EYES WIDE SHUT
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1999)
Beautifully shot, impeccably acted, and consistently engrossing, Eyes Wide Shut is a fitting finale to the career of Stanley Kubrick. Taking us "where the rainbow ends", Eyes Wide Shut leads us through several days in the life of upper class New York Doctor Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) as he navigates through New York's sexual underground in a fit of jealousy. Based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 Traumnovelle (Dream Novella), it is a film without explanations and the viewer must decide what is real and what is fantasy. From the outset, it is clear that there is trouble in the Harford's nine-year old marriage, though it has not yet affected their eight-year old daughter Helena (Madison Eginton) who is eagerly looking forward to Christmas.
The first hint that something is not right is when Bill tells his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) how great her hair looks without bothering to look at her. She does not say anything but her body language suggests that she is dissatisfied. The tension between them becomes crystallized during a party thrown by a wealthy acquaintance, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) in which she draws the attention of a charming Hungarian suitor and he is pursued by two attractive models. "One of the charms of married life is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties,'' the suave Hungarian tells Alice.
The events lead afterwards to a discussion of marital fidelity. Upset over Bill's lack of jealousy, Alice, who has been smoking pot, recounts a fantasy she had about abandoning her family for a handsome naval officer she met at a resort hotel. Feeling that he has to prove his virility, Bill, in the vein of Scorcese's After Hours, undertakes a 48-hour odyssey through the dark side of New York looking for reassurance from a sexual partner. As in a recurring dream, at the moment before satisfaction is achieved - intruders, a cell phone, or a threat to his safety interrupts each experience. In his journey, he encounters the daughter of a deceased patient; a prostitute; the underage daughter of a costume salesman; a threatening group of homophobes, and a male hotel desk clerk who is turned on to him.
The piece de resistance, however, is an extravagantly staged costumed orgy at a swank Long Island mansion. Lured by the piano player Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) who interests Dr. Harford with a story of mysterious gigs he plays blindfolded, he is led through a medieval-looking forest to a black Mass for the rich and powerful in which everyone is masked and costumed. When the doctor is exposed as an intruder, he is in real danger until a stately woman who has given him prior warnings to leave, saves him from at the very least taking his clothes off (from what else we can only guess).
Although Cruise as D. Harford is the centerpiece of the film, he shows little emotion. He is either looking bewildered or acting uncomfortably sincere but he is always a passive onlooker. One expects that at some point he will confront himself and grasp the meaning of what is taking place, but there are no epiphanies or realizations. It is only when Alice, perhaps suspecting that she has gone too far in her story telling, asks Bill what they will do now, do they drop their masks and come to terms with the realities of their relationship.
Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick's final film and it is one of his best. Enhanced by an original score by Jocelyn Pook, darkly evocative piano music by Gyorgy Ligetti, and excerpts from Shostakovich, the film maintains its tension throughout and never lets us know where it is going. Although the mood suggests a decadent civilization careening out of control, Eyes Wide Shut ended up for me as a life-affirming experience. It challenges us not only to come to terms with our commitments in life but to better distinguish the difference between our thoughts and feelings and our true experience of ourselves and the people around us who give our life its meaning.