Drama (UK); 1999;
Rated R; 159 Minutes
Tom Cruise: Dr. William Harford
Nicole Kidman: Alice Harford
Sydney Pollack: Victor Ziegler
Todd Field: Nick Nightingale
Marie Richardson: Marion
Produced by Jan Harlan;
Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Screenwritten by
Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael
by DAVID KEYES
teacher of mine once confessed that the best movies he saw
were the ones that he knew nothing about upon viewing. The
idea of being deaf to the hype allowed him to approach the
cinema with a sense of promise and respect. Even if the
film had gotten terrible reviews, he did not want to hear
them; this was a man who was open-minded about everything
he saw. Of course, it should come as no surprise that his
favorite films were those of the great director Stanley
was always an important factor to Kubrick, and perhaps no
film better suggests that fact then his last, "Eyes Wide
Shut." In the making for two years (and almost another decade
in planning), the director and his stars isolated the production
so tightly from anxious Hollywood eyes, not even inside
scoops had accurate facts. It wasn't until the director's
death in March, and the first footage was shown to the public,
that we knew for sure the picture used sex as a backbone.
Even though hype was driven higher than that of George Lucas'
"The Phantom Menace," the movie's plot and production were
scarcely talked about. I presume Kubrick believed that,
like my teacher, a movie can only be great if you keep it
obscure until the release.
body of work consisted of 13 remarkable experiences; some
of which revealed more than they should have ("A Clockwork
Orange"), others which challenged our minds and imaginations
("2001: A Space Odyssey"). His best, in my opinion, has
always been "The Shining," starring Jack Nicholson, simply
because I am fascinated by claustrophobic characters with
psychotic impulses. Words cannot begin to depict the first
time I saw him chop his bathroom door down, and pass a smirk
onto his wife as he said "Here's Johnny!"
this, Stanley's last film, has arrived at the anticipation
of millions. Was it worth the wait? Are we to enter the
theater and emerge from it amazed at what we have seen?
Could Kubrick's last chapter in filmmaking possibly succeed?
Wide Shut" is an extraordinary, exhilarating, haunting masterwork;
an important final destination for the journey of one of
cinema's most beloved directors. It tells the tale of a
wife and husband who are challenged by their sexual feelings,
and judged by the decisions they make regarding them. The
movie opens on the night of a large party, in which Dr.
Bill (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) dance,
drink, laugh, smile, and flirt with the first strangers
they come in contact with. We get the feeling that maybe
these two aren't as happy as they seem, or maybe they are
happy but can't help but give in to their physical urges.
following night, Bill and Alice smoke pot and discuss the
gala. The conversation of flirting becomes a heated argument,
as Bill suggests that any man would want to sleep with his
wife because of her beauty, yet he is sure she wouldn't
give in to the advances because of their marriage. "Why
should I be jealous?" he professes. Good reason: Alice takes
her husbands opinions and twists them around her little
finger. She tells him of a fantasy she once had involving
a naval officer, where she sacrifices her husband and daughter
for one night with this handsome, fetching gentleman. This
inflames Bill with jealousy, and sets him up for a journey
to find himself somewhere in the vast, taunting city of
sexual obsession. How far is he willing to go? Does the
sanctity of his marriage matter any more?
movie is a frontal attack on eroticism, which is essential.
There is an instance when the doctor finds himself crashing
a mansion party filled with people in cloaks and costumes,
engaging in various sexual activities. If any of these things
had been pleasing to Bill, he might have given in to them.
But Kubrick uses pleasure as the weapon, forcing his character
to be afraid of infidelity. The costumes and masks generate
a fear within us, to where the attractiveness of sex becomes
and Kidman give Oscar caliber performances. Nicole's monologue
describing the naval officer fantasy is assuredly the best
seen all year, as is Cruise's emotional reaction when Victor,
a close friend, admits that what he saw the night before
(the various orgies) were all staged, just to scare the
living daylights out of him. Even though Victor admits that
the strange sexual encounters were dramatized events, we
have a hard time believing it to be the truth. Who would
fake all those activities just to frighten one man?
North America, the film has been so incredibly desecrated
by the MPAA and Warner Bros. that, had no one knew about
the digital adjustments made to it, might have turned the
theater I was in into a display of empty seats. The scene
that contains an array of odd and complicated sexual encounters,
in which Tom Cruise is guided through the rooms of a mansion
and watches the people of a costume party get involved in
sexual orgies, will not be seen in the way Kubrick directed
it in the US and Canada.
studio, at the request of a patently rueful MPAA board,
covered these images up with digital extras, most of which
look grainy and obvious. There is a shot, for instance,
when we see the head and feet of a writhing couple, with
an observer's head blocking the view of other such body
parts. The effect is an absolute farce, disrupting Kubrick's
were these tamperings necessary in order to obtain an "R"
rating? I dunno. I have not seen the unedited version. According
to those who have, though, digital adjustments were not
imperative, since the cinematography examines these encounters
so aesthetically that no genitalia are revealed on screen.
Producer Jan Harlan agreed, on the night of Saturday, July
10, when both Kubrick's and Warners' versions were screened
for a small crowd in Burbank, California. He first admitted
Warner Bros. "hated doing this," but later added that the
adjustments were okay with Kubrick, who did not shoot any
optional footage because he felt the scene was not NC-17
material. Maybe the studio should have taken Roger Ebert's
advice, destroyed the alterations and released the film
as "unrated" so that it could have the wide distribution
and still keep out potentially curious young audiences.
With an "NC-17," the movie would never find the wide appeal
as Warner Bros. expects. With the "R," and these foolish
modifications made to the notorious sex sequence, they have
violated the way Kubrick intended us to admire his farewell
performance, and have given younger viewers the opportunity
to see material that they are not suited for.
one reversible flaw aside, Kubrick steps out of the spotlight
with a film that is hypnotic and tantalizing. What one is
left with upon the final shot is a feeling of arcane pleasure,
not for the film's eroticism but for the deeply interesting
perceptions of the sanctity of marriage. We see that fright
and jealousy consume Dr. Bill, and that he is easily lost
in a movie that is like a dreamscape of emotional, undetermined
paths of morality and decisiveness. There were some people
I consulted with afterwards who compared the film to Kubrick's
other masterpiece, "The Shining," in which characters were
always running down halls in terror. Yes, but in that movie,
people were running away from the danger, while here, Dr.
Bill is going towards it.
Note: Because Warner Bros. digitally tampered with Kubrick's
final film for the Canadian/US release to 'secure' an R-rating,
my final verdict dismisses those absurd adjustments. I critique
the film for what it accomplishes, not for what the studio
has prevented it from accomplishing.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.