Some people watch It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story during the holidays, I watch Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick's last cinema offering before his death, 'Eyes Wide Shut' remains an enigma for film fans, with some hailing it a masterpiece while others condemn it as an uneven disappointment. But no matter what you think of the movie, you have to agree that it is a mysterious visual journey through the most difficult emotion in relationships: jealousy.
I get a dull look most of the times I tell people that this is one of my favorite movies. Like most Kubrick films, it warrants multiple viewings to understand the various themes and visual tricks the master filmmaker is trying to get across. Due to strange circumstances, I saw 'Eyes' on the big screen on three consecutive nights, so I had some time to digest it. I think the biggest problem for 'Eyes' detractors is that although it is set in New York, it is not structured, paced or written like most American films. Kubrick is famously anti-Hollywood and goes against its conventions whenever possible, 'Eyes' is a perfect example. Its structure is both frustrating and fascinating because even at the two hour mark, you really don't have a good idea of what direction it's going: does it turn into a straight mystery with Bill's experience at the mansion or was his two-night odyssey all a dream? Ultimately the most important plot devices happen at the very beginning and end, an atypical structure that can turn off many viewers.
In the beginning, our focus is on Bill (Tom Cruise), but our eyes should instead be turned to Alice (Nicole Kidman), whose character's revealing scene is taking place with her Hungarian suitor at the Christmas party. Alice lets him dance and shmooze with her through several songs, all the time quietly keeping up his hopes that he might have a chance at an affair with her. This is best illustrated when Alice is asked if she would like to go upstairs and see the art collection, to which she responds: 'Maaaaybeeee ...... nottt .... juuuuuusssst ...... yet.' It becomes clear that she is just toying with the emotions of her dance partner, keeping him on the edge of her finger until finally pushing him away. Upon first viewing, this scene may seem trivial, but it is absolutely vital to understanding Kidman's character (more on that later).
Meanwhile, husband Bill is face to face with a conked out hooker shortly after rebuffing the advances of two European models. Both Bill and Alice had the invitation to be unfaithful presented to them on a silver platter, with Alice seemingly energized by the experience while Bill treated it like an everyday occurrence. Alice's encounter with the Hungarian seems to be her motivation for instigating the bedroom battle of the sexes in the next scene. Alice is shocked at Bill's admittance that he is never jealous of her, which leads to Alice's disclosure of her near affair years earlier. This confession destroys Bill's stereotypical view of how women think, and the very idea that his wife could have been unfaithful lights a fire in him.
After Bill leaves the bedroom, he begins a journey to a destination he is unsure of, perhaps with the intentions of testing his own faithfulness. Along the way, every person he meets interacts with him sexually and in most cases stops short of throwing themselves at his feet. While Bill does not accept any of these offers, he comes tantalizingly close (especially with the hooker Domino and later her roommate), and in the end his 'only' crime is lying, which is treated by Kubrick as just as wrong as cheating.
These scenes all set up the final conversation, when we get the idea that Alice's sailor confession may not have been true (and we're unclear if Bill's adventures actually happened), but get the idea that Alice's plan to make her husband jealous and change his stereotypical view of women and sex may have worked too well. In the toy store, Alice experiences the same shocking emotions as Bill did in the bedroom, learning that their whole marriage could have been thrown away in seconds. They resolve to be 'awake' now, since the source of their troubles was mostly their respective imaginations.
What makes 'Eyes' truly a classic for me is the numerous 'winks' Kubrick throws at the viewer both with his lens and in the story. There are a couple of coincidences in 'Eyes' that still puzzle me, intended or not. The first is during Bill's early encounter with the models, they tell him they're going to take him 'where the rainbow ends,' and later Bill ends up at Rainbow Fashions to rent a costume. The second is at Domino's apartment, she refers to Alice on the phone as 'Mrs. Dr. Bill' and later at Victor's house he says that Nick is probably 'at home, banging Mrs. Nick.' I'm not sure what Kubrick is trying to say with these, but it seems like there's more there than just coincidence.
There are numerous visual tricks that Kubrick employs, the most paramount is his lighting. Kubrick was always known as a perfectionist with his lighting, and his lights in 'Eyes' probably deserve a credit alongside Cruse and Kidman. All the light sources in 'Eyes' seem just a little too bright, creating a unique style that reaches a peak at the early Christmas party scene when Cruise and Chris Isaak walk up a flight of stairs flanked by a wall of christmas lights that creates a wondrous contrast with their tuxedos. I can't imagine trying to watch this scene on VHS, or even how much more spectacular it will look in the next generation of DVD. Kubrick continues this over the top lighting technique throughout the running time, paying particular attention to having colored Christmas lights (and Christmas trees) in almost every scene.
The other visual trick Kubrick uses is the blue light that permeates through every window at night. This is first made apparent in the early bedroom fight, when Alice is in the doorway to another room, which is entirely bathed in blue light. This blue light could probably be explained in the city scenes, but where does it come from at the mansion? Kubrick could be trying to use blue (typically a color associated with sex) to illustrate the sins that await Bill and Alice outside their bedroom.
But I couldn't talk about 'Eyes' without discussing my favorite scene in it, which ranks among my favorite scenes of all-time. When Bill is at the mansion party, he is summoned downstairs, for a few seconds we see only see Bill staring at what awaits him on the main floor. Even before we are allowed to see what has startled him, the viewer is startled by a single piano note, which is the first note of the film's score played thus far (and this is roughly an hour and a half into the movie). The abrasive piano theme perfectly echoes the horrific scene Bill is seeing: the entire masked party waiting for him to be unmasked. Our first glimpse of the gathering of masked party guests staring at Bill (as well as the subsequent montage of masks) is a startling shot that conveys the fear Bill is feeling.
NOTES: At the 1:21:14 mark, a masked party guest walks into the room where Bill is with a girl at his side, the next shot shows her walking up to talk to Bill but if you look closely you can see that this is a different actress than the previous shot; it's been said before that the reason Bill was busted at the party was because he was wearing a blue cloak instead of a black one, I don't buy it: when he enters into the inner circle after being called out, you can see that it's more of an effect of the blue light hitting Bill's cloak because some of the guests behind him also appear to be wearing blue; Clues that Bill's nights could have been dreams: both nights he greets Alice just as she is waking up and the aforementioned coincidences (especially the rainbow reference) could be Bill dreaming about things that were said to him earlier.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Filed Under Essays