Monday, March 10, 2008

Kubrick Kick: Eyes Wide Shut

I have a difficult relationship with Stanley Kubrick. In terms of technical skills, he's unmatched. In terms of character and story, he's often lacking. Now, I haven't seen every Kubrick movie ever, but I certainly want to. I'm a big fan of tracking shots and the Steadicam, and Kubrick's use of both are innovative and influential. I've never seen Eyes Wide Shut until recently, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I know this, though, it might be one of my favourite Kubrick films.

Eyes Wide Shut is about a lot of things, even though there's a lot of sex, nudity, cursing, and sex. Tom Cruise plays Bill, a New York City doctor, married to Alice, as played by Nicole Kidman. At the beginning of the movie they go to a Christmas party hosted by Bill's patient Victor, the great Sydney Pollack. At the party, Alice has a dance with a suave and sexy man who blatantly hits on her but she refuses his advances. Back home, Bill and Alice share some pot, and Alice reveals that she's had sexual longings for somebody they met on vacation last year. Before Bill can react, he is called to a patient's side. From there, Bill meets up with the pianist from the Christmas party, an old med school friend, who lets him go to this fancy costume party, in which people have a lot of sex. This begins Bill's journey into a sexual awakening beyond his beautiful wife and his perfect life.

A lot has been said about the pervasive sexuality and nudity that runs in the film, including Nicole Kidman's nude scenes. Suffice it to say that it's a very sexy film without being gratuitous or exploitative. Certainly the nudity comes from the story, rather than the reverse.

This might be the only Kubrick movie I've ever seen where I actually cared for the characters and wished for a happy ending for both of them. Kubrick did a dazzling job of conveying the fragility of emotions of the two leads; it feels like their marriage is falling apart and the only way to escape is to see the other side. Cruise and Kidman give serviceable performances that sell the emotions, but it's nothing really outstanding.

As aforementioned, Kubrick is extremely skilled with the camera, and this movie doesn't disappoint at all. I think my favourite "move" he does is the long tracking shot behind someone as they walk down a hallway, through doors. This "move" appears frequently in Eyes Wide Shut to my delight, most efficiently used in the scene in which Bill enters the chamberroom for the great chanting sequence in the weird costume party/orgy. Kubrick is never shy at keeping the camera moving, and he lets the camera spin around his characters in a slow leisurely pace, much like the pacing of the film itself.

The film is supposed to be paced like a dream, because one of the themes of the film is the nature of dreams. Does the act of infidelity in a dream constitute a real act of infidelity? Does dreaming of cheating make it so? This theme lends itself to a dreamlike pace to make the characters think their only dreaming in the more surreal scenes. Normally, I have huge problems with the pacing of a Kubrick movie; he lets people just sit there.... Even though Eyes Wide Shut has the same trademark Kubrick pacing, I wasn't annoyed or bored; I was simply fascinated by the Scenes From a Marriage style.

I longed for a happy ending in this movie, and it ended perfectly, on the exact note I wanted it to, and the exact word that the film should have ended with. Next up, I want to see Barry Lyndon, which I own on VHS, but I don't own a VCR. We'll see what I can do....

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