Eyes Wide Shut

1999, Movie, R, 160 mins

Review

EYES WIDE SHUT
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Stanley Kubrick's last film isn't a seamless masterpiece on the order of 2001 or DR. STRANGELOVE, but it's no old man's folly either. Adapted from Arthur Schitzler's haunting, 1926 novella Traumnovelle, it's updated to modern New York but otherwise extremely faithful until it takes an ill-advised turn into paranoid thriller territory. Dr. Bill Harford and his wife Alice (Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman), happily married for nine years, attend a Christmas party and wind up flirting with other guests. Their unconsummated brushes with infidelity lead to a marijuana-fueled fight at home, during which Alice confesses a sexual fantasy that profoundly unsettles her husband. The intense moment is interrupted by a phone call: Bill is summoned to the apartment of a longtime patient who's just died, where, to his embarrassment, the man's daughter (Marie Richardson) makes an utterly unexpected declaration of love. It's the first of a series of sexually charged encounters which, though shot realistically, have an unmistakably nightmarish edge: A prostitute, a diabolical nymphet (Leelee Sobieski) and a gay man (Alan Cumming) hurl themselves at Bill. He's attacked by homophobes, attends an orgy worthy of a gothic porno novel, and is threatened by masked perverts.

No one familiar with the cold precision of Kubrick's work will be surprised that this isn't the steamy erotic thriller a synopsis (or the ads) might suggest. Viewers sucked in by the salacious hype, though, are in for a shock. The film lives up to its promise of extensive nudity, 65 seconds of which have been optically altered to protect the tender sensibilities of US viewers and spare the film an NC-17 rating. But the elaborate orgy sequence is built around masked revelers so ornately aloof — even in the throes of carnal consummation — that it's as unerotic as a religious pantomime. Throughout, the sizzle of bare flesh is iced by Kubrick and Schnitzler's focus on the silently caustic effect of morbid suspicion and complacency on an apparently solid relationship. And while both the novel and the film are weighted in favor of Bill's character, it's Kidman who gives the film's standout performance — complex, psychologically naked and worthy of a talent too often squandered in mediocre movies. The film's weakness lies in the decision to suggest that Bill's experiences have exposed him to some perilous conspiracy. The scene (which has no equivalent in the novel) in which everything is "explained" is painfully coarse and recalls nothing so much as the psychiatrist's speech at the end of PSYCHO. Its effect is calamitous: A carefully calibrated nightmare of distorted passion is reduced to a mundane story about rich degenerates and the basically nice guy who gets sucked into their creepy, dangerous games. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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