Friday, September 9, 2011

How Many Boobs Do You Need?

Film: Eyes Wide Shut
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Once upon a time, Nicole Kidman was a beautiful woman. I’m not sure precisely when she changed from beautiful woman into a botoxed mannequin with a frozen expression, but it happened sometime within the last few years. Evidence for just how damn pretty she was can be found in Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick’s last film.

Eyes Wide Shut was celebrated initially for several reasons. It was Kubrick’s final film, and Manly Stanley didn’t make too many films in the first place. Second, it starred real husband and wife couple Tom Cruise and the aforementioned Nicole Kidman. Third, this film ramped up the sexuality to just shy of porn levels (much of which was cut or digitally altered to ensure an R rating rather than the dreaded NC-17). So let’s jump in.

Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and his wife Alice (Kidman) are invited to a party being held by their friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). During the party, Bill recognizes a former medical school colleague named Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) playing the piano; we also learn that Nick dropped out of med school. During the party, Bill and Alice get separated. Alice dances with a charming and mildly seductive Hungarian named Sandor Szavost (Sky Dumont), who makes no secret of the fact that he would very much like to take her off in a private room and have his way with her.

At the same time, Bill is being aggressively pursued by a pair of nubile young women. Just as Bill is seriously reconsidering his marriage vows, he gets pulled away. It seems that Victor has already reconsidered his marriage vows, and the young woman (named Mandy, and played by Julienne Davis) he’s been sexing up has had a very bad reaction to the drugs she’s been shooting.

And so neither of the Harfords breaks their marriage vows, at least at this point. As Bill and Alice talk, though, it becomes an argument about the party. Bill is convinced that Alice would never be unfaithful to him, but she relates a story to him about a fantasy she had involving a young military man she saw on a previous vacation. And suddenly Bill becomes obsessed with thoughts of his wife’s possible infidelity.

From this point forward, Bill sinks into a world of sex. Significantly, he runs into Nick again, who tells him of a gig he has been taking regularly. An hour before his performance, he is given an address and a password. He goes and plays the piano, but must play blindfolded. At the last performance, the blindfold slipped, and he intimates that what is going on is a crazed sex party. Bill gets the password and runs off to find a costume, since everyone at the party wears cloaks and masks. At the costume shop, he discovers the owners daughter having sex with two Japanese gentlemen, and we discover later that the shop owner is essentially prostituting his daughter (Leelee Sobieski).

However, it’s the orgy in the middle of the film that caused all the controversy, raises all the eyebrows, and otherwise makes this film what it is. And it is an orgy, complete with something like a pagan ritual and tons of naked women. After the initial ceremony, Bill goes wandering through the giant house and sees, well, full-on sex acts being performed in every room, most of them with a fairly captive audience watching. However, it soon becomes evident that Bill does not belong there, and he is forced out. He returns home and discovers that Alice has been having dreams that are very similar to what he just witnessed.

And then shit gets really strange. Rather than get too detailed, let’s just go with this: sex, threats, death, more threats, disappearances, nudity, and sex.

This is a film that can be interpreted in any number of ways, I think. Certainly one can look at this as a sort of dark fantasy of Bill’s triggered by his wife’s mental infidelity. It does play that way in many respects—the fantasy that pushes Bill into this particular situation is both sexually interesting and arousing (the orgy) and sexually emasculating (Alice’s dream of having sex with countless men while Bill watches helplessly). But in many ways this can be interpreted as Alice’s dream as well. The frequent black-and-white shots of her having sex with the naval officer could easily be interpreted has her fantasy and not Bill’s thoughts.

It’s an interesting film in the sense that Kubrick is obviously using sex as the draw here, and there is a shit-ton of full-frontal female nudity in this film. I can easily see a bunch of guys watching it, or at least fast-forwarding to the “good parts” for the acres of boobs in the middle of the film. But Kubrick, while certainly willing to use those acres of boobs to get people into their seats, is certainly investigating more here. I’d suggest that regardless of whose dreams we are seeing here, this film is really in many ways looking at the sort of spiritual malaise of this group of insanely wealthy people who are evidently bored with their own existence. The sex is a cover for people looking for something more and grasping at sex. Alice and Bill need to work their way through this, or need to rediscover their own relationship, to survive.

Interesting and weird, but not my favorite Kubrick. Ultimately, the sex and the nudity becomes something not titillating, but grotesque. Of course, that may well have been the point after all.

Why to watch Eyes Wide Shut: Damn sexy, at least up to a point.
Why not to watch: It’s much longer than it needs to be.


  1. Why to mute it: that goddamn score. The clanging three notes of a piano over...and over...and over again. It's about all that I've retained from watching it - well, save for the boobs. :D

    I probably should watch it again some time, and I will eventually. But as of now, despite the many boobs, I don't care for this one at all.

  2. Good point. My thought throughout was that I could probably play the score for this film without any training on the piano.

    But yes, this goes to the bottom of my "Kubrick I want to watch again" list.

  3. I actually loved the score, and felt it was effective. Good review! I didn't think it was too long myself, though, but I have heard people say that many times.

  4. Sometimes the minimalist score can be very effective (as in Jaws), while other times it gets to a point of annoyance. This one drove me crazy after a bit, and there were times when I wanted to turn it off.

    I think there's about 30 minutes that could go here, but that's just me.

  5. Not sure how I'll fare with this one. I'm kind of in a love/hate relationship with Kubrick, and much heavier towards the latter. As of now, I've seen Full Metal Jacket (love half of it, could give or take the other half), Dr. Strangelove (didn't like or dislike), 2001 (mostly hated... but might strangely watch it again some day), A Clockwork Orange (really, really liked), and The Killing (disliked). The Shining is up next, and I expect to be more positive about that one. The only major ones left are this, Barry Lyndon, Spartacus, and Lolita.

  6. I have a tendency to really like Kubrick. I like FMJ, Strangelove, Clockwork and The Shining. I liked The Killing and Spartacus. I'm neutral on 2001, Eyes Wide Shut, and Barry Lyndon. I haven't seen Paths of Glory or Lolita yet.

  7. I don't have any complaints about the music, for me classical music makes a film have more longevity. Not one of my best-loved Kubrick films either-it tried to be really complex with the dream sequences, but the ending showed it to be quite a simple dilemma I think.

    A favourite of Kubrick's was the Italian film La Notte (1961), which you may have seen, the story shares some similarities, the deteriorating relationship between a husband and wife. I also read Kubrick was influenced by Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler-Eyes Wide Shut is based loosely on this story.

  8. I knew about the influence of Traumnovelle--I think in fact that Kubrick put a credit in that the film was based on it.

    I haven't seen La Notte yet, although it is on the list. I'll get to it eventually.

  9. I got "Eyes Wide Shut" from the library and watched it a couple of nights ago.

    I liked it well enough (and didn't consider it too long) but there's a couple of scenes early on where I think Tom Cruise is pretty bad. I always give him a chance because he's pretty damn good at times, but I felt him to be the weak link in this movie.

    Nicole Kidman was great! By the end, I was kinda wishing that she had been the one who was following the clues and infiltrating the sex cult.

    I also loved Leelee Sobieski and Fay Masterson in their little roles!

    I would never have guessed this was a Kubrick film! I've commented recently that there must be some editors who really love Flaherty and Ang Lee, and maybe they are a little over-represented on the List. Although I liked "Eyes Wide Shut" well enough, I still kinda feel that there's one too many Kubrick film.

    I'd get rid of it to make room for "Million Dollar Mermaid"!

    I have a friend who seems to have seen every Italian film ever made (from the 1960s and 1970s anyway) and he's also a huge fan of Kubrick. When I told him I was watching "Eyes Wide Shut," he told me to tread lightly because he would close his ears if I was too critical.

    He also said "Eyes Wide Shut" gets better every time you see it. I'll probably just have to take his word for that.

    1. This doesn't rank really high for me if I made an ordered list of Kubrick's films. It would make the top-10, but that's for several reasons. First, Kubrick only made 13 feature-length films and second, of the 11 I've seen, I liked this better than Barry Lyndon and Lolita at the very least. Since 10 of the 11 I've seen are on the List (The Killing didn't make the cut for some reason), I tend to agree that there are too many. I'd drop this and Lolita and add The Killing, which is truly great. Even though I didn't like Barry Lyndon, I get why it was included, although I could live without it if pressed.

      Ah, Leelee Sobieski, the poor man's Helen Hunt...