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Reviews

Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

April 17, 2019

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most revered film directors of all time. His films were championed as art which displayed the power of cinema. And many are held as some of the greatest movies ever. However, his final film Eyes Wide Shut has often slipped through the cracks.

Many critics were left disappointed when the film came out. Which is understandable. When the film was released Kubrick hadn’t made a film in 12 years. And with his great track record, many were probably expecting a masterpiece. With such high expectations, it’s understandable why the film didn’t fare well upon initial viewing. But with the film celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary this year, today we will be looking back to see if Eyes Wide Shut deserves its reputation as Stanley Kubrick’s worst film.

The Story

Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are a well-regarded New York City couple. Bill has a good job as a doctor, the couple has a child together and is very active in high society. But after a series of intimate flirtations with other people at a Christmas party, they begin to have doubts about how secure their relationship is.

After Alice admits to having sexual fantasies about another man, Bill embarks on an odyssey around New York to find out more about himself. His curiosity leads him to several encounters that will test his commitment to his relationship. Eventually causing him to cross paths with a secret society who don’t take kindly to strangers.

What did I like?

If you are a fan of cinema Eyes Wide Shut delivers something truly unique. It uses its basis as an erotic thriller to ask some interesting questions about relationships. What does marriage mean to people? Is it possible to truly know someone? And does true love really exist? And these interesting thematic points are accompanied and conveyed through great performances and a confident script.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s performances are some of both actor’s best work. They have fantastic chemistry, which makes the films questions about relationships more impactful because theirs feels so genuine. They were of course dating at the time. Tom Cruise being Hollywood’s go to charming leads makes Bill easy to like. But he’s equally effective when the film shifts and shows him in more vulnerable or compromising positions. And he makes each character shift work by wholly committing to the emotion required from the role. And Kidman shows her strong dramatic capabilities and how committed she can be. She’s willing to commit to nudity and brings dramatic weight to her simplest actions. The scene where she and Cruise discuss their relationship is incredibly powerful, because of her performance. And all the supporting performers although given limited screen time, manage to make their characters feel like fully rounded people.

The script is also one of Kubrick’s best. It creates a seamless world that blends both the real and surreal perfectly. The dialogue between the characters all feels natural. It doesn’t seem pretentious or forced. It feels like these are characters voicing their opinions, and aren’t just actors reciting dialogue. Even the exposition, although there can sometimes be a lot, fits what the characters are going through. And it allows room for interpretation, with so much being left unexplained for the audience to interpret. While also being a complete narrative. With all of the major characters arcs completed in a natural way.

And the cinematography is some of the best of Kubrick’s career. Cinematographer Larry Smith makes every scene look like a painting come to life. The colourful lighting and smooth tracking shots make the film a joy to look at. And he creates a palpable atmosphere through adding a haziness to many of the shots. Making the film feel like a dream. Which makes the more surreal frightening parts of the film all the more plausible.

But there are still elements that may bother viewers especially those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s work.

What did I not like?

Firstly, the slow pace that favours character interaction, mood and visual metaphors over an efficient, traditional narrative can make the film a chore for people simply wanting to watch a story unfold rather than trying to decode what the movie means. Many will also be dissatisfied with the directions the story takes. The payoffs to many of the story’s arcs happen off-screen and are explained away in dialogue or favour intimate images over big spectacle, which can make some audience members feel cheated.

The direction doesn’t help. Kubrick’s films often lack intimacy. Favouring wider shots over close-ups and cold/washed out colours, which keeps the audience at a distance and inspires a depressing feeling. Coupled with the actors slower, more methodical delivery, this can make the film seem stagey and un-real. Which may keep you from becoming engaged with the drama.

Alternately there are times when some might feel that the movie is patronizing them. Some scenes literally vomit dialogue about what has occurred. Which is necessary for the characters but not for the audience. The pool scene being the worst offender.

Finally, it is easy to see some take against the portrayal of women in the film. Many may feel the film paints all women as being obsessed with sex and are portrayed in an enticing way for the male viewer. Which is not an inaccurate conclusion. Though it is worth pointing out that the film does hold Bill’s character accountable for his chauvinist views. And many of the films male characters are controlling, manipulative and driven by self-interest (though they have significantly less nude scenes).

Verdict  

Twenty years after it’s release, it’s easy to see why some audiences took against Eyes Wide Shut. Because it favours atmosphere over tight narrative structure. Goes in directions that many may not expect. While also offering up a possibly unflattering view of women and to those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s style it can seem alienating and hard to read.

However to those looking for something different or are familiar with the directors work the film delivers a one of a kind experience. It asks big philosophical questions in a way that allows the audience to think and come up with their own conclusions while still functioning as complete narrative. The characters are memorable and interesting. All of the actors commit themselves in ways that are very admirable and play to and against their strengths. And the film is a feast for the eyes with a vibrant colour scheme that attracts and repels at the same time.

It’s a hard nut to crack. But once you have, it is a rewarding experience and a worthy swan song for one of cinemas greatest voices.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Josh Greally
Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I recently completed my masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.

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