Fidelio

Editor’s Note: There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home… As I make my way back to Toronto today, I offer you one final guest post for this series of reconsiderations. Today, Miss McCosh has a great piece on a film that many disliked the year it was released, but strangely a film that many have been coming around on over the fifteen years since. Funny the way that can happen, ain’t it? Give a read to Sam’s well-considered post below, and then go out and give this much-maligned Kubrick offering a rewatch of your own. – RM

When Eyes Wide Shut was released in cinemas I was 14, that’s 4 years below the age allowed by New Zealand law to view the film. I didn’t know who Stanley Kubrick was, but I knew Hollywood stars Kidman and Cruise, and I thought a film with both of them in it might be cool. A few years later I caught the film when it played on TV late one Saturday evening. By then the film had become infamous for the orgy scenes, and Cruise and Kidman had ended their marriage, but I still didn’t know who Kubrick was (I was a late bloomer in many areas of film appreciation).

I don’t remember a whole lot about that viewing, except I was kind of baffled. I mean the orgy scene was something and I do remember liking the music, but my overall feeling was one of..meh. It was long, and there was stretches when not much happened. I was also confused by the costume store scene. Why was the guy such a creep and what was Leelee Sobieski doing in this film?

Fast-forward to August 19, 2013 and it was time for Eyes Wide Shut round two. This time I knew who Kubrick was and I was very interested in seeing what I missed the first time. As it turns out I missed almost everything that makes the film great; well except for the music, I was right about the music being great. I was utterly spellbound by Eyes Wide Shut on the big screen. Kubrick created such an uneasy, tense atmosphere, and I was gripping the armrest throughout.

For those who need a refresher, the film focuses on Dr Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), who goes on a night of exploration into the darkest corners of New York after the chance run in with an old friend (Nick Nightingale, played by Todd Field) and a fight with his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman). The focal point of his evening is bluffing his way into a secret high society orgy with the help of a secret password given to him by Nick. The masked society members soon realise he isn’t one of them and he is kicked out (after an incredibly tense interrogation), and warned never to give the night a single thought….or else.

Opening with the jaunty ‘Waltz No. 2’, the first sight audiences are greeted to is that of Nicole Kidman’s naked behind as she lets a dress drop to the floor. The film isn’t hiding what it’s about, it’s all about sex baby, sex and the dance we play between our fantasies and reality. In the film’s first night, Alice and Bill go to a swanky party hosted by a high society patient of Bills. At the party Alice is seduced by a sweet talking silver fox, while Bill is tempted by a pair of vivacious younger women. The sexual energy from the night before has clearly awakened something in Alice, and in a drug-fuelled moment she tells Bill about an explicit sexual dream she has had. The jealousy he feels towards this encounter, dream or otherwise, is what fuels his extraordinary night, one of sexual re-discovery, fantasies and nightmares.

eyes wide shut

This film is incredibly tense – with rabid sexual tension and a constant undercurrent of danger, it barely gives you any time for breath. Bill jumps from one bizarre encounter to the next, each one screwing with his head even more than the one before. Sex is everywhere in this film – it’s at the costume store, on the street corner, and in the gated mansions of the rich. Sex is power, sex is money and sex is fear. Bill is so fearful and jealous at the mere thought of his wife cheating on him that he almost sleeps with a prostitute and almost partakes in an orgy. In fact, Bill almost does a lot of things in this film, but inevitably it’s all a big tease. He’s so fearful by the end, that sex is the absolute last thing on his mind.

This is quite possibly my favourite New York film (although I do love Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), despite it almost entirely being filmed in the UK. The grainy look of Eyes Wide Shut along with the incredibly effective lighting, especially the use of the Christmas lights throughout, gives the city an almost gaudy feel. It all feels like a kind of elaborate show, like everything Bill is going through isn’t quite real.

My favourite sequence in the film is in the latter stages when Bill is walking down the streets and notices he is being followed. Has a single note played repeatedly on a piano ever been so chilling? I was genuinely scared during this sequence and I was willing him with all might to get into a damn cab! I love that his pursuer stays close enough so Bill knows he is near, but never gets close enough for us to really identify him. He is Bill’s fears, he is the instant consequences to Bill’s almost betrayal.

Is this Tom Cruise’s best role? Aside from his chilling role in Collateral, I don’t think anything else comes close. Cruise is on form at the moment and I’ve enjoyed him as the action hero (in roles such as Oblivion and Jack Reacher), but re-watching Eyes Wide Shut makes me wish he would take a more dramatic role. Also the general public seems to have a Cruise aversion due to his bizarre behavior (such as the infamous sofa jumping on Oprah) and odd life choices, so perhaps re-building some credibility in meatier, more dramatic roles might be a good option for him.

I understand why I didn’t like Eyes Wide Shut the first time I watched it. It went way over my head and I was too young in years and in film going experience to get much from it. I am so grateful I got to see it on the big screen and was treated to one of my all time favourite movie going experiences ever. This is a film that rewards on repeat viewings, and I’m sure it’s one I will keep going back to.