Movie #202 Eyes Wide Shut
(1999, US, d. Stanley Kubrick)
Eyes Wide Shut is the Black Swan of Black Swans. It is the ultimate psycho-sexual thriller, catapulted by the sublime dream-like state of modern-day Manhattan put forward by master auteur Stanley Kubrick. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (at the time, married) play Bill and Alice Harford – the “happily married couple”. Bill is a very well-to-do doctor with a lot of friends in high places. In sn early scene, Victor Ziegler (played by director Sydney Pollock) consults him on what to do about an overdosed prostitute at Ziegler’s Christmas party. This entire party is of especial significance to the plot. It is here where Bill sees Alice dancing with an elderly but suave gentleman, obviously flirting with him. And it is also here where Alice spots Bill chatting up two possible lesbians who are coming on to him. From there, everything goes haywire. That night, Alice discloses to him that Bill has not always been what she wanted sexually. She describes an encounter she had (not sexual) with a sailor a few years back. When she was making love with Bill that night, all she could think about was the sailor. Bill has no story to continue to fuel the argument. Rather, it is the catalyst for his long dream-like motions throughout Manhattan (or some weird perception of it). In fact, Kubrick, to further this theme of “is it real or is it a dream”, purposively shot his exteriors of Manhattan on a studio lot, so as to look just a little off. It is a story about sexual revenge but it is also a story about masculinity. Early in the film, Bill is approached by a bunch of drunk and rowdy fraternity boys who shove him into a car. Bill does nothing. Perhaps, the film is his journey to try and rediscover that masculinity. He stumbles from street to street, eventually going into the home of a prostitute. He doesn’t do anything, but still wanders on. This Freudian image of repetition, as written about in his essay ‘The Uncanny’, is another element of the film that creates a “dream-like effect”, as is the strange hybrid between past and present (echoed through the film’s architecture and music). Completely misunderstood by critics and audiences alike on its original release, Eyes Wide Shut is a complex journey into the center of the male libido. Is it devaluing marriage, or simply highlighting the importance of “fucking” (I use this term because it is of significant importance to the theme here). Is it a lamentation on the woman? It could be. Most of the film feels like Nicole Kidman is just taunting the audience. The poster for the film has her looking up at us while Cruise tries to plant a kiss on her lips. Even the opening image of the film features her dropping her dress to reveal her perfect nude figure. Perhaps, though, the film is a critique of man. Featuring one of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s finest performances, Eyes Wide Shut is a film that is most comparable to a trance. Can we say there is an arc? Have the characters learned anything? What is to make of the Deus Ex Machina near the end of the film? By the time the credits roll, the audience awakens. What have I just seen?