Nine Weeks Of Kubrick, Week One: Andy Burns On Eyes Wide Shut

A few weeks back Warner released The Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection on Blu-Ray, a 10 disc compilation of the celebrated director’s best-known work along with a bonus disc that includes two feature-length documentaries, one on the director himself and the other a look at A Clockwork Orange star Malcolm McDowell. I was considering holding off on this purchase until later in the year, but a stellar price point at HMV got me in the door right around release day.

Of all the films in the collection, I’ve only seen three of them all the way through (Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut), with the latter two being two of my all-time favourite films. With so much great cinema in store for me, I’ve decided that over the next 9 weeks I’ll watch one film from Kubrick a week and give you my take on it – what I like, what I don’t and why. Just because I was so eager to see Eyes Wide Shut again, I started with that film, so I figure I’m going to go reverse chronological, starting with what turned out to be Kubrick’s final film.


What the film is about: It’s Christmas time and married couple Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice (Nicole Kidman) attend a party by an associate of Bill’s, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). While there, both have opportunities to cheat on the other. While neither act on these chances, these instances lead to a heated, drug-induced discussion where Alice confesses to having once thought of leaving her husband and daughter for the chance to be with another man. From there, the film becomes a sexually charged, dreamlike journey through the streets of New York while Bill deals with the emotional repercussions of his wife’s admission.

Why I like Eyes Wide Shut so much: I saw this film on opening night back in 1999 and was immediately engaged with what I was seeing (I can’t say the same about the girl I was with, who just kept telling me how weird the movie was over and over). Multiple viewings later and I still find it completely compelling. I love Kubrick’s use of the Steadicam. I love how the majority of the film takes place late at night, giving it a feeling of emptiness and suspense around every corner. The score is often surreal and spooky, as are the supporting characters we meet. The performances from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are absolutely brilliant, especially Kidman, who has a bravado scene where she reveals her hidden desire to her husband that makes you wonder how much she is actually acting. As for Cruise, I don’t think he’s taken on a more out of character role since. There is no action star here, no romantic leading role. In fact, Cruise is as far from cool in this film as you can be. There’s a suggestion online that when watching Eyes Wide Shut you should view Cruise as impotent and it’s one I totally agree with (as does my wife, who watched the film with me for the first time). It’s amusing to watch Cruise try to get laid and fail at every turn.

Some things I didn’t enjoy this time out: The Blu-Ray transfer of Eyes Wide Shut is far from perfect, which I did find aggravating while watching. There seemed to be a lot of dirt on the film (and I’m really not someone that picks up on this sort of stuff) and the sound was often erratic, leaving me turning the volume up and down a little frequently while watching. Eyes Wide Shut was shot beautifully and should be visually stunning in HD, but it does come up short on Blu-Ray. This version has been available since 2007, so it’s a shame that it couldn’t have been upgraded for the new box set.

Should you watch it?: The general view by many is that Eyes Wide Shut was a failure and that it’s not a great ending to Stanley Kubrick’s career. Some people expected it to be far more sexually titillating than it was, while others thought that at over two hours, the film was just too long. Personally, I think there was more than enough sex for a film with two mainstream stars – especially from the gorgeous Kidman. As for the length of the film, I do understand the critique. But slow-moving and thoughtful are hallmarks of Kubrick (at least in his later work) – you either go with it or you don’t. If you thought it was long in the theatre, watching it at home with the pause button might make it more enjoyable. I do think it’s a really compelling and thoughtful film that asks big questions about morality, fidelity and sexuality that are still relevant twelve years after its release.

Have you seen Eyes Wide Shut? What did you think of it?

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