EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

The nickel tour:  Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Hartford, Nicole Kidman his wife, Alice.  They live in New York and appear to have a happy marriage.  But all, as drama book 101 goes, is not what it seems.  Alice confesses to Bill that, a year ago, she had adulterous thoughts about a naval officer; not just passing thoughts, but big, "I would've left you for him if he had asked" thoughts.  This admission rocks Bill who, set wandering through the New York night, flirts with the idea of an extramarital dalliance himself.  But, despite getting closer and closer to the deed, finally ending up at a costumed orgy, he finds himself and situations stop him.  Nonetheless, by infiltrating a secret society and getting caught, he may have doomed his family and himself to death.

I walked out of this movie utterly paranoid.  And it just wasn't because of the last third of the film--Tom C. being followed all around New York while trying to put his life back together after perhaps nearly losing his life at a costumed orgy--no, it was because of Chris Isaak.

Now, an utter, utter paranoid would say that somebody had Stanley Kubrick killed, preferably by Scientology spouting ninjas.  After all, ole Stanley had tied Tom and Nicole's schedules up for the better part of two years, how hard is it to believe that when it looked like he was going to spend another two editing the damn thing, old Tom snapped.

Frankly, I feel like I'm the one person in the world who wants to cut Tom Cruise some slack.  I would much rather pin the Did Warner Bros. do a bad, bad thing?blame on Warner Brothers.  After all, they were really smarting for a hit, they gave S.K. final cut of the film, and the first cut they saw was, shall we say, unmarketable.  Masked orgies, explicit fantasy sequences and, to kick it all off, Tom and Nicole ending the movie en flagrante delicto.  Plus nothing but jazz standards and classical music!  No synergy there!  Where's the video for MTV and VH1?  Where's the radio leader for the soundtrack album?  What to do, what to do?  Oh, hey, why not kill off Stanley after he's delivered his first cut that nobody else has seen?  That would make life easier.  This would explain why Chris Isaak's Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing pops up during the sequence where Nicole Kidman, undressing in front of a mirror gets kissed and groped by Tom Cruise.  Y'see, in the first third of the movie, there's no sequence where the music isn't ambient--it's either being played by musicians or you see people getting up and turning on or off the stereo accordingly--except for this one little scene where Chris Isaak is singing from nowhere and is cut, badly, in mid-yelp to the next scene.  It's jarring, jarring editing and I would be really surprised if Kubrick did it.

I would also be surprised if, during the scenes where Bill is riding and walking through New York tormented by his wife's Thinkin', thinkin', thinkin'; that boy is always thinkin'....confession, S.K. really wanted grainy monochrome shots of a naked Alice being amorous with a hunky Naval officer.  Yeah, sure, he filmed them (probably, unless you want to put Tom and Nicole in on the conspiracy) but it wouldn't be the first chunk of footage Kubrick shot and then realized didn't work.  He may have intended to intercut it during Alice's confession and then dropped that idea when he got such great footage out of Nicole (all those academy members wanting to keep Oscar out of a scientologist's hands might have real trouble this year).   But why put it in those sequences with Bill thinking?  Tom Cruise does some amazing wordless acting in this movie.  When he's riding and walking around troubled, you know what he's thinking.  The guy is as clear as glass.  Why would Kubrick do such cowardly intercutting?  It seems like the sort of thing, ahem, a nervous studio that wants a hit might do.  I'm no Kubrick scholar, but does anyone remember him choosing to show what somebody's thinking?  He's a master of the enigmatic face, isn't he?

Anyway, I ignored most of the hoopla about this movie and skipped most of the articles but one or two (which was really one or two too many).  Eyes Wide Shut moves really slowly, but not as slowly as you might think.  I was surprised that it had been almost three hours when I got out of the theater, although it helps that Kubrick throws in thriller like elements as he goes on.

Great acting, but we still have no handle on the characterIn fact, Eyes Wide Shut is basically three movies.  The first part is a relationship film covering Bill and Alice, the second part is sort of a dark comedy that reminded me a lot of Scorsese's great After Hours, and the third part is a paranoia inducing thriller.  The problem is that none of these parts are developed enough while simultaneously being overly long and draggy.  The relationship part is kind of rough because the first three scenes with Nicole Kidman she is (a) on the can; (b) drunk off her ass; and (c) stoned.  Although her acting in all of these sections is exemplary, there's no real chance for the audience to get a grip on who Alice is when she's not in such atypical circumstances.  The After Hours part is kind of draggy because there's no typical plot driven action; Bill is sort of wandering about, floundering and caught.  At least Scorsese and his screenwriter made things speed along in After Hours to keep the audience disoriented.

And in the third part, which I found the most satisfying, Kubrick sort of had dealt himself a losing hand.  You see, when you put a mystery/thriller in the last third of the movie, a filmmaker pretty much has two choices to wrap things up without looking simplistic and pat; either have the movie end unhappily or have the movie end ambiguously.  This didn't detract too much from the goings on, however; the masked orgy is a masterpiece of creepiness and disturbing images.  Top it off with an entirely disturbing extract of Musica Ricerata No. 2 on piano, and you get some haunting, haunting stuff.  I thought it was no Blair Witch Project, mind you, but it does distress.

Ultimately, although a few particular images have stayed with me, and my joking thoughts of conspiratorial doings behind the film have kept me thinking about the movie longer than I might have normally, there is little mistaking Eyes Wide Shut for what it actually is:  the best shot, most intelligently assembled episode of Red Shoe Diaries ever.

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All written material on these pages is © 1999 by Jeff Lester. With the exception of non-profit distribution, all other rights are reserved.