Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut
   Warner Bros. , 159 minutes, 1999. Producer: Stanley Kubrick; Director: Kubrick; Screenplay: Kubrick, based on a novella by Arthur Schnitzler; Cinematographer: Larry Smith; Assistant Director: Brian W. Cook; Art Director: John Fenner and Kevin Phipps; Set Decoration: Lisa Leone and Terry Wells; Costume Design: Marit Allen; Makeup: Robert McCann; Sound: Paul Conway; Special Effects: Garth Inns and Charles Staffell; Production Assistant: Nelson Pena; Editor: Nigel Galt; Cast: Tom Cruise (Dr. William “Bill” Harford), Nicole Kidman (Alice Harford), Madison Eginton (Helana Harford), Jackie Sawiris (Roz), Sydney Pollack (Victor Ziegler), Leslie Lowe (Illona), Peter Benson (bandleader), Todd Field (Nick Nightingale), Michael Doven (Ziegler’s secretary), Sky Dumont (Sandor Szavost), Louise J. Taylor (Gayle), Stewart Thorndike (Nuala), Randall Paul (Harris), Julienne Davis (Mandy), Lisa Leone (Lisa), Kevin Connealy (Lou Nathanson), Marie Richardson (Marion), Thomas Gibson (Carl), Mariana Hewett (Rosa), Gary Goba (naval officer),Vinessa Shaw (Domino), Florian Windorfer (Maître D’, Café Sonata), Rade Serbedzija (Milich), Leelee Sobieski (Milich’s daughter), Sam Douglas (cabdriver), Angus MacInnes (gateman \#1), Fay Masterson (Sally), and Phil Davies (stalker), Leon Vitali (Red Cloak), Abigail Good (mysterious lady), Alan Cumming (hotel desk clerk).
   STANLEY KUBRICK sometimes nursed ideas over long periods before he was able to bring them to fruition. In an essay he wrote in 1960, shortly after finishing the historical epic SPARTACUS, he stated, “I know I would like to make a film . . . of a contemporary story that really gave a feeling of the times, psychologically, sexually. I would like to make that more than anything else. And it’s probably going to be the hardest film to make. ” A decade later, in a 1971 interview with Michael Hofsess,Kubrick was more specific; he mentioned that he planned to do an adaptation of TRAUMNOVELLE (Dream Story), a novella that the Viennese novelist and playwright ARTHUR SCHNITZLER published in 1926. Nearly three decades later, the controversial novella, which deals with sexual obsession and jealousy in 19th-century Vienna, became Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The film’s title is a reference to the novella’s title, in that “eyes wide shut” suggests a dream, or “seeing with your eyes closed. ” Although he lived for more than three decades in Britain, the bulk of Kubrick’s films have American settings. Thus he transplanted his last film from Vienna to New York City, and he updated the story to the present as well. Kubrick delivered the final cut to WARNER BROS. only four days before his death on March 7, 1999.
   Kubrick’s last film focuses on Dr. William (Bill) Harford (TOM CRUISE) who jeopardizes his marriage to Alice (NICOLE KIDMAN) by making a foray into the unsavory netherworld of New York City. Early in the movie Alice confesses to Bill a sexual fantasy she had the previous summer about a young naval officer to whom she was passionately attracted. In a fit of jealousy Bill walks out of the apartment and prowls the shadowy streets, where he is tempted more than once to have a sexual encounter with provocative strangers. Bill’s nightmarish journey is climaxed by his attending a grotesque masked ball, which is really a satanic bacchanal, in a forbidding mansion on Long Island.
   It is, in fact a black mass, a mockery of Roman Catholic ritual presided over by an imposing figure (Leon Vitali) dressed in the scarlet robes of a cardinal. (His forbidding, imperious manner suggests the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition of centuries past. ) Bill is inevitably exposed as an interloper at the pagan orgy and fears for his life—until a masked prostitute mysteriously offers to sacrifice herself for him. The presiding “cardinal” decrees that Bill’s punishment for intruding on the saturnalian rite will be visited upon the prostitute as his proxy. The following night, the sinister Victor Ziegler (SYDNEY POLLACK), informs Bill that he spied him at the orgy and warns him against again invading the revelries of the dissolute rich. Ziegler coolly mentions that the prostitute who offered to redeem Bill succumbed after the orgy to a drug overdose—she did not die as a result of paying for his life with her own. Ziegler ends by urging Bill to put the whole experience behind him, observing cynically, “Life goes on. It always does, until it doesn’t. ” Some reviewers complained that Ziegler’s long speech to Bill explains too much. On the contrary, it Tom Cruise, Stanley Kubrick, Larry Smith (far right) and Julienne Davis (lying down) in Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (Kubrick estate) explains nothing conclusively. As Jonathan Rosenbaum notes, Ziegler is the only thoroughly evil character in the film, although his evil comes “wrapped in impeccable manners. ” His unambiguously corrupt nature points to the unreliability of all that he says. Indeed, there is a good chance that he reassures Bill that the prostitute died of an overdose solely in order to discourage Bill from telling the police that he suspects that she was murdered. In fact, in the novella her corpse is dragged from the river where it had been dumped after she was poisoned in a smart hotel; so there is no doubt in the book that she was murdered at the behest of the wealthy sybarites at the orgy.
   At the denouement of Eyes Wide Shut, Bill confesses his sordid activities of the past 24 hours to Alice, as the only possible way of saving their marriage. He redeems himself by confessing his sins to his wife and begging her forgiveness, an act clearly fraught with spiritual meaning. Essentially, Eyes Wide Shut is about what happens when the trust between husband and wife is threatened, and what it takes to restore it when it is damaged. It is heartening to think that Kubrick’s final film concludes on a note of hope and reconciliation; the last sequence ranks among the most touching scenes that he ever directed. This is all the more impressive when one considers that happy endings in Kubrick films are scarce.
   The unsavory incidents of debauchery and drug addiction in the film exemplify the jabs at the modern world which punctuate the picture, and they further indicate that in his last film, at the close of a dazzling career, Stanley Kubrick was still intent on taking the temperature of a sick society. Eyes Wide Shut received a mixed reception when it premiered in the summer of 1999. In his roundup of critical opinion about the film, Matt Mueller dismissed the movie as a musty tale “exhumed from a bygone era of Freudian fascination”; at the other end of the spectrum, Glenn Kenny deemed Eyes Wide Shut an “uncanny masterpiece. ”
   More than one critic hazarded that, had Kubrick lived to see it through postproduction, he might have left a film more worthy to stand with his other works. On the contrary, all of the documentation about the film, including published interviews with individuals involved in the production, indicate that the final print which Kubrick delivered to Warner Bros. shortly before his demise was for all intents and purposes the film he wanted to release. He personally made a minor alteration in the orgy sequence in order to satisfy the censor and ensure that the movie would receive an R rating, since he was contractually obligated to obtain an R for the picture. Tom Cruise told Time magazine that “there is nothing in the picture that Stanley didn’t approve. ” Some critics, who surmised that Eyes Wide Shut would have been a better picture had Kubrick lived to polish it further, were arguably indulging in the sort of special pleading which the film does not need. Several major critics lauded the film when it was released in July 1999, pointing to Tom Cruise’s and Nicole Kidman’s nuanced performances, and singled out film director Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) for his chilling performance as the dissolute Victor Ziegler. Richard Schickel deemed the movie “Kubrick’s haunting final masterpiece”; and Janet Maslin, who placed Eyes Wide Shut on the New York Times list of the 10 best films of 1999, hailed it upon release by saying that “Mr. Kubrick left one more brilliantly provocative tour de force as his epitaph. ” The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Wilmington went further still: In granting Eyes Wide Shut his highest rating of four stars, he affirmed that “the great filmmaker’s last feature is a spellbinder, provocatively conceived, gorgeously shot and masterfully executed. ” Perhaps the editors of Sight and Sound had the last word: In introducing their special Kubrick issue, published on the occasion of the release of Eyes Wide Shut, they opined that any thought-provoking film by a director whose work has been central to what we think of as great cinema since the 1950s deserves—and repays—the careful consideration of every serious filmgoer.
   Although Eyes Wide Shut was released after Kubricks death; it seems that he anticipated the mixed reception accorded the film in an interview with Francis Clines in 1987, when he said,“My films have all had varying critical opinion when they were released, and it’s always been subsequent critical reaction that settles the score. ” It is safe to bet that, in time, the movie will be recognized as one of Kubrick’s richest works. As film director Keith Gordon (A Midnight Clear) put it in 2000, “Like all of Kubrick’s films, Eyes Wide Shut will rise in stature. ”
   ■ Clines, Francis, “Stanley Kubrick: An Interview,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 171–176;
   ■ Gross, Larry,“Too Late the Hero:Eyes Wide Shut,Sight and Sound, Special Kubrick Issue, 9 (n. s. ), no. 9 (September 1999): 20–23;
   ■ Herr, Michael, Kubrick (New York: Grove Press, 2000), pp. 73–96;
   ■ Kubrick, Stanley, “Director’s Notes,” in Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick, ed. Mario Falsetto (New York: G. K. Hall, 1996), pp. 23–25;
   ■ Kubrick, Stanley, and Frederic Raphael, Eyes Wide Shut:A Screenplay;
   ■ Maslin, Janet,“Bedroom Odyssey: Eyes Wide Shut, New York Times, July 16, 1999, sec. B, pp. 1, 18;
   ■ Peacock, Richard, The Art of Moviemaking From Script to Screen (Upper Saddle River,N. J. : Prentice-Hall, 2001), pp. 234, 524;
   ■ Raphael, Frederic, Eyes Wide Open:A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999);
   ■ Rosenbaum, Jonathan,“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: Eyes Wide Shut,Chicago Reader, July 23, 1999, sec. 1, pp. 46–49;
   ■ Schickel, Richard, “All Eyes on Them: Eyes Wide Shut,” Time, July 5, 1999, pp. 66–74;
   ■ Wilmington, Michael, “Eyes Wide Shut,” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1999, sec. 7, pp. A, F–G.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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