Eyes Wide Shut

Director: Stanley Kubrick.
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field, Alan Cumming, Marie Richardson, Thomas Gibson, Vinessa Shaw, Rade Serbedzija, Leelee Sobieski, Fay Masterson, Sky Dumont, Madison Eginton

“Millions of years of evolution, right? Right? Men have to stick it in every place they can, but for women… women it is just about security and commitment and whatever the fuck else.”

For many, Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest directors America has ever produced and has offered up some of the most thought provoking films throughout his career. Unfortunately, his last film didn’t receive the credit that it deserved. Literally days after delivering the final film, Kubrick died. However, in some senses, I’m actually glad Kubrick didn’t have to witness his swansong’s much maligned backlash. A big factor in this was the poor marketing campaign. For the first time, Kubrick released a film in the internet-age where information was readily accessible on the secrecy of its production. Rumours abound, it was flaunted as a sexually explicit bonkfest with Cruise and Kidman and the trailers teasing the audience with the real-life, married couple’s nudity certainly didn’t help matters. In truth, what (little) you see in the trailer is essentially all there is in the entire film between the couple. Added to which, there were rumours that Cruise would be shooting heroine for the film and wearing a dress. Needless to say, those who flocked in their droves to see such controversy where left sorely disappointed. What they really missed, though, was a rich and provocative meditation on sexual desires and the human psyche. 

Plot: Happily married New York City doctor, Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) appears to have the perfect life with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman). While getting high one night, Alice admits that she had a potent sexual fantasy about a stranger and was tempted to cheat on her husband and leave everything they built together for one night of passion. Left reeling from shock, Bill goes out into the Manhattan night where he meets strange characters and enters into a world of sexual adventure for the first time in his life.

Within minutes of the film’s opening, we are voyeurs in the lives of our main characters. We witness them at a party where Alice flirts with an older lothario who imparts his wisdom that women only got married in order to lose their virginity, freeing them to do as they pleaded with other men. Meanwhile Bill is being accosted and propositioned to an upstairs bedroom by two beautiful models, promising to show him “where the rainbow ends”. Despite these encounters amounting to nothing, they set the tone for the rest of the film in how this seemingly contented married couple will have their fidelity questioned.

Throughout this whole film, Kubrick showcases his command of space. I love his ability for crafting a place or scene that is vast yet strangely intimate. He gives a place importance and here it is no different. Despite being set in the vibrant sprawling nightlife of New York City, we seem enclosed in the lives of our two main characters. Kubrick’s craftsmanship was just as evident in the The Shining whereby he conveys the loneliness and isolation of his characters and somehow manages a palpable sense of claustrophobia within grand open spaces. If for nothing else, it brings his actors to the forefront and enhances their performances. Speaking of which, Cruise and Kidman are very brave and dynamic here. Their real life marriage (at the time) effectively seems to permeate the characters – giving a very intimate portrayal of a strained, unfulfilled relationship. It should also be noted that with Kubrick’s fastidious approach to filming that the psychological torment that he put his actors through led to the break-up of Cruise and Kidman not long after filming wrapped. Much was said about Kidman’s performance but this is by-and-large Cruise’s film. He’s the anchor and it’s among his strongest work as he absolutely smolders on screen as his Dr. Harford is always heavily weighted on and there’s an escalating sense of danger in his experiences.

Kubrick’s last endevour is not just one to be viewed but one to be immersed in. That’s the absolute beauty and captivating nature of the film. It draws you in and, much like the protagonist, you have no idea what you’re in for but you’re swept along with it as if in some hypnopompic state. As a self-proclaimed admirer of David Lynch, Kubrick has managed to make a film that the idiosyncratic Lynch would be proud of. In the latter stages it becomes quite an intriguing, surrealistic mystery that begins to question Harford’s perception of events. Over the course of the evening, Harford experiences a prostitute, a proposition from a teenage girl, the suggestion of his sexual orientation and, of course, an en masse orgy. But, is this the world that he’s been cloistered from and experiencing a reawakening? Or are these manifestations of his sexual fantasies and desires? These are the questions that begin to surface as the film’s dreamlike, ambiguous nature grows stronger.

It’s not just what’s underneath Eyes Wide Shut that’s impressive, though. On the surface, the film is also visually stunning. Kubrick shoots on a grand scale where production designers Leslie Tomkins and Roy Walker capture both the interiors and exteriors with lavish flamboyancy. There’s also an abundance of colour on display and cinematographer Larry Smith deserves the utmost credit with his stunning contrast of warm and cold colours that adds to the foreboding atmosphere that’s tangible within the themes of the film.

An avant garde, near masterpiece from Kubrick. Consider, if you will, David Lynch directing Martin Scorsese’s absurd, dark comedy After Hours and you’ll get a little closer to understanding it. Premature judgement has harmed the film but it is still, admittedly, not for everyone. It’s not the explicit orgy or soft-core porn that people expected but a deeply surreal, and hypnotic, psychological exploration of sexual tension, paranoia and jealousy. But if viewed from a subconcious perspective it is a hugely rewarding experience. Sadly, it was Kubrick’s last film but it’s also one of his finest.

Mark Walker

Trivia: Johnny Depp was considered for the role of Dr. Harford and Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin were also supposedly considered to play the leads at one point. More bizarrely, though, was Kubrick’s interest in casting Woody Allen or Steve Martin for Harford. A couple of casting decisions definitely changed throughout production, though, with Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh originally playing Victor Ziegler and Marion Nathanson. After Keitel and Leigh had shot some scenes, Keitel left the production due to his obligations to another project. Leigh also had scheduling conflicts with David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and neither of them were available to reshoot scenes. Consequently, Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson were brought in to play the respective roles.


18 Responses to “Eyes Wide Shut”

  1. I recently saw After Hours and your sentence about Lynch directing it and having it look somewhat like this is great. This may be my favorite Kubrick flick next to The Shining in terms of rewatchabiity the most

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Vern. It is like After Hours through the lens of Lynch though, isn’t it? Lots of similarities there. I’m totally with you on Kubrick favourites. I think it’s this and The Shining for me too. These are the ones I go back to most.


  2. Excellent review Mark. Great to see you give it a full five stars; I too consider Eyes Wide Shut to be a masterpiece and one of Kubrick’s best. It works well well as a companion with The Shining, considering its icy and disturbing portrayal of love and sexuality as well as the psychological horror aspects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks mate! We have been seeing eye to eye a lot lately and share a lot of similar tastes. Great to hear we’re on the same page again with this one. I think it’s a work of genius from Kubrick. It’s a toss-up between this and The Shining for his best. There’s so much going on here on a subconscious level that it’s nothing less than deep, thought provoking material. It’s simply superb!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d still argue Barry Lyndon is his best (which I often say alongside Apocalypse Now is my favorite film), but Eyes Wide Shut is perhaps his most psychologically challenging. Kubrick is one of the few filmmakers who has made at least a half a dozen inarguably great pictures.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You really speak of Barry Lyndon that highly? Admittedly, I haven’t seen it in it’s entirety but recently got a copy to revisit it. I’m very much looking forward to it. Kubrick is always interesting stuff. I’m kinda feeling that I have to have a reappraisal on all his films. Sometimes I go through these fazes with a particular filmmaker.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s perhaps not his most accessible feature, but it’s the one I admire and enjoy the most. The pitch-perfect cinematography and gorgeous scenery make it Kubrick’s most ornate film alone (which is saying something). I recently bought the new Criterion 4k blu ray and hope to watch it again soon.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hear it was all shot with natural light? In fact, Larry Smith (Eyes Wide Shut’s Cinematographer) work on this as an assistant before making his own way in the business.

        I feel like I need to be in the mood for it but I’m just waiting on the moment. I’m between that and Paris, Texas at the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, John Alcott is perhaps the best cinematographer there has ever been.

        Also, you got to check out Paris, Texas when you have the chance. Saw it for the first time several months ago the night Harry Dean Stanton died and found it to be very poignant.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I seen Paris, Texas years ago but I was only about 15 years old and I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I would now. Looking forward to a revisit and now that HDS has passed away now feels like a good time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The ending had me tearing up, HDS gives such an emotional and nuanced performance.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I reckon I’ll feel the same. I’m also thinking Lucky might get me that way too. An absolute legend.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your comprehensive review of the movie. Watching it when it first came out I remember being quite anxious throughout. It was hard to empathize with the characters, as the best of everything wasn’t good enough for them. I wonder how many bored rich people there are out there who choose to indulge in such activities in order to feel?

    Liked by 1 person

    • And thank you for reading! 😉
      I couldn’t empathise with the characters on any financial or privileged sense but I could on a relationship sense. Their relationship felt genuine (casting Cruise and Kidman was a masterstroke) and Kubrick really delved into the psychological angle surrounding sex and fidelity. As you can see, I really identified with the film. I think it’s a very unsung piece of work from Kubrick.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am glad you enjoyed it. It is not appreciated as much as other Kubrick’s films, unfortunately, and this beautiful film didn’t deserve it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love it, man. I loved it even when it was first released by a recent rewatch confirms even more to me… It’s one of Kubrick’s best and it’s a stunningly shot piece of work. “Beautiful” is the right word. Darkly beautiful!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was too young to really appreciate this at the time and have not revisited it. And yet I find your works evoke strong memories – clearly there was something there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I often went into some films when I was too young, Jay. Whenever I’ve revisited them though, my opinion normally changed for the better. I’d give this another go. I thought it was absolutely superb. One of Kubrick best for me.


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