Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Directed by Stanley Kubrick

I have such an on/off relationship with Kubrick. I struggle immensely with most of the films he made post 2001: (A Space Odyssey). My favorite Kubrick film is the one he took the least credit for (Spartacus). I respect him as an artist but don't really buy into the genius angle. And then we have Eyes Wide Shut. I hated the film on release all those years ago. A new Kubrick film was certainly always an event, yet Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman take top billing even over legendary Stanley. It feels like Kubrick knew by casting Cruise and Kidman (at the time, the Hollywood married couple) in the principle roles, it would be impossible for the public to take Eyes Wide Shut as mere fiction. The possible insights into their real lives/marriage would be such a draw for people. Watching the film again, one still doesn't understand why Cruise and Kidman gave so much to the film and put so much trust in Kubrick. It's as if they bought into the Kubrick mythology. Kubrick doesn't repay their trust.

Often clunky and unintentionally uncomfortable dialogue leave scenes flat. Kidman makes the most of it. Cruise struggles. Here's the film's biggest problem, by following Cruise on his own personal Odyssey, Kubrick descends into familiar misogynist and often embarrassing territory. Cruise, doing his best as a prototype Patrick Bateman, does not have the acting capacity to come off anything other than creepy. He is miscast and takes up far too much screen time. This leaves his character lacking credibility. If only Kidman had been questioning her husband's fidelity, Eyes Wide Shut would have offered redemption for Kubrick and at least stopped people like me accusing him of being an (old fashioned) sexist. But sadly everything about Eyes Wide Shut is white affluent male. Kubrick's attitude towards women in his films has been pretty shameful and a serious blot against enjoying some of them. From Clockwork Orange through to Full Metal Jacket, women get treated badly. Even the seemingly horrified Shelly Duvall of The Shining was apparently bullied by Kubrick off camera to get her in the right frame of mind for the role.

And here is the other contentious rub with Eyes Wide Shut, the nudity. Oh dear. How ever many times Kubrick shows us Kidman in various states of undress, it feels unnecessary and voyeuristic. The early shot of Kidman's dress falling feels like Kubrick is telling us "you want some Kidman ass, you got it". Again, Kubrick indulges in the cult of celebrity instead of just telling the story. Someone should have told Kubrick that Cruise and Kidman are just not interesting enough to justify such scrutiny. The (in)famous orgy scene is purely hysterical. As a viewer, one can feel no sexual tension or energy here, but just the feeling of a rather tired and exhausted imagination losing it. On occasion the film shows some semblance of humor, but little else makes us sympathize and empathize with anyone here. It looks great and some eery atmosphere is welcome. But it's also hard work and overlong and simply boring. What could have been an examination in marital disharmony is a one sided examination of the male ego. Unfortunately, it's the male ego of a man bought up on Playboy circa 1972. Eyes Wide Shut has dated already. It's a strange film. The celebrated principles over-shadow even Kubrick's vision here. Apologists for this film may argue that was the point. I would ask, why?

Throughout my relationship with Nick he has passionately hated Eyes Wide Shut, yet we have seen the film a few times together. Until now, I have been the baffled defender of this movie – unwillingly and uncomfortably – but I just didn't know what exactly made me like it (or him hate it)...
For the first time I actually claim to have understood what the movie was about, what it was trying to say and where it failed, as well as where it triumfed (if anywhere). Even the title makes sense to me now. I think it helps to be a lot older than I was in 1999 and to be one half of a long relationship-saga.

So, I see Nick's annoyance at the movie now and I'm kind of proud. The best of Eyes Wide Shut this time around came in the form of Nicole Kidman. Whatever happened to her since she started straightening her hair and going blonde? For a while there she was a great actress – remember The Hours and her fake nose? But in this one Kidman has the great lines: she says some smart things about desire and fucking. She explains in detail what she feels and dreams. The problem is what the men in Eyes Wide Shut (and behind the scenes) do with the feminine information. They freak out. And get obsessively horny.

So while every now and again, the lady says something really interesting, Kubrick decides to follow Tom Cruise for tedious hours through his rather boring sexual titillation trip. It's all justified by the black-and-white visualisations Tom keeps having about Nicole in bed with a naval officer...he basically is driven to have sex with a stranger because his wife had an orgasm in her dreams. Yes, we are supposed to understand, right? Well, maybe it's a generation and gender thing but I don't think Kubrick is justified as a director to linger on every lady's bum and tit like f o r e v e r because of the admission of desire Nick (Tom calls Nicole Nick in the extras) offered. It's kind of one way here.

If Kubrick was alive, he could answer these questions: Are women not supposed to desire and dream? Or are they just supposed to shut up about it? Oh, how I'm surprised this old-gubbe-view-point did not repel me before so much. Sexy, porn-y films are fine and sometimes they manage to be sexy, but do we need to mix in this whole story about faithfulness on trial? I would have loved to see Eyes Wide Shut more like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and less like Boogie Nights.


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