Friday, December 14, 2012

Eyes Wide Shut

Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Dream Story, Eyes Wide Shut is the story of a doctor who learned about his wife’s desire to stray from their marriage as he goes into a night-long adventure where he encounters all sorts of things including a secretive ceremony that nearly gets him into big trouble. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and screenplay by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, the film is an exploration into the world of marriage and sex as a couple face their devotion when one reveals the desire to be with someone else. Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Todd Field, Marie Richardson, Vinessa Shaw, Leelee Sobieski, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Cumming, Thomas Gibson, Julienne Davis, Sky du Mont, and Sydney Pollack. Eyes Wide Shut is an evocative yet hypnotic drama from Stanley Kubrick.

Dr. Bill and Alice Halford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) attend the party of their friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) where Alice flirts with a Hungarian (Sky du Mont) while Bill chats with his old friend Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) while he is being hit on by two models. Later that night, Bill is called by Victor to deal with the overdose of a young woman (Julienne Davis) he was having sex with as Bill took care of things. The next night while smoking pot in their bedroom, Bill and Alice have a heated discussion about infidelity where Alice if Bill would’ve slept with those women as he says no. Alice then reveals about a fantasy she had about a naval officer she encountered last summer that disturbs Bill who then leaves after getting a call about a death of one of his friends. Bill goes to the home where he meets the man’s daughter Marion (Marie Richardson) who professes her love to Bill as she tries to kiss until her fiancee Carl (Thomas Gibson) arrives.

Still uneasy about Alice’s confession, Bill goes on a walk around Greenwich Village in New York City where he encounters a young hooker named Domino (Vinessa Shaw) and later goes to a jazz club where Nick was playing. Bill and Nick chat where Nick reveals about a secret gig that he has to play blindfold as he wrote “Fidelio” as the password and reluctantly revealed to Bill about the location. Bill then goes to a closed costume shop now run by a new owner named Milich (Rade Serbedzija) who gives him the costume while dealing with a couple of Japanese men who were with his teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski). After traveling away from New York City to a reclusive estate, a masked Bill finds himself in a strange underworld full of orgies and other quasi-religious rituals as a woman tries to warn him to leave. Instead, the woman offers to sacrifice herself to spare Bill from further trouble as he returns home where Alice had woken up from a nightmare that disturbed her.

Bill goes to Nick’s hotel to ask him what happened only for a hotel clerk (Alan Cumming) to reveal that Nick was taken away with a bruise in his face. Things get stranger when Bill returns his costume to Milich without the mask that he lost where things get weirder as Bill notices he’s being followed. Later that night while working, Bill goes to Domino’s apartment where he meets her roommate (Fay Masterson) who reveals some startling news about her. Things get darker when Bill learns about a model dead from an overdose as he goes to the morgue where he learns who she is. After getting a call from Victor, Bill gets some startling news about the events that he had went through in the past few days as he begins to ponder the strange adventure he had just been through.

The film is essentially an exploration into the dangers of marriage and the idea of how jealousy can drive someone to do something in the heat of passion. In this film, it is about a man who goes into a journey one night around New York City after being disturbed by his wife’s confession about thinking from straying from their marriage. After some strange encounters with various individuals, he goes into a secret ceremony that is held by secretive people only to realize he’s stepped into somewhere he shouldn’t have gone into as it forces him to reflect on his own feelings of marriage as well as the fact that he might not have been honest to his wife after all. It’s a film that contains a lot of ambiguities and complications about marriage and infidelity as well as jealousy driven by this couple who do love each other but are compelled to ask big questions by their faithfulness.

The screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael is quite conventional in terms of a traditional narrative structure but it is filled with a lot of ambiguities and themes about marriage. The first act is about Ziegler’s party where both Bill and Alice encounter people who flirt with them where Alice seems to enjoy herself though Bill tries to play cool only to help deal with Ziegler. Then it is followed by a montage of their daily activities where they later smoke pot the next evening and have this discussion about marriage where Alice asked if Bill is ever jealous. Bill is being cagey about being jealous and acts very smugly about the idea of Alice not cheating on him. Instead, her revelation would send him into an emotional tailspin that leads to the film’s second act.

The second is about Bill’s odyssey into the unknown from the encounters he makes with women who tries to seduce him such as a friend’s daughter, a young hooker, and a promiscuous teenage girl while he would also meet that girl’s father, an old friend, and encounter a bunch of drunk college kids who mistake him for being gay. Then Bill’s journey goes into a dark, suspenseful turn once he enters this very exclusive underworld filled with sexual rituals, orgies, and very strange things that occur where he finds himself in great danger. He returns home only to go further into a path of the unknown in the third act as Bill wonders about the journey he had previously taken as well as the fact that it involved people he knew as it forces him to ask big questions about himself and his wife.

It’s a script that is filled with some very frank yet realistic dialogue on not just about marriage and jealousy but also the idea that one would stray from their marriage just to make the other person jealous. Yet, both Bill and Alice do take each other for granted in the fact that Bill doesn’t seem to pay enough attention to Alice and the fact that Alice doesn’t seem to appreciate Bill enough. Both characters are very flawed as they both deal with the rules of marriage and each go into their own adventures. For Alice, it’s in her dreams while Bill goes into something much darker where both of them realize what they have to do to stay together.

Kubrick’s direction definitely bears a lot of the visual trademarks and cinematic style that he’s known for. Notably the tracking dolly shots, gazing close-ups, eerie medium and wide shots, and slow zooms to help maintain the sense of drama that occurs. Yet, there’s also a lot of elements that Kubrick brings to the film that feels fresh and new for the fact that it takes place in a world where it is contemporary but also with a sense of something that feels more 19th Century due to the Venetian masks that are worn at the secret society party. One element of the film that is very unique that plays into Bill’s journey is the fact he walks around the world of New York City.

Even though it’s shot in London and some of it on a soundstage with some second unit work providing scenes actually shot in New York City along with backdrops in some scenes in the car. It’s not really the New York City that most people know but rather a surrealistic idea of New York City since Bill is in a world where he’s lost and disturbed by his wife’s revelations. The people he meets during this journey are definitely off as they don’t really play to any kind of conventions. A young hooker who lives nearby as she doesn’t exude any of the usual traits. A costume shop owner with a teenager daughter who is very promiscuous. Then things get even weirder where it’s almost as if Bill is living in a dream world that isn’t just off but also unlike any kind of reality that is out there.

He goes inside this very exclusive place where it’s later revealed to be a place that only the elite can be part of. It’s a world where it’s almost this very religious ritual where people are in tuxedos, wearing cloaks, covering their faces with Venetian masks, and do things as if there were no rules. There’s orgies where there’s a lot of happening though Kubrick doesn’t go too far in terms of sexual content. Still, he maintains that sense of mystery that does occur in the third act as well as creating some very chilling moments in the sexual fantasy scenes involving Alice and the naval officer that plays inside Bill’s head. Things become more intense by the film’s third that includes this amazing climatic meeting between Bill and Victor where it is about what Bill encountered. Kubrick maintains the ambiguity in Victor’s exposition where he could be telling the truth from his view but is anything he saying is true?

This is then followed by more revelations as it returns to the story of Bill and Alice where it seems that both of them had just had a major wakeup call not just about themselves but their marriage. It seems like everything they had been through was just a dream as they both would have these major encounters about a life that was filled with rules and no rules. The film’s ending is really the culmination of everything Bill and Alice had gone through and them ready to take a major step into their lives. Overall, Stanley Kubrick creates a film that is very provocative but also entrancing film about the world of marriage and temptation.

Cinematographer Larry Smith does incredible work with the film‘s lush and intoxicating photography from the usage of available light to create beautiful scenes for many of the film‘s interiors at night to the more darker scenes in the streets as Smith‘s work is a major highlight of the film. Editor Nigel Galt does excellent work with the editing from the use of dissolves for the transitions as well as a few montages for Bill‘s look into Alice‘s fantasy as well as other stylish cuts to play out the mood of the film. Production designers Leslie Tomkins and Roy Walker, along with supervising art director Kevin Phipps and set decorators Lisa Leone and Terry Wells, do amazing work with the sets such as the look of the world of Greenwich Village as well as the places Bill encounters including the elusive estate that he visits.

Costume designer Marit Allen does wonderful work with the costumes from the look of the cloaks and tuxedos the characters wear to the clothes that Alice wears as well as the look of the Venetian masks. Sound editor Paul Conway does superb work with the sound from the way some of the dialogue is heard in Bill‘s head as well as the atmosphere in some of the locations including the exotic party that he attends. The film’s music consists of various classical pieces from the waltz theme by Dmitri Shotstakovich that opens the film to the more striking, suspenseful piano pieces of Gyorgy Ligeti. Original music by Jocelyn Pook is very ominous as it is played largely in the ritual scenes to maintain the eerie tone of the film. The rest of the soundtrack consists of jazz renditions of love songs along with some opera pieces and a playful rock song by Chris Isaak.

The casting by Denise Chaiman and Leon Vitali is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some noteworthy small performances from Madison Eginton as Bill and Alice’s daughter Helena, Louise J. Taylor as one of the models who flirts with Bill at the party, Julienne Davis as Ziegler’s mistress Mandy, Togo Igawa and Eiji Kusuhara as the two Japanese men at the costume shop, Fay Masterson as Domino’s roommate Sally, Gary Goba as the naval officer that Alice fantasizes about, and Leon Vitali as mysterious Master of Ceremonies at the strange ritual that Bill attends. Other notable small roles includes Sky du Mont as the dashing Hungarian that Alice flirts with, Vinessa Shaw as the hooker Domino that Bill encounters, Rade Serbedzija as the costume shop owner Milich, Leelee Sobieski as Milich’s promiscuous teenage daughter, Alan Cumming as the hotel clerk, and Thomas Gibson as Marion’s fiancee Carl.

Marie Richardson is terrific as the daughter of Bill’s patient who tries to seduce Bill through her grief while Todd Field is great as Bill’s friend Nick Nightingale who unknowingly gets himself and Bill into trouble over the secret ritual party. Sydney Pollack is excellent as Bill’s friend Victor Ziegler who tries to assure Bill about everything that Bill had encountered in his journey. Finally, there’s the duo of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as both of them give incredible performances as Bill and Alice Halford. Kidman displays a lot of charisma and drama as a woman who feels like her husband doesn’t respect her enough as well as someone who feels guilty about some of her revelations. Cruise gives a chilling performance as a man who is a bit aloof about the idea of him being jealous only to embark into a dark journey that has him thinking about himself and his own flaws. Cruise and Kidman together are wonderful together in the way they interact as well as display the kind of tension in marriage as both of them give remarkable performances.

Eyes Wide Shut is an incredible yet entrancing film from Stanley Kubrick that features superb performances from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. While it is a film that dares to ask big questions about marriage as well as infidelity and other big themes. It is a very intriguing film that explores that world as well as a film that features exotic visuals and intoxicating music that bears a lot of Kubrick’s trademarks. In the end, Eyes Wide Shut is a tremendous and grand final film from Stanley Kubrick.

Stanley Kubrick Films: Fear and Desire - Killer's Kiss - The Killing - Paths of Glory - Spartacus - Lolita - Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - 2001: A Space Odyssey - A Clockwork Orange - Barry Lyndon - The Shining - Full Metal Jacket

Related: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures - The Auteurs #18: Stanley Kubrick

© thevoid99 2012


Anonymous said...

Good review Steve. Definitely pretty freaky and weird, but also, exactly what you can expect from Kubrick and one of his most underrated flicks, in my book at least.

Chris said...

The atmosphere of Eyes Wide Shut is really unique, it draws you in. I think what Kubrick does well is make us feel we are in Cruise's shoes, so that we are curious about the mysteries he is exploring too. The biggest weakness of the film for me is the conventional ending, but I still think its an excellent film.

I heard Kubrick was inspired by La Notte (1961), which was a favorite film of his, also about marital problems.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-It's a film that I think has to be re-watch again and again because it's more of a puzzle. It took me sometime to finally understand what Kubrick was trying to do and I think he nailed it.

@Chris-The ending I think worked because of what Bill and Alice had been through. The final words are perfect. La Notte is one of the films I'm eager to see since I have seen 2 of his three films of the alienation trilogy that Antonioni did in the early 60s.

David said...

I LOVE this film so much, if I could choose two films from the same director in my top 20 film list,it would be there. This world has never been more seductive than it is in this film.

thevoid99 said...

@David-It's definitely film that is seductive. Not just in content but in its imagery. There will never be anything like it.

s. said...

I really like this movie, I haven't seen it in years but I really need to rewatch it. Glad you liked Kidman and Cruise in it, I thought these were some of their best performances.

thevoid99 said...

@Sati-It's always worth re-watching. I was just re-watching it for my upcoming Auteurs series on Kubrick (which is finished and will be released on Friday) and there were things in that film that I finally noticed that I missed the first time around and I got sucked into it.

That's part of Kubrick's genius, his films are like puzzles and with repeated viewings. His intentions become much clearer.

Alex Withrow said...

Great, expansive review here. I love everything about Eyes Wide Shut. It's actually still my second favorite Kubrick film behind 2001. A phenomenal final achievement indeed.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-The one thing about Kubrick that is interesting is the fact that he always put everything into his work. He knows that it can be better and with this one, I think he kind of knew this was going to be hist last one and he wanted to go with a bang.

As far as ranking is concerned. Here's the list of my favorite Kubrick films from best to worst.