Eyes Wide Shut
When watching a Stanley Kubrick film, there is already an expectation of brilliance. Eyes Wide Shut was his last, with the complete film turned in to the studio mere days before his death, and yet he had lost none of his sharpness as he tells us the tale of a doctor angered by his wife’s imagined affair who, despite facing temptations of his own in a marriage where the excitement may have left, pursues a casual sexual encounter. The doctor’s inability to commit forces him to follow a dangerous path that leads to a dark and menacing underworld of power and sex.
Eyes Wide Shut is as much an elegant razorblade of satire as it is a psychosexual journey, a katabasis into a polygamous hell free of inhibition for the uptight uptown doctor. Structurally it takes a lot from its source novella, though there are some deviations, not least the time period. The detail is Kubrick’s, however, offering reflections of Ancient Greek myths such as Orpheus and his trip to the underworld. It is a study of a man driven to pursuing depths unknown to him borne of rage from perceived mental infidelity. The pure entitlement of the doctor’s apparent ownership of his wife’s mind and body leads him to seek out revenge against her, yet his impotence renders him unable to do anything beyond watch. He is a voyeur in a world of action.
Kubrick cast married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as the husband and wife at the heart of the story, and over the year-and-a-half of filming their marriage crumbled until they eventually divorced some time afterwards. Cruise plays the possessive doctor venturing beyond his shores with restraint, reflecting the repression of the character in his stance and shocked eyes, but allows him to flaunt his charisma and flirt just enough to demonstrate his leading into temptation. Kidman, however, steals the show with a fiery and complex performance that is layered deep and overflowing with resentment and passion. The film is a great showcase for the range of both actors, and the supporting cast is equally exceptional. Sydney Pollack is particularly monstrous as the embodiment of power beyond wealth.
The descent into darkness the film traverses is wonderfully realised, and the otherworldly nature of the masquerade house is a sequence worthy of Kubrick in every sense. The ceremonial circle with its backwards chanting is floated through by an unfixed camera that feels woozy, as if burning incense has somehow crept out through the screen. As the procession is broken up, the faceless place unsettles further. Statuesque figures writhe, watched by cloaked observers, in a series of bizarre tableau rooms where the masked expressions are fixed upon the sex taking place on chairs or tables or beds, as if on plinths for display in a living gallery. It is not just here that Kubrick uses art to add depth. Paintings and sculptures are embedded within each scene and location to show character and place. This adds incredibly effective details to what is a layered and textured film that is about so much more than sex.
It is worth seeing Eyes Wide Shut as originally shot in a full-frame 4:3 aspect, if you can, as this adds a kind of TV melodrama feel to the film. The low-budget framing conflicts with the huge expense of literally building New York from the ground up at a studio, then filming for over a year continuously, in a delicious display of cognitive dissonance. I would highly recommend Eyes Wide Shut, but be sure to go into it with an open mind.