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Eyes Wide Shut   A

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael (based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Madison Eginton, Jackie Sawris, Sydney Pollack, Leslie Lowe, Peter Benson, Todd Field.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Stanley Kubrick's eerie and spellbinding final feature has been screwed over by Warner Bros. once again. After Kubrick's death just months before Eyes Wide Shut was set for release, Warner Bros. took it upon themselves to digitally alter the "orgy" scenes (by superimposing digital figures over the explicit action) in order to obtain an R rating from the MPAA. Kubrick was a perfectionist, an artist in the truest sense of the word, and he always supervised every aspect of his films. It's the ultimate disgrace that after he died, Warners decided to do as they pleased to maximize their profits and, in turn, make what still remains a very "adult" film more accessible to children. Now on video, Warner Bros. won't release a director's cut (not even on DVD!). Disgraceful bastards!

Okay, sorry, I'm done ranting. Let's talk about the movie.

Dr. William and Alice Harford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) are a happily married Manhattan couple who also have a young daughter. One night, after smoking some very good pot, Alice reveals that last summer while they were in Cape Cod, she had thoughts about cheating on him with a naval officer whom she saw a couple of times but never talked to. "I thought if he wanted me, only for one night, I was ready to give up everything," Alice tells him. The fact that Cruise and Kidman are married in real life only adds to the shocking potency of this scene. You can practically see Cruise's laid-back demeanor crumbling away, revealing his quiet jealous rage underneath.

Haunted by visions of his wife the naval officer, William takes to the streets of New York and begins a dreamlike odyssey that only gets more bizarre as the night progresses. He'll get multiple chances to cheat on his wife (with a pretty young hooker, a shopkeeper's teenage daughter, and even a gay hotel clerk), but the centerpiece of William's journey is an orgy in a mansion where everyone is wearing masks. This ranks among the most stunning sequences Kubrick has ever committed to film. You can't take your eyes off the screen, mesmerized by the haunting grandeur and the slowly creeping fear.

One of Kubrick's recurring themes was that of dehumanization, something he explored in A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. Here, he dehumanizes the sex in the orgy sequence with the use of masks, making it seem cold, mechanical, and unnatural. Kubrick's trademark tracking shots, wide angles, and perfectly composed frames are all here as well. The only modern director I can think of that comes to close to matching his skillful craftsmanship is Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), although they are two very different filmmakers.

In Eyes Wide Shut, there's the possibility of conspiracies and murders having been committed, but that's really beside the point. It's an unsettling examination of marital infidelity and sexual jealousy that ultimately serves as an emotional awakening for the couple involved. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are unforgettable here, and it's almost like you're peering into their very souls.

Since Eyes Wide Shut is practically an art film, mainstream audiences pretty much avoided it last summer when it was released in theaters. It's also very slow, but Kubrick's pacing is pure genius, pulling you in more and more each step of the way. If you just sit back and relax, you may find yourself wrapped up the film's hypnotic, immersive spell. This one stays with you, and it's a haunting legacy for one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Review published 03.10.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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