Rating: Rated R
Stanley Kubrick was an unmatched genius in creating new worlds at the movies, not the worlds of bubble-gum high-schools or moneyed boomers playing cupid on computers or schlock-mouthed cartoons but worlds where the problems portrayed revolve around human ethics, moral dilemmas, and the general perfidies of life. Films like "Paths of Glory," "Dr. Strangelove," "A Clockwork Orange," "The Shining," and "2001" will be watched as long as people care for movies and judge them both on content and drama. But--
I'm sorry to report that this viewer found "Eyes Wide Shut" an interesting exercise unfortunately with many more faults than any inspired successes. To begin with Kubrick obviously chose Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman with care, not only for star power but for their representation of the generation that comes in for much of the plot's criticism. But Cruise is first and foremost Tom Cruise and comes across as being much too young to be Bill, a doctor with such a fabulous practice that allows his family to live in a million dollar apartment chock full of goodies. And Nicole Kidman as wife Alice is much too good as an actress not to upstage her charming husband.
Then there's the story, a story taken from "Traumnovelle," a novel by Arthur Schnitzler, published in the 1920s and itself set in Vienna at the turn of the last century. Here was a glittering time with Freud writing about sex, music from Strauss suffused with sex, paintings best exemplified by Gustsav Klimt and Egon Schiele, so erotic that the paint seems to sizzle on the canvas, poems by the Symbolists, and literature by the likes of J. K. Huysmans.
And where is Kubrick’s movie set? Why present-day Manhattan, of course. The subject? The continual human fascination and preoccupation with sex. So how do we compare to Vienna? Poorly. The art in the film has bid farewell to the cutting edge twenty years ago and consists of walls covered with contemporary canvases saluting flowers, flowers, and more flowers (plus a few heartless abstractions). Literature? None mentioned, except, perhaps, for "Introduction to Sociology," an obvious title on view in a hooker's bedroom. Music? Forgettable.
We know it's all about sex because Alice is seen standing nude before the titles roll and we know it's about human alienation because we watch Alice relieving herself in a cluttered bathroom while hubby Bill struggles with tying his tie. They're getting ready to attend a sumptuous and beautifully filmed Christmas party hosted by Sydney Pollack as Victor Ziegler, a millionaire many times over and a man with so much money that a table in the billiard room has 32 bottles of various liquors set thereupon.
It's Christmas but we know how hollow society is because there's no Christmas music at the party, in fact the only time there is Christmas music is when Alice and Bill visit a toy store with their daughter. Anyway Alice flirts with a Hungarian count straight out of "My Fair Lady" while Dr. Bill rescues Victor from a hooker suffering an overdose in his study while outside the party goes round and round.
Then Alice goes home in a fit of pique. Bill, however, gets an introduction to a secret party from the affair's piano player, one Nick Nightengale (an old, failed friend from medical school), and sets out on a pilgrimage, ready to explore the fashionable yet seamy side of life.
Eventually Bill winds up at an estate in Scarsdale where a stylized orgy is in process, with men dressed in flowing cloaks and the women all nude (with high heels), and everybody wearing masks straight out of "Die Fledermaus." There is also a MC dressed like an Italian cardinal, holding a heavy staff that he pounds on the floor and various Latin curses and a great deal of incense. One mask, by-the-by, is patterned on a Picasso painting and stands out like a, excuse the expression, sore thumb.
Obviously Bill realizes he doesn't belong there and upon being discovered is tossed out and returns to the city. But now he's in danger because the powerful men at the orgy are afraid he might spill the beans and the high and the mighty might lose respect in the eyes of the world.
As to orgies, the old Hammer films starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee pulled off much more interesting black masses and stylized threats to morality. And second, in a county where the president was just impeached for moral turpitude and magazines like "Vanity Fair" and TV shows like Jerry Springer extol infidelity and blatant sex, just who would be worried about a possible rumor of being at an orgy? Perhaps one politician from Georgia or one of our own senators but most of today's celebrities would line up in a cold rain just to be clocked in at the door.
By all means go and see it. But while watching this cold and clinical salute to sex at the end of our century, remember that movies like "Austin Powers" and "South Park" and "American Pie" can joke about sex to high-school kids but "Eyes Wide Shut" had to be censored in order to get an R rating rather than NC-17.
Finally let's think of the great films of Kubrick and let the eyes of "Eyes Wide Shut" slowly open, get tired with what they see, and close again for a long and hopefully profound sleep.