Posted by: ckckred | March 26, 2013

Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick's final film is perhaps his most misunderstood project

Stanley Kubrick’s final film is perhaps his most misunderstood project

Eyes Wide Shut, the final film by director Stanley Kubrick, is an intricately complex movie that is one of the most carefully structure and highly refined films ever made.  I have long stated Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker, as his films are the most engaging out of any director I have seen, and his style in Eyes Wide Shut is at its most extreme and elegant.  The film is Kubrick’s dreamiest and most surreal project and also perhaps his most misunderstood.  While after an initial viewing I am unsure whether I would put it in the ranks of one of Kubrick’s greats like 2001: A Space Odyssey and I wouldn’t even call it the best Tom Cruise film of 1999 (that would be Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia), I am confident in saying that it is a masterpiece and is a laudable finale for the great director.

Eyes Wide Shut is about one man’s sexual fantasies during two days of his life.  That man is Dr. William Harford (Cruise), who lives in a luxurious apartment in Manhattan with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman). Both attend a party run by William’s millionaire friend Victor (Sydney Pollack), where Alice flirts with a Hungarian seducer and William attempts to help a hooker Victor had over who is overdosed on heroin.  Afterwards, both Alice and William get stoned on pot and get into an argument, when Alice describes to William about a sexual encounter she had with a young naval officer.  This throws William into an underground world of sex and mystery that is the focus for the rest of the movie.

Throughout his career, Kubrick has always pushed the boundaries of filmmaking through content (A Clockwork Orange) or innovation (Barry Lyndon).  Eyes Wide Shut falls in both categories.  It fits the former category as the movie’s sex is very explicit and the theatrical version was edited down in order to gain an R rating.  But Eyes Wide Shut also falls into the latter category through its structure.  While Eyes Wide Shut has a linear narrative, the film is very cryptic in its storyline and takes more twists and turns than imaginable, not too different from Kubrick’s 2001.  The movie’s most climatic scene is midway through the film, when William stumbles upon an orgy held in the countryside, where sexual rituals are held and women ogle to men.  From that point onward, Eyes Wide Shut becomes more hidden in its meaning, and Kubrick makes the viewer question the narrative.  There are sequences in the movie that appeared irrelevant to the main story.  The film’s ending is unresolved in a frustrating manner and made me wonder what was the entire purpose of William’s journey.

But Eyes Wide Shut engages the viewer in the process and because of this doesn’t come off as pretentious.  Kubrick first presents the film as a study of a celebrity couple between Cruise and Kidman (who were married at the time), and then turns the story toward the subject of sex.  While Kubrick’s black humor echoes throughout the movie, he maturely handles the film’s topic.

Eyes Wide Shut has many of Kubrick’s regular trademarks.  Other than his black humor, dehumanization and irony are explored, and Kubrick adds claustrophobia into each of the individual scenes just like he did in The Shining.  And like every Kubrick production, the setting and camerawork is near perfect.  Kubrick utilizes his iconic one-point perspective shot and commonly uses steady cams in long takes.  Some critics complained that the sets in New York looked too unrealistic (the picture was filmed in England), but I felt they were elaborate and fit the setting.  Kubrick uses lighting to display the film’s tone, which helps since it takes place during Christmas time.  Eyes Wide Shut demonstrates how polished Kubrick’s movies have grown over the years.

The characters are vital to Kubrick’s own story.  Dr. William Harford is, in a sense, a repressed version of Frank T. J. Mackey Cruise played in Magnolia.  Cruise has often been criticized in movies for overacting, but I think when he gives much effort he pulls of great performances.  He plays Harford very well.  Kidman is given significantly less screen time, and isn’t as strong as Cruise but still gives a capable performance.

Kubrick has spent his career making some of the greatest movies in film history.  Eyes Wide Shut is a fitting end for the director’s legacy.  It is a stunning, engaging piece of cinema that endlessly fascinates the audience.

Editor’s Note: I saw the unrated version, which is Stanley Kubrick’s original cut.  There are no censors in the film and while I haven’t seen the theatrical version, I would recommend that audiences would watch this instead.  Also, the blu-ray edition comes with interviews with stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and director Steven Spielberg as well as Stanley Kubrick accepting the D. W. Griffith Award at the DGA.


  1. Excellent post, I’m curious to see this as it seems to be a very polarizing film.

    • It is. It’s a must see for a Kubrick fan, but it is a very polarizing film. It’s one I want to see again soon. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great film and great review, man. I love Eyes Wide Shut and it has been unfairly treated over the years. A lot of people made the mistake of taking it all literal but if viewed on a subconscious level it proves to be a work of art. Kubrick definitely went out on a high note.

    • Thanks! It really has received a beating from most people that I think is due to that Kubrick died before the movie came out. I’m not sure whether I’d say it’s as great as 2001, Barry Lyndon, or The Shining, but it’s a phenomenal film.

  3. Glad you got to see this one! I was really impressed with it when I saw it. I really loved the dreamlike state Kubrick creates with the lights and random stuff happening. Great film, and great review.

    • Thanks! Kubrick does create a very cold and dreamy atmosphere. Like all Kubrick films I have an urge to see this again.

  4. When I saw Eyes Wide Shut in the theater back in 1999, I was completely mesmerized. The visuals, the score – it’s one of the most hypnotic films I have ever seen. Yeah I loved it.

    • I loved it too. I would have loved to seen this on the big screen. This is Kubrick’s most hypnotic movie and his most misunderstood. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Very dark and disturbing movie, and even if it isn’t considered Kubrick’s best (which it is not), it still hits hard the whole way through. Great review.

    • Thanks! Kubrick does have a way with creating a creepy atmosphere. I agree that it isn’t his best and isn’t in the same league as 2001 or The Shining but it still is a great film.

  6. I’ve watched this about four times now and it gets better with more views. I really didn’t care for it the first go around but I think I got it the second time. The third I felt more comfortable with what he was trying to accomplish and the fourth was a charm!

    • This definitely is a film I think would, like many of Kubrick’s other movies, benefit from multiple viewings. Thanks for commenting.

  7. I have not seen this since it first came out when I caught it at the theater. Certainly due for a re-watch.

    • I think it is a movie that would improve on multiple viewings. I was a little unsure about what to think of it at first but now I’m confident it is a great film. Thanks for commenting.

  8. One of Kubrick’s best — I’ve seen it 5 times and I still have a hard time figuring it out.

    • Hmmm, I’m not sure I’d say it’s one of his strongest films, but it definitely is a masterpiece. Kubrick does have one great filmography and this is one I can see myself watching again. Thanks for commenting.

  9. This film holds a special place in my heart as I auditioned for Leon Vitale (Kubrick’s right-hand man) and lost out to Alan Cumming! Great review! I’ve also nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award!

    • Thanks! Interesting story. I’ll try to write a post for the versatile blogging award.

      • No worries mate! Yeah, I did a blog post about my audition with Leon. LOL 🙂

  10. Great write-up! I love Kubrick but haven’t seen this one, I’ve been to scared in case I hate it, especially as Kubrick’s last film! Your review is sensitively written…I’ll have to give it a viewing.

    • Thanks! I’m a huge Kubrick fan myself; he’s my favorite director. This is a great film but it is Kubrick’s most polarizing. The films I found most similar to it are The Master and Mulholland Drive, and (I’m saying this without seeing it) it bears resemblance to Kubrick’s own Lolita. I recommend the picture. The blu-ray copy has a lot of great features.

  11. Excellent review! I have this film on record, so I’m definitely looking forward to watching it for the first time.

    • Thanks! It’s Kubrick’s most cryptic movie. This is unlike any film I’ve ever seen.

  12. I’m dying to watch this. I have the unrated version on DVD (part of the “Essential Stanley Kubrick” collection), and it’s difficult to resist putting it in the DVD player.

    • This is a great movie, though it’s a very polarizing movie. I’m not sure whether I’d put it among the ranks of 2001 or Barry Lyndon but it is a masterpiece in my opinion. Thanks for commenting.

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