- 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 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.
- 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 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.
- That single piano note comes back again with dread as Bill is stalked and he retraces his steps from the night before.
- 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
I’ve noticed that when the woman who saves Bill at the party is escorted off by the man in the plague doctor mask, there are a few seconds where the silhouette looks like that of the grim reaper holding a scythe.
@Harry- very cool- good share. Thanks
I view this in a similar way as PTA The Master (2012), it is possibly Kubrick’s film that most benefits from multiple viewings, along with 2001 of course. Here is one of the most in depth break downs I have come across.
@James Trapp- whoa- long read but lots of good content here- thank you for sharing.
@Drake – haha yeah it is but it is the most in depth analysis I could find, this film blew my mind when I watched it again a few months ago. I found the Ziegler character particularly fascinating, Sydney Pollack was the perfect actor for that role.
So happy to see this review! Great stuff as always.
I was able to catch EWS twice in the last few months before it left HBO Max and was blown away by the film. Hell of a rewatch as well. Still feels light years ahead of it’s time even now.
@Jeff A- Appreciate the comment Jeff- thank you
Thanks for this page, Drake. You make of lot of nice observations here.
Something I don’t see remarked on very often is what seems to me like a striking kinship between Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining. I’ve come to think of them as something resembling cinematic “twins”. (They are my two favorite films.) I think they share a very similar dreamlike aesthetic, and they both explore parallel critical themes concerning society and its unacknowledged hideousness (power, opulence, violence, racism, genocide, abuse and subjugation of women) by focusing on how these dynamics play out within a particular nuclear family. Both films also feel more than a little Freudian, especially when it comes to that sense (relentlessly explored in Lynch’s middle-late filmography) of the veneer of normalcy cracking open to allow glimpses of the underlying truth (violence and depravity) that is usually conveniently pushed to the edge of the subconscious in order that we might carry on with our “normal” lives.
Sometimes I imagine that Kubrick made Eyes Wide Shut in part because he felt he had more to say about the themes raised in the first place in The Shining. To put it somewhat crudely, I read The Shining as saying: The life you have come to accept as normal (your society, your family) is built on a legacy of violence; those nightmarish rivers of blood are real, and you (ahem) *overlook* them at your peril. Then Eyes Wide Shut seems to be, in large part, a meditation on the question of whether or not it’s possible to live in awareness of these underlying uncomfortable truths. Does marriage (arguably the keystone of our social institutions) necessarily depend on deception, as Szavost opines? Would our family lives (our social structures) be able to survive scrutiny under the harsh light of day? Is an occasional peak into the abyss of the truth the most we can tolerate, before we have to shove it all back down into our subconscious, in order to preserve our domestic lives? Must we ultimately accept our servitude to status quo powers (Ziegler), and permit them to massage us into willfully ignoring the atrocities happening before our eyes (ones in which we are complicit), in order that we may be allowed to continue to live out our “normal” lives? And if we do submit in this way, will a disquieting sense of doubt persist and linger, which we must continually be pushing to the margins of our awareness, like shooing away an annoying fly that will never allow us to rest fully at ease?
This is one of those films that makes me grateful to have lived that I could experience such a work of art.
@Logan- Fantastic work here Logan. Thank you for sharing. Certainly agreed on your last line and you’ve opened my eyes to much here. As for the aspect ratio, I try to stay true in my screenshots to the intended way a film was shot (not always easy- and I’m sure I do not always get it right despite my attempt)
By the way, I noticed that many of the screenshots you used on this page come from the DVD release (with 4:3 aspect ratio). I’m wondering what your thoughts are concerning the best aspect ratio for EWS. Given how much careful attention there is in this film to visual beauty, and framing in particular, it seems like not a small matter. For instance, the quality you point out in the opening shot (that the columns serve to accentuate Kidman’s height) would surely be diminished without the full height of the 4:3. Do you think there’s a best aspect ratio for this film, from an aesthetic standpoint?