Rated R - Running Time: 2:39 - Released 7/16/99

Stanley Kubrick was one of my favorite writer/directors. He has tackled many subjects in his films, in many different genres, and he always seemed to infuse them with great depth and meaning. He did not make films that were necessarily fun to watch, but they were almost always important in some way or other. Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final film (he died just a few days after submitting the final print to Warner Bros.), is another example. While it is not without faults, it is definitely a compelling piece of art that will be held up as an example of what filmmaking is supposed to be. It is a thought-provoking essay on morality and the pressures of marriage, in which the protagonist embarks on a disturbing odyssey of self-discovery.

Eyes Wide Shut was not written solely by Kubrick. It is based on the novel Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler, and Kubrick also had assistance with the screenplay from Frederick Raphael. It is almost three hours long, and there are definitely times when the pace need not be so slow. The beginning of the film, in particular, drags noticeably — before we have come to understand the need for such a thickly measured tempo. As the tension builds, aided greatly by the use of a compelling musical score by Jocelyn Pook, this choice is more understandable, as every second seems to be weighted with meaning. The use of bright, primary and secondary colors is noticeable throughout (I haven't seen such a blatant use of color lighting since Dick Tracy); rainbows are mentioned several times, as well as many startling visual images, many of them involving sex or nudity.

The film centers around Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), a physician in New York whose wife Alice (Nicole Kidman, Cruise's real-life spouse) gets his jealousy juices flowing by admitting to him that she was attracted to a man they met some years ago. Unable to get the image of her making love to the man out of his mind, Bill intentionally seeks to venture outside his marriage for sex. He attempts to hire a prostitute, but is unable at the last minute to cheat on Alice. Then he meets an old friend who tells him of an exclusive, masked sex party he's attending as a paid musician. Unable to resist, Bill crashes the party with a hastily purchased mask and a stolen password. The scenes he sees stagger the mind (this is where Kubrick had to use digital trickery to avoid an NC-17 rating), but just as he's getting his nerve up to join in the festivities, he is warned by a beautiful, naked, masked woman that his life will be in danger if he doesn't leave. Soon he is discovered, however, and begins to wonder if he'll make it out of this sexual paradise alive.

Cruise and Kidman both do excellent work in this film; they are called on to be more than a run-of-the-mill married couple. Kidman hits all the points on the emotional scale, although it is her pace that is the slowest early in the film. One can see the evidence of Kubrick's coaching her to speak and act at a snail's pace; such evidence is seldom a good thing. Cruise is in almost all 159 minutes of film; he is generally effective in showing us the journey he takes, but there are moments when his delivery doesn't exactly ring true. Of course, it's not easy to act with a mask on . . . Credit must also be given to an excellent supporting cast, notably Sidney Pollack — he's not on screen much, but effective while there.

Eyes Wide Shut is an excellent cap to Kubrick's career, delving again into the depth and breadth of the human psyche, and coming up with treasure. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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