Eyes Wide Shut (1999): “No dream is ever just a dream.”

Eyes Wide Shut INTStanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is an erotic thriller with a strange cult-ish element and disturbing imagery that will stick in your mind for a long time. Its synopsis is as follows:

A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him. (source)

For some reason, the other day I had the urge to watch this film. I don’t know if it was the weird conspiracy theory Wikipedia page I had been reading the day before, or whether I just felt like a bit of Kubrickian magic, but I watched it, and I didn’t hate it. I fully expected to think that this film would be super dumb and a waste of time, but it actually isn’t that bad. It is slightly self-indulgent, and almost intentionally thematically obtuse, and the pacing is quite slow at times, not to mention there is a strange fascination with having Nicole Kidman appear naked almost all the time. However, there are also many positive elements to this film.

Firstly, Kubrick’s direction is quite flawless, as usual. Every move the camera makes is artful in some way. Visually, Eyes Wide Shut is fantastic, and it’s not just the direction – the cinematography, set design, and costume design, are all equally amazing. The set design in particular is so intriguing in each scene, making use of its Christmas setting with lots of fairy lights and sparkling Christmas trees. It does seem like every person in the film owns the exact same Christmas tree, but it also can be seen as an interesting visual motif that becomes symbolic as the story progresses.

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It’s easy to say a lot of bad things about Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (both collectively and individually, I suppose), but you cannot deny that undertaking this film as a couple was a really risky move. When you consider that they were basically one of the main “it couples” of the 90s, these roles seem like the opposite of the kind of couple like which they would have wanted to appear. Which is almost why the two leads succeed in their roles – it’s kind of awkward to think that the two are actually happily married in real life (at least, at the time), but simultaneously, it makes sense to have two people who already have a baseline level of intimacy with one another to play these kinds of complicated roles.

In terms of the acting, I’m generally not a fan of Tom Cruise (although I haven’t seen Magnolia (1999) yet and I’m told that’s his best film), and I sometimes find it difficult to separate his strange real life persona from his acting. I quite liked him in Eyes Wide Shut, though, particularly during the moments where he was required to show intense stress or upset. He has a really creepy way of communicating happiness, but other intense emotions are communicated well. Nicole Kidman is quite stunning in this film, particularly early in the film as her character wrestles with telling her husband about her potential infidelity, and further into the film as she grills her husband on his own feelings.

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I found the cult-ish elements of the film really interesting from the beginning, and the way this part of the story is set up and addressed was quite thrilling. However, as per the film’s assigned genre of ‘erotic thriller’, some of the cult scenes are pretty full on in terms of their sexual content. At the same time, what else would you expect from a creepy cloak and mask party in a gigantic mansion? The whole cult scene feels like the creepiest hotel room parts of The Shining (1980), except extended to about fifteen minutes long per scene. It’s a strange experience but the aesthetics make it a very memorable one indeed. Additionally, the music all throughout this famous scene is so amazing and creepy, as opposed to the score throughout the rest of the film which is blatantly lazy.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching Eyes Wide Shut, because all I’d really heard about it was how strange and pointless it was. It is a strange viewing experience, and in typical Kubrick style it does mess around with your mind a little bit, but that’s half the fun when watching a film from such a provocative director. Cruise and Kidman are also surprisingly good. But the main issue with this film is its plodding pace, and its self-indulgent attitude. Is Kubrick making a comment on crazy cults and outing himself as a member of the Illuminati, or is the film an allegory for sexuality in the modern marriage? Who knows. In my opinion, the visuals are more than enough of a reason to watch this strange and compelling film.

3.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

14 comments

  1. I think it’s time I take another look at this as well, I bet it looks amazing on Blu-ray. From your review it looks like another conspiracy theory has developed around this film, like the cottage industry of re-interpreters of “The Shining.” Will look into that before watching.

    1. It’s funny, after watching a couple of the trailers for this on Youtube, all of these crazy conspiracy videos about the film have popped up in my suggested videos. I’ve tried to watch a couple of them out of curiosity but some are just too ridiculous. Have you seen Room 237? I love the way that film was put together!

      1. Yes, it’s amazing the extent of the conspiracy theories regarding various Kubrick films now on the web. I did see “Room 237” and really enjoyed it though I think some of the interview subjects were off their rockers (which helped the entertainment value). Actually, I reviewed on my blog but seems to have gone missing. Will have to get it back on there.

  2. I think I’ll give this another watch soon. I was bored the first time but I was a teenager then so probably fast-forwarded to the nudy parts!

    1. Haha! I don’t think you’re alone in that one! I remember everyone thought this was so scandalous back in the day. But I reckon in today’s pop culture landscape it wouldn’t even register on the radar.

  3. […] almost seemed like fate when after I watched Eyes Wide Shut (1999), I found this very artfully made supercut of Kubrick’s love of the using the colour red […]

  4. I really should rewatch this some time, the movie has amazing atmosphere and Kidman is fantastic in it, it’s really quite a mysterious, unique movie

    1. You definitely can’t fault the film’s atmosphere, so creepy and intriguing at the same time. I was actually surprised by how good Kidman was in this!

  5. You are right where the plot lacks, it makes up for in visuals. I haven’t seen this in a long time and I feel like rewatching it, I was actually just thinking about this the other day too!

    1. That’s so crazy, every time I mention this to someone, they’ve thought of this recently as well! Maybe it’s a secret society getting into our brains!

      1. Oh my that is weird!!! Kubrick has entered our minds that is weird. Ok creepy!

    1. A very surprisingly great film!

  6. […] their nefarious shenanigans. It felt gloriously old-school and the visuals reminded me slightly of Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – occult-like and Kubrickian. I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t a […]

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