Eyes Wide Shut is an enthralling movie with an appeal almost impossible to describe. It’s an unerotic movie about sex, a mystery film where there may not even be a mystery, a slow-paced thriller, an unromantic film about love, a realistic dream. It’s a puzzling paradox of a movie bursting with ideas, intrigue and captivating images that linger in the mind. Well, it is for me anyway; I say that because Eyes Wide Shut is Kubrick’s most misunderstood, hated film which never got the praise I think it deserves. Critics called it boring, and claimed it to be not what they expected it to be. The film got bad publicity in the sense that whilst the film was being made, critics made wild speculations, they expected a sleazy erotic thriller, Kubrick’s version of Basic Instinct. Eyes Wide Shut is very far from it, it’s a complex mediation on fidelity, desire and sexual obsession.
What makes Eyes Wide Shut a complex movie is that it oozes slight subtleties from the very start. Around 40 minutes in, it’s obvious that Bill and Alice Harford (excellently played by then married Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise) are facing problems with their marriage and their sex-life. Of course, it is obvious at the party they go to when Alice dances with another man and Tom Cruise has ever-so-slightly suggestive conversations with two girls. It’s all very subtle, but we see the subtext. The man Alice is dancing with wants to have sex with her. And it is evident that the two girls are fancying a threesome. Of course, such subtleties come off excellently as it is clear that flirtations are occurring even when it’s not in the dialogue. Chemistry is excellently shown in the performances, and realism is created almost instantaneously. Subtleties are even shown in the first 2 minutes of the film, when Alice and Bill are getting changed and prepared for Ziegler’s party, Alice says “How do I look.” Bill then replies, without looking at her “You look perfect”. Obviously this took a second viewing to realise this, but such a subtlety shows their developed relationship and suggests that Bill and Alice are drifting apart on an emotional and sexual level.
Also, the most obvious subtlety in the whole film is emphasised in one particular shot which in essence sums up their relationship. This shot was used in the poster campaign for the movie, and if we observe carefully, we see that Bill is in the moment, and enjoying it, whereas Alice isn’t, she has no eye contact with Bill, and looks bored.
However, even though this film may have a seemingly realistic edge, the edge soon becomes softer as the surrealism and dreamlike aspects of the film fade into the forefront. This isn’t merely brought about by the style of the film and the way the film is shot, but perhaps, the film’s narrative structure. After Bill is told by Alice that she almost cheated on him, he goes on an all night sexual odyssey. He encounters many people, and as he moves from person to person, we forget how he got there, like a dream. Dreams are all about the moment, you never remember how you got there, and Eyes Wide Shut feels very much like this.
Of course, the most surreal moment of the film is in the infamous orgy which takes around 70 minutes in. Hands out of your trousers boys, it’s nothing to get excited about. It’s shot in a very mechanical way, we glimpse past moments of very ritualised sex acts, whilst dreamlike eastern music drifts on in the background. It’s not erotic at all. It’s hypnotic yet at the same time disturbing.
Tom Cruise is also surprisingly very good in this movie. He doesn’t ‘dialogue-facilitate’ like he does in most films, he doesn’t just say the words. He is Bill Harford, and he’s quoted on saying that Kubrick brought out this performance in him, he’d go home every night in the mind of Bill, and apparently, that’s not the best place to be. There’s a natural intensity he brings to it. At no point does he ever scream, shout or raise his voice, very rarely in the film does he break down. Yet, we can see him teetering on the edge throughout. He does that rare thing which only some actors can do, where we see the intensity brought out in his eyes.
Nicole Kidman’s performance has often been commented upon, yet she has two big monologues which effectively allow her to engulf herself in the role and develop her character. Cruise is the true star here. Now for the objectivity. Yes Eyes Wide Shut is well-directed, well-shot, well-acted, yet it suffers from one flaw. Length. Kubrick has often been criticised for making long movies (2001 and Barry Lyndon immediately spring to mind). The film is too long, by around 30 minutes, and towards the end it feels as if the dream of Eyes Wide Shut is just dragging itself along. However, Kubrick finished editing the film and died three days after the initial screening of it. It is said that even after the first screening, Kubrick would meticulously keep editing away at it, even when the trailers were being put out. Could this movie have been better if he didn’t unfortunately die of heart failure in his sleep? Either way, Eyes Wide Shut is an intriguing, visually stimulating movie which feels like a sucker-punch to the mind due to the amount of ideas it puts forward and questions that it poses. Oh and the last word of the film, said by Nicole Kidman is perhaps the best final line of dialogue ever.