Eyes Wide Shut marks the end of an era. It is not only the career concluding film of the recently deceased director, Stanley Kubrick, but also the end of one of the longest film shoots in history. For two years, Kubrick worked nonstop, tying up megastars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman with his infamously meticulous directing. Anticipation and rumors grew exponentially. Now, at last, the Eyes Wide Shut are opened, and this final chapter is somewhat of a letdown. The coda to Kubrick’s career has some delightfully Kubrickian moments, but not enough to fill this shallow shell of a movie.
Dr. William Hartford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) have been happily married for nine years now. However, the events at an extravagant Christmas party thrown by one of William’s ultrarich patients, Victor Ziegler (Sidney Pollack), launches them down an uncertain path of jealousy and sexual intrigue.
Emboldened by the amorous advances of a Hungarian gentleman, Alice confronts her husband about his own sexual wanderings. When his answers prove unsatisfactory, she reveals a sexual secret that both traumatizes and obsesses her husband over the course of the next two days.
Structured as a series of loosely connected sexual episodes, the film follows William on a journey throughout New York City. Consumed by his jealous obsession for his wife, and a sexual longing which he, up till now, has denied, he wanders the city attracted to erotic danger like a juicy bug heading for the zapper. But when he delves too deeply into the sexual underworld of the city, he discovers unspeakable things which may even cost him his life.
William’s every encounter over the next 48 hours is basked in a sexual light. It is as if, upon learning his wife has heretofore undisclosed sexual lusts, He is now awakened to the sexual awareness of everyone he meets. From patients to old friends, gangs of rowdy youths to drug abusing prostitutes, all react to him (either positively or negatively) in a sexual way. (But, hey, he’s Tom Cruise…I guess he’s used to that.)
Eyes Wide Shut attempts to lull you in with a hypnotic pace, but there are too many minor annoyances that dispel the trance. Most everything seems staged and phony, perhaps by intention, but even so, it pulls you out of the story. There is so much attention to detail that everything seems a bit too perfect. At times, Cruise almost seems alone in the city…the few people he meets are nearly always gorgeous and sexy. It is as if a magic wand were waved over the streets of the city, and only a handful of the most beautiful residents remain.
Yes, there is plenty of sex in this film. However, most of it is all a tease, and the teases are rarely tantalizing. The movie evokes an intellectual response when it requires an emotional one. It is sex without being sexy.
Much hoo-hah has been raised about the 65 digitally censored seconds of footage in this film. During one particularly graphic party scene, additional people were inserted digitally into the picture to block the most offensive material. While conceptually it is annoying that such censorship had to be done, it is done very well. In fact, if the digital trickery hadn’t been publicized, it would be difficult to spot (the resulting occlusion somehow heightens the surreal aspects of the sequence).
Although this has been marketed as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s movie, this really is Cruise’s film alone. Kidman is entirely misused. Her character’s woozy main speeches are delivered drugged and drunk. She’s really merely a motivator for Cruise. He, on the other hand, has a meatier character, but few showcase scenes. He’s charming enough that we willingly accompany him along his travels, but at the end, we know little more about him than we began.
Kubrick evokes a palpable sense of dread at the right moments of the film’s most intense scenes. However, in other places he seems to be losing his touch. Toward the end, he forces an awkward and unnecessary exposition to tidy things up. It significantly dilutes the final impact of the film.
Eyes Wide Shut is not a horrible film for Kubrick to have ended his career upon. The film is thought provoking, and well shot, but it certainly isn’t representative of his much better body of work.