Eyes Wide Shut review

:. Director: Stanley Kubrick
:. Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
:. Running Time: 2:20
:. Year: 1999
:. Country: USA

First off all, let's say that Eyes Wide Shut has little to do with the onslaught of publicity that preceded it.While the intention is sexual, the treatment is cold and intellectual rather than physical or sensual. In fact, one can easily recognize Kubrick's style (cold lights, long scenes..) and this film won't necessarily shock straight-asses and conservatives any more than the Stanley Kubrick's previous creations.

Without talking about a cinematographic testament, one can't help notice that for his last film, Kubrick decided to quote himself, to refer to his earlier films. Some of the winks are really obvious (Lolita), while others are more subtle to amuse the amateur [from the lunch with the mom and the kid in front of tv cartoons referring to The Shining to Cruise shopping as the camera shhots him with a backward travelling, reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange (Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) doesn't shop for music tapes, but does wear a long coat similar to Alex's)]. The film doesn't look like Kubrick's cinematographic conclusion, but rather like a generator of endless loops (and reminds us of Alex's fixed look in the opening of A Clockwork Orange, resumed by Jack in The Shining and by Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, we could wonder if these loops were not already inherent of this filmography) - Eyes Wide Shut's structure being built around loops.

The Loops

All the film elements (secondary stories, time and space) appear for the first time and are then repeated, opened and then closed:

  •  When he asks where the girls are taking him, they reply "where the rainbow ends" - it's at Rainbow Fashions that he will buy his disguise that would allow him to access group sex;
  •  during Mandy's (Julienne Davis) first O.D, Bill tells her "you're a very very lucky girl" and on the paper from which he will learn about the second O.D, the headline is: Lucky to be alive;

    In the same way, Bill's itinerary (who seems to be in constant travelling) functions in loops: he comes back a second time at all the points of his wandering. [Victor Ziegler's house (Sydney Pollack), the bar where Nightingale (Todd Field) plays the piano, Somerton (the place of the orgy), Domino's appartement, Rainbow Fashions, etc.]. Space and events cross-check, close in on themselves, the spectator cannot consider any of them as being objective. This is not an absent narrator that relates of Bill's comings and goings, it is obvious that we are running through the one of the characters' substance of his fantasies (awake or asleep) (we will talk about that later).

    A dreamed logic

    The events shown to the spectator are the subjective perceptions of one of the characters, these perceptions working according to a dreamed logic rather than a rational and concrete one (dreams explaining the systematic repetitions ; recurrent dreams or fantasies). Fantasy, even when strange and disconcerting, takes its roots in the known and it is as a cross-reference to Bill and Alice's appartment and to Alice (Nicole Kidman) herself that is the narrative framework. This is particularly the case of the use of paintings (although the Christmas tree has almost the same use). Inspite of the fact that Bill visits lots of places, the spectator can doubt about their multiplicity ; isn't he only visiting the rooms of an art gallery ? Eveywhere, walls are saturated with paintings referring to the Harford's appartment and especially to Alice (the gallery is hers - "I used to manage an art gallery in Soho" she tells her Hungarian dance partner). From the beginning to the end, Bill is the prisonner of this labyrinth gallery in which each room has its own movement (abstraction in the hospital halls ; impressionnism in Bill and Alice's apartment ; portraits in Ziegler's pool room ; etc.). Some spaces are in the direct continuity of the others :

  •  When he enters a café, Bill passes under a Christmas decoration that is also outside of Ziegler's pool room (the café also features portraits);
  •  the tapestry (golden lily flowers on blue background) in a hall outside Bill and Alice's apartment is the same as in Marion's** bedroom (Marie Richardson); etc.

    Spaces as the situations they host are undoubtly generated by a mind intrinsic to the story. The main concern is to know which one - is it Bill or Alice's fantasies that are weaving the story ? It's blurry. Even if this text favors one of them, we do not believe there is a unique abswer to this question, each answer offering interesting thoughts on the nature of the couple.

    Answer #1 : Alice's fantasies

    "If you men only knew". Angry at her husband for under-estimating female sexuality (to disregard her fantasmagoric imagination), Alice gives him a visit of her museum of perversions (maybe a variation on the wonderland - she indeed likes to glare at mirrors*** the little Alice). This hypothesis places Alice as the generator of Bill's adventures and the art gallery as a reflect of her interiority (of her cervicality).

    What we see from Alice in the movie lets us believe in the pertinence of this approach. Sitting at a table, she smokes, reads the paper with distraction, or wraps gifts having time to daydream. Twice (of course) Bill comes back to the house and Alice wakes up (therefore she was dreaming) and she tells him her dreams, which correspond to Bill's almost same adventures (while he is coming back from the orgy, she describes a similar scene - both situations ending in Bill's humiliation).

    The mask is very important, symbolizing theater, it is a denunciation of unreal fantasy. Bill is only an actor in the orgy set by Alice, she imagines as him jealous of her naval officer because it is what she would like him to be ("Why haven't you ever been jealous about me ?"). Ziegler directly addresses the spectator when he says : "Suppose I tell you that all of that was staged [...] that it was fake" (this also at Ziegler's that the spectator finds the first clue of Bill's fake reality: Mandy, drugged and lying in the red coach is also in the painting in the background). The mask is then associated to Alice's sleep to emphasize that.

    Answer #2 : Bill's fantaisies

    After his wife tells him about the naval officer, Bill has a jealousy crisis. Tortured, he turns to his own extraconjugal desires. This second hypothesis places Bill as a generator of his own story and the art gallery as a reflect of the prison in which his wedding is jailed. Wherever he goes, he feels his wife's ascendancy, he feels watched and guilty [he will never be able to commit adultery - and his feeling of guilt will explode when he discovers her asleep by the mask ( evidence of the games he played)]. In this approach, the mask, Ziegler's speech and the painting representing Mandy have almost the same function. What is interesting is Bill's incapacity to fulfiil anything with the girls that he meets. As guilty, he makes himself endure an asexual role, what he was thinking about women: he is the one who needs security and feels menaced by the imminent sexual act [he must leave the orgy without having tasted it, feeling his life is in danger; he refrains from making love to Domino (however he pays $150) and avoids to dying of AIDS]. The "To be continued" Bill tells the girls when he has to leave to go cure Mandy, lets suppose he is conscious enough to own a certain control of the story - if we suppose they are Somerton's guests.

    "The important thing is - we're awake now"

    With its mosaic of places and characters, paintings and references to Kubrick's previous films (without forgetting the disguise exhibit at Rainbow Fashions), Eyes Wide Shut is simply a museum-film. Complex, intelligent and open to a lot of different interpretations, one can't help to go back see it again (and again).

      Sebastian Sipat
    *       It seems that one sees it in the ruins of Hue (Full Metal Jacket) a rock that strangely ressembles a monolith - information that we have not verified.
    **  Thanks to Cynthia Collette for having underlined this element.
    ***  Thanks to Nicolas Handfield for pointing out the use of mirrors in the film.

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