Review: “Eyes Wide Shut”

The rumours, the innuendo and the ad campaigns all lead us to believe what we were going to get with “Eyes Wide Shut” was a shocking and confronting movie filled with sex and debauchery. If you think that, your going to be in for a major surprise or disappointment with Kubrick’s newest and last film. My mindset is probably the opposite of the audience Kubrick was aiming for.

For starters I’m not a big fan of his work, Kubrick was a guy who made the kinds of movies film school nerds had wet dreams about. Full of heaps of subtext and subtlety intertwined with a barely linear plot and slow pacing, these were confusing movies which most people didn’t get but said they did to look intelligent – even if they hated it or didn’t understand it. “2001” was a technical masterpiece but story-wise is a quite dull and rather confusing film – its the kind of movie where if you were high on LSD you’d love it.

“The Shining” was pretty good though and probably my favorite of the few films of his I’ve seen. Personality wise I’m single and likely to stay away from marriage for a good decade yet, I haven’t been in a long term relationship (ie. 12+ months) in my life yet and like most members of my generation I like my films fast, gritty, fun and shocking – definitely not the right kind of person to see a slow drama about infidelity. Yet despite that I sort of enjoyed this movie, sure there’s some minor problems, but in general its an OK movie if you can stand the pacing. So lets break it down:

Kubrick’s choice of casting was a coup d’etat – not a single bad egg amongst the various roles here. I’ve been a fan of Nicole Kidman for almost 12 years now, her performances in the thriller “Dead Calm” and the mini-series “Bangkok Hilton” are still my favorite works of hers and really showed off her talent. Her US films since then have shown merely a shadow of her potential, but this film indicates that maybe changing. Kidman’s performance is at times funny & touching and she really is the highlight of the cast – out shadowing her husband who gets far more screen time.

Cruise does well with his role and stretches his thespian qualities a little more than usual. The supporting cast however are all flawless and interesting – the Hungarian doctor, the masked woman, the campy desk clerk, the sweet fur-wearing hooker, all were riveting and very enjoyable performances to watch. The lighting in ths film is just amazing, from the glowing light walls at the opening party, to the blue-toned night times of the Hartford apartment.

The production design is wonderful as well, with some fantastic ornate masks to a realistic New York sidewalk. The cinematography on the other hand needs a bit of work, whether it was intentional or not the film has a slightly foggy and dream-like quality – as if it was shot on the kind of technology used by films in the 70’s & early 80’s. That’s fine but it does make the eyes a bit sore after two and a half hours.

The film maybe shocking to those kind of people who’ve never done anything but the missionary position kind of sex in their life. For the rest of us though its pretty tame and in fact rather conservative and one-sided. A father uses his underage daughter as a prostitute, members of high society participate in sinister masked orgies, a man & woman consider adultery even though they’re married and have a kid – big deal, this is the 90’s and all of that stuff is old hat. Sex in this film is portrayed as almost a dirty sinful act which is in our nature and we can’t help it.

It never shows the benefits of it – it can express love between two or more people, it can make one feel good, it can relieve stress, its a great workout for your abs, etc. Sex is a huge dynamic with all sorts of shades and intentions – Kubrick’s film merely covers the darker side of it in a long-term relationship, never balancing it with the lighter side. And of the dark side he only explores the bare fringes – straight up vanilla sex, no utensils or fetishes required. Oh and for those wondering what we get to see of the celebrity couple – just some T & A of Nicole, neither does full frontal.

Several scenes are worthy of mentioning, but there are two in particular that stick in my mind. First is the quite funny bedroom scene between Kidman and Cruise right before her ‘revelation’. A potted-up Kidman is able to twist every statement Cruise makes into a personal insult, all becoming a very enjoyable game of wordplay. The other scene of course is the orgy sequence. This was not an erotic scene by any means, in fact this is probably the most creepy scene in a movie this year.

Forget “Blair Witch”, would you be more scared stuck out in the woods alone or in a crowded room full of masked people all intent on possibly raping and very likely killing you – definitely the latter I say. A good hour could’ve been cut out of this film, as at 2.5 hours it does tend to drag a bit (but not as much as you’d expect). The real major problem with the film however is the dialogue – everyone seems to repeat their words about three times each as well as talk…at…a…very…slow…rate. Conversations which should normally take 5 minutes are dragged out to 15 by this problem, for example: Tom – “What do you think”, Nicole – “What do I think”, Tom – “Yes What do you think”, Nicole – “Well….I think….” it goes on and on from there.

The music score is impressive but gosh darn it there should’ve been more. There’s a creepy theme which you’ll see in the commercials that’s used in this film – like the “Halloween” theme its very simply done with a single echoing piano and is darn unsettling. The only problem is its used over and over again, first time is effective but by the sixth you wonder couldn’t they have come up with something better. Finally as mentioned before, there’s just no shock or erotic value to it despite what it may trumpet in the ads.

In the end this is a Kubrick film, a big-budget art movie which won’t have wide appeal but will certainly please fans of the director’s work. The two stars do it make it more accessible for a mainstream audience, but the slow pacing and tame material won’t be enticing them back for more viewings. Sad in a way as this is the kind of movie which you can tell will improve with repeat viewings.