It’s funny to notice how my perception of Eyes Wide Shut shifted over the years. Back in 1999, it was the ultimate R-rated movie, something that even the most liberal of parents would never take their kids to see. Mine were lax on a film’s R-rating if it was based on blood or gore, they took me to see The Patriot in theaters, and I think my dad even let me watch Aliens when I was maybe 10 or 11. Some of my other friends’ parents would allow them to see more enticing R-rated fare like The Blair Witch Project or Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (which was rated PG-13, but many parents wished it was R.) Still, NOBODY I knew who was less than 17 ever saw Eyes Wide Shut in the theaters. To us youngin’s, it was the movie with all the boobies, and therefore, the movie we were just dying to see.
I think my first time watching it was a few years ago and I remember enjoying it. But watching it now, dripping with its sophistication and quite coolness, I can fully appreciate its uncloaked mastery and majesty. The movie follows young doctor Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice Hartford (Nicole Kidman), as they attend a Christmas party, get into an argument about infidelity, causing Bill to embark on a dark journey of sexual exploration shortly after.
The most notable sequence is a ritualistic orgy at a mansion, just outside New York City. Bill has been informed about this party by his old friend Nick Nightingale, and arrives with the necessary materials to partake, a mask and a cloak. But Bill’s presence causes unease among the party goers, with him later being ousted. A masked woman “sacrifices” herself to let Bill leave. The rest of the film focuses on Bill trying to decipher exactly who those people were or what happened, and living with the ramifications of his encroachment into a world he doesn’t belong.
There’s a lot of symbolism here about class struggle, gender roles and human sexuality, how Bill is still an elite but not part of the 1% that rules the party/the world, and how men are accepted by society to be sexual creatures but when women partake in desire they’re considered sluts or whores. But the most striking thing to me was the role of the eye, choosing to see what we want to see, and ignoring whatever is happening in our periphery. Early in the film, Bill examines a girl who has taken too many drugs or too bad of drugs. Her eyes are closed, but Bill forcibly opens them, making eye contact with her. When Bill is later at the party, a woman wearing a mask approaches him, looks into his eyes (the only part of his or anyone’s body that is visible) and gives him a kiss. They walk away, were she then warns him that he is in grave danger. But how could she have known who he was if she can’t see him? Because she remembered his eyes, she’s the same girl who Bill had saved earlier.
Another less-on-the-nose instance is when Bill is at a costume shop, desperately trying to rent a costume. The owner allows him in, but they find two men in who have just partook in some sort of sexual activity with his daughter, who is clearly underage. Later in the film, the shop owner essentially pimps out his daughter, offering her to Cruise. Maybe he was doing this already before the incident with the men, or maybe it was just an idea he thought of as a result of it. But its clearly illegal and disgusting, and Cruise doesn’t seem to mind at all. Sure, he isn’t a police officer even though he essentially acted as one when using his medical badge to find information about people, but he doesn’t care or show concern at all. And there’s also the first Christmas party, where people are clearly flirting with each other and eye-fucking, like when Nicole Kidman gets some fierce gazes from a man she’s dancing with. Everyone is just seeing what they want to see.
That’s more analysis than criticism, and it might be the wrong analysis, or just part of a much larger, larger analysis. It’s probably the latter, because Eyes Wide Shut really is a movie that will make you think, questioning the reality and lucid nature of its plot, wondering the true motive behind character motifs, if they exist at all. Its immaculately designed and marvelously detailed, and while a less grandiose than other Kubrick films, it still holds his keen, attention to detail. I believe Kubrick said that it was the best film he ever made, and I’d have to say its certainly up there.