Movie Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

“Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick.”

3 Stars
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)


Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Todd Field

Synopsis: A wealthy New York doctor finds the lives of his wife and daughter is threatened after he infiltrates the ritualistic orgy staged by a secret society.

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The first words spoken by wealthy New York doctor Bill Harford (Tom Cruise – Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman – Nine, The Paperboy) in Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut, immediately identify them as the products of a society obsessed with image-conscious consumerism.   She wants to know how she looks, and he wants to know where his wallet is.   She’s an object of beauty; he believes that he can use his wealth and status  to persuade social inferiors to do his bidding.   They seem the perfect couple – as reflected in the casting of the then-married Cruise and Kidman – but their apparent contentment masks incipient problems within their relationship which only come to light after Alice, high on pot, reveals that she would have slept with a stranger they once briefly encountered had the opportunity arisen.   It’s a confession, delivered more out of spite than repentance, that leaves Bill wounded and humiliated, and which sends him off on a retaliatory mission to sample some earthy delights for himself.

While we follow Bill’s curious odyssey, it becomes apparent that Eyes Wide Shut isn’t about him so much as a world without a moral compass, one in which the power of the elite extends unseen and unchecked into all aspects of society, and which filters through even to its lower strata.   Bill’s nocturnal wanderings through a set-bound New York (the film was shot in the UK) lead him to a jazz bar where he runs into Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) an old friend from medical school who now plays piano for a living.   Nightingale is literally a bird that sings at night: he lets slip to Bill that he sometimes plays blindfolded at private sex parties, and when Bill learns the password to gain entry he decides to pay it a visit.   What he finds at the opulent mansion in which the party is held is a ritualistic gathering with vaguely Satanic undertones which culminates in semi-naked women each selecting a man with whom to copulate while the other attendees look on.   Although Bill is wearing a mask and cloak like the others in attendance, he’s soon identified as an interloper, and suddenly finds his life in danger.

Eyes Wide Shut is, like the morally unmoored society in which it’s set, a film which conceals its true meaning within obscure secrets and symbols in an ostensibly well-ordered and untroubled setting.   To the unobservant (or those with their eyes wide shut, if you like) it can seem as if a lot of nothing is going on for a long time, but this is a Kubrick movie; Kubrick was a perfectionist, and he was meticulous, and you can be sure that every detail in every scene is there for a reason.   He dresses the picture in the warmth of lights from Christmas decorations, but it’s a fake warmth driven by a commercial imperative rather than a religious desire for goodwill to all men.   This perpetual concealment of the true meaning of almost every aspect of society is a theme that dominates the movie.   It almost feels like a call to conspiracy theorists at times, a paranoid warning that our world is controlled in a way that we haven’t begun to understand or even suspect.   Check out the final scene, set in the apparently benign atmosphere of a toy shop at Christmas.   Symbols are everywhere.   Early in the movie, Bill and Alice attend an opulent Christmas party given by one of Bill’s wealthy clients who is also a member of the secret society, and guests from this party, whom we can assume are also members of the elite, can be glimpsed in background shots at the store.   They’re there for a reason, but Kubrick is too astute a filmmaker to spoon feed us these clues – we have to open our eyes to find them.

Theories abound regarding hidden meanings and messages within Eyes Wide Shut, with some even suggesting that Kubrick’s unexpected death just days after submitting his final cut of the film was actually retribution by the so-called Illuminati for daring to expose their existence and influence.   Rumours that Warners re-cut the movie following Kubrick’s death also persist, although there isn’t necessarily anything sinister about that.    Ultimately, Eyes Wide Shut leaves so many of the questions that it raises unanswered that one suspects he deliberately left things vague to fuel debate and theorising over its meaning.   Although Eyes Wide Shut might not be a particularly entertaining or easy watch – those viewing in the hope of seeing some titillating nudity will be sorely disappointed, even though the film features acres of naked flesh – it is certainly a thought-provoking and unsettling one.

(Reviewed 2nd June 2016)

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