Film Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Also known as: Traumnovelle, Rhapsody (working titles), EWS (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 13th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael
Based on: Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler
Music by: Jocelyn Pook
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Šerbedžija, Thomas Gibson, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Alan Cumming, Leelee Sobieski, Leon Vitali, Julienne Davis, Madison Eginton, Abigail Good, Cate Blanchett (voice, uncredited)

Hobby Films, Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Bros., 159 Minutes

Review:

“Bill, I don’t think you realize how much trouble you got yourself into last night just by going over there. Who do you think those people were? Those were not just some ordinary people. If I told you their names… no, I’m not going to tell you their names… but if I did, I don’t think you’d sleep so well at night.” – Victor Ziegler

Stanley Kubrick has multiple films that I consider masterpieces and this is one of them. In fact, while re-watching this, I tried to look for things to pick out as negatives and I didn’t find any.

While this motion picture has a long running time, it’s one of those special films that has a real mystique about it and it just lures you in and holds your attention from scene-to-scene.

It stars then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and as good as both of them have proven to be at their best, this is possibly both of them at their absolute best.

The scenes between Cruise and Kidman are intense and magnetic. While they were divorced a few years after this movie’s release, their love transcends the screen, as does their pain and then their shared truths potentially strengthening their bond by the end of the film. If they were no longer in love in real life, their performances just solidified how great both of them are at their craft. I also think Kubrick saw this in them and that’s why he cast both of them as a married couple.

The bulk of the story deals with Cruise having discovered that his wife nearly had an affair and it makes him question their marriage and sets him off on a quest of sexual exploration. While he is confronted by a lot of things, he never really cheats on her either. However, along the journey, he uncovers a billionaire sex cult in a mansion outside of New York City. He is immediately discovered and then ousted from this secret meeting but it creates an obsession within him, where he needs to uncover the truth behind it. He then finds himself in a cat and mouse game as the reach of this group is much larger than he could’ve imagined. Eventually, a very rich, close friend has to give him his final warning to stop pursuing this mystery.

The end of the film, sees Cruise breaking down and confessing to his wife in a similar manner that she confessed her near affair to him.

The sex cult stuff is the highlight of the film, really. And no, not because it’s a sequence with a sex cult but because of how opulent the setting was and how mysterious and unsettling the whole thing was despite the affluent atmosphere. This sequence was one of Kubrick’s best in his long career and it’s neat that it came in his final film, as so many auteurs tend to lose “it” towards the end of their careers.

The sex cult sequence, like the rest of the film, is hypnotic and enchanting. This is not just due to the acting, the pacing of the film, the score and the mysterious, disturbing circumstances but also the tone and atmosphere, which came courtesy of Kubrick’s wonderful eye for shot-framing, as well as the stellar cinematography of Larry Smith. Shockingly, this was Smith’s first film and he also did double duty, serving as the lighting cameraman, as well. He’d eventually go on to work with Nicolas Winding Refn on Fear X, Bronson and Only God Forgives, three films that also look amazing.

Eyes Wide Shut is a picture that isn’t for everybody. It actually asks a lot of its audience, as there are a lot of deep things to ponder. While Cruise’s obsession with the cult might seem like a large distraction from the real point of the plot, it’s actually just what he latches onto to simultaneously ignore and process his feelings of sadness, anger, growing guilt over his own actions and the overbearing thoughts of marital betrayal. 

Rating: 10/10