By Philip Newton (England)
The final work from celebrated director Stanley Kubrick has all the touches which captivated us with his celebrated offerings such as A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey. And although Eyes Wide Shut never reaches those lofty heights of splendour both through artistic vision or sheer cultural impact, it still leaves its mark as a legacy to a master craftsman with an innate ability in creating mood and atmosphere.
The film centres on two great central performances from at that time Hollywood’s golden couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as married big shot’s in New York William and Alice Harford. He’s a physician and she is a gallery manager, they have both success and wealth at their fingertips making them very eligible to mix in very sophisticated social circles. This is where they’re supposed ideal marriage gets put to the test when during a party they both flirt and dance with sexual temptation, leading to a later argument the two have over infidelity leading to Alice revealing her once betrayal of William in an affair she once had. This leads to William venturing out into the night and also venturing into an exploration of sexual desire a world which has a dark side and makes William as well as Alice question what they are becoming.
If you are at all familiar with Kubrick’s work then immediately from the first frame you are aware that this has his unique style written all over it. The way the camera uses long takes, or pans along with characters with an almost direct sense of where he positions his actors in frame, in accordance to where everything else is positioned. His films are a lot of the time a collection of delightfully enticing scenes where so much is being said in a very subtle manner.
This is where the film works as part thriller; part dream like fantasy, the earlier scenes in particular move from one surreal experience to the other, all with the same theme of sexual temptation. They are all disconnected moments in many respects however all work because they are so well conceived and executed. A couple of scenes in particular involve random characters flirting with William; they are subtle however and are also truly evident with their intent. The camera often remains in mid shot and the camera just stays with the shot. It almost plays out like voyeurism with us as an audience feeling seduced by the sheer sexual desire of its characters. There is no explanation why the characters are behaving this way but with Kubrick no explanation is necessary we feel and share the desire like its characters, the dream like fantasy has hypnotised us.
The classical musical score also adds to this which gives the film’s pace a rhythm and stylistic momentum almost like a dance, which we get swooped along with creating a unique sense of momentum. Kubrick does much with this as he did with A Clockwork Orange and 2001 making scenes almost operatic in tone creating not just a film with narrative but a truly one of a kind visual experience.
Performance wise the film is strong all round with Cruise playing an engaging hero, he exudes charm and unique flair. I believed he was a man in this experience and the unearthing of these sexual desires did not feel stagey or put on but organic, he is truly caught up in the moment. Kidman although with less screen time, is fully believable as being both sexy but also a loving wife despite her indiscretion.
Kubrick will always be remembered as a director whose pictures were also unique cinematic experiences, a prolific and visionary artist.