There’s no doubt that the late Stanley Kubrick was one of the most brilliant filmmakers of the century. Even when you’re put off by how cold and deliberate his films can be, you still can’t help but be amazed by the artistry. Kubrick’s swan song is a stunning example of how plot, dialogue, image and sound can blend into an incredibly powerful cinematographic experience in the hands of a genius.
“Eyes Wide Shut” takes us into a world closer to dreams than reality. We’re told this is contemporary New York, but it’s more of a sensual, surreal city, more similar to the Rome depicted in “La Dolce Vita” than to the Big Apple as we know it. Like in Fellini’s 1960 classic, we rub shoulders with sophisticated upper class characters who are secretly flawed and sinful. Knowing the cineaste, we expect him to peel off the facade people erect to cover the more somber meanders of their souls. To accentuate even more that voyeuristic approach, Kubrick cast the most glamorous couple in Hollywood, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cruise plays William Harford, a handsome and successful doctor who’s assured that he lives an ideal life. You could say he has his eyes wide shut, as he will realizes after an elegant Christmas party in the mansion of a patient (Sydney Pollack). In a remarkably truthful and thought-provoking bedroom scene, Alice (Kidman, who never looked or acted better) tells him about an adulterous fantasy she had. This revelation shatters the doctor’s illusions and send him into realms of jealousy and obsession.
From then on, the film forgets about conventional storytelling to become mysterious and expressionistic, as Cruise’s character wanders the streets, making ritualistic stops at seedy places like a room with a corpse, a whore’s crummy apartment, a jazz nightclub, a costume shop which “rents” more than tuxedos and masks (with Leelee Sobieski as a tantalizing nymphet), a theatrical orgy… I’ll be honest with you: I can’t pretend that I understand thoroughly the oniric implications of the film. But that’s partly what makes “Eyes Wide Shut” so spellbinding. This is not the first movie about marital difficulties, but the way it is envisioned is certainly unique.
Like his previous efforts, Kubrick’s final picture is strongly symbolic, analytical, almost inhuman. But at the same time, it’s a marvelously crafted movie. The photography is rich and textured, the art direction is sumptuous, the music is haunting and the acting is impeccable. Cruise delivers a particularly daring performance, as he exposes his character’s demons, and Kidman leaves a very memorable, aggressively feminine impression. “Eyes Wide Shut” is obviously not an easy film. It takes you places you might prefer not to visit, and Kubrick was not gonna dumb down or sugar coat his tormented vision for mass audiences. But if you’re willing to surrender your consciousness to Kubrick’s discretion, you’ll witness a wrenching depiction of how monogamy can be difficult to sustain for naturally sexual beings like us all.
I hadn’t seen the film since opening day 6 years ago, yet I remembered every scene more vividly than most of the movies I’ve seen, like, last week! I’m still puzzled by the film, but in a good way and, in any case, the use of light and color alone would make this one for the ages. “Eyes Wide Shut” might have the most striking opening shot and closing line ever, and everything in between is fascinating.