Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut, is fucked up. This is altogether appropriate as it’s about being fucked up about fucking. And even fucking weirder? It’s stars Tom Cruise in the role he was born not to play.
So what up, Stanley? Is Eyes Wide Shut a serious tale of sexual infidelity or is it a comedy — about how we place too much importance on intercourse? Or, to say it another way, about how we ogle, and fantasize, and lust for others’ bodies with our eyes wide shut, seeing everything with zero clarity.
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. I’m old enough to remember Kubrick casting them in this film and thinking, “Shit.” Cruise has his place, and his talents; true. He’s also — it seems logical to conclude — of unconvincing sexual tastes. That’s his business. His being gay or his being anything else isn’t really interesting to me, unless the South Park guys are making fun of him — but his preferences and his suspected repression of them might be pertinent if they factored into his casting.
Am I reaching? Maybe. But I just watched Eyes Wide Shut again and it’s fucked up. It’s a kamikaze run to bizarro land seeing Cruise as Dr. Bill Harford, a straight-seeming guy getting gay-bashed on the New York streets. It is as if Kubrick took the man and placed him in his worst nightmare: his secrets revealed, humiliation publicly applied. And, on top of this, his role — in a production that lasted a record-setting 400 straight days — was to pretend to be married to Nicole Kidman, his actual wife at the time.
It’s meta, intentionally or not. Cruise plays Cruise playing Bill who plays Bill. In all those incarnations, like any of us, he just wants to be loved, if only he can figure out how.
Kidman, naturally, is a better actor than Cruise, as are many other people, including Clint Howard and Evangeline Lilly wearing elf ears. Kidman also, to my eye, looks far better with her kit off. This is fortuitous (for me) as she has her kit off throughout much of Eyes Wide Shut. But for Cruise, ostensibly her loving husband, playing her loving husband who is — in the film at least — consumed with sexual jealousy, here he again gets placed in his worst nightmare: having his wife displayed lasciviously, and frequently, while he stands by powerless.
I’m not even sure I can peel back all the layers to successfully reach my head and then scratch it.
It is fucked up. And maybe it is also hysterical? I am not sure. Is Kubrick deliberately taunting Cruise? Pushing him to his edge to see if anyone can spot the cracks?
I sure hope so. Otherwise, Eyes Wide Shut is one of the least sexy sex films I’ve ever seen.
The film, in case you haven’t seen it, follows Bill and Alice Harford over a couple of days around Christmas in New York. The first act sees them attend a party at the house of a wealthy patient of Bill’s. Each of them faces sexual allure, but neither succumbs. The evening ends with Alice maliciously confessing to Bill that far from being without temptation, she was so sexually bewitched with one naval officer that she was willing to abandon Bill and their daughter forever if it meant consummation.
This fantasy and its confession is the most compelling part of the film. Kidman, playing Alice with a headful of weed, is both malevolent and childish. She is burning with honesty, as might be an arsonist.
From there, Eyes Wide Shut leads Bill out on sexual adventures. A patient throws herself at him. He nearly lays with a prostitute. He learns of a mysterious sex party and — encountering an underage temptress along the way — sneaks in.
It is this completely implausible orgy that most people recall when they think of Eyes Wide Shut. The party is a masked ball in which mysterious oligarchs ceremoniously and decorously fuck supermodels with a surfeit of enthusiasm. Bill is caught, unmasked, and only saved from threatened punishment by a woman — one he’d earlier saved — who steps into his place. She takes the place of the unmasked Bill who stands in for the masked Bill who covers the real Bill who is played by Tom Cruise who might be a fabrication in his own way as well.
And all just to have the sex we’re not supposed to have.
But let’s look at this scene. It is a sex scene that undulates with flesh, but which holds no passion. There is no celebration in skin. There is no joy. It is fucking for the voyeur, if the voyeur has a heart condition and can’t handle excitement. The women presented (and that’s the right word) are faceless, mostly naked, and well-formed in the same way a piece of fruit might be. They are sex without interest or attachment.
They are blank slates upon which one need write their own desire. To whom you must drop your metaphoric and literal pants if you’re to get behind their ceramic facades. And partake in some of that forbidden fucking.
In this setting quietly stands Tom Cruise as Bill, fascinated but notably not moved to partake. He’s called out and revealed as an interloper. Is that fucked up, or hysterical?
Eyes Wide Shut rolls towards its conclusion — still another hour away — as Bill tries to uncover the mystery of what he has glimsped and its import. He discovers that much of what he saw in the film’s ascent was not at all as it appeared. His loyal wife harbors venom. His willing prostitute harbors disease. His innocent fawn could, would, and does. Even his mysterious savior and her seeming assailants — they are something other, something less meaningful and important. They are just bodies in animation. It is all just sex and he can’t have any of it.
Bewildered and abused, Bill returns home to his wife to find his symbolic mask set upon his pillow. He breaks down and confesses all.
But this mask, it is not the real Bill. It is the Bill that Bill was pretending to be. It is the face he wore when he thought only of sex. It is the mask that Tom Cruise wore when as Bill he tried to access a world that was not really his; nor one he really even wanted. His wife — in the film and in the real world — is the impressive Nicole Kidman. And her husband is the singular Tom Cruise.
Yet neither of them are satisfied with what they’ve got access to (in bed, says the fortune cookie).
They confess their actual and imagined transgressions to each other. Then they must continue on in the only way they can.
Eyes Wide Shut says sex is just sex. So let’s fuck and then get on with our lives.
I can’t help but think that that’s a little fucked up. And maybe also hysterical.
It’s been a long time since I watched this one all the way through. I’ve watched scenes on cable over the years, some of which are great. But yeah, on the whole, I never quite liked it. Unless, as you suggest, it’s a wicked comedy in disguise. Then I bet I like it a lot.
That’s the only explanation I could come up with. Kubrick spent FOUR HUNDRED STRAIGHT DAYS shooting this. Spending his life with Tom and Nicole. And THESE are the performances he was satisfied with? Nicole is pretty strong at times, occasionally even better but Tom Cruise? He’s clearly acting in every scene. His big breakdown when he finds the mask on his pillow is comedy.
It just is.
It’s just the slowest, weirdest, best disguised comedy of all time. Kubrick spends the entire movie making fun of all of us, but particularly Tom Cruise.
Alice tells Bill he’s not her everything and his world falls apart: comedy
He expresses his grief by wanting but not allowing himself to have sex: comedy
His savior at the orgy somehow recognizes him behind a mask even though she was on stage during his entrance and never looked in his direction? comedy
Everything in it is funny, just not in a way that’s funny. I might have to watch it again.
” His being gay or his being anything else isn’t really interesting to me,”
Ok your entire review revolves around gay-baiting him (gets a go in almost every paragraph) and centers on the possibility that the film was made chiefly to shame him for latent/secret homosexuality, which you find hysterical/funny and desirable (“Pushing him to his edge to see if anyone can spot the cracks? I sure hope so.”) And, you imply that since you’re convinced he screws dudes that means he has no sexual desire towards his then wife or any women but then you write that his “worst nightmare [is] having his wife displayed lasciviously, and frequently, while he stands by powerless” because, as you note, she takes her pants off. Clearly Cruises sexuality interests you a lot. Isn’t this far-fetched and movie psycho babble?
Did the other two Kidman/Cruise flicks Days of Thunder and Far and Away give you this impression? I think you just didn’t like this movie and were bored out of your mind (and hence daydreaming about what Tom Cruises private life is like).
It’s tricky dssd. While I may not have expressed myself well, my interest is in his (presumed) repression — not in what he’s repressing. It’s in the idea that Cruise has a public facade that isn’t true to his heart, ideas that are mirrored in this film.
But I’ve never met Cruise.
I think Kubrick is playing with the idea of ‘being exposed’ and ‘being disguised’ and *maybe* his choice of Cruise for his lead role is part of that. i.e., the nightmare of having one’s hidden desires revealed (the gay-bashing being, in particular, a scene that doesn’t mesh with the rest of the film; it goads Bill to do something he wouldn’t otherwise when there’s already motivation established) and then Bill’s nightmare of having his wife exposed sexually being mirrored by Kidman actually being Cruise’s wife.
Where you’re right, is that I didn’t like Eyes Wide Shut much while I was watching it (for the second time in 20 years). I found it deliberately alienating. Afterwards, I considered what Kubrick might have been trying for and what I might have missed — the subtext, or movie psycho babble, whatever you prefer. That’s when I considered the ideas that I wrote above.
I never saw the other two Kidman/Cruise films, so can’t comment. But they weren’t directed by Stanley Kubrick, so: I doubt it.
I also think you’ve deliberately misread me. I don’t find Cruise’s sexual desires hysterical; I find Kubrick’s use of casting to add meaning — and to bring the ideas of his film into the real world; to you and me — arch. It’s a film as much about me as it is about Bill or Cruise.
We all have secrets; Cruise’s are just less secret.