EYES WIDE SHUT
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie
Richardson, Rade Sherbedgia Anamorphic Widescreen
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 159 Minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2007
Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
" Don't you wanna go where the rainbow ends?"
Don't you wanna go where the rainbow ends?"
If youll forgive me for beginning in a personal way, I spent
the afternoon re-watching Eyes Wide Shut, and
thinking about the years that have passed since the death of Stanley Kubrick. Its no secret that he was my favorite
filmmaker, but for me, it was so much more than just being a fan. In a strange way, I almost consider him my mentor. Virtually everything Ive ever learned about
the art of filmmaking I learned from him, and watching and studying his films over and
over again. Each time I would want to say,
I dont understand, I would always feel prompted to look closer, and
and realize that in the world of Kubrick there was no right or wrong
answer. It was just he, the master, and us,
the audience, one on one, individually. He
set the table for us, and let us take from it what we wished. How much we wanted to go home with was dependent
on us, not him.
I saw Eyes Wide Shut on
opening night, with some of my family, who knew how much it meant to me. I bring it up because part of what I want to do in
this review is compare my first viewing with my most recent viewing. Initially, seeing the picture was an occasion
marked with some sobriety. Kubrick had died
after submitting his final cut of the film to the studio, and I watched it unfold in front
of me with the intensity of a student who knew this would be the last time he would hear
his teacher speak. I watched the film,
enjoyed it, vaguely felt like I hadnt properly taken everything in, and then went to
bed that night amazed at the way the movie filled my dreams all night long.
I wish now I had let myself laugh a little more that first time. Its clear upon a fresh viewing that Kubrick
was not without his sense of humor, and there are a few instances in the picture where he
winks at you and tries to let you know, Its supposed to be funny here. Like the man who invites Alice (Kidman) to dance
at the opening party. Im
Hungarian, he drawls proudly, as though that were all he needed to score with a
beautiful woman. Or the way virtually every
woman, and at least one man, reacts to Dr. Bill (Cruise) in a sexual way, as though his
very presence were an aphrodisiac. It keeps
him constantly searching for that safe tight wire of charm that he can walk, without
taking the fall.
The opening night crowd was more than a little restless. Many in the audience were obviously there on
dates, and apparently were there to see a different kind of picture than what was playing
on the screen. For at least a year prior to
its release, the hype had been building up as to what we could expect from it. I had heard everything from it being a World War I
picture (which I doubted, because Kubrick had covered that in Paths of Glory) to a psychological cat and mouse
game between a married couple, a la Whos
Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And of course,
this movie was supposed to be the ultimate voyeuristic experience. After all, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were
Hollywoods most attractive couple, and they were going to bear all and let us see
what goes on in their bedroom when theyre alone, right?
Kubrick, true to the style hed adapted his entire career,
refused to say a word to confirm or deny any of the rumors.
As such, his cast and crew did likewise. Maybe
many people ended up building themselves up for an experience that was never there to
begin with. Thats unfortunate. But Kubrick always preferred to let his films do
the talking for him, and to allow his viewers to read into or bring out of them whatever
they most saw fit.
One thing he quite possibly achieved with this film was the complete
defiance of conventional categorization. Is
it a mystery? An erotic thriller? A romance? A
drama? A dream or a nightmare? Perhaps a little of all of these things, but in no
wise singularly one of them. For a man who
spent his career attempting to redefine cinematic storytelling, he may have just left as
his final legacy a picture that succeeded in doing just that.
At the heart of the story is Bill and Alice, a wealthy and attractive
New York couple who seem to have everything going for them.
They have money, a nice home, a wonderful daughter, friends in high places, and
mostly, theyre in love. At least,
thats Bills initial point of view. At
a ritzy shindig thrown by their friend Victor (Pollack), each enjoys moments of flirting
with others. Two models come on to Bill,
while he remains nervously coy and elusively charming, yet constantly toys with his
wedding band. Alice dances with Mr.
Hungarian, only to finally elude him when his charms become a bit too aggressive.
Later that night, they return home and enjoy some good pot. Bill is keyed up for sex with his wife, but in
their state, he seems to say every wrong thing to her to get her riled up. Notice how he says I would never lie to
you, but only a moment after he had done exactly that, which Alice doesnt pick
up on, but we the audience recognize. He
trusts her completely. After all, shes
the mother of his child. He doesnt
expect what happens next: Alice lays a bomb
in the form of a fantasy she had one night away from home
a Naval officer, who so
filled her with lust, she would have given up everything if he had asked her
The phone rings, sending Bill out into the night to a patients
home, but the seed has been planted. (As an
aside, notice how Kubrick toys with the convention of the ringing telephone interrupting a
in his film, its always at the darkest moment.) There had been a marriage threatening crisis in
his relationship with Alice that he had been blind to
his eyes indeed, wide shut.
He is unsettled, to say the least, and spends the rest of the night
in a kind of tense state of highly sexual awareness that continually gets affected upon by
outside circumstances. When he makes his
house call, the elderly patient is dead, but his daughter is there, waiting to pounce on
Bill with fervent pleas of I love you! Her
fiancÚ comes in, and Bill leaves. Could he
have been thinking that somewhere down the road, this confused girl would have the same
conversation with her future husband that Alice just had with him
only he would be the intrusive catalytic element?
Out on the street, hes verbally abused by some thugs, who call
him every colorful metaphor for homosexual in the book. Just some bad kids, doing what they do, but we
wonder if their challenge to his manhood influences what he does next, which is accept the
invitation of a pretty young hooker to go back to her place.
Bill spends the evening coming close to and toying with the idea of
infidelity, a notion constantly fueled by his imagined images of his wifes near
infidelity. And he constantly puts himself in
danger in each situation, though neither he nor we always appreciate that until later. His evening culminates in visiting a mysterious
house on the outskirts, cloaked and masked, for what he believes will be the ultimate
erotic thrill, but ends up stumbling upon a bizarre, almost pagan like ritual where the
sex is indeed abundant, but plays out like a systematic religious ceremony. This is one of Kubricks most awesomely
hypnotic, disturbing, brilliantly paced, and filled with imagery
you arent likely to forget.
The night before soon turns to the day after, but Bill may be in some
real danger from those whose ceremony he spoiled. His
friend, who told him about the party in the first place, has mysteriously vanished. A pretty young girl turns up dead in the
could she be the one who stepped in and saved him when his secret was
discovered? And will he be the next to go?
Its easy to see why those looking for an erotic night out at
the movies were less than enthusiastic about Eyes
Wide Shut. The movie is not about sex,
but rather, walking that edge between reality and fantasy, between sinning by thought and
sinning by deed. It is the about the
psychology of a marriage, and the way the tiny empty spaces can suddenly turn into
expansive gaps with no way to navigate around them.
The film disturbs, but not always in ways we understand at first. I once did an extensive study of Kubricks The Shining, and found a lot of subliminal
clues inherent in the picture, designed to manifest themselves in your
subconscious where you dont note them, but are affected by them nonetheless. I am beginning to see a lot of that in Eyes Wide Shut. During
a key scene near the end, I made a technical discovery.
Victor and Bill talk across a pool table. A
shot is established of Victor on one side. Three
balls are triangularly lined up in front of him, with the cue ball nearest the camera and
a pool cue that seems to point deep into the background at a small end table next to a
chair. Cut to Bill, cut to Victor, and
its the same. Cut again to Bill,
somethings different. The
three balls are still in exactly the same triangular form, but the cue ball is gone,
replaced by an orange striped ball. The cue
stick points at nothing. The end table, a
small insignificant prop far in the background, has vanished. Its the kind of thing you might not take
notice of, but somehow, lets your brain know that something isnt right here.
Other points of interest: notice
how Christmas permeates every location in the picture in the form of decorative colored
lights, either on trees or strung in other ways. Why
Christmas? Is it because Christmas is
traditionally a time of fantasy? That would
explain why, at the very end, before the inevitable return to reality, Bills first
act is to switch off the tree in their apartment, which had been lit the entire time. Only one locale has no Christmas homage
house where the vaguely Wiccan ritual takes place.
And so, in the end, what does it all mean? That is simply for you to decide, as well as for
me, as well as for each of us to place our own value on the picture. An equal number of critics hated the movie as
loved it, which has essentially been true of all of Kubricks films. The Academy chose not to honor it with a single
nomination. Some call it a brilliant last
hurrah, others, a meandering mess unworthy of one of our greatest directors. I think Ive made it plain where I stand. I cant help but feel, however, that Kubrick
would have taken great delight in the discussion and debate his final project has
inspired. After all, all great art exists to
it wouldnt be great otherwise.
NOTE: At last...this new DVD version allows fans to see the unrated version of Kubrick's final film, without the computer created figures blocking our views of the central scene.
This may be the first transfer I've seen where Blu-ray technology is a bit on the ineffective side. Not that it's the fault of the disc or the player; Stanley Kubrick's cinematographic choices include lots of natural lighting and saturated colors, both of which cause a noticeable amount of grain in the darker images. The centerpiece at the big house suffers the most because of the lighting levels, and if Kubrick wanted stretches of unnatural looking colors, on Blu-ray, they look even more unnatural and undefined.
That being said, there are many other sequences that look absolutely spectacular. Daylit scenes ring out with a new clarity and crispness, and when the color schemes are more naturalistic, the disc brings the objects to light with better depth and contrast than ever before. Basically, what you see overall is an exact replication of Kubrick's stylistic preferences, but the intensity capability of Blu-ray heightens them all to a level you may not have noticed before.
I didn't notice much in the way of striking differences between the Blu-ray and the DVD edition in terms of audio, but not much improvement was required or possible. If you think a picture of this nature wont make much use of a 5.1 soundtrack, wait until you see the centerpiece scene, and how the music and low bass effects make it all the more unnerving. The music drones on and on, filling the space around you with sound, and each percussive 'boom' emanates from the subwoofer with startling power.
The music throughout the film is
expressive and dynamic, with soft, unassuming piano music suddenly bursting forth in loud,
shrill notes. The dialogue is always clear and crisp. Overall, the soundtrack
is perfectly suited to enhance the hypnotic quality of the film. An excellent
Features *** 1/2
The single Blu-ray disc offers all the features of the double DVD release. It contains a three part documentary on Kubrick's last movie, plus a featurette on his unfinished films narrated by Malcolm McDowell. There is particular emphasis on his unrealized visions for Napoleon and for the World War II film Aryan Papers.
There are interviews
with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Steven Spielberg respectively, totaling about 34
minutes or so. Each one speaks about their
experiences with Kubrick, and their memories are both touching and insightful.
Rounding out is Kubrick's acceptance speech for the 1998 D. W. Griffith Award, plus a trailer and TV spot.
Eyes Wide Shut may need multiple viewings and require the passage of some time for fans to fully appreciate it. I like to think that Stanley Kubrick simply left us with one to grow with. This is a compelling psychological masterpiece, expertly conceived, crafted and filmed as only he could.