Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Eyes Wide Shut

 Eyes Wide Shut, 1999. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Arthur Schnitzler (novel) and Stanley Kubrick (screenplay).
starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sidney Pollack.

"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." (IMDB).

So, here we are. At pretty much everyone's definitive for conventional pornography in mainstream cinema, right? All I heard about for years was how Stanley Kubrick was releasing a bona-fide porno, blah, blah, blah. PORN. And while we'll get to what I actually consider this film to be a bit later, I'm guessing it did change quite a few industry conventions (not the least being CG blockers); it's an important film. Almost everyone I talked to about this absolutely hated it. But almost everyone I talked to also were fans of Cruise and not Kubrick, (in 1999, anyway) and I think that makes all the difference. I loved it.

1. Stanley knows what he's doing. In terms of mise en scene (environments, locations, settings, etc.) I think he was (and still is) the best around. If for no other reason, watch this film for the lights and colors. Music also was great.

2. Stanley is crafty; he usually doesn't come right out and say anything bluntly, but many, many times he'll convey things visually, metaphorically that you have to really work hard *not* to notice. He could have said (of all his films) "This character is isolated; this particular space is all-consuming." There are so many interesting ideas in this film: Dr. Bill's inability to command or finish any sort of sexual exchange. Orange Walls (ala Ulmann's office or Mr. Grady's bathroom in The Shining) All those little yellow lights everywhere? They have to mean something; I'm going with virility or prowess, or whatever it is Kubrick is suggesting that Bill lacks. This is the most beautiful emotionless film full of meaning I've ever seen.

No, Bill, really. I'm totally into it. . . 
3. This film, while having kind of a lot of sex, wasn't erotic to me at all. Every review I read really hyped up the eroticism, and yeah, it's physically present, I guess, but completely cold, impersonal, and empty, therefore uninteresting to me. Like robots having relations with each other. For me, this was about marital discomfort from the very beginning. Bill and Alice have awkward conversations and he doesn't really even seem to know her or acknowledge her at all, at least the way she wants. It's hard to miss that look of utter boredom and disdain in her eyes during their love scene early on. The dialogues are extremely slow with many, many beats in between words. Characters' walking seems stretched out. Even when things are running smoothly, (doctor's office, interactions with the daughter, or virtually any other character), Dr. Bill brings nothing but uncomfortable tension. A few critics didn't like the thriller aspect to the film, but I think it was necessary; without it, this would just be one uncomfortable exchange after another---OH THOSE WEALTHY NEW YORKERS! AREN'T THEY JUST *SO* CRAZY AND #*$&ED UP? Who wants to see that?

4. In terms of film vs. book, I'll take the film any day. The novel, Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, by Arthur Schnitzler, was first published in 1927 and in my opinion, was kind of boring. I'm sure it was quite a bombshell when it first came out, I'll give it that, but it really just proved to me that Stanley has the best knack, ever, for taking interesting or semi-interesting novels and turning them into unbelievable films.

5. If you are looking for any further reading on Kubrick or themes in Kubrick films, there is a really excellent book, A Cinema of Loneliness by Robert Phillip Kolker, that is very much worth checking out. It's unfortunately only current up to Full Metal Jacket, but many of the ideas translate to Eyes Wide Shut. (It also examines the themes of Penn, Scorcese, Spielberg, and Altman, so it's a fun, tape-your-glasses kind of film book to have).

6. Stanley is probably the best film director who ever lived, but the ending on this was a bit . . . unsatisfying. I don't know what would have made it better. Any thoughts?