Eyes Wide Shut

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sidney Pollack, Todd Field.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug-related material.

Review by Matt Heffernan
July 16, 1999

There are two films this year that I have anxiously anticipated for years. The first one, Star Wars Episode I, I first heard about over seven years ago. When it finally came out (two years later than originally announced), it was somewhat of a letdown. After all, it was expected that George Lucas couldn't just jump back into directing after 20+ years. He had drifted too far into the technical end of film production. Terrence Malick's rust showed on The Thin Red Line. At least those men have a chance to redeem their comebacks. I have been waiting for Stanley Kubrick to make another film since Full Metal Jacket in 1987. I finally heard about Eyes Wide Shut about three or four years ago. Unfortunately, Kubrick was also away for too long, but his chances are now up. One of the greatest geniuses of filmmaking has ended his body of work with his least inspired piece.

In the film, Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Harford. Cruise's real-life wife, Nicole Kidman, plays Mrs. Alice Harford. After a Christmas party held by Bill's rich patient (Sydney Pollack), Alice asks Bill about two women that he was talking with, and then seemed to disappear with. Although Bill was actually innocent of any infidelity, Alice becomes jealous and tells him about a naval officer she once saw in a hotel. The day she saw him, she fantasized about him while making love to Bill, and through the rest of the day. Bill is then haunted by the image of his wife with some sailor, and he is dirven into a rage.

He meets his friend from medical school, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who dropped out and now plays piano at a jazz club. Nick tells Bill about another gig that he has each night at a different place, where he has to be blindfolded. He tells him about the time when his blindfold slipped, and he saw some sort of orgy going on. Bill gets the location of the party and a password to get in, and then goes by himself with a costume consisting of a tuxedo, a black cloak, and a mask. Bill witnesses the orgy firsthand, but he is discovered as an outsider. He is warned to leave and not tell anyone what he sees, or there could be fatal consequences. After leaving, Bill becomes obsessed with what was going on.

The real problem with this film is that it takes way too long for this to happen. Every scene seems like it was shot in slow motion, with pregnant pauses between each line of dialogue. It probably could have been a full hour shorter if Kubrick had just picked up the pace a bit. Instead, what we get is a big, plodding, boring mess. I couldn't help thinking about how much better the film would have been if Pollack were directing. Instead, he had to sit through what was, no doubt, a grueling ordeal with a director who had lost his art to his health.

There are parts that hold some interest, but mostly due to the production design. The ritual orgy scene looked very good, but it suffered from the same slowness. Sometimes it seemed as if Kubrick was more interested in photographing naked women than constructing a dramatic scene. Even with all the nudity, it didn't even manage to be erotic. The film dealt more with Bill's reactions to the events unfolding around him.

2001: A Space Odyssey was a far more successful experiment by Kubrick that allowed images to unfold slowly, and the little dialogue that was there, was insignificant. 2001 was never boring, but kept you fascinated by every detail. Eyes Wide Shut was not really fascinating. This film is supposed to concentrate on people, but you never end up caring about them, and by the end you are just left wondering why you even sat through this part of their lives.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) -- VHS
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) -- DVD
Eyes Wide Shut, a screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Schnitzler, and Frederic Raphael -- Paperback
Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, by Arthur Schnitzler -- Hardcover
Eyes Wide Shut: Music from the Motion Picture -- Compact Disc

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan