Eyes Wide Shut

Erotic Sex Dreams

Guest Review by Kelly Cutler
The thin line between reality and fantasy becomes even thinner in Stanley Kubrick’s final cinematic journey, Eyes Wide Shut. The director, who died just 4 days after the film’s completion had the idea for the film in the works for nearly 30 years. On and off screen duo Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bring a world of passion, temptation, and desire too close to the surface for comfort. Kubrick’s 2 hour 39 minute voyage to the dark side and back, is based on the 1926 novella Traumnovelle, by Viennese author Arthur Schnitzler, incidentally a close pal to Sigmund Freud. Kubrick and screenwriter Frederick Raphael closely adapted the screenplay in order to replicate the 1920’s London setting to an updated 1990’s Manhattan setting.

The Manhattan underworld is explored through the eyes of Tom Cruise’s Dr. Bill Harford, a successful NY physician with a beautiful wife, Alice and a 7-year old daughter. The first shot of the movie is a tall, slender and naked Alice Harford as she dresses for a party that evening. We then go to the celebration with the nubile couple. Dr. Bill meets an old friend, Nick Nightingale, played by Todd Field, who is the piano player at the ball. They are both approached by temptation at the chic Manhattan party, held by the wealthy Victor Ziegler; a role originally intended for Harvey Keitel but played with great strength by Sydney Pollack. Alice dances the night away with a dashing Hungarian man who she meets at the party. Meanwhile, Dr. Bill is moving through the night with a young beautiful model on each arm. The models promise to take him “where the rainbow ends”. Both Harfords remain faithful that night, but these episodes spark jealous tendencies which follow the couple throughout the rest of the film.

After the party, the Harford’s, recapping the events of the evening, share a smoke (and it ain’t tobacco). Argument ensues. Alice reveals a past fantasy during a family vacation involving a young naval officer for whom she was ready to “give everything up”. Dr. Bill becomes obsessed with jealousy as he envisions his wife in the arms of the other man. Thus the excursion to Manhattan’s underbelly commences. The voyage begins with a phone call from a patient’s daughter, alerting the doctor that the patient has died. Dr. Bill leaves his wife to visit the patient’s daughter, who presents yet another enticement for the good doctor. The rest is cinematic history, with each stop the doctor makes resulting in sexual urges but resulting in nothing more than foreplay. Then there is the climactic orgy scene.

The piano player, Nick Nightingale, lures Dr. Bill to a mysterious house on Long Island where everyone’s identity is disguised (except our doctor friend). The masquerade scene is a film within a film. It’s unfortunate and inane for the MPA to have butchered this scene by not only editing a substantial amount out (65 seconds – most likely psychotronic), but also adding digitally enhanced images to fill in the gaps where rampant sexuality and bisexuality are taking place. This scene offers a walk on the wild side, but knowing it could have gone much further left the scene dry and the viewer wishing for more.

Another episode of foreplay for Dr. Bill, he narrowly averts the orgy unscathed. The doctor is taken to the edge and back in this stimulating, if not orgasmic evening. He tries to relive the night the next day in order to solve the puzzles he encountered. He travels back or contacts each of the people he stumbled upon. However, there is no solution, no resolution. In the end, a needless scene attempts to provide explanation for both the good doctor and for us, now pretty confused, in both cases. However, to explain it seems banal, at this point. Banal, almost to the point of disbelief. This could be Kubrick’s sign that the dream is real, or vice versa. Hmmm.

The cinematography, lighting and overall direction of Eyes Wide Shut are what drives it. Kidman and Cruise acting: mediocre at best, but nice to look at, with a phenomenal supporting cast. The story: rather dull on its own, but spiced up by Kubrick’s smart camera work and cinematography. His camera moves in long and sweeping pans. The tracking shots lead us into the dreamlike trance where we remain for the duration of the film. The sinister soundtrack haunts us by popping up around every corner with dark piano strokes and strong crescendos. The film stock used is grainy and insinuates the seedy New York underworld scene, to which the good doctor has fallen prey. Most of all, Stanley Kubrick’s sinister but ingenious lighting disturbs the reverie of the film by slamming us with Christmas lights and trees in nearly every sexually-charged sequence. Kubrick lit this film himself, and carefully created a world of turmoil with it. The lighting ranges from the blast of bright blue lighting in the Harford’s bathroom early in the film per contra to subtle, bizarre red lights on the sordid streets of Manhattan, suggesting the voyage from what is real to the unknown desire that is Dr. Bill’s fantasy. Two silent running jokes of the film are both in an effort to prove the veracity of Dr. Bill’s world. The fact that every person he comes into contact with tries to seduce him and that he is constantly flashing his doctor’s identification, almost as if to prove his very existence to himself. All of these factors lead us to believe that the entire world has their Eyes Wide Shut, especially, maybe exclusively, Dr. Bill.

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