Gluttony of the ruling class and the sexual perversion of people in power are the subjects of interest for Stanley Kubrick’s sudden, final film. It is a strong note to end on, and regardless of choice, he marks the end of his career with Eyes Wide Shut. All the common characteristics that defined him as a director come together with immediacy and inevitably strong fruition throughout his ode to repression, desire, and the plodding years of family life. Mixing these themes with expected effectiveness, cold and calculating characters along with the comforts of conformity in his craft, Kubrick’s final bow is rich with subtext but puzzled with what to do with it.
No greater problem presents itself than the oddity of Tom Cruise’s performance as Dr William Harford, a devoted family man with an inexplicable desire to quench his thirst for intimacy. He finds no such feelings reciprocated from wife Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman), and their relationship is lacking the spark it once had. William is calculated, cool and seemingly collected, but his search for extramarital affairs is kindled by Alice’s revelation that she had contemplated an affair a year before. An emasculating statement is the kickstart of a great odyssey into impulse and heartbreak. It is not that William wants an affair, it is the notion that his wife could and would have had she been bored enough of him to do so.
Kidman, in that regard, is a great catalyst. She makes Harford tick, and although Cruise is the man involved in the more spectacular moments, it is hard to forget how integral she is to his descent into jealousy. Eyes Wide Shut is now a film infamous for its setting, costumes and core narrative, more so than its characters or what they mean. Lavish, tailored masquerades are front and centre for the big climax, although its payoff does not linger on the mind as well as the iconic scenes Kubrick brought before it. Perhaps it is asking too much of a director to provide memorable, thought-provoking moments with every film they make, but the quintessential moments Kubrick provided are prevalent in every film but this. Full Metal Jacket has Gunnery Sergeant Hartman chewing out new recruits, A Clockwork Orange has Alex’s rehabilitation, but I’m not convinced Eyes Wide Shut has anything on that level.
To be clear, Eyes Wide Shut is a great movie. It is perhaps better than both of the aforementioned films. A narrative that works with or without a deeper understanding, it is a strong project that bids farewell to the mastermind behind it. Anther manic Kubrick project with a rich behind-the-scenes series of controversies that, while not making their impact on the film, are certainly interesting enough to trail back through. Cruise and Kidman are great, Kubrick shines through with some strong direction, but he lacks that spark he had in his other projects. The one that could be bottled up and marketed. Perhaps that is the greatest strength of Eyes Wide Shut, it is beyond the pale in every right, and that, to a degree, is what makes it so fascinating.