Photo: ‘Eyes Wide Shut’
The late and undoubtedly great Stanley Kubrick passed away on March 7, 1999. This was a fact that was well established in Kubrick’s mind and something which he gave major thought to as he started to write his last film, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, with Frederic Raphael based on the novel Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. With this loose adaptation of a cryptic novel, Kubrick strove to create without a doubt his darkest film in an already dark filmography with films like ‘The Shining’ that are full of blood, murder, and sexual assault.
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However, Kubrick did not take the easy route with his and Frederic Raphael’s screenplay which ran over an astounding 150 pages. Instead, he decided to take the film in a surrealist direction and fill it to the brim with mystery, intrigue, and suspense around every corner. In addition to this Kubrick adds many reproachful undertones and layers to craft a portrait of humanity that is rarely seen on film.
Going into this project Kubrick was well aware that it would be his last. So, naturally, Kubrick would have wanted to make something impactful and something that could resonate not just with one small group but with the world as a whole. And without the constraints of public criticism, Kubrick sought to do just that. He made a film that portrays who we are and what we value as human beings, and he took no shortcuts to get there. Because of this, the film can be seen as quite inaccessible, but after a couple, or even a few hundred viewings, one can finally start to construct fully what Kubrick meant to say. But again this is no easy or simple task.
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‘Eyes Wide Shut’ must be approached with an open mind, otherwise, the viewer will run into a mental brick wall the second the film leaves the conventional and enters into the realm of erotic weirdness which permeates from every pore of this film and screenplay following the first act. Because of this, unsurprisingly, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ did not exceed expectations at the global box office and its critical reception was left divided, to say the least. Some critics did not hold back in their criticisms against the film calling it incomprehensible, a pretentious disaster, and an overall lackluster final film of a legendary director’s career.
But after two decades the majority of the film community’s views of the once admonished feature had shifted and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ began to be seen as what it was when it came out back in 1999. That is, a disturbingly dark and decrepit view of us as people who when the cards are down return to our animalistic instincts we so commonly associate with our ape ancestors. But in order to see this interpretation unfold on the silver screen, the viewer must give in to the world that Kubrick creates and subject themselves to one crazy two hours and thirty-nine minutes.
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The darkest of nightmares: a film that manages to carry its heavy and surreal weight through its beautiful visuals, dramatic score, and mix of important messages
The extended runtime of the film is most assuredly not gone to waste. Complete with extravagant set design and a turn away from the typical “shot reverse shot” sequences seen in most films, Kubrick manages with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ to craft something that not only feels different but that looks different as well. Set in the middle of beautiful Manhattan with the lights constantly lighting up the scene at all hours during Tom Cruise’s midnight journey as Bill Hartford, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ nearly looks and feels like a period piece with the elegant living spaces of the top 1% on full display.
The effect is so well done that some may even forget that they are watching ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and not another Kubrick masterpiece by the name of ‘Barry Lyndon’. In addition to this, Kubrick and cinematographer Larry Smith set up a distinct visual style with the camerawork as there is a constant use of long one takes throughout the film where the camera ceases to cut. This all occurs as Cruise delivers a mastercraft in acting confused and mentally disheveled as his night progresses, just as film does, to get stranger and stranger with every passing minute.
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In addition to this, the value and importance of the music in this film cannot be understated. The film is chock full of jazz and classical rhythms which literally open the film on Cruise’s radio and carry us through the film past masked and unmasked parties alike. The theme of the film which was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich specifically sticks with the viewer long after the credits roll with its methodical and haunting notes which perfectly synchronize with Kubrick’s desired dreamy tone.
Kubrick worked further to maintain and uphold this tone throughout the film by constantly introducing new elements to the viewer. With additions of a mysterious man stalking Cruise along with cryptic notes and other scenes which simply do not make any logical sense Kubrick manages to sustain this tone with a vice grip that never falters throughout ‘Eyes Wide Shut’s’ long but worthwhile runtime.
Finally, the film maintains its societal importance and is most well known for today by its complete disregard for cultural taboos which are seen and respected in the vast majority of other films out on the open market today. In ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ Kubrick does something completely different and makes the majority of his counter-culture film about sex, drugs, and money. In every masterfully constructed frame there are signs of wealth, whether it’s something as simple as Cruise or Nicole Kidman’s fanciful wardrobes or as complex as Cruise tipping a taxi driver much more than is necessary.
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Adding to this Kubrick essentially makes the entire film about sexual relations between a man and his potentially unfaithful wife. Cruise is haunted throughout the film by visions of his wife with another man and mentally completely caves in on himself as he starts to question everything around him. Every single thing which at one time seemed simple to Cruise is now not so ordinary and Cruise begins to break internally along with strands of his own reality. This is all masterfully executed by Cruise, Kubrick, Kidman, and everyone else on the cast and crew of the film with the Guinness record for the longest active film shoot at 15 long and grueling months.
Stanley Kubrick’s dark and decrepit masterpiece ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ today and how it is viewed during the modern age in the film community and in society as a whole
Today ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is certainly not as talked about as some of Kubrick’s other filmmaking gems, including but most definitely not limited to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘The Shining’, and ‘A Clockwork Orange’. But maybe that should change. There is no doubt that ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ remains in the same league as the films just mentioned and that it deserves its place in the lexicon of society as one of Kubrick’s best and least endearing works towards humans as people. The conversation in recent times has begun to shift in the right direction in terms of the observed importance of Kubrick’s last film but ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ still does not hold its rightful place as not only one of Kubrick’s best and certainly his darkest, but also as one of the greatest thrillers and commentaries of society ever put to film. Tom Cruise will be seen in the new ‘Mission Impossible – Dead reckoning Part One’ alongside Hayley Atwell, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg. Nicole Kidman can be watched in the upcoming film ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ with Jason Mamoa, Willem Dafoe, and Patrick Wilson.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Cinematography: Larry Smith | Editor: Nigel Galt | Producers: Brian W. Cook, Jan Harlan, Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael, Arthur Schnitzler
By Nathaniel Lee
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