Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Line that stays with me: “And why haven't you ever been jealous about me?”
Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.
Stanley Kubrick is modern cinema’s most celebrated director. A God in most film circles, he’s the one to beat if you take this profession seriously. Big name directors like Michael Bay will be forgotten the minute another blockbuster director wows us with special effects. The films Kubrick made will continue to inspire, excite young filmmakers and guide them towards pushing the boundaries of cinema like he did. He is one of few directors to offer us journeys instead of plots, all with the extreme care of the likes we may never see again. It took him 400 days to shoot “Eyes Wide Shut” which sounds insane but the film is a masterpiece and it is filled with beauty in plentiful ways. Visually, I wouldn’t know where to start, watch the film on Blu-Ray and you will see what I mean. Shots planned to perfection with the production design overwhelming you at times or dragging you further into the moment Kubrick wanted us to experience. You also have a great score by Jocelyn Pook, which Stanley Kubrick uses for a hypnotic effect or to create a simply great suspense scene, like when Tom Cruise’s character Dr. Bill Harford believes he’s being followed. In order for me to write this essay without over writing I must get these pleasantries out the way. I can write a whole essay on the film’s visual beauty but this film to me is more about the very powerful ideas it wants to share about human beings, male and female.
Most films treat sex these days as eyes candy, cheap eroticism or mainly comedy. Very few films elaborate on our basic sexual human needs and their trappings. Mainly for it is something most people like to bury in the back of their minds. Unfortunately, in this day and age we can no longer behave that careless. I truly believe that’s one of the reasons Kubrick made this film, in a sense it is the ultimate human frontier. Kubrick, took us into the far reaches of space (2001: A Space Odyssey) the dark truths of youth revolt (Clockwork Orange) and the scary madness behind the powers that be. (Dr.Strangelove) Kubrick was a perfectionist extremist, a director who only made a film because he thought it mattered or had something to say. Never rushing his work but merely waiting for the right time to create a film that had true relevance. In 1998 this country had come to some very disturbing realizations, especially with the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. Yes, we have built a very comfortable modern society but the monster waiting in the dark for some was not terrorists but literally them. In a world where everything is so basic and routine, curiosity for more or the unknown becomes the real enemy. Many do not understand but I will make it plain, no generation has ever had the vast amount of sexual options that we have today. From the internet to the fact that we can travel the world much easier than ever before, sexual conquest is now available in ways generations before us could only dream. What will that sexual madness do to families or, everyday people who might realize a tad bit late that they want more? This is a very critical problem that has already affected this country in the last decade and it will only get worse. Divorces are running rampant and nobody wants to take care of their kids, they rather get laid.
I wish I was exaggerating about some of these issues but I know I am not. We make TV shows about these issues, “Jerry Springer”, “Maury” and “To Catch a Predator” to name a few shows making money off other people’s lack of sexual control. What I love about this film is the fact that it take us there not just to laugh but to have an honest, intelligent conversation about it. It slows you down and makes you realize you could easily fall too. The fact that we treat this issue as one big joke could be one of the reasons matters have gotten worse. Stanley Kubrick, was near his death while he was making this film and at times the film feels to me like having a conversation with a wise old man, who has some very basic things to say before he is no longer among us. It is also very special due to the fact that Kubrick’s films have always dealt with logic versus emotions. There is no better way to analyze this issue than with a married couple. Men have stern logic, woman are filled with emotions. Not everybody is the same, but I am merely speaking about the majority of people. It is the way we are built or brought up. That’s why I love that scene when Tom and Nicole argue after smoking pot. It is one of the most realistic “Couple arguing moments” I have ever seen on film. It started as a good time and ended with the couple speechless silenced by bleak confessions. If you have ever been in a truly serious relationship, one that you want to last forever, then I am pretty sure you know that feeling. I can watch that scene all day. It can make you laugh, stop, and think or drag you back to moments in your life that felt similar. Yes, this film tries to pierce our souls and if you are honest with yourself, there is very little chance you will walk away unaffected. You just have to watch it at the right time in your life. When I watched this film 10 years ago, I thought it was OK. Now it is like looking upon an ocean of truths, knowing some of those waves will one day reach my shores.
The film acts as a guide, a warning for men and women who want to open their eyes before it is too late. “Eyes Wide Shut” has the quiet anger of a man that knows that things are getting out of control, thus the scene with the young Leelee Sobieski. Let us start with a key question, is marriage important? I say yes and no. Yes for those who plan to take it seriously and raise their kids. No, to those lazy bastards out there who do not take care of their kids and leave it up to us to clean up their mess. Even worse that kid grows to be a murderer, shooting people in a movie theater for no reason. Parents are very pivotal to a society’s longevity, but in America we play the blame game so we never get down to brass task. If a child does something terrible, the parent is to blame. It is a parent’s job to teach their children right from wrong. If the parents have their heads up their ass, trying to behave childless, caught up in affairs and what have you. How much time and effort will that parent have to teach their child right from wrong? Being a parent has to be the hardest job in the world and lot of lazy people are having kids these days. In America it seems like everybody wants everything all at once. But as Chris Rock said “You can’t get your club on and your kid on at the same time”. We need great parents in this country, in order to reduce crimes and ugly events from happening. Thus the importance of marriage becomes one of the most confusing problems facing this modern age. We need successful marriages in order for the future generations to have a decent upbringing but dammit our bodies are not exactly built to make that sort of life easy to live.
“Eyes Wide Shut” probes this issue right from the beginning. Not only from a man’s point of view but from a woman’s point of view as well. In the majestic, at times almost dream like Christmas party scene (The aura of Christmas is very prominent throughout the film, which adds another layer to the reality/fantasy/desire and family themes) a half drunk Nicole Kidman, flirting for the thrill of it, dances with a Hungarian man, the elder gentleman tells her the reason women got married in the past. He says it was easiest way for women to lose their virginity and to sleep with the men they really wanted to sleep with. This film wants to make sure you understand the reality of marriage and marriage in America. That’s why it takes place in New York City, easily America’s most famous city. Also, the film has chosen our hero to be a Doctor, so intellectual and economical excuses will be rendered irrelevant. Dr. Bill Harford is an American man with no real problems who almost threw his entire life away for a moment of pleasure. There is no excuse for our hero’s behavior which makes the story much more powerful. It all stems from the basic needs and desires we all have as human beings. Men have a need to conquer and woman have a need to be conquered. Logic over emotions, no film has attacked this issue between men and women better than “Eyes Wide Shut”. In that classic argument scene Tom Cruise tries to explain to his wife why he wouldn’t want to sleep with somebody else. Nicole explodes in frustration saying something to the effect of “Why aren’t you ever jealous”. There you go. Do you see how crazy that sounds “Why aren’t you ever jealous?” Now any grown man who has lived can tell you he has heard that before. It doesn’t make any sense, Tom tells her he doesn’t get jealous, and Nicole gets upset because her emotions block her logic. Women love to be desired and unfortunately marriage brings staleness into the relationship brought upon routine and new responsibilities like raising a child. One of my favorite moments in the film is during that classic shot of Tom and Nicole making love in front of the mirror. That moment when the camera pushes in on Nicole’s face and as her facial expression turns from orgasmic to restrained disappointment. Why? Because Tom Cruise is making love to her but all she really wants is to get fucked, ravaged especially after dancing with that Hungarian man.
The argument scene lays out all the groundwork for the film. Nicole confesses some sexual secrets and a fantasy, which makes Tom, feel like it doesn’t matter if he gets laid; his wife was ready to throw it all away for a naval officer she never even spoke to. That scene sends Dr. Harford on his Journey to discover the extreme in sexual behavior. With that unintentional push from his wife Dr. Harford says “Fuck It” I am not going to hold back anymore, I am going to have sex with whoever turns me on, she don’t care, I don’t care. This leads to a crazy series of events in which Dr. Harford thinks he’s going to get laid and never does. To his disappointment and later to his relief, I love that scene with Tom reading a newspaper with a front page that says “Lucky to be alive” after he’s just found out he almost had sex with a woman who is HIV positive. Scary realities we live with but this film somehow found a way to plainly show how lucky we are in a world where tragedy can arrive in the most obtuse forms. When Dr. Harford enters his home and finds out that his wife has found his mask, he crumbles. He confesses everything which is beautiful because he has decided what kind of person he wants to be. Which is very important, it reminds us that it is up to us to decide in which direction we want our life to go. Some people want to know the meaning behind the cult in the film, is it the Masons? Is it this, is it that? I say that it is not really important, at least not in that sense. The cult to me stands more for a way of life. If you want to live a life filled with orgies, sexual madness, and everything that comes with it, then please don’t get married and have kids. It is not going to work. At the end of the day that’s what “Eyes Wide Shut” means to me. It shows how blind we can become when either lust or love attacks us and weakens our better judgment. It also means to me of how in this day and age we walk blindly around these truths until something terrible happens. It is also a very beautiful title for its resonance of depth towards sexual pleasure; I mean everybody has closed their eyes during climatic sexual pleasure plus you really can’t beat “Eyes Wide Shut” as the title of the movie you make right before you die. The film ends with blatant truth as it began. In order for us to keep a marriage going we must tend to it, which usually is not what happens. Most of the times is seems to be the opposite effect, complacency. Underestimating the fact that women reach their sexual prime in their early 30’s and men are always going to be men. So what needs to happen in order for a marriage to survive its most basic downfall? It is as simple as what Nicole Kidman says at the end of the film; they need to fuck, not just “make love” all the time, but let it all out together and fuck. That’s the animalistic nature within us all and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but definitely something to be aware of, you know Eyes Wide Open.
ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Martin Scorsese's "Bringing out the Dead"