Sunday 1 July 2012

Movie Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

A dramatic study of the destructive powers of jealousy, Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley Kubrick's final film. He applies his characteristic majestic scope to the intimate story of a married couple enduring a torrid two days. Instead of grandeur in breadth, Eyes Wide Shut is all about ceaselessly exploring depth, as Kubrick burrows into the psyche of two people to find and unleash the rampaging forces of insecurity.

Bill and Alice Harford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) are an attractive married couple, circulating in the upper echelons of New York's high society thanks to Bill's thriving medical career. While attending a party hosted by the wealthy Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), both Bill and Alice flirt with others until Bill is called upon to revive Mandy (Julienne Davis), a young naked woman overdosing in Ziegler's room. That night, high on pot, Alice confesses to Bill that she has had powerful fantasies about having an affair.

Shaken, Bill heads out into the night, and into a series of disturbing encounters, mostly involving women foisting themselves at him. The engaged daughter (Marie Richardson) of a former patient; a prostitute (Vinessa Shaw); and the apparently dangerously under-aged daughter (Leelee Sobieski) of a costume salesman all make it clear that they are eager for a relationship or just sex. The night of sexual drama reaches a crescendo when Bill gate crashes a masquerade orgy for the rich, held at a secluded mansion. He is quickly identified as an intruder, and his life appears to be threatened. Meanwhile, Alice experiences a highly erotic dream in which she betrays and belittles Bill, adding to his anguish.

Based on the 1926 novella Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut casts a powerful, dreamlike spell. Superbly photographed by Larry Smith and bathed in red, orange and always a striking deep blue in the background, the film unfolds slowly but surely, a descent into the human soul as it fights an agonizing battle against the demons of doubt.

After becoming aware of his wife's thoughts of infidelity, Bill's eyes are opened to the insidious opportunities available everywhere to have his own fling, ranging from the potentially meaningful with women who have a crush on him to the purely physical and anonymous. At every turn, there is an intervention which causes a ricochet in another direction, but for the one night, the temptations continue. The next day Bill has to confront the potential consequences of his close encounters with sexual transgression, and none are remotely pleasant. In the grip of jealousy, his eyes and mind were open to the opportunities, but quite shut to the devastating damage.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, a real-life married couple, deliver some of their best work under the tutelage of Kubrick. The mix of love and tension, tenderness and anger, belief and doubt is brought to a boil in deliberate, raw exchanges. Kidman delivers two ravaging monolgues, made all the more destructive by a deliberate, slow pace, that would shake any husband's trust to the core, leaving him spinning into an uncontrolled orbit. Cruise relies neither on his charm nor his megawatt smile. Here he is just a man nursing a large emotional wound and wondering what method of relief would work best, with the short term solutions likely to have the worst long term repercussions.

Eyes Wide Shut is saturated in sexuality, with Kubrick, never one to shy away from controversial topics, marching into the usually forbidden territory where sexual fantasy and imagery fuel human consciousness. As Alice and Bill discover, the relationship between man and wife is susceptible to profound pressures, none more threatening that what the mysteries of the mind can conjure.

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