26 Nov 19
In a career overflowing with iconic movie-making, it's easy to overlook Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut altogether when discussing his work. Kubrick's final film, and his first in twelves years following 1987's Full Metal Jacket, divided critics upon its release back in 1999, and to this day an argument exists that the film wasn't fully completed when Kubrick died unexpectedly at the age of seventy. But twenty years on, it now seems the time for a critical reappraisal of this ethereal tour de force, which remains such an idiosyncratic work in both the auteur's oeuvre, and cinema in general.
Adapted in part by Kubrick from Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), the setting is updated from early 20th-century Vienna to modern-day New York, and tells the story of a seemingly happy couple, Bill and Alice Harford. Having never suspected his wife was anything other than devoted to their family, Bill is disturbed to discover that Alice has, on occasion, considered the approaches of other men, even to the point of leaving her husband and daughter. Troubled and distressed by this revelation, Bill embarks on a night-long sexual odyssey through New York, finding himself in increasingly carnal and dangerous situations as he goes.
As the original marketing campaign made abundantly clear, the appeal of the film to many back in 1999 was the chance to see real-life Hollywood power couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bare all – both physically and emotionally – and if you had to sum up the film in one word, it would be 'sexy', both in its imagery and its thematic concerns. But aside from the simmering eroticism, what stuck with me most from my last viewing many years ago is how the dream-like qualities of the film add to its permeating sense of dread. While Kubrick maintains an uneasy feeling through performance, music, and that famous 'Kubrickian' mise-en-scène, it's the set design that really gives the impression of a reality detached from our own. Towards the end of his career Kubrick was able to use areas of the UK as stand ins for locations as far afield as Vietnam, and his decision to replicate New York City on the sound stages of Pinewood Studios really adds to the Mannerist, other-worldly quality of the film.
For fans of Eyes Wide Shut, the chance to catch the film on the big screen once again – screening alongside the fantastic new short, Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut, which details the director's long journey in making the film – will be obvious in its appeal. But for those coming to the film with fresh eyes, there's much more substance here than some would have you believe, and it offers you the chance to make up your own mind on where this incomparable, discordant piece of cinema sits in the career of a cinematic giant.
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