Warner Bros. // 1999 // 159 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 22nd, 2007
Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick.
Okay, I'll date myself: I had to sneak into the opening screening of Eyes Wide Shut at my local multiplex. I was only a month shy of 17, but I was afraid the film wouldn't play that long in my area. Luckily, they were checking IDs at Lake Placid that night and I got to see Stanley Kubrick's final film on the big screen. For almost three hours I was mesmerized. I didn't understand everything I saw, but it fascinated me from start to finish. Because of the ill-advised decision to only release the censored U.S. version on DVD, I hadn't revisited the film since that night. I was surprised to realize that it's been eight years, but it was worth waiting for.
Manhattan doctor Bill Harford (Tom Cruise, Risky Business) is married to a beautiful woman, Alice (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge). When she confesses that she once fantasized about an affair, his world is turned upside down. While on a nocturnal journey through the city, he encounters various odd characters and stumbles upon a sinister orgy. The next day, his relationship to Alice must be rebuilt as he struggles to understand the meaning of his night out.
He'd already made a film about life (2001: A Space Odyssey), a film about violence (A Clockwork Orange), and a film about war (Full Metal Jacket), so what was left of Stanley Kubrick to tackle in his final film? Why, sex of course, and that's just what Eyes Wide Shut examines. But in this film, as in his previous cinematic gems, Kubrick was not content to recycle comforting platitudes. Instead he pokes his camera in a number of discomforting places, bringing up adultery, orgies, prostitution, and underage sex. Like the variety of violence in A Clockwork Orange, the sex in Eyes Wide Shut reminds us simultaneously of the stunning multiplicity of sexual experience as well as the numerous masks we use to disguise it.
Kubrick accomplishes this by giving us, in effect, two films. If the film had ended after Alice reveals her dream -- at about the hour-and-forty-minute mark, where Kubrick conveniently places a fade to black -- the film would have felt complete, if slight. However, instead of ending the film there, Kubrick has his protagonist retrace his steps from the first half of the film. This retracing creates an imperfect doubling of characters and situations, which holds up a mirror to the actions/motivations of Dr. Bill. Doubling and sexuality calls to mind Freud, and it's no stretch to suggest his influence on the source novel, Dream Story, since it came out of Vienna not long after Freud's theories of human sexuality. The doubling in the film also adds to the dream atmosphere foreshadowed in the novel's title. Considering the film as a kind of dream makes its more awkward moments (like Bill constantly showing off his board license) seem like the synchronicity of dreams instead of poor storytelling. The result of all of these overlapping concerns is that film takes on multiple meanings: it may be a black comedy, poking fun at the upper-middle-class pretensions of Dr. and Mrs. Harford; it may be a genuine examination of late 20th century sexuality; or, it may be a story about jealousy that, while having sex as its initial object, is essentially concerned with possession in relationships.
Unsurprisingly, Kubrick captures wonderful performances from his actors. I'm not usually a fan of Tom Cruise, but when he gets the right role he can run with it (I'm thinking especially of his turn in Magnolia). In Eyes Wide Shut, traditional naturalistic acting would seem out of place, so Cruise's occasional stony angst and odd emotion fit into the overall dream-aesthetic of the film. Back when the film was first released, this was my first real exposure to Nicole Kidman in a serious role. I was impressed then, and her performance holds up today just as well. High marks go to Alan Cumming as well for creating a hotel clerk of ambiguous sexuality who doesn't seem like a stereotype. Also, Rade Serbedzija's performance makes me wonder if Guy Ritchie saw this film before casting him in Snatch, since Boris "The Blade" seems like an amped-up version of Mr. Milich.
Stanley Kubrick loved using lighting from sources within the frame, which means that his films often have a more diffuse, grainy look to them. Eyes Wide Shut is no exception. The HD DVD image maintains these attributes, with a slightly soft, grainy look that is very film-like. It might not be the most impressive way to demonstrate your system, but it's a good disc to put in when you want to show how much like film HD is capable of looking. The film doesn't really need a 5.1 mix, but the dialogue and music are ably reproduced. While we're on the topic of presentation, it should be mentioned that the box advertises both the censored and uncensored cuts of the film, but only the latter is present. Since the only real difference is the presence of digital people and artifacts during the orgy scene, the loss of the censored cut is not a tragedy.
The extras are fairly extensive, even if they aren't very specific to Eyes Wide Shut. The featurette "The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut" is mainly comprised of interviews with his family and collaborators. Most of the comments are in the "found remembrance" category, but the extra is interesting for its inclusion of some Kubrick home movies. "Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick" is narrated by Malcolm McDowell, and goes into the films that Kubrick didn't get to make, again featuring interviews with collaborators. To fans of cinema, this may be more emotionally upsetting than the other, more personal featurettes as we realize just how great a film about Napoleon would have been in Kubrick's hands. The interview gallery contains some fairly raw -- in the emotional sense -- footage by Kidman, Cruise, and Spielberg as they discuss Kubrick's impact on them. Kidman especially is very candid about her own work as well as her relationship to Kubrick. The included acceptance speech sheds more light on Kubrick the man rather than his work, which is great because he so rarely appears in the other extras. The trailer and TV spots are interesting examples of movie marketing, as the agency who designed them obviously had to balance high-powered stars with the difficulty of the material.
Do you want to watch a insecure rich guy wander around Manhattan for almost three hours? That's what happens in Eyes Wide Shut. Sure there are layers of meaning, but if the dream-logic vibe doesn't grab you early, you're going to be in for a bumpy ride.
I can't help but compare Eyes Wide Shut to Cronenberg's Crash: both are highly stylized films about the possibility of sex at the end of the 20th century, and yet neither is particularly erotic. For an interesting night, rent both and watch them back to back.
The Harfords are order to attend counseling. The film is found not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 159 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* "The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut"
* "Lost Kubrick: The Unifinished Films of Stanley Kubrick" Featurette
* Interview Gallery
* Kubrick's 1998 Director's Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award Acceptance Speech
* Theatrical Trailer
* TV Spots
* Official Site
* Review - Eyes Wide Shut: Two-Disc Special Edition
* Review - Eyes Wide Shut: Special Edition (Blu-ray)