Monday, 7 January 2013

Eyes Wide Shut

Completed mere days before his death in 1999, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is an erotically charged thriller starring the then married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Based on the 1926 novella Dream Story by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler the plot revolves around a rich New York City doctor Dr. William ‘Bill’ Harford (Cruise) and his wife Alice (Kidman) during a tumultuous few days in their marriage. The sexually charged Bill is accused of flirting and wanting to make love to women at a party and to his patients by his jealous and paranoid wife who then gets upset when her husband tells her that he isn’t the jealous type and trusts her implicitly. She drops a bombshell on Bill who then receives a call to attend to a patient. During the night Bill ventures into the city on a journey of sexual discovery and mystery which leaves him worried for his safety.

Eyes Wide Shut is split into two distinct halves, the first of which is an often explicit tale of sex, debauchery and passion. The second half mostly drops the erotic nature of the story in favour of all out thriller. Both halves were massively tense but equally enjoyable. I thought the film was fantastic and although it could be argued that in the hands of a lesser director and without the A List cast this would end up as a straight to video release, in the capable hands of Kubrick it is a taut and creeping film which I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Before watching I had literally no idea what the movie was about. All I knew was that it was a thriller starring Cruise and Kidman and directed by Kubrick. I even joked to my girlfriend that I saw it had an 18 Certificate so we might get to see some boobies. You can imagine my shock (and delight) then when the film opens on Nicole Kidman naked. The movie is very sexually explicit for what is a fairly mainstream affair. Kidman spends a lot of the film with either very little clothing or entirely naked and a set piece orgy is pretty much as explicit as you’d get away with. I notice that the film was digitally altered for its American release in order to avoid the NC 17 rating but went uncut in Europe. To be honest although it is sexually explicit, I don’t see the harm in it being suitable for around 15-16 year olds. It’s just sex. Although sex is at the heart of the film it isn’t a film about sex. Instead it is about naivety, sexual awakening and jealousy as well as the strength of a marriage.

The second half of the film was my favourite (despite there being fewer naked women than the first half). It was unbelievably tense and mysterious and I was really anxious to find out what had been going on the night before, who was involved, why, who, how? Etc. As I said before the story could so easily have been a simple erotic thriller that would end up on TV late at night with a porn-sax soundtrack but instead it is a wonderful, big screen thriller. Stanley Kubrick’s legendary attention to detail is all over the film and would contribute to it becoming the longest constant movie shoot in history at fifteen months including a period of forty-six weeks continual shooting. Kubrick would get actors to perform up to fifty takes and some supporting actors who were originally hired for a matter of days would end up on set for months. Due to a combination of Kubrick’s fear of flying and cheaper production costs, the entire movie was shot in England, mostly at Pinewood. I couldn’t believe this when I read it as all the way through I was saying to myself how great the street of Greenwich Village looked and how I couldn’t wait to head back there in a couple of months. It is extraordinary to me that these are sets and not the real streets of Manhattan. Kubrick went so far as to get crew to measure the distances between curbs and newspaper stands in the real New York streets so that he could reproduce them in the studio. The result is undistinguishable from the real thing.

A great part of the movie is the score. At times the haunting piano cuts right through you and one section of single, regular, high pitched notes brilliantly added to the already palpable tension. The way the film is lit is also really impressive and it makes great use of Christmas trees which appear in almost every set. There is little to fault Eyes Wide Shut on a technical level and the Direction is simply superb. Even the acting is great. I’m not the biggest fan of either Tom Cruise or Nicole Kidman but here both are excellent. Kidman has a couple of long monologues which had me transfixed and performs some of the more sexual scenes in a brave and convincing manner. Tom Cruise is utterly believable as the young Doctor but has a naivety that plays off against his intelligence. His character’s inquisitive mind is clearly shown and he doesn’t simply rely on his Tom Cruise face but uses his whole body well. Sydney Pollack is also very good and comes across as immensely powerful and in control despite things around him being often out of control. Vinessa Shaw is totally seductive and perfectly plays her role and even the likes of the overly camp Alan Cumming and Lolita-esque Leelee Sobieski are perfect although both are only on screen for only a minute or two. 

I can’t really fault any part of Eyes Wide Shut and highly recommend it to anyone who has yet to see it. I look forward to watching it again soon and sure I will as my girlfriend slept through it. (She’d been working, not the film’s fault). The story is tight and engaging, it is boldly explicit but not unnecessarily so and it looks stunning. The score is haunting and the performances admirable and although the year is young, it is the best film I have seen so far in 2013. I also think it is a satisfying conclusion to Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic career and although not his best work, it in no way lets his filmography down. 



  1. Glad you enjoyed it; I think you say almost exactly as I did in my review though in more poetic terms. It could have been rather sleazy and straight to video as you say, if it weren't for Kubrick's talent as a great film-maker.

    I was also shocked when I found out that the whole thing had been shot at Pinewood. I could have sworn it was in location in New York.

    1. Yet again we speak as one. I still can't believe it was shot on location. I almost don't believe it, like it's some sort of hoax. It's incredible attention to detail. The wprd sleazy is bang on the money. Kubrick took it away from that and almost towards a sort of art house feel, albeit with A List stars.

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