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Eyes Wide Shut

Posted : 2 weeks, 5 days ago on 3 October 2016 02:34

Mystique and contradictory impulses abound in Eyes Wide Shut, the final film from cinematic master Stanley Kubrick. Is everything we are witnessing but a strange dream, a stroll through the subterranean sexual lives of Manhattanites both rich and poor, or is this happening in real time? Does it really matter what the literal truth of the story is?


I would argue that it does not, as the film’s style is like a self-reflexive poem in which the first half plays out as titillation and flirtation then once more as the horrific morning after. A wealthy couple live in a staid domestic life, with the husband (Tom Cruise) convinced they’re happy and stable while the wife (Nicole Kidman) withholds vital information. One night while high on pot, they begin to talk about gender politics, fidelity, and marriage, and reveals that she once considered throwing it all away for a handsome stranger. This piece of information unlocks something within the husband, who begins trolling the underground for adventures and sex.


Then the story repeats, but this time with horrific twists and new revelations about many of the players he meets along the way. A surprisingly sweet hooker (Vinessa Shaw) spends some night nearly working her charms on him, only for him to return to her apartment the next day and learn that she’s just tested positive for HIV. Another character he meets along his sojourn of fevered jealous and torpid imagination mentions that he’s willing to whore his teenage daughter out for wealthy men in a cursory manner when the night before he was ready to punish her when catching her engaged in sexual activities.


Then there’s the central set piece of the film, the infamous orgy sequence which does not play out as a prolonged erotic cinema but a hammering home of the dream-like intensity of his central obsessions. Everyone wears ornate Venetian masks, and the orgy plays out as both bacchanal and religious observance as the grand master of ceremonies treats the entire thing with the solemnity of an orthodox sermon. There’s also a masked woman who hints that our hero is in danger, and continually tries to usher him away from this glimpse into the Marquis de Sade’s idle musings.


This masked woman is the symbolic turning point. Everything before this contained a more flirty, if emotionally cool, air, with every character we meet along this odyssey happy and eager to jump into bed with Cruise’s doctor. This masked woman introduces the element of personal danger in chasing these acts and scenarios, and the film detours into darker territory soon after. What’s shocking about this is just how smooth a transition Kubrick manages it.


When this debuted, the studio marketed it as a sexual thriller, and the basic framework of that genre is in place but not the execution. Eyes Wide Shut is not a carnal, erotic thriller, but a musing of marriage, fidelity and infidelity (both real and imagined), and emotional intimacy between partners. The ideas haunt you in their hallucinatory scrawling.


Their marriage was presented as placid, a comfortable sense of familiarity that many long-term couples can experience and witness, then slowly reveals the inner lives and yearnings of its two main characters. The wife’s shocking information dump gets the plot going, and she gets the last word on it all too. In an odd scene, one that doesn’t entirely work, she states that they should be glad to survive his adventures after he’s confessed it all. She looks him over and says that they should go back home and have sex as soon as possible. Is this Kubrick making a subtle jab about the way lovers will lie to each other in order to survive? Maybe, but it can also feel like a tidy cleaning up of a messy plot.


Thankfully, Cruise and Kidman are up the herculean task of acting this stuff out. Cruise never gets the big moments that Kidman does, having to spend much of the time merely reacting to the visions and exposition dumps around him. But he’s a major movie star, not entirely convincing as a regular human but that seems the point, and he knows how to carefully modulate himself in front of the camera for impact without dialog.


Kidman though, that’s the real meaty performance in this piece. Her prolonged diatribe about gender roles and outdated thinking, effectively saying her husband doesn’t know shit about women if he thinks they’ve never toyed with affairs and casual sex as much as men, gives the actress one of her strongest scenes in her entire career. She’s nearly feral here in her rage and emotional whippings, then strangely muted when she decides to hit him with the truth of her fantasy. Kidman remains still, her voice going scratchy and soft, as she peels back layers of emotional withholding and carefully withheld intimacy from her husband.


In the end, domestic order may be restored, but at what price? Eyes Wide Shut provides no answers with its erratic, fervid musings and wanderings. But there’s a richness of text here to unpack, like many of Kubrick’s best films. Many great directors go out in a whimper, but not Kubrick. He went out on a mysterious, controversial, artistically daring final note, a film that landed with a question mark in 1999 but now grows in esteem, securing a comfortable place in his legacy. 

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Film Review of Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Posted : 2 years, 4 months ago on 14 June 2014 10:27

In the high-society glow of Manhattan, Dr. William and Alice Harford are a privileged married couple who live in an expensive apartment with their young daughter, Helena. One night, they both attend a Christmas party arranged by Bill's rich friend and patient, Victor Ziegler. However, the next night, after Alice confesses to Bill her near-affair with an unnamed naval officer, he sets out on a late-night journey into the sordid sexual netherworld of New York, encountering sex, discovery, mystery and deception, culminating in his infiltration of a ritualistic masked group sex party held by a powerful secret society. Bill's experiences lead him from self-discovery to doubt to fear, eventually threatening his own livelihood, job and family.

Much to everybody’s surprise, or rather shock, Eyes Wide Shut, a film lightly inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (or Rhapsody: A Dream Story), became Stanley Kubrick's last film, and, like most Kubrick flicks, it was badly misunderstood upon release. The principal reason for this was because of its misleading marketing campaign that promoted a popular star Hollywood couple in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Critics and moviegoers waited excitedly in anticipation for what was dubbed the "sexiest movie ever", only to become shocked, bored and angry at what they saw, with some judging it as bordering on pornographic material. Contrary to popular opinion, the film is not that at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Straightforward popcorn fodder is not the right way to describe this film to a fellow moviegoer. It's equivalent to saying such a film as Trainspotting (1996) outwardly promotes drug-use, when it does anything but that. What remains certain though is that this is a film that's not going to arouse everybody's interest or attention. Fortunately, though, ever since its release, the initial disdain expressed by audiences towards its content has since been supplanted by an improved critical reception from more mature audiences. Seeing as it's thematically dense, I would have to note - as some have excessively analysed and deconstructed the film - its fascinating mise en scene, its multi-layered use of symbolism, and its subtle, easy-to-miss use of cross-referencing.

Since many critics have written extensively about it, another enduring part of the film is its discreet social commentary, which explores such themes as money, power, wealth, prostitution and secret societies. It also blurs the distinction between unconscious dreams and conscious reality - as it employs a dream logic narrative. This implies the fact that ambiguity is a major element in the film, which is why viewers can use various interpretations to deconstruct the film. Generally, most viewers interpret the film on a psychological level, as many view the film as an insight into the human mind, but the film can also be interpreted on a sociological level, for example, with regard to the social problems the film addresses through its social comment.

As so many different interpretations on the film have been developed, the following are some more generally accepted interpretations. Some critics have interpreted the film as being a statement on contemporary human sexuality, others a comment on the negative cultural effects postmodernism has imposed on modern society, and a few a revealing exploration into the supposed global role of large secret organisations in today's world. Typical of Kubrick's style as a director, the film is intentionally slow-paced, making for an atmosphere that's alternately dreamlike, surreal and unsettling. It also contains a musically and stylistically diverse soundtrack, consisting of artists like György Ligeti, Franz Liszt, Chris Isaak and Jocelyn Pook.

And I have to say, just on a visual level, this film is gorgeously shot, framed and lit - characteristic of the style of cinematography in Kubrick's films - and features mature acting performances from both Cruise, as Bill, and especially Kidman, as Alice, as well as the late Sydney Pollack as Ziegler. In my opinion, I would say it's one of Kubrick's most misunderstood, underrated and underappreciated films, apart from such other Kubrick films as Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Killing (1956). As a whole, I judge it to be a polarising, flawed, yet challenging, multi-layered and moving work that is well ahead of its time. I would support you to watch it repeatedly so as to understand the film in much greater depth.

Even if you've seen it only once, felt puzzled, and rejected or ignored it, it will still generate serious thought and discussion - which is what great films tend to do - and might even influence you to return to it again. I've heard some people say the film was boring and didn't capture or maintain their attention, but I tend to disagree. It's a film that will stay and linger, if you will. Don't expect this film to fade away from memory anytime soon. To reiterate a crucial point: watch it not once, not twice, but more than three times - that is if you're already interested in the life and films of Stanley Kubrick. If you do decide to watch it, you'll find that you'll be unable to get the film out of your own mind, keeping your eyes wide open for a long time to come.

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Great or grating?

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 1 February 2013 05:05

Definitely the latter. The film was over-long, over-self conscious and predictable. While it definitely looks good, both main characters were two-dimensional (perhaps one in the case of Kidman) and not helped by dreadful dialogue. The sorry also lacked credibility. Long sexually complex nights broken up by Cruise turning up bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the high-powered day job. Or perhaps there is some profound underlying narrative I have missed?

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Eyes Wide Open

Posted : 4 years, 8 months ago on 2 February 2012 11:48

Stanley Kubrick’s final film is perhaps the first of its kind: it is the only film I have watched that exists within the state of death itself. It’s no surprise; Stanley Kubrick died 4 days after submitting the final print into Warner Bros., Sydney Pollock died in 2008 and my grandparents, who saw this film during its theatrical release at an ill-fated screening, are dead. However, these aren’t merely the reasons this film evokes a death-like state, this film evokes a death-like state throughout Bill Harford’s sexual odyssey. At the masked ball, which is arguably the film’s centrepiece, women are used and discarded as corpses who are only valued for their material gain. This film is shroud in ultra-violet blue, especially at the end of the film where it accentuates the characters’ trembling flesh and vulnerable humanity, and the powerful red which contrasts against this blue reflects one of Kubrick’s favourite themes: dominance. Perhaps it’s inexplicable that Eyes Wide Shut evokes a man’s dying thoughts. Ironically, this film feels more fresh and timeless than many of its contemporaries, only reaffirming the inestimable value of Kubrick’s contributions to cinema and a decade of a cinematic drought aptly followed his death.

It was fashionable to deride Stanley Kubrick’s final film during its theatrical run, regardless of the fact that he considered it his personal favourite. It seems that the audience expected Kubrick to inundate them with gratuitous eroticism as opposed to ideas. Yet, Eyes Wide Shut has outsmarted time and the film industry itself. It was almost incongruously released a week before American Pie and the abysmal Will Smith star vehicle Wild Wild West. It continues to hold a mere 7.2/10 on IMDb in contrast to escapist science-fiction film The Matrix which holds an 8.7/10 rating and is listed in the top 30 films of all time, above Kubrick’s more cerebral science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. All of this may be due to the fact that Kubrick argued that ‘Observancy is a dying art’ and Eyes Wide Shut requires an attention to detail and an attention span that transcends the average summer blockbuster; it’s easy to get lost in the terrifying labyrinth of Kubrick’s musings. Though, unlike other films, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut refutes the transcendent imagery and magic that is featured in the majority of Kubrick’s films, even in Eyes Wide Shut itself, and strips humanity down to its fragile human core, figuratively speaking; Kubrick comes to the conclusion that when man is confronted with the cold and harsh reality, he favours comforting self-delusion and blissful ignorance.
Sydney Pollock’s Ziegler argues, during his amazing final monologue, that the Masonic orgies are practiced by society’s elite which excludes Bill. Bill spends the duration of the film’s first half attempting to engage in infidelity after his wife reveals that she was willing to choose one night with a naval officer over their future. Naturally, this enrages Bill and he spends the night attempting to fulfil his personal need to subjugate his feelings of impotence, sexual and otherwise. Even in the very beginning, when Bill walks with two models, his short stature implicitly denotes his lack of power. Bill is convinced that he has been subjected to a life of domesticity and his wife is responsible; he vows to reaffirm his masculinity. Kubrick paints long shots of New York at midnight which is designed to inspire the viewer with dread. Almost every single beautiful shot capturing the very essence of soft, warm colours in the beginning soon descends into the dark and strong colours that reflect the very dream-state many describe when they watch this film. Yet, to me, it evokes a foreboding death-like state which suggests impending doom.
Bill’s quest for reaffirmation of his masculinity only renders him emasculated when he enters a Masonic orgy and is rendered socially powerless by a group of the masked elite. Bill’s journey neither leads him towards enlightenment nor satisfaction but humiliation and understanding that he has been domesticated by the higher classes. Ironically, his quest for sexual empowerment only led him to the understanding of social domesticity; Bill is not as influential or elite as he had initially anticipated. Not unlike the elite’s perception of women; they use the high-class prostitutes as objects valued for their material value which reflects their perception of the masses that are responsible for their success. As in the beginning, when Ziegler needs Bill to revive a dying woman who almost overdoses on a combination of cocaine and heroin, Ziegler values Bill for his medical expertise which prevented trouble with the law rather than his personality.

Kubrick’s film argues that we live in ignorance of others perceptions of us and this is the ultimate existential fear of Harford; the elite have seen Harford unmasked, vulnerable and exposed. Pollock says ‘If you knew who was there, you wouldn’t sleep so well.’ Kubrick has finally exposed man for who he really is; vulnerable and ignorant of the mysterious forces which govern him. The final and most playfully complex of cinema’s closing lines concludes that Bill and Alice Harford have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. They refuse to acknowledge their social impotence and would prefer for their eyes to remain wide shut, ignorant to the mysterious forces that govern them. On a more optimistic note, however, perhaps Bill’s odyssey only made him aware of his vulnerability, and Kubrick evokes this through the dark imagery that recreates the sense of subjective paranoia that Bill is experiencing. Bill realises what ultimately matters: love and family, as opposed to the power which he initially craved but only realised he was at the mercy of others’ application of such social power. I’m open to many interpretations of this film, because Kubrick wanted the audience’s eyes to remain wide open soon after they finished experiencing this masterpiece.

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An underrated masterpiece

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 19 August 2010 10:59

This was the last movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and, eventually, not everyone was sold when it was release. Indeed, many people thought it was in fact one of his least successful features but I personally think it was actually another great movie from the best director that ever lived. It is such a shame that it took him 12 years to finally make another movie and it is even worse that nothing more will come out from this genius. Anyway, I remember it very well, when it came out, there was a huge buzz about the damned thing and I had the honor, the privilege and the pleasure to behold this masterpiece in the movie theater. As usual, you had the incredible Kubrick directing, completely flawless with his usual obsessive attention to the details. On the other hand, you had this fascinating story which was almost a captivating Hollywood thriller. I say "almost" because at the end, there was no big chase, rooftop final battle or a big twist explaining everything that happened before. There was actually no real answer and I think that's the reason why many people got frustrated by  the damned thing, this fact  that they are so used to taht everything is supposed to be solved at the end (at least, that's what the average viewer expects). Anyway, to conclude, I think it was just brilliant and it is definitely worth a look, especially if you are interested in Stanley Kubrick's work.

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A dream behind a mask of mystery.

Posted : 8 years ago on 26 September 2008 11:53

''No dream is ever just a dream.''

A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him.

Tom Cruise: Dr. William 'Bill' Harford

Stanley Kubrick's last film results in an explosion of surprises. On one hand it is drenched with sex and revelations, ending up being even slower than any of his previous works. Yet on the other hand it captures imagination, secrets and forbidden relationships.

Kubrick has always given us the weird and visionary standards with his film making efforts. With Eyes Wide Shut it is a very human, very colourful study delving into the primal urges of sexual desire.
There is beautiful imagery, haunting penetrating music, and wonderful shots with clever cinematography.

The film unleashes a varied onslaught via frequent trips to the land of surrealism and mystery yet elevates itself with some unusual scenes.
The masked party seems to me to be the main point of interest in Eyes Wide Shut where Kubrick uses mystery suspense and a feel of foreboding in the proceedings yet it's feeling seems to fade once said scene is over. We see Cruise spiral into torment and sometimes madness as he tries to unravel the mysteries and puzzles.

Scenarios presented involve unfaithfulness, desire and an obsession with lust and sex. Nicole Kidman plays the troubled wife quite well with jealousy and emotion seeping from her character; She is subject to dreams and dark secrets of her own.

It is safe to say the film provokes more tantalizing questions than answers, yet we the audience, true to Kubrick, fill in the blanks with our own conclusions and imagination.
Granted Kubrick gets across his lustful, if what perverted disposition, which shows a mind of unrivaled proportions but it's the execution of Eyes Wide Shut that makes it appealing and one for countless debates.

When I reached the end conclusion I was bemused at the confusion and even more puzzled by an ending that is simple yet with dialogue that shows a marriage and sexual tension between two people.
Eyes Wide Shut was very clever and thrilling yet may leave behind anyone whom is unadjusted to Kubrick's psychedelic, trippy style.

Kubrick's last montage equals a piece which is his most human and perhaps in many ways his most psychological, his most disturbing, and his most artistic. The film is a 9 year marriage with seeds of doubts being planted, a masked party that turns into a warped orgy, one man's journey across the city to discover a moral and sexual answer to appease his mind and emotions.
Eyes Wide Shut is deviant, perverted and puzzling yet it is also a fascinating into the mind set of Stanley Kubrick in his final days. What a strange mind and portrait we end up with. Certainly one to be watched a few times and even then, you will pick up something different every time.

''I have seen one or two things in my life but never, never anything like this.''

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