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In this episode: Eyes Wide Shut
EYES WIDE SHUT

Sorry it took so long to get to this review. I guess real life intervened for a while, but now I am firmly back in my fantasy world, the one where I write these and get paid fabulous money to do so!

There are spoilers in this review, so you may want to read it after you see the movie. Or, if you don't care, read away. I'll meet you at the bottom.

This is a movie straight out of the not-'90s. Without the cell phones and modern cars and clothes, Eyes Wide Shut could easily be mistaken as a movie made in the '70s--thanks in part to tone, pace, grainy film stock, and women without breast implants. I guess this means it's a timeless tale. Indeed, any story about a couple's questioning their fidelity, any story exploring how far you can go before infidelity is reached, is a timeless one. In this movie, neither Tom nor Nicole physically cheat on each other; therefore, the questions are psychological. Are you unfaithful if you think about another person in a sexual way? Are you unfaithful if you have fantasies about someone else? Are you unfaithful if you seek out another relationship, even if you don't follow through? Does mental infidelity hurt as much as physical infidelity? Excellent, interesting questions, and Eyes Wide Shut explores them well.

This is definitely Tom Cruise's movie. Don't be alarmed by this! I don't mean to say that Nicole Kidman is unimportant. In fact, she gives the better performance. She gets the juicy monologues, she gets to send Tom on his odyssey. But most of the movie is how Tom deals with Nicole's revelation that she once thought nasty about a stranger. A uniformed, military stranger. That's important because there's a long history of civilian men versus guys in uniform. If a guy feels his gal loves a man in uniform, and finds out such a guy has made her thoughts stray, he'll feel threatened and, of course, jealous. It's this jealousy that starts Tom on the Eyes Wide Shut Psychosis Tour. He is confused and angry and doesn't know what to do about it. Of course, the most obvious idea is revenge. If she can do it, I can do it. I'll show her. No one ever once says this out loud because this is a well-crafted film, but that's what happens.

It takes a good, long while before we even reach this point of the movie. There's a long sequence at a Christmas party, and the whole time I was wondering what we were doing there, what the point was. Of course, that's exactly what Tom and Nicole's characters are thinking! So we get to experience this sort of dull party with them. We get to experience the flirtation of others, and the mix of politeness by not refusing them and the unacknowledged attraction of the flirtation. It is only after this party that we realize its purpose in the movie and for the characters. Like Nicole, who was genuinely intrigued by the older man she danced with, we discover that the concept of fidelity must be breached. She was attracted to the man, Tom was attracted to the two models, and both of them considered having sex with these outsiders. Of course, it takes some pot to get it out of her, but Nicole finally confesses her crush on the military guy. It was in the past, but it was so intense it affected her permanently. Nicole's acting here is fantastic.

Here is where the usual question comes in: Do you honor your lover/spouse with honesty and risk their wrath, or do you keep it to yourself and not burden them with the conflict? What's nice about Eyes is that Kubrick errs on the side of love and trust. Sure, the last line of the movie is blunt and shows that Nicole and Tom's relationship has changed, but for the two to have gone through what they did and still want to be together shows that, if you really love each other, you should always go with truth. The pain both Tom and Nicole experience during the course of this movie is a necessary pain, a pain that forces each of them to grow. I argue that if love is weak, the truth will separate a couple, which is probably for the best in the long run. I can also argue that if the people with weak love are themselves weak, the truth will not split them apart because they are (or one of them is) too weak to accept that truth. Tom and Nicole are not weak characters, however. They are strong people. So when they decide to stay together in the end, the truth has helped them.

Forget the thriller part of this movie. It's completely predictable and nothing's a surprise. That mysterious woman at the orgy who warns Tom? Not very mysterious who it turns out to be. Sydney Pollack being part of the orgy? Not at all surprising. In fact, the thriller is not there to be a thriller in the usual filmic sense of the word. The thriller is there to explore more of the consequences of jealousy, anger, and mistrust.

The thriller plot's raison d'être (you can never use too many French phrases in a movie review, n'est pas?) is finally revealed when you're there with Tom at Sydney's place, trying to figure out if what Tom experienced was merely a game or if it was real. Personally, I believe that it was a game because it makes the movie more powerful. Tom's imagination gets the better of him, as it does in us all, and he makes connections that seem logical to him but that most likely are wrong. That he can believe this strange cadre of mask-wearing gang bangers is capable of murder when in fact they are just a bunch of rich, powerful perverts is the point.

Some support: It appears that the woman in the mask recognizes Tom, since she goes to him right out of the circle. It also appears that, to return the favor for him saving her life earlier in Sydney's bathroom, she feels she has to save his by warning him away. Of course, at this point, we don't know who the masked woman is, but it's not hard to deduce. Well, I think this is all wrong. She would never know it was Tom she picked out of the crowd, she just went to him. It is nice to think maybe there's some excellent subtlety here, that, since the drug woman first met Tom by having his voice bring her out of her stupor, she recognizes it immediately behind the mask as they're walking out of the circle chamber, but even before hearing his voice, she places him as not belonging there. Did she peg him as not being there, then hear his voice, then tell him he needed to leave? I would have to see it again to see if this was the case. In any event, her warnings I think are part of the game. I don't think she really knew who he was, at least not at first. No. This was not a murderous death orgy, it was just a bunch of haute classe people having creatively-organized group sex, and they got mad that Tom infiltrated the proceedings. They were gonna sodomize him, most likely, but not kill him. Sexual punishment, as Sydney said happened to the woman later.

You see, it's more powerful to know that Tom's imagination created this murder scenario based on his anger and jealousy at Nicole. It shows that those two emotions can become so overwhelming as to warp reality into something it's not. To say Tom stumbled into a real killer sex convention is fun, but not at all powerful or subtle. And Kubrick is more for subtlety.

Okay, let me qualify that. Kubrick is into subtlety of psychology, subtlety of emotion. He's definitely not subtle when it comes to showing naked ladies or people having sex in front of other people or older men selling their daughters as whores. It's between all the shocking stuff that the subtlety comes in, and that's where this movie scores points with me. Kubrick is smart enough to play the psychological plot game, and I think too smart to play the "they really killed her!" game. Do we know what really happened? Of course not. Like life, you never know all the facts. If, like Tom, you're confused about what really happened, that's good because that's how the movie is designed. I just think the point is as I said: jealousy and anger can warp reality, and we have to be mindful of that.

It is very easy to see why people hate this movie. It is a long and laborious. No action. And lots and lots of talking. I enjoyed the languid pace of the film. It unfolded slowly, as Tom's mind unfolded into confusion. That is why this seemed like a not-'90s movie; movies never take time any more. Everything has to have a specific purpose that is not lost on the audience. Every line and word is structured. Kubrick lets the actors in Eyes create a performance around emotions instead of plot necessity. Of course every conversation means something in this movie, but were it re-scripted and re-edited to follow the usual pattern, the meaning of the conversations could be boiled down to a much more efficient few lines. Thank God that didn't happen here. People don't speak like movie people.

I was disappointed in Tom. He has some very good moments, but it looked like the loose format for performance here pushed him to the edge of his abilities. While in some scenes his conversational banter seemed realistic, at other times he applied the "repeat the line to give yourself time" technique with grating frequency. Here's what I mean: One actor says, "I think your billiard table is awesome." The other says, "You think my billiard table is awesome." The first actor says, "Yes." In an improv situation, you use this repetition when you have nothing else to say, when you are stumped or hurried or blank. Tom does it a lot in this film. Too much. At first I was willing to allow him the conceit that it was a character trait. But it wasn't. In fact, a couple other actors also fall into the trap. I remember Nicole doing it. It may be an unnoticeable thing to the general audience, but you can see it and recognize it if you know. If Tom had trusted himself a little more to just say "Really?" or "Ah." or maybe just smirk or give a look, his performance would have been more natural, and natural performance is what Kubrick was going for with Tom and Nicole.

Oh, and the little girl was terrible.

There is a lot of controversy going around about the digital "censoring" of the orgy scene. When I saw the movie, I didn't know the details about the censoring, so I was looking for, like, fuzzy patches and stuff like that. I only found out later that digital people and props had been added. As far as the overall damage to the film, I didn't notice anything. I was just trying to look around the damn obstacles! (Hmm, perhaps a little of the pervert coming out in me, huh?) Whether Kubrick agreed to these alterations is the question. I tend to believe that he would not have supported such a move. Kubrick was meticulous during filming, which is why this movie took over a year to shoot. He was also, I imagine, fairly aware that scenes of a highly sexual nature would cause his movie to be rated NC-17 by the MPAA. I believe, considering both these points, that Kubrick would have shot his movie differently had he really wanted to not ruffle the plumage of the MPAA and Warner Bros. I think for each naughty shot he would have filmed a regular version, for overseas and video, and then, with some simple changes to choreography, filmed another version for the prudish American market. Perhaps he did agree to have the movie altered, but it seems unlikely to me, especially since he died right after delivering his final cut. I doubt as he was gasping his last breath he called Warner Bros. and said, "AHHHHH! Too... much... sex! Must... get... R!" Nah. Not likely.

All the controversy and hype aside, Eyes Wide Shut is an interesting and intense movie. It has an intelligence and adultness that most movies lack. I honestly can't imagine how Eyes will hold up as time goes on. As I said, the story is timeless, but whether this becomes a classic of world cinema, I have a hard time guessing. It's definitely already in the books since it's Kubrick's last movie, but I hesitate to say it belongs there on its own merits. It may take another viewing, something I'm not likely to do any time soon. In the meantime, here it is. Go see it in theaters, not on video. Its scope (story scope, not picture ratio!) will fit fine on video, but eeeh, it's video!

 

--Steve

8/6/99

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©1999 Steven Lekowicz