I have to say this was one of the weirdest movie experiences I ever had. Luckily I got to see it in 35mm at a local theater showing. In Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Tom Cruise plays a doctor, Bill Harford, who finds out that his wife, Nicole Kidman (Tom Cruise’s real wife at the time) once fantasized about another man, a naval officer. He begins to obsess over this revelation, constantly imagining his wife in the officer’s arms. As a result of this he decides to embark on a night of dark, sexual conquest. In the end he does not follow through with his adulterous plans, no matter how many chances he gets to fulfill them. During his night he discovers an underground sexual cult, which is probably what the movie is most famous for (radical fans believe the illuminati killed Stanley Kubrick over his exposure of the cult).
The movie’s most infamous scene features Tom Cruise entering a mansion and walking into a large room where a religious sex ritual is taking place, complete with chanting and eerie music. And, not to mention the fact that everybody there is dressed up in black cloaks and creepy masks. Not exactly the kind of thing you would want to stumble into late at night.
As the sex ritual occurs it feels very lifeless and contrived. Rather than trying to arouse in this moment, Stanley Kubrick depicts sexuality as something dark and forbidden. It ceases to become romantic and instead dissolves into an act of savage, primitive lust. Everything is hedonistic, from the rich walls to the lavish trappings and paintings strung from wall to wall, as the camera guides us from one orgy to the other. It is all done in an elegant fashion, but something feels very misplaced and un-sexual about it. At the time of the movie, viewers expected an erotic, adventurous romance on screen between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. What they got instead was adventurous, but not quite so erotic. In fact, it’s very unnerving.
I think the purpose of this is to defeat audience expectations. And also to go against the typical grain of employing sexual intercourse as a source of arousal. You’re not supposed to enjoy it. Instead, it comes to represent something very dark and forbidden. On screen it becomes a haunting thought in the mind of the husband, the repressed desires of his wife, or the pagan ritual of an underground, elite society. The title “Eyes Wide Shut” could very well imply a world that exists in our deepest, most hidden desires. Only in the darkness it becomes visible, as pretty much every depiction of sex occurs at night. Sex is the visual allegory for Kubrick’s underworld. At one point a prostitute steps from an alley to solicit herself to Tom Cruise’s character. In another we see a shady figure, presumably from the secret society, stalking him as he walks home. Another scene shows a young, teenage girl at a costume shop engaged sexually with two men before her father discovers her.
Tom Cruise straddles this sexual underworld, at first wanting to engage with it, and then stepping away, as he realizes his ultimate loyalty to his wife. But her fantasy continues to haunt him, culminating in his discovery of the ritual. The film nearly ceases to be real at this point, becoming a fantasy. But it really is a fantasy brought to life. Just not so glamorous as what we might imagine. Kubrick refuses to stimulate us with our own desires. Instead they become the components of a cult. They become the deepest fears of a husband as he struggles to cope with his wife’s near-infidelity. In the end he delves too deeply, finding murder and more mystery at the center of Kubrick’s sexual underworld. He becomes hopelessly entangled in a web of obsession.
What I loved about this movie was its stunning array of colors and classic-style composition, giving it a very authentic, artistic feel as a film. And, of course, Kubrick’s impeccable habit of exploring human nature at its most basic level. In Paths of Glory he did it through war; in Dr. Strangelove he did though satire; in 2001: A Space Odyssey he did it through man vs. machine. And in this he does it through sex. Sexual instinct dominates the characters throughout the movie. It becomes the impetus for practically the entire film. At times, it’s weird, perplexing, and very uncomfortable. But it’s also fascinating. We’re fascinated by this secret, sexual impulse because of what it represents. For Tom Cruise’s character, it’s an escape from his insecurities. It’s a trip into brothels, jazz clubs, and late night orgies. But it all comes with a grain of salt when desire turns into danger. It can probably be summed up like this: be careful what you lust for, or pretend to lust for. Once you get deep enough into Kubrick’s underworld, you might not like what you see. But I would advise you to see this movie.