The erotic scenes were given instead to the cult members.

What Eyes Wide Shut did have a lot of was nudity, specially when it came to the sex cult meetings, where practically everyone was naked, the women, walked around entirely naked! I thought it was kind of interesting that the women walked around entirely naked, while the guys had to wear robes.

Kind of similar to the way Satanists operate! The ladies have to wear next to nothing, while the guys are robed and hooded.

I liked that scene with the women passing a kiss to the next woman that was knealing next to her, I liked how Kubrick directed that, with the camera circling them.

Kubrick was making an edgy film, but not something that couldnt be shown in regular theaters, so the nudity is toned down and the angles of the shots expertly chosen to hide anything that would have ended up being to graphic. Still, he got away with a lot!

Anyone notice Lelee Sobieskys performance? She was just a teen when she made this one, and her performance is almost a cameo.


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