Eyes Wide Shut

| January 2, 2012

It’s been a decade or so since I’ve seen Eyes Wide Shut. Initially Kubrick’s final film about infidelity and the institution of marriage went way over my head. Returning to the film over 10 years later, I’m happy to say my opinion has changed.
Eyes Wide Shut is set in New York City a few days before Christmas. Doctor Bill Harford and his wife, Alice, live comfortably near Central Park with their daughter, Helena.
Invited to an evening party by their friend, Victor, Bill and Alice leave home for the evening. The couple feel out of place at the party until Bill notices his friend, Nick Nightingale, playing piano. He walks over to speak to him while Alice excuses herself to the restroom.
Bill and Nick start to relive old memories, but are soon interrupted when the pianist is asked back to the stage. Before he has to go, Nick tells BIll that he’ll be playing at the Sonata Club if he’d like to speak more.
Meanwhile, Alice finds herself dancing with an attractive Hungarian man named Zandor. The two flirt quite heavily, but Alice resists on behalf of her marriage. Her decision is reversed when she spots Bill conversing with two women across the room.
Across the room, Bill is becoming quite comfortable with the two women. They start to head “to the end of the rainbow”, but are interrupted by one of Victor’s servants. He informs Bill that Victor needs him urgently upstairs.
When Bill arrives to the room, a woman is passed out naked in a chair and Victor is pacing around frantically. Victor informs BIll the girl overdosed while he was out of the room. BIll is able to stabilize the girl, but informs her that this habit will lead to her demise.
Alice, still in the arms of Zandor, notices Bill and the two women he was with have left the room. Zandor catches Alice’s hesitation and decides to make his move. Alice begrudgingly resists and goes to search for her husband.
The next evening the couple discusses the prior night. Alice questions her husband’s disappearance, while Bill asks about Zandor. The conversation becomes heated when Bill admits that he believes women crave only a husband and a family, unlike men who only crave sex. Upset, but vindictive, Alice admits that during their family vacation last year she had a fantasy about a naval officer who was at their hotel. Alice even goes as far to say that she would have given up Bill and Helena just to have the affair.
Before he can reply, BIll is summoned away to a colleague’s house who has just passed away. After arriving at the home Bill encounters his colleague’s daughter. She admits her love for him and begins to kiss Bill profusely. Still deeply disturbed, Bill rejects the woman and leaves the house for a walk.
Bill is soon encountered by a prostitute named Domino. She takes him over to her apartment and begins undressing him. BIll seems completely ready, but is suddenly interrupted by Alice calling his cellphone. Losing his libido, Bill decides to leave Domino’s house and head home.
Before he can find a cab, Bill comes across the Sonata Club where Nick is playing. Nick sets down for a drink with Bill, but soon explains he has to leave for another gig. Eager to see his friend play, Bill asks for the address. Nick explains that won’t be possible because the party requires not only a password, but a Venetian mask and cloak as well. Seeing the password as Nick jots it down on a napkin, Bill seems destined to go. He informs Nick not to worry, one of his clients owes him a favor.
Finding out that his former client’s costume shop has switched hands, Bill offers a large sum of money to the new owner, Mr. Milich. While searching for the costume. Milich spots his teenage daughter with two Japanese men and threatens to call the police. BIll hastily pays for the costume and heads for a cab.
After a long ride, Bill arrives at a mansion outside of the city. Inside, a quasi religious, but highly sexual ritual is occurring. After the ritual, a woman attempts to warn Bill that that he must leave now or his life may be in danger. Noticing that he is not a member of the elite group, the leader summons Bill to the main room where a large consul is waiting. Bill is told to remove all his clothes, including his mask, and face consequences. Before this can happen, the woman who warned Bill, interrupts and accepts Bill’s punishment.
Returning home, guilty and confused, BIll wakes up Alice after he believes she’s having a nightmare. Alice recounts her dream by saying she and BIll were naked in a forest. She couldn’t help but feel ashamed for BIll and urged him to go find their clothes. Alice’s naval officer then appears and begins to have sex with her. Alice then admits she wanted Bill to see her in the arms of another man.
The next morning, Bill goes in search of Nick. After locating his hotel, the desk clerk informs Bill that Nick left earlier that morning. After questioning him more, BIll finds out that Nick had a black eye and was accompanied by two dangerous looking men.
Distraught and worried about his friend, Bill drives to the mansion. A car pulls up from within the gate and passes a letter to Bill. It tells Bill to stop his useless investigation and that this will be the final warning.
But will he be able to do it?
Was it War of the Worlds that really killed Tom’s career? Besides the obvious oddities of his personal life, Cruise is very good here. Watching the film, I searched for certain moments that would seep in from his personal life into the acting. Thankfully, there were none.
Kidman is equally as good as her counterpart. Her role as Alice, the “bored Manhattan housewife”, is wonderfully accurate. The film never really gives us a chance to decide if Kidman is the antagonist or not; something a lesser actress would have faulted on. We neither love her or hate her, but only fear her.
While it’s easy to observe how great both Kidman & Cruise are, the supporting cast of Eyes Wide Shut deserves equal acclaim. The film is particularly gifted with the presence of Sydney Pollack as the elusive Victor. It’s quite rare to see a director as a great actor as well.
Rade Serbedzija (Boris the Blade from Snatch) also makes a powerful appearance as Mr. Milich. His character seems to resemble a drunk foreign uncle; a role he plays quite well in the film. Leelee Sobieski (Glass House, anyone?) plays a small role as Milich’s daughter. Alan Cumming also makes a short appearance as the flamboyant attendant at Nick Nightingale’s hotel. While most of the film’s side characters play very minor roles, their presence seems vitally important.
Taking the concise narrative from films like Dr. Strangelove and the vivid imagery of Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut is possibly Kubrick’s best film. Kubrick’s film about intimacy is not ironically intimately made. Its nature is inviting, but is still riveted with the director’s touch. The film has been labeled as an ‘erotic thriller’, but fans of the auteur know there is only one word for his cinema: Kubrickian.
Like most of the director’s work, subsequent viewings of Eyes Wide Shut are undoubtedly beneficial for comprehension. Something I wouldn’t mind doing sooner than later.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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