Saturday, 28 April 2012

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

For the final film that Kubrick made he returns to a theme that he addressed in one of his earliest. However, where Lolita was more concerned with sexual repression and awkwardness, Eyes Wide Shut is far more a journey of sexual discovery. The film also investigates the strong bond that exists between two people in a marriage.

Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) have been happily married for many years and have a daughter about 7 years old. The Doctor seems very content and is used to his daily routine, Alice also seems happy but she feels that her life is less fulfilled as she plays the role of housewife. Then one night as the two are smoking pot before they go to bed, Alice drops the bombshell that she once fantasised about a guy she only caught sight of once in a hotel. This sounds like quite an insignificant story, but the performance of Kidman in that scene is really vulnerable, emotional and gripping, and she really sells the story convincingly. Which is just as well as this is really the key scene in the film as it sends the Doctor into a jealous turmoil.

Bill is immediately called out (the same night still) to console a widow who had just lost her husband, but when he leaves spends the rest of the night in a state of sexual confusion. A night which sees him visit a hooker’s house (doesn’t have sex), meets an old friend who turns out to play the piano for exclusive orgies, goes to get a costume for the orgy that night (while at the costume shop it is revealed that the shop owner’s daughter is having fun with two other guys), and then finally goes the orgy!

The film is really split into two halves, the first being the journey of sexual discovery, the second being more of a mystery as Bill struggles with his guilt about the previous night as well as trying to get to the bottom of what he witnessed. To this end the two halves have very different feels to them; where the first section is filled with light, lots of red (passionate colour?) and beautiful music, the second half is rather more subdued and the music in particular is very jarring. Essentially the music is a few notes played over and over on the piano and is very discordant; at points just one note! It does add to the guilty, haunted feeling that the Doctor is feeling, I just felt that it was ironic since it was a pianist that helped him out in the first half of the film.

Of course one of the key scenes in the film is the orgy that Bill visits. There was a risk that this could have been either fairly tasteless, or by skirting round the issue it wouldn’t have had the impact that it needed to. Naturally Kubrick executes it perfectly. Again rich colours and a very opulent setting are used to indicate that this is not only passionate but also luxurious rather than seedy. Most of the scenes are filmed in slow graceful tracking shots which really give the impression of a dream - indeed the title of the book that the film is based on translates from the German “Traumnovelle” as Dream Story.

I’ve already mentioned that Kidman is good, especially in that key scene, but Tom is equally good. Nothing completely spectacular, but always very believable whether he being a professional doctor, jealous of his wife, or being guilty and paranoid. In his most important scene along with Sydney Pollack, Tom is actually very good; even as he denies what happened last night, his eyes tell a different story. This scene demonstrates that Tom is far more than Maverick or Ethan Hunt, and when pushed he really can act.

Certainly not his best film, and not really one of my favourites, Eyes Wide Shut is none-the-less a fascinating story of discovery, and is beautifully filmed. Well acted by the two leads, and a typically striking music score, the film has an atmosphere that stays with the viewer well after the credits have rolled.