Looking back at Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ 20 years on
Angstily strutting down the neon-lit streets of downtown New York, Tom Cruise’s smart, sophisticated manner recalls American Psycho’s, Patrick Bateman. Assured, confident, though preoccupied. Just replace Bateman’s psychopathic ways for an erotic disposition and you have something close to Stanley Kubrick’s thirteenth and final film, Eyes Wide Shut, which reaches it’s 20 year anniversary this week.
Met with indifference upon release, his lasting final statement to the cinematic world has since gained an appreciation, a film more akin to the works of David Lynch than his own previous films.
Whilst in the process of a public relationship struggle in real life, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play characters eerily similar to their offscreen selves. After Kidman’s ‘Alice Harford’ reveals an act of sexual deviance with another man, William (Tom Cruise), sets out on a night of aimless contemplation, seeking empathy, erotic revenge and egotistical validation.
Like many of Kubrick’s works, Eyes Wide Shut is a maze of several tracks and dead-ends, with no centre or real destination. Cruise’s character becomes lost in the erotic underbelly of new york and spat out the other side, unsure of what he just experienced really happened at all. As a mystery goes, it’s rather irregular. Here we have all the answers, there’s little we don’t see. That which happens offscreen can be pieced together into the whole quite easily, the logic of the story suggests a probable outcome. Though for a story which seemingly makes total sense, upon the climactic credits one realises quite how little we knew. We are as dumbfounded as the protagonist.
There’s a dreamy detachment to it all, a certain intoxicating dizziness. A feeling that this story exists in an ethereal otherworld. The camera seems to float and follow Cruise down the city streets, similar to the way in which Lynch’s Mulholland Drive depicts a strange, otherworldly setting. Considering the films impressive record for the longest film shoot (400 days) and this should come to little surprise. Made to perform scenes over and over, performances change and adapt take-on-take. Repetitive annoyance takes ahold and brings a performance of foggy eyed vacancy. The performance, so helpless and detached, that their characters become perfect pawns for the story. Floating around a chaotic New York, where nothing quite makes sense, and life changes on a dime.
What arises is a dream half-remembered. Characters disappear with silent trace as evidence of his night of debauchery slowly ebbs away, Cruise wanders the streets as a victim of his own curiosity. The film carries a heavy regret as if we shouldn’t have seen what we have. Suddenly William Hartford, a physical manifestation of success both in love and career, carries a pitiful innocence. An ignorance to a wider world he’s powerless against.
As Kubrick’s final encore to cinema, Eyes Wide Shut is a fascinating drama of paranoia that fits eerily well into the contemporary world that the film’s release preceded. The contemplativeness of 2001 : A Space Odyssey, the peculiar dread of A Clockwork Orange. Eyes Wide Shut is the quieter cousin of Kubrick’s films, gentle and quiet but with a signature gut punch.