• Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an enigmatic masterpiece. It was released after his death- but most agree that he was essentially finished working on the film before he passed.
  • Eyes Wide Shut also marks Kubrick’s first film since 1987’s Full Metal Jacket– just a crazy long incubation period, endless preparation and high anticipation. It marks the third and final (perhaps because of this movie- this was famously a film that spend over a year in production) pairing of (at the time) real life husband and wife megastar couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

The film opens with the statuesque Kidman undressing during the titles – the vertical columns are no mistake accentuating Kidman’s height.

Soon after the film features a wall of white Christmas lights- a visual motif that will brilliantly play on throughout the film.

  • The film is set in New York- but shot entirely near London.
  • The lights are so sensational—the flight of stairs at Victor Ziegler’s (Sydney Pollack- a great actor at playing power- Michael Clayton) Christmas Party – the twenty-minute set piece that opens the film.
  • From the very outset Kubrick is interested in the falsehood of marriage- at the party both characters (Cruise’s Dr. Bill Harford and Kidman’s Alice Harford) find themselves in temptation traps. Kidman’s portion of the film largely drops off after the party, but for the entire running time of the film, temptation is present for Dr. Bill- women are just throwing themselves at him (and to be fair he is not too quick to pull away- he certainly leans in).
  • Poor Harvey Keitel was replaced due to artistic differences and replaced with Pollack. This is not on the level Martin Sheen’s replacement of Keitel for Apocalypse Now but still- two of the most memorable reshoot casting replacements involve Keitel.
  • A sumptuous blue day for night backdrop in the doorway as a stoned Kidman (in lingerie) interrogates Cruise. Kubrick is pulling this marriage apart—examining it, coldly- or even with a vicious, sick smile laughing at it all (including Dr. Bill’s sexual frustration). Alice’s own confession throws Bill into this sort of existential crisis- but really he was already there- one wonders if he would have gone upstairs with the two models at the opening Christmas party if the girl with Pollack’s Ziegler had not overdosed. Later, Bill is approached on the street but a stunning woman (Vinessa Shaw) and “saved” by his phone.

Kubrick frames his compositions to soak up every inch of the world he designed.

A dogmatic dedication to a cinematic aesthetic- this is Kubrick of course- a Christmas tree is in just about every room- and Christmas lights in most as well.

  • Dissolves as frequent editing tool- dreamlike. And that is where the David Lynch comparisons and surrealism comes in. There is certainly a legitimate reading of this film as an extended dream/nightmare. The title is “eyes wide shut” of course and Cruise’s Bill says to Alice that “it’s only a dream” when she tells him about her sexual nightmare after he gets home from his long evening. Later: “Grateful to have survived our adventures. Whether they were real. Or only a dream” and “no dream is ever just a dream – the important thing is we’re awake now.”

The Sonata Café at the 55-minute mark where Bill meets Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) is a visual jaw-dropper. Again, temptation from Nightingale about his mysterious job and this party with the most beautiful women in the world.

  • The next scene holds another temptation: Milich’s daughter played by Leelee Sobieski at Rainbow Fashions. With the sexual frustration theme and the amount of this film that takes place during one night, certainly Scorsese After Hours (1985) feels like a companion film. The desire and sin repetition is Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) as well.

It is 70-minutes into the film before Bill arrives at the mansion where the orgy takes place. The costume work is masterful, the mise-en-scene is luxurious, and Kubrick’s camera hovers and slowly paces around a circle as the bizarre ritual proceeds. This scene is as intense as any thriller.

At the 84-minute mark Kubrick utilizes this mini montage of men in masks staged perfectly in the frame—

-the lone piano notes hold, disturbingly, as they encompass Cruise’s character.

Back to the blue day for night with Kidman’s Alice in the bedroom at the 92-minute mark.

  • That single piano note comes back again with dread as Bill is stalked and he retraces his steps from the night before.

There are a half dozen quiet camera zooms of characters hunting at each other- but this is not the main aesthetic tool of choice like Barry Lyndon.

  • There are quieter moments stylistically (the long talk with Pollack’s Ziegler could have been trimmed) after the climatic night at the party.
  • There is a lot of good writing on Eyes Wide Shut– but wanted to share one- “Like Crash and Blue Velvet, two similarly fearless, sexually transgressive but ultimately moralistic films that straddled the fine line between genius and lunacy, Eyes Wide Shut is above all a masterpiece of sustained tone, a tightrope act that pays off in rich and unexpected ways… As deceptively simple as an Aesop fable, and as haunting and enigmatic as a half-remembered dream, Eyes Wide Shut is a towering final achievement from one of cinema’s greatest innovators.” – Nathan Rabin, A.V. Club https://www.avclub.com/eyes-wide-shut-1798192099
  • An unequivocal masterpiece