Eyes Wide Shut, USA, 1999
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
In the twelve years since its release, Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut has developed a substantial cult following, in spite of, or maybe thanks to a rocky reception from critics and audiences during its release in July 1999.
It is an incredibly complex film, but screams out to be picked apart like a piece of meat devoured by vultures. I read Michael Herr’s brief memoir “Kubrick” recently and outside of the fact that it is an incredibly positive and optimistic view of Kubrick and his personality and particularly his films (Herr practically jerked himself off to every single one of Kubrick’s films, attempting to hide his overwhelming prejudice by calling several of his movies ‘flawed masterpieces’), he also commented heavily on Eyes Wide Shut in the last chapter of the book. His comments were interesting, particularly because I am a fan of the film, so its nice to see someone defend it, but he also said that Kubrick undoubtedly would have continued to fine tune the film even until the week of its release, because that’s just how he edited his films, until the last possible moment.
There are some who say that Kubrick loved Eyes Wide Shut and considered it his best work, others say its an impossibility that he would have held it in such high regard because it was unfinished and the first official final cut was completed days before his death, meaning in the months between this initial completion and the time of its release four months later, its unquestionable that Kubrick would have made further edits, cutting it down from its 159 minute release length to possibly something in the 140 minute range (similar to what he did with 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film originally running at a 160 minutes, and ending at a 141 after cuts following test screenings).
Kubrick was too smart, and more importantly, too much of a perfectionist, not to make further edits. The film that stands is indeed a flawed masterpiece, because it is a film that contains too much detail, and too much detail creates false tension, and false tension only drags the story along like a carriage dragging a dead body behind it through a dusty city street in the old west.
It is most definitely a Kubrick film. It’s a mind bogglingly enigmatic movie, with more questions than answers, perhaps because there are no answers to the questions that Kubrick invents for the audience. Whether he did this intentionally or because, as an artist, he was past his prime, is up to debate. It has been twelve years since the film’s release, and while there has been much debate over the film’s mystery and intrigue, it still has not generated the interest that his previous films have, such as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, or Full Metal Jacket.
Kubrick never lived to respond to his critics or to audiences after the release of Eyes Wide Shut. Nor was he around for the backlash to the movie and its lack of sex, which is what everyone expected out of the film. The interesting part is that there is plenty of nudity and sex in the film, and it is highly erotic. Even though there are no sex scenes between its stars, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Kidman is nonetheless nude for half the time she is on-screen. There are countless scenes of female nudity, and even an extended sequence of non-stop fucking at an underworld orgy party held for the rich and famous at a secluded mansion.
Kubrick’s main mistake during the making of this film is excess. Even though he had employed extreme measures in the makings of all his films since he moved to England in the 60s and started making movies there. He had spent four years making 2001, he spent three years making Barry Lyndon (his consolation project after the failure to make Napoleon, dubbed “The greatest film never made”). He shot The Shining, a movie set in Colorado, in England, his choice of place for filming. It took Kubrick nearly seven years to direct Full Metal Jacket, a Vietnam war film that he once again painstakingly shot in England, where he literally transformed a sect of London into a Vietnam look-alike.
It was a dozen years before Eyes Wide Shut was finally completed. Filming took place over the course of an excruciating 18 months, an insane amount of time for a movie’s filming. The movie takes place entirely in New York City, a very distinct, and unique and large metropolis that cannot be duplicated, not even by the greatest master of filmmaking and art. This was one of the most common complaints by critics, that the sets were poorly designed, and the city landscape was not believable enough.
Of course, that might just add to the surrealistic tone of the film, the fact that the whole city set was only two or three blocks, so you would see the same street signs and stores in the background even though the character has supposedly traveled many miles to a different location. The film is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story, and dreams are a theme that runs constant during the film. Many say that the movie is entirely a dream; some argue it is just a skewed, somewhat unrealistic version of reality. The only person, who can properly answer this question, and others, died nearly half a year before the film’s release.
Stanley Kubrick was 70 years old when he passed away. Kubrick was not a big believer in God, but he was born Jewish and in Jewish history, the number 70 has a large significance. Most importantly, it is the age at which King David, a savior of the Jews, died at. In fact, David was not supposed to live at all. Adam, the first man created was supposed to live forever, but after sinning by eating the apple, God only granted him 1,000 years of life. Adam foresaw a great man who had the potential to save the Jewish people but was going to die at birth, and decided to give this man 70 years of his own life. Thus, Adam lived to be 930 years, and allowed David a life until 70. This is not meant to be a comparison to David or Adam or any religious figure, or man of God. It is simply a coincidence that the two men both lived to be 70.
Stanley Kubrick is probably the greatest filmmaker that will ever exist. It is because there exists more questions than answers, not only in the filmmaking world, but also in the world of the general population. But for Kubrick, it was the other way around. He had more answers than questions, and it’s a reason why he tortured his writers and actors during the production of his films. He knew something they didn’t, and that’s the entire issue at hand. We want to know exactly what it was he knew that we didn’t. It might explain his movies a little better. It might also explain this world a little better, a world that perhaps he figured out, and was trying desperately, and frustratingly to explain to us through his work.