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Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - Stanley Kubrick

Related: Stanley Kubrick - Arthur Schnitzler - 1999 - American film

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - Stanley Kubrick [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


It was inevitable that Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut would be the most misunderstood film of 1999. Kubrick died four months prior to its release, and there was no end to speculation how much he would have tinkered with the picture, changed it, "fixed" it. We'll never know. But even without the haunting enigma of the director's death--and its eerie echo/anticipation in the scene when Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) visits the deathbed of one of his patients--Eyes Wide Shut would have perplexed and polarized viewers and reviewers. After all, virtually every movie of Kubrick's post-U.S. career had; only 1964's Dr. Strangelove opened to something approaching consensus. Quite apart from the author's tinkering, Kubrick's movies themselves always seemed to change--partly because they changed us, changed the world and the ways we experienced and understood it. And we may expect Eyes Wide Shut to do the same. Unlike Kubrick himself, it has time.

So consider, as we settle in to live with this long, advisedly slow, mesmerizing film, how challenging and ambiguous its narrative strategy is. The source is an Arthur Schnitzler novella titled Traumnovelle (or "Dream Story"), and it's a moot question how much of Eyes Wide Shut itself is dream, from the blue shadows frosting the Harfords' bedroom to the backstage replica of New York's Greenwich Village that Kubrick built in England. Its major movement is an imaginative night-journey (even the daylight parts of it) taken by a man reeling from his wife's teasing confession of fantasized infidelity, and toward the end there is a token gesture of the couple waking to reality and, perhaps, a new, chastened maturity. Yet on some level--visually, psychologically, logically--every scene shimmers with unreality. Is everything in the movie a dream? And if so, who is dreaming it at any given moment, and why?

Don't settle for easy answers. Kubrick's ultimate odyssey beckons. And now the dream is yours. --Richard T. Jameson, Amazon.com


The storyline follows the surreal, possibly imagined, sexual adventures and misadventures of Bill (Cruise), in shock after his wife, Alice, (Kidman) reveals that she has considered an affair, and culminates in his admittance to a bizarre orgy held in a mysterious castle. The orgy sequence contains some of the most explicit portrayals of consensual sex in mainstream cinema.


Kubrick's films often deal with the subconscious and the impulses of the Id. When the savage impulses of "the Shadow" (from the psychological theories of Carl Jung), are not integrated with the conscious life, madness results. Kubrick said that he was interested profoundly in the Shadow (the archetype of the savage) and how it emerges despite civilization. In "Eyes Wide Shut," Alice (Nicole Kidman) expresses her fantasy affair to Bill (Tom Cruise) after the couple had been to a party where Bill had treated a prostitute for an overdose. Bill's old friend Nick (Todd Field) tells him about a sexual underworld where men of absolute power have an absolute access to women, and Bill decides to explore this world. He moves into the circle of the Shadow, and he sees the ruthless, remorseless, and violent nature of power as sex and sex as power. He views the naked masculinity of the subconscious, through a mask. He returns to his wife, confessing all (although he was never adulterous). At the end of the movie, she seems to forgive him and says that the two must immediately go home and have sex. In a sense, the couple has integrated their psyches. They have both seen and experienced their shadows and decided to go on.

Critical Response

Critics objected chiefly to two features of the film. First, the movie's pacing is slow. While this may have been intended to convey the nature of dreaming, critics objected that it simply made actions and decisions laborious. Second, reviewers commented on the fact that Kubrick had shot his New York City scenes in a studio and that New York didn't "look like New York." The MPAA, on the other hand, had a separate objection. The film was scheduled to receive an NC-17 rating for its full male nudity, and Warner Brothers digitally altered the film by inserting the silhouette of a "man in black" in an orgy scene. This digital figleaf moved and stood in such a way as to block the objectionable body part. This alteration of Kubrick's vision antagonized many cinephiles, as they argued that Kubrick had never been shy about ratings: A Clockwork Orange had an X-rating.

In contrast to their usual behaviour, the British Board of Film Classification allowed Eyes Wide Shut to be released to British cinemas without the need for the digital alterations seen in US cinemas. The film was rated 18, viewable only by those aged 18 and over. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyes_Wide_Shut [Oct 2004]

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