In this new segment that will only run near the end of Director’s Week, we will take a look at the final film the director had released. As our first week covers the work of Stanley Kubrick, we must talk about his final masterpiece, Eyes Wide Shut.
When Eyes Wide Shut was released in 1999, Stanley Kubrick had been out of cinemas for nearly 12 years, crafting a follow-up to the incredible anti-war war film Full Metal Jacket. Audiences at the time went into the film expecting another masterpiece, but this time they were also looking for an erotic film starring one of the biggest couples at the time, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. As Kubrick does, he kept the plot of the film entirely under wraps, and nobody knew what was going to happen on the big screen. They walked out of the theatre extremely dismissive because the erotic film they were looking for frankly wasn’t sexy in the slightest.
Eyes Wide Shut is about Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), who have a good marriage, until Alice tells William about some of her sexual fantasies about another man, which forces William starts to question everything. He is called out to see a patient who has passed away, and instead of returning home, he finds himself on a journey (avoided an Odyssey pun) that involves a secret cult that meets at a mansion in which you need a cloak, a mask, and a password to get into. Behind the giant doors are, seemingly, many people who need to hide their identities (hence, the masks) and also, essentially, an orgy. It’s spread out throughout the whole house, and though the rules are never specified, it’s as if you’re able to either watch or interact. Harford never interacts with anyone, he’s just constantly walking throughout the house. He is found out that he doesn’t belong and is escorted out. Even though it may be the weirdest part of his night, what occurs next is him dealing with all the fallout, as he is followed everywhere he goes.
As with most Kubrick films, Eyes Wide Shut can be cut into two parts: before the secret cult and afterwards. On top of that, it is extremely rare for someone to get a full grasp on a Kubrick film with only one viewing, and Eyes Wide Shut didn’t change that. I fell under that category myself, but there was something that pulled me back, time and time again.
The audience went in expecting something else, and the drastic difference from their expectations is what put them off and gave them an odd feeling. Add to that the piano score that just leaves you tense and nervous, and perhaps it’s no surprise. It doesn’t leave you at ease, and as it plays whenever William is being followed, it frightens you. Throughout the whole run time, this is the feeling that the music and film gives you. Something is wrong, different, and you need to know why.
Another thing to expect within a Kubrick film is the sheer amount of excellence when it comes to the craft of filmmaking. Particularly, the camera. His camera movements never cease to amaze me, no matter how many times I’ve seen one of his films (in this case, last night made number seven). The way he perfectly constructs his images and the swift camera movements. The way we always see William walking towards us, or away from us but always from a distance. He never reaches his destination as he continues on his journey.
EWS breathes, and some may argue far too much. It’s not the typical quick-cut film that the general public is used to, but it’s all building, and building, until Harford has a conversation with Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) in which you see how much the film can breathe. In a scene which lasts nearly 15 minutes, Victor warns Harford, and lets him know that there are dangerous consequences to what he did, but he’s going to be let off the hook. All the people that Harford encountered have mysteriously disappeared, and while Victor tells Harford that it’s merely coincidence or that they’re safe and sound, it’s clear that he may not be telling the truth. It becomes contradictory, and Harford attempts to ask questions, but his own safety is at stake, so he is unsure about where or not to trust Victor.
The password to get into the mansion in which the cult meets is “Fidelio”, which translates to infidelity. William Harford goes on his “adventure” after finding out that Alice had sexual fantasies about another man. He tries to meet women with which he can as well, but it always fails. He becomes too trusting, and with Victor, he is gullible once again. There’s no real reason to believe him even with this group that is shrouded in secrecy (almost literally with a cloak and mask), but yet he does.
Stanley Kubrick never made the same movie twice, he wouldn’t question it. He wanted to make a movie about the Holocaust, but after finding out Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, he opted out. And again in this film, it’s nothing like anything else he made, or like anything anyone else has ever made.
Kubrick wasn’t alive to see the film premiere, and as his past films as proof, he was constantly working on his film up until the release date (2001 famously had scenes cut out on the opening day), so maybe Kubrick’s final vision of this film would be different than the one I own on blu-ray. A film will never be perfect. There will always be flaws, and they could always be improved, but this is him, at his rawest, and purest, shining as wonderfully as he ever has, and never will again. Earlier this month, marked the 17th anniversary of his death, and he is still extremely missed.
A quick P.S.
A special feature on the blu-ray copy of Eyes Wide Shut has an interview with Steven Spielberg, in which he talks about the day he found out the news of Kubrick’s death. He had friends coming over for dinner and so they discussed Kubrick endlessly. Afterwards, Spielberg played the final scene of Paths of Glory to his friends (two of which had never seen the film), and he recounts how everyone was left in tears. Steven disagrees on the idea that Kubrick wasn’t an emotional director, and points to this scene. Wonderful, sublime, and beautiful. I’ll leave the clip below to prove how Kubrick can do so much, with something so simple. He was a master.
Thank you Mr. Kubrick.