Some time ago, I wrote a Great Movies Essay on Kubrick’s last testament to cinema, Eyes Wide Shut, a film starring then-married couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. I imagine you probably wonder why I return to Kubrick’s film which ponders the complexities of marriage and deals with those big themes such as fidelity, obsession and betrayal.
Well, it’s a film I can’t quite get out of my head. It has a charming lingering quality to it. It’s like those portrait paintings that no matter where you stand, its wide eyes are still staring at you, it’s with you constantly. The images of Eyes Wide Shut are with me constantly and have been for the past week. The 153 minute dreamland that this movie is drifts on and swirls around in my mind still after I watched it well over two months ago. (Yes I did get the DVD box to check how long the film spans for). I remember the first time I saw it. I was 15. I watched it online on my laptop, which was covered with dust and smudges all over the screen. I remember how when it ended my head physically hurt and for a while it was my favourite film. I remember thinking about how mysterious it was, and had no idea what it meant, but I still thought it was something beautiful and brilliant. I also remember thinking that this was the only good performance I’d ever seen Tom Cruise give.
But why does it still linger? What has Kubrick done which has made the film lodge somewhere in my subconscious like a spiky shard of gold stuck in someone’s skin. I think it’s the symmetry of the film. It’s narrative isn’t necessarily circular, but the film folds on it self in perfect horizontal lines so much so that you don’t know quite what to think. The symmetry is first seen when we observe Tom Cruise enter the room of the dead patients sister. Bill Harford (Cruise) looks at the unhappy couple who are blocked next to the dead patient, there is no dialogue mentioning what Bill is thinking, but I’ve always thought that he was thinking that the couple he was staring at are an exact reflection of what his marriage is life. After all, the sister of the dead patient “loved him” and Alice admitted that she would have “given up everything” for a one-night-stand with an eluvious naval-officer.
Bill then leaves. He walks off into the New York night. He meets a prostitute who offers him “some fun”, he accepts. But only kisses her (this kiss being one of my favourite shots in cinema).
Later on in the film, we discover that she has HIV. This was a near-hit for Bill. But wait a second, previously when Bill was at the party, he attended another prostitute who overdosed on coke, and later on, we watch Bill enter the mortuary to reveal the body of the dead girl. Was the dead girl the woman who appears to have “saved Bill” when questioned at the orgy? Who was the dead girl?
There are more questions. Towards the film’s climax (pun definitely intended), Bill talks to Ziegler, who we saw at the beginning of the film (again the symmetry of Eyes Wide Shut). Ziegler tells Bill that the girl didn’t save him, but that it was merely a set-up to “scare” Bill away. After all, Bill wasn’t “supposed to be there”.
Do we believe Ziegler? Is Ziegler telling the truth. We never find out, and part of the genius of Eyes Wide Shut is in its objectivity. One might even come to the conclusion that it was all a dream, and none of it actually happened. Indeed, the film possesses a dreamlike quality due to its dazzling visual style, but some of it also feels very realistic. The opening sequence has the most naturalistic dialogue:
Alice: How do I look?
Bill: (not looking) Perfect.
Alice: But you’re not even looking.
This dialogue feels so true and I can imagine it happening to real couples. But it also sets up the thematic tone of the film to, the concept that Alice is unhappy in her marriage – because it appears that Bill doesn’t even appreciate her (“you’re not even looking”). Bill’s eyes were definitely wide shut when concerning his wife’s needs.
This film possesses a sheer sense of hyper-realism. It feels real yet reality is slightly suspended in the air like an acrobat walking on a tightrope. We’re never sure whether to believe what we’re seeing but we go along with it anyway. It’s a challenging film which forces us to question the Bill and Alice, their morals and their motifs, and it’s so powerful, that it makes us question our own. When I first saw the film, I thought that my eyes were left wide open because of the amount of questions it poses and its visceral sense of uncompromisable ambiguity. Now, I realise that my eyes were so wide because I had just witnessed not just an ambiguous film, but a masterpiece.