Eyes Wide Shut
Rating -

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

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Written by DAVID KEYES

A 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 Kubrick.

Secrecy 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.

Kubrick's 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!"

Now 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?

"Eyes 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.

The 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?

The 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 daunting.

Cruise 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?

In 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.

The 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 final vision.

But 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.

That 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.

Special 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. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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