4 Stars out of 4
There is something I find so fascinating about Kubrick’s final film. This film is not about the director, the linear plot, or the well-understood characters. Everything is so beautifully vague. Kubrick could have easily bridged off into a love story, tumultuously ridden with canny clichés and dull conflict. But Eyes Wide Shut takes a different channel — it is a journey into the subconscious. We don’t quite get anything, except that these people are sexually contested beings, burdened under one temptation after another. Forget a sensible plot or a contented payoff, as Kubrick will tinker with your emotions. Nothing really ties in, except that anguishing human psyche, as paranoid as it can become. Kubrick, for a final film, breaks modern conventions and rediscovers a new narrative: everything happening for nothing.
William (Tom Cruise) and Alice Hartford (Nicole Kidman) are an attractive enough couple. They have one intelligent young daughter and appear to be of terrific affluence. But that key spark is not ignited. The opening is at a party in which both William and Alice are exposed to a titillating temptation. Yet they both reject it. Indeed they are faithful but nothing seems to click. Just when you think you know what Kubrick is up to, Eyes Wide Shut makes a U turn. William encounters an overdosed ex-beauty queen, a confused woman who just lost her father, a weary costume owner with a lascivious daughter, and a sex cult at a mansion. Eyes Wide Shut pretends that it is about to find a taut, pursuable plot, but Kubrick suddenly drifts more into the surreal, abstract, and irrational. He is not exactly trying to penetrate William’s mind completely, just scrape the surface — to find that aching angst within him. Reality haunts him (as dream-like as it is) and dreams haunt his wife. She imagines being raped by several men and William is unresponsive. He’s been picturing similar images as well. That’s the only connective parallel Kubrick will give us. The rest is up to the imagination. For Eyes Wide Shut to be that effective, it had to be.
There is no causal connection. Nothing will link back to another thing. This will disgruntle many, especially the modern day Michael Bay fiends. But I find Eyes Wide Shut to classify into Kubrick’s array of strong achievements. Admittedly, this is a long film, but that 160 minute runtime feels like a swift breeze. This is a mind trip that pulsates on the screen. The original score by Jocelyn Pook is eerie on all levels. Her piano acts as a tinkering thought, anguishing on only one note, moving faster and faster as a raising heartbeat.
Kubrick’s setting is contrarily colourful. The imagery brightens the screen but the tone is set as utterly dour. We never know exactly what happens in Eyes Wide Shut. It is ridden with sexual tension but this is not about sex. It reeks of mystery but this is not a mystery story.
Kidman is a little mishandled at times by Kubrick. She is too observant for a female role that really serves up a mental counterpoint to the story. She is very disturbed, but we only get to see her impassively ridden on the bed or reading to her daughter. It is a misstep in the film that needed to be elevated.
But Kubrick goes out with a bang. Alice and William reunite in the end, but not necessarily as redeemed beings. Have they figured everything out? Who knows, that’s not important. What is important is recognizing how exposed these people are and that they need each other. Both sexually and protectively. I don’t think they ever find love but they envision a deeper reality in the end. A reality they have to now live in, as distorted and ominous as it is. With a classic line to conclude Eyes Wide Shut, it ends ironically didactic. Perhaps at the end of it all, all they needed was to fuck. Eyes Wide Shut becomes painfully austere: maybe this whole tarnished dream was about the simple essence of lust – in whatever shape or form it comes in.