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** Stars

(UK/USA 1999) Rated R


Starring:
Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sidney Pollack

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Writing credits:

* 141 minutes


Towards the end of his life, Miles Davis reduced himself to endless repeats of his schmaltzy rendition of Time After Time. Lawrence Olivier did TV miniseries. Orson Welles hawked cheap wine. Anyone who went to a Grateful Dead concert after 1990 had to know that Jerry Garcia's best years were behind him as well...and Stanley Kubrick has put the finishing touch on his career by making EYES WIDE SHUT, a film that proves once and for all that pretentiousness and camera tricks do not prevent a film from being stultifyingly boring.

As a child, I was entertained by DR. STRANGELOVE. In 1968, I made my father drive a half-hour to a Cinerama theatre on visitation Sunday so I could see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. In 1974, I saw A CLOCKWORK ORANGE on campus at my college, and a month later lost my virginity to a Malcolm McDowell lookalike. I not only sat through BARRY LYNDON, but even bought the soundtrack. I liked THE SHINING, even though it bore only a faint resemblance to Stephen King's book. And FULL METAL JACKET is one of the best films of the decade. So I qualify as a Kubrick Kook, and was eagerly awaiting his latest, and as it turned out, last effort.

EYES WIDE SHUT, based on a 1926 Viennese novel about sexual obsession, is a film that Kubrick had wanted to make for thirty years, and was two years in the actual making. Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) is a successful New York physician with a beautiful wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman) and a daughter. They appear to be a golden couple, but at a holiday party given by Bill's friend Ziegler (Sidney Pollack), a man of rather sybaritic tastes, Bill seems entirely too captivated by a pair of models and Alice, under the influence of too much champagne, seems entirely too susceptible to the dubious charms of a suave Hungarian (Sky Dumont). Clearly, all is not rosy in this marriage. After the party, Bill and Alice go home, smoke pot, and have one of what I call "those 'Does this make me look fat'" discussions.

Every couple has had these conversations. Usually they take the form of a wife asking something like "Does this make me look fat?" or "Did you think she was attractive?" or "If I wasn't around, would you have sex with her?" If the husband makes the fatal mistake of answering honestly, an ever escalating fight inevitably ensues. In this case, Alice decides to retaliate for her husband's sureness and trust in her by informing him that a year ago, she saw a young military officer in a hotel dining room, and was so attracted she would have given up everything she had for just one night with him. Bill becomes obsessed with images of his wife's nonexistent tryst (graphically depicted in black and white), and his fixation causes him to become embroiled in a nefarious web of strange occurrences, including a Kafka-esque nightmare that ensues following his crashing of an orgiastic party. This is territory far more succesfully covered by Martin Scorsese in AFTER HOURS. The film's theme is about how couples can so easily destroy each other by using infidelity, or the threat of infidelity, to release pent-up resentments. The problem is that we have no idea what the source might be for these resentments in this particular couple.

Much has been made of the sex in this film, yet no other director can make nudity as clinical, or sex as un-erotic, as Stanley Kubrick. Dead nude women or live nude women; there's no difference. As with the woman in the tub in THE SHINING, nude women might as well be made of wax. His is a coldly detached, almost clinical directorial style. This style works well in films with scientific or military themes (such as PATHS OF GLORY, FULL METAL JACKET, and 2001), but is a liability in attempting to tell a story that is essentially about human relationships and sexual obsession.

Bill and Alice are as cold and detached as their director, and we never really care about their relationship. The lovemaking in the infamous mirror scene so talked about before the film's release generates no heat. A scene immediately preceding the infamous orgy is rife with female nudity (including one woman who seems to have stolen her headdress from Queen Amidala of Naboo), but as my Companion Through Life said, "I've never seen so many naked women be so unsexy!" (and I hadn't even asked). And as far as the orgy scene is concerned, well, once again I'm baffled by the MPAA. The two places where digitally-created people were added to the film at the behest of the MPAA to hide more graphic sexual activity again show the organization's double standard. Apparently it's perfectly acceptable to show women engaging in sexual activity with each other, women bouncing on men's laps, and any number of full-frontal female nudes, complete with pudenda. But Little Willy is out of the question, as apparently is male pumping (obviously the guys at the MPAA were in the john while the Duke of Norfolk shagged the lady-in-waiting in ELIZABETH).

That the lead characters are so unsympathetic is not the fault of the actors, who try mightily. Nicole Kidman looks great, and acts with her voice, her face, even her fingertips. But she is a very cold screen presence, and because we have no idea what the background of her deep-seated resentment of her husband is, she's just not terribly sympathetic. She seems to be angry and vindictive for no reason. Meanwhile, her real-life husband, Tom Cruise, plays yet another of his earnest-young-man-caught-up-in-something-bigger-than-he-is roles. He is adequate, and at times very effective in glowering in a Nicholsonian manner, yet this is by no means territory we haven't seen from him before.

Oh, the film is typically arcane, in true Kubrick fashion, and just as self-referential as we expect. There are lots of long corridor shots. The music at the holiday party, and indeed, the party itself has strong echoes of the party scenes in THE SHINING. An utterly pointless and unresolved subplot involving Bill's visit to the daughter of an elderly patient who has died seems to exist only so that Kubrick can include a shot of an old guy in an elaborate bed, à la 2001. I kept waiting for Patrick Magee to appear as the madman in the attic. It is meticulously crafted in true Kubrickian fashion,

EYES WIDE SHUT is perhaps the most pretentious film I've seen since Slava Tsukerman's odious 1982 dreckfest LIQUID SKY, and is an excruciating 2-1/2 hours in a theatre. Kubrick has done some of the most brilliant film craft of the last forty years, but it appears that in this last effort, he simply ran out of gas.


EYES WIDE SHUT official site

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Review text copyright © 1999 Cozzi fan Tutti except where indicated as copyright of the author. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti is prohibited.



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