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Dissecting the Classics – Eyes Wide Shut

September 30, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Eyes Wide Shut

It’s the final week in Stanley Kubrick Month, and fittingly it ends with his final film. This was a blast to work on, as I’ve tackled some of my favorites from Kubrick while also watching some of his that I hadn’t previously seen. I’ve enjoyed the discussion in the comments as well; would you like to see more themed months in the future? Let me know.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , the column previously known as Taken For Granted. In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

Eyes Wide Shut

Wide Release Date: July 16, 1999
Produced and Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael
Cinematography By: Larry Smith
Edited By: Nigel Galt
Music By: Jocelyn Pook
Production Company: Pole Star, Hobby Films
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Tom Cruise as Dr. William “Bill” Harford
Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford
Sydney Pollack as Victor Zeigler

What Do We All Know?
After a record setting 400 day continuous shoot, Stanley Kubrick completed his final film, although he would never live to see its release. The erotic drama based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle received modest criminal acclaim upon release, and has never quite reached the heights of his more famous works. But like many Kubrick films, critical reevaluation has been generally kind to the film. And it doesn’t hurt that the film’s sexual content is hardly as scandalous now as it was in 1999.

While the last three weeks have been dedicated to some of Kubrick’s most iconic works, this is one that many may not be familiar with. I consider it to be an underrated gem that deserves more consideration than just being a trivial footnote. So this week, let’s take a look at Eyes Wide Shut.

What Went Right?

The plot of Eyes Wide Shut is very unconventional, which is likely what drew Kubrick to the project of adapting Traumnovelle. Bill and Alice Harford are experiencing personal and sexual difficulties in their marriage. When Alice reveals that she considered cheating on him once, Bill very nearly cheats on her for real. First with a prostitute named “Domino”, and then at a ritual orgy of an unnamed secret society where one of his college friends plays piano. Things take a dark turn for Bill as the society discovers he is not one of their own, and while he makes it out unharmed thanks to an intervention from a masked woman, she turns up the next morning dead.

There are many other twists and turns which I will not spoil for the sake of readers who may not have seen the film. In many ways, the film almost feels like the type of mystery thriller Alfred Hitchcock would direct, but Kubrick acquits himself well with the genre change. The mysteries are intriguing, the stakes are high, the tension is thick, the truth devastating and oddly unsatisfying. Kubrick makes spectacular use of color, music and set design to tell his story, while the screenplay tackles a lot of our uncomfortable social mores about sex. Tom Cruise carries himself the film very deftly, Nicole Kidman is great in her supporting role, and there are many solid performances throughout the film. Kubrick is, as ever, one of the masters of filmmaking.

What Went Wrong?

As has been the norm this month; there is very little wrong with most Kubrick films. It may be a little long and slow for some viewers’ taste and it of course pushes the boundaries of good taste in a few scenes
But that should be expected and Kubrick handles the material in a respectful manner.

I do however, have an issue with the story. The inciting incident is an argument where Bill argues that women are inherently more faithful than men, and Alice counters this by saying she almost cheated on him once. It’s a great point to make. However, the rest of the film basically undermines it by showing Bill would cheat given the opportunity. Instead of challenging gender roles, the film ends up reinforcing them.

And In Summary…

Eyes Wide Shut is not a 10/10, four-out-of-four star, two thumbs way up classic like the first three films I covered this month. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing the film anyway; it’s still a great thriller with a unique premise and all of Kubrick’s style on display. It’s sexy, it’s intriguing, it’s piano wire tense in several scenes, and it has a lot of interesting themes to discuss. It’s an underappreciated film and one I would like to see more people dig their teeth into.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange

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