Eyes Wide Shut

on July 16, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
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Everything you've heard about "Eyes Wide Shut" is not true. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman do not play married psychiatrists who sleep with their patients. Leelee Sobieski does not play their daughter. The film is not pornography legitimized by a world-famous director and Hollywood stars. Instead, "Eyes Wide Shut" is, as the Warner Bros. party line puts it, "a story of jealousy and sexual obsession" in which the protagonists' fantasies and dreams-not their actions-are the ultimate betrayal.
   The film opens as Bill Harford, M.D. (Cruise) and his wife Alice (Kidman), a presently unemployed art curator, prepare for a pre-Christmas bash hosted by Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), a member of the Gotham elite. Separated at the party, the couple spends the rest of the evening flirting extramaritally-she with a seductive older Hungarian, he with a pair of giggling models.
   The next evening, as they casually smoke pot in their underwear, Alice begins questioning Bill about the two girls, manipulating his logic until he admits that he doesn't think she's capable of considering an affair, to which she replies ominously, "If you men only knew." The conversation then segues into a confession, not of an adulterous tryst but of an imaginative one, in which Alice divulges that she would have given up everything-their marriage, their daughter, their future-for one night with a Naval officer she eyed last summer while they were vacationing in Cape Cod.
   Devastated by the non-affair, Bill trudges through the New York City night, encountering quite by accident a series of women willing and able to fulfill his desire for retribution while the image of his wife with this mysterious Naval officer-depicted in black-and-white flashes-grows increasingly explicit and maddening. The night culminates when Bill sneaks in to an elaborately ritualistic masked orgy where what he observes is enough to get him killed.
   Cruise is in nearly every scene of the film, too often leaving his wife (onscreen and off) at home, and he exhibits his considerable talent in his portrayal of this inwardly turmoiled but otherwise relatively uninteresting character. Still, it's difficult to get past the fact that this is Tom Cruise, and something seems wrong every time another character calls him Bill.
   It's Kidman who makes this film work. Her relatively tame confession is given weight by her slow, deliberate, stoned and, at times, hysterical delivery. She captures the gravity that both characters are feeling but manages to give the film its frank, hopeful ending. And it doesn't hurt that she's stunning nude.
   There's a lot of nudity here (almost exclusively of the female persuasion), but not as much sex as you'd expect. The orgy scene suggests graphic fornication but is shielded by digitally placed figures, and you've already seen the only really intimate moment between Tom and Nicole on TV.
   The interest in "Eyes Wide Shut," then, should be less in its supposed subject matter than in Kubrick's masterful filmmaking. He reflects the film's dream motif in a grainy picture, a quality routinely avoided in movies today but strikingly appropriate here. He tints his scenes in warm golds and cold blues to capture the mood of individual scenes, and his Christmas lights sparkle cheerily at the party or provide somber mood lighting in a prostitute's crummy apartment. His long takes and moving camera are so fluid that any cut feels slightly abrupt, but you get the feeling that each decision-be it in editing, casting or otherwise-is deliberate and, well, perfect. Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael. Produced by Kubrick. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug-related material. Running time: 159 minutes
Tags: Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael, Warner Bros, Drama, romance, sex, moods
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