The story of the now-infamous Eyes Wide Shut (for diverse reasons - many claim the film a masterpiece, others adamant it is complete tripe), the final film from the late great Stanley Kubrick, is set in and around New York City. It predominantly follows Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) over the course of a single sexually charged nightlong adventure, the response to his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), revealing that she had recently contemplated having an affair. He crosses paths with a host of intriguing characters and infiltrates a secret society.
Watching this film last month was for me, the first real time. I had watched the film before – years earlier, when I had different taste and appreciated film for all different reasons – but I only remember specific scenes. How could I have forgotten the masked ball sequences? I know I will never forget them now.
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
Married at the time of filming, their on-screen chemistry is sizzling. Their nude scenes together – a marketing ploy mostly, which I feel misrepresents the film - play only a small role. They don’t actually share that much screen time together. During their increasingly-heated, marijuana-fueled discussion about the difference between the sexual natures of men and women and their individual response to challenges to their fidelity, Alice provokes Bill by asking about the two girls he had on his arm at the party that evening before revealing in detail her attraction to a naval officer while they were on vacation. This sequence lays the foundation for the themes addressed in the film and both performers are sensational. From here it becomes the Cruise show, and I thought he was terrific.
Any filmed helmed by Stanley Kubrick usually gets bonus points immediately. Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s first film in 12 years and just his second since The Shining (1980), was completed – well his final cut was screened for Warner Bros. – just five days before his death at age 70. Reflecting on his career, in which he has never made a film I didn’t like, this ranks as one of his best, for me. While Eyes Wide Shut has been much debated – the commentary on upper class secret societies, a man’s sexual curiosity and the willingness to surrender himself naked for judgment when considering infidelity – this is as eerie and atmospheric as any cinema I have experienced.
Much of the film takes place over the course of a single night. Every individual introduced to Bill ultimately plays a role in this wonderfully paced and crafted narrative – Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), one of Bill’s wealthy patients who hosts a Christmas Party, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), Bill’s former medical school friend who is now a professional pianist, an engaged female friend (Marie Richardson) whose father has just passed away, a prostitute named Domino (Vanessa Shaw) and the owner of a costume shop (Rade Serbedzija) all cross paths with Bill over the course of the night. He finds himself intrigued by the party Nick reveals he is working, and we are just as much in the dark. It is at the isolated country mansion that Bill’s night takes a bizarre and terrifying turn.
The Masked Ball
The film’s lavish, mesmerizing and terrifying centerpiece. The tension created here is suffocating. Hard to discuss without giving anything away, but if you have seen this film then you know all about it. If you haven’t, this elevates the film to a whole new level.
The Sensory Assault
Eyes Wide Shut is an incredibly elegant and beautiful looking film. Like all great films, it provokes emotion through the sensory elements in addition to the narrative, the ideas and the characters. Kubrick’s very intentional attention to detail – the hidden meanings and recurring motifs that are scattered throughout, the effective recreation of New York City (the film was, in fact, shot entirely in the UK) - is just as evident, while fragments of Jocelyn Pook’s score and the ritual chanting (in Romanian, I think?) have not left my head since.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.