04 January 2011

Reflecting on "Eyes Wide Shut"


This was the first big post-Phantom Menace release of 1999.  Cinephiles were drawn to the fact it was the final movie from Stanley Kubrick; everyone else was supposed to respond to the fact it starred then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  The trailer and TV spots, set to Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Thing," played up the eroticism.  I was in Chicago with friends, and we decided to go see it on 17 July at Northbrook Court Cinema.  When it was over, I felt I had just seen soft porn masquerading as art.  I felt deceived and cheated, and suspected that if the name Kubrick had not been attached the industry would have shunned it entirely.

Some time later, it was available on pay-per-view and I felt it worth revisiting.  Maybe I'd missed something.  I like second viewings as a rule, because now I'm not trying to see whether a movie lives up to the way it was depicted in its trailer.  Now I know how the movie actually is, and can pay more attention to the little things.  I was 20 at the time I first saw the movie.  At that time, and for most of the time afterwards, my romantic relationships were few and short-lived.  I bought the "Kubrick Collection" DVD release in 2006 and watched it with my wife.

What I found was that now, Tom Cruise's performance was captivating.  I had something then that I hadn't had in previous viewings: something to lose.  There's a shot of him walking on the sidewalk and he slams his fist into his hand in frustration.  Intellectually, I had previously comprehended the reason for that, but now I felt it.  I couldn't imagine being told by my wife that she had been thisclose to walking right on out of my life to indulge a lustful whim.  I'm not saying that Cruise's performance can only be appreciated by those who have been in deep, meaningful relationships.  I'm saying that's what it took for me to "get" it.

Once that layer of the movie was revealed to me, I began to discover all kinds of things.  The use of color, for instance.  Notice the next time you see the movie--or even just stills taken from it--the use of blues and reds.  Look at everything from the color of walls and doors in specific shots to the tone of lighting in a given scene.  Consider, when viewing the poster campaign, that purple is the product of blue and red.  Another obvious subtlety that I'll offer you:  Early in the movie, Bill (Cruise) is accosted by two young women at a party.  When he finally asks where they're going, he is told, "Where the rainbow ends."  Later, when he goes to rent a costume in the middle of the night, you might notice that the establishment is Rainbow Fashions.

Screenplay and source material.
In 2009 I bought a translation of Arthur Schnitzler's "Traumnovelle" ("Dream Story"), the short story that inspired the movie.  I read it (reviewed here), and learned new insights.  For instance, it was Schnitzler who first established some of the uses of the color red in the story.  Later I found a trade paperback that included both "Dream Story" and the screenplay for the movie.  I re-read "Dream Story," finding yet new small details.  I upgraded to the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD, which removed the CGI people created to obscure some of the sexuality (in order to earn an "R" rating), restoring the film to Kubrick's final cut.  I'm disappointed that much of the bonus material covers Kubrick at large, rather than this film specifically, though there are interviews with Cruise and Kidman filmed at the time of the film's release that are interesting.  Steven Spielberg is also interviewed, though his remarks are more about Kubrick than Eyes.  I have since upgraded to the Blu-ray Disc release.  Its content is identical to the Special Edition DVD, though of course the feature is presented in high definition.

I cannot say that your experience will mirror mine.  You may "get" it on your first viewing.  You may never respond favorably to it.  All I can say is that I had to reach a certain point of maturity before I was able to really see the artistry of Eyes Wide Shut, and that it took me several viewings as well.  Whatever your initial reaction is or was, I suggest returning to it later.  Don't schedule it, don't rush it.  Swirl it around in the glass, let it breathe.  Let it set on your palate for a bit, and then clear it.  Come back to taste it again later, and see what the exposure to air has done for the taste.  It may surprise you.