Revisiting “Eyes Wide Shut”
My acting experience is limited not only by geography (appearing only in local productions), but also by the fact that I’ve yet to act in anything other than a live theatrical setting. As such, it comes as a surprise to most people that I’m far more enthusiastic about film than I am about theater, television, writing, music, or any other form of creative expression.
I always enjoyed movies as a child, but more often than not veered towards the television set for entertainment. You’ll often hear critics talk about childhood experiences in the movie theater, where something borderline magical happens to them and they’re taken to some far-off place as soon as the house lights go out and a new light emanates from the big screen. This didn’t happen with me. In fact, my favorite movies growing up were film installments of televised cartoon properties: “G.I. Joe,” “Transformers,” et al. Which made the development of these properties as terrible live-action 2009 summer blockbusters all the more painful…but that’s a blog for another time.
My love and appreciation for film blossomed when I was roughly twelve years old. That’s when my father sat me down to watch Tarantino’s breakthrough film “Pulp Fiction,” a fact that really threw my friends (and my math teacher at the time) for a loop.
“Wait, your Dad really let you watch ‘Pulp Fiction’? And he had already seen it beforehand? Seriously?”
My father always had respect for my mental capacity, and knew that I would be able to handle some of the more graphic content of the film in a mature manner. He also knew that I was old and mature enough to be able to put all of these images in their proper context, thus not be one of those instances of a child supposedly coming under the “bad influence” of an evil entertainment industry.
To make a long story short, the film blew my mind and made me re-examine how I saw movies and question if I actually liked “Forrest Gump” as much as I thought I did. From there, it was Roger Ebert’s constant championing of independent films that led me to find movie fare beyond what was presented at the multi-plex.
As I grew older, I shifted from Tarantino and Kevin Smith towards the works of Kurosawa and the filmmaker who I often cite as my favorite, Stanley Kubrick. I became an unapologetic devotee of any and all works I saw from him, with one glaring exception: “Eyes Wide Shut.”
It’s been nearly a decade since I first saw the film. At the time I felt that I had gotten what Kubrick was going for, but felt it was plodding and the most disengaging narrative Kubrick had ever filmed. Whenever I was conveying my appreciation and love for Kubrick’s entire body of work, “Eyes Wide Shut” was the asterisk I would append to the end of my statement. I found that if I didn’t, whomever I was conversing with would ask if I would include Kubrick’s swan song in my undying and unwavering praise of him.
I was never able to fully and adequately explain what it was about the film that I disliked, and recognized that the explanations I gave were more of a cop-out. Additionally, there have been times where I’ve wondered if my initial criticisms of the film were valid.
A recent post on Kim Morgan’s “Sunset Gun” blog inspired me to revisit the film, owing to her exemplary taste in film and a need to resolve my apprehension towards it. I needed to figure out if my inability to explain why I so dismissive of the film was due to the fact that I hadn’t seen it in so long, or if the person I’ve become over the course of the last ten years simply couldn’t fathom disliking a film for the reasons I gave at the time.
After watching it on Friday evening, I’m ready to say that I’m comfortable putting “Eyes Wide Shut” in the same company as Kubrick’s other works, including but not limited to “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” My dislike for the film at the time of my initial viewing I can chalk up to a generally impetuous nature and complete lack of patience. I couldn’t appreciate personal examination the protagonist undertakes and the ruminative nature of the film, nor did I have the maturity and experience to appreciate the themes conveyed.
Kubrick’s final work is far from the laborious and pretentious star vehicle I thought it was. “Eyes Wide Shut” isn’t merely an adult film with adult themes of sex, lust, and moral crises tied in to a neo-noir investigation into a possible murder conspiracy. It’s also a magnificent and illuminating examination of the concept of marital fidelity, jealousy, moral uncertainty, paranoia, and how those concepts tie in to the precarious nature of upward social mobility.
Kubrick, like a master sculptor, meticulously shapes every scene with masterful precision and creates a dream-like world that is but isn’t quite New York City (appropriate that the exterior scenes were actually careful recreations constructed in a British studio). Kubrick’s hazy representation of reality accentuates the fine points of the protagonist’s angst over his wife’s admission of near-infidelity and the uncertainty of reality against perception and intent.
I also need to give praise where it’s due towards Tom Cruise. As someone whose now put in some real effort towards the craft, I was in awe of his performance. Having the experience I’ve had in the past year made me appreciate his physicality and the subtleties he injected into this performance. In my mind, it’s easily the best performance of his career. Perhaps it’s best that I didn’t appreciate it until now, as his descent into poor professional choices (compounded by and/or attributable to his increasingly erratic behavior) would have seemed all the more tragic.
I’ve already written far too much on this subject than I intended and I don’t have the critical chops to write a full-on review of the film. I’ll save that for Kim and Roger Ebert (whose 1999 review of the film you can read here). Instead, I’ll urge those of you who like me dismissed the film on initial viewing to revisit it with a more adult, and hopefully more mature and sophisticated, mindset.
I almost said “eyes” instead of mindset. That would have been awful.