Stan fans?

Stephen A. Holmes:

"I must say, I shall miss Stanley Kubrick. I have enjoyed and analyzed his films since my pre-collage days. As an avid fan of every frame since Killer's Kiss to Full Metal Jacket, in his latest film I expected and appreciated no less than a masterpiece.

Eyes Wide Shut delivers Kubrick's trademark spellbinding beauty and subtlety. The film is just cryptic enough to entice debate, yet erudite in its imagery. Like all of his post-Spartacus films, anyone looking for linear storytelling in Eyes Wide Shut is bound to be disappointed. Though it is clearly about sex, this is no more an "erotic" film anymore than 2001 was simply a space movie or Dr. Strangelove was merely an anti-war satire.

Stanley Kubrick's films have always taken care to show us the core of human nature. The best films made, (Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo springs immediately to mind) expand subtle nuances of our being and, through the ensuing dramatization, asks us to examine further. Kubrick, always at the top of his game because he made movies so sparingly, was able to infuse so much detail into his films that they were intriguing not because of what they told you but because of what they didn't. The best storytellers walk a fine line to ask questions and invite the audience to use its imagination without leaving them too frustrated to pose their own answers. Having done so throughout his career immortalizes Stanley Kubrick as one of the few major filmmakers who consistently refused to talk down to his audience. One has to merely regard as an example the current success of the low-budget no frills film The Blair Witch Project to see how willingly we fill in the blanks if the storyline is intriguing enough.

That said, what remains regarding Eyes Wide Shut are the questions and major points of symbolism; no doubt left for men and women to interpret differently. In the film, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman) seem to have all the longed for material accoutrements. Yet, their marriage and picture-perfect life is an ivory tower without a solid base. The film first asks: What is so lacking from this marriage that at the Christmas party they find themselves both "innocently" entertaining infidelity?

The first scene after the credits tells the story. Both dressed like royalty for the party, she asks him: "How do I look?" and he responds: "Perfect" without even turning his head. Yet, that question and its answer are posed from the symbolic epitome of self-absorption: he admiring himself in the mirror and she sitting on the toilet. For all its glamour and glitz, theirs is a marriage long dead; held together by golden chicken wire. They do not see each other, what they have and - if they are not careful - what could be lost. Look no further for the meaning of the title.

More questions are posed, ripe with dauntless symbolism. During the bedroom scene after the Christmas party why is Alice the first to display anger at her husband's close call with infidelity when she herself has enjoyed a lingering flirtatious dance with another man? My guess: projection laced by a splash of guilt regarding how close she put her hand to the flame. Later in the film, she tells her husband another sexually laced "dream fantasy" wherein after having sex with a score of other men she laughed in his face. Why does she tell him these things? To me, they seem conveyed in a manner designed to wound, not enlighten, and serve no real purpose other than to displace guilt. Women may regard Alice's disclosure as her "just sharing feelings" while men may ask themselves: "What the hell is a man supposed to do with that stuff?"

The husband is predictably shaken to the core by these admissions, BUT his own insecurities surely add fuel to his torment. It becomes obvious that he has projected his own shrouded proclivities to cheat onto his wife as well, as noted by his obsession with vividly imagining her making love to a man whom she barely met. I also thought it was interesting that the wife initially went for the husband's jugular while dressed in sexy underwear; profiling freely what was denied him at moment (because they were fighting) and what she claimed she so ardently longed to give to this fantasy man. In these scenes, Kubrick symbolizes the "war" between the sexes at its perverse, powerful and manipulative. It underscores that the bedroom can be the most tragic and dangerous of battlefields.

Dr. Harford is a handsome and wealthy man, the type who could easily snare any woman. Yet, he is caught between a rock and a hard place - too afraid to admit his "perfect" marriage is a sham, yet too disconcerted to remain emotionally faithful. For the moment, he compromises by wandering the streets In Search Of and as a result, he constantly finds himself caught in eerily promising sexual situations only to be saved by the bell at crucial moments. Wrapped in his frustration and denial, he is more a lost, wandering ghost than a man obsessed with finding sex. His encounters, not cheap melodrama of drinking hard and haunting sleazy booty bars, are more the dreamlike frustration of an adolescent's wet dream. During his sad pilgrimage, he is beset upon by sexuality at every turn. The fates seem determined to test his will with the promise of women ripe, and eager, for the taking.

Yet, though Dr. Harford steps up to the line, for half of the film he never seems quite able to cross it. Would other men offered his enticing opportunities have made bolder moves? Somehow, I doubt it. I think that for most men, while the fantasy is great, a shallow relationship in and of itself is never reason enough to stray. Yet, the delicious frustration of what Dr. Harford can touch but never taste has hypnotic longevity.

Given time, the good doctor may have consummated one or another of these affairs. But, the first potentially sexual scenario that he actively manipulates himself into, a massive orgy for the rich and possibly infamous, gives him the first hint that there is real danger in these nightly escapes. Aside from the threat of AIDS, the apparent danger of murder (real or imagined, the movie never tells) are given the final exclamation by what the doctor comes home to find lying next to his sleeping wife on the bedspread. Did she put it there, hinting that she may have some knowledge of his nocturnal wanderings? Did someone unknown plant it as a warning while she was sleeping; in the macabre spirit of The Godfather's horse's head scene? Either way, it is enough to shock the doctor into confessing everything. How the object got onto the bed is wisely left unanswered and may become a principle point of discussion among Kubrick fans.

Dr. Harford's wife, teary-eyed that her husband entertained the same desires that she has admittedly harbored, has no choice but to forgive him in the only way their shell of a marriage will immediately allow: fucking. That is the only connection and settlement of many a troubled relationship when there is little else. In spite of its moralizing tone during the last scene, the film never intends to display a happy couple, but merely just a couple standing at the crossroads. Dare we admit how many of these couples exist today, cutting each other down during their most vulnerable and intimate moments? Emotionally withdrawing and half-heatedly wandering away to seek solace in empty promises?

I believe that in Eyes Wide Shut Stanley Kubrick has not made statement on the sexual morals of our time, but on the intricacies or lack thereof regarding the core of intimacy itself.

Classically done." - Stephen A. Holmes

Mindy St. John:

"Absolutely the worst movie I've ever had the misfortune of seeing. I'm sorry, but I couldn't get past the plodding pace. I cared nothing about the characters or the plot — so much so that I left the theatre before the ending — as did many others. As Siskel & Ebert said, "two hours of my life I'll never get back". I almost demanded my money back it was so bad. And yes, I understand all of the psychoanlaysis going on about Kubrick and this movie, but to tell you the truth, I don't care. It was bad, period.

Tell people the truth — the trailors are the movie, and the only thing about it even remotely interesting. The trailer showing Nicole undressing makes you think (logically) that it will lead to something relevant, but it's just stuck there in the movie, with no significance at all, other than it was meant to intrigue as a preview. To be perfectly honest, this is the first time I've been outraged at having wasted my time and money on a movie, and believe me, I'm a harsh critic of most movies.

My daughter wanted to see American Pie for the second time (I haven't seen it), and I'm sure now it would have been the better choice. Tell Tom and Nicole this should go straight to video. If people are smart they won't rent it!" - Mindy St. John

Kristopher Spencer:

"Being a big fan of Kubrick's ouevre, I looked forward to this movie for months. As one might assume, months of expectation only spell disappointment in the end.

While Eyes Wide Shut is a sumptuous piece of filmmaking — and no, I'm not just talking about the copious T and A — the film fails to deliver a wholly satisfying story.

Basically, the story's set up — the first half of the movie — is brilliant and gripping. Once the Cruise character gets to the orgy, however, the story takes a wrong turn into improbability. I'm not talking about the fact that he attends such an orgy — because I believe the orgy was fairly convincing in its ritualistic splendor. But what I find too improbable is the last part of it when the masked woman saves Cruise from further humiliation. What is her motive? Even if she is — as Pollack's character suggests in the billiards scene — the speedball floozy from the Christmas party, there isn't sufficient proof of it, since the corpse at the morgue looks nothing like the woman Pollack claims (and I've seen the movie twice).

The billiards scene, incidentally, is the least convincing scene in the movie. Pollack's explanation is completely dissatisfying, not only because it comes off like a lie, but also because it breaks the movie's dreamlike mood. On top of that, Cruise's acting in the billiards scene is scared and confused, whereas he should be angry and frustrated. One wonders how many takes they did of that scene and what may have been a better alternative to the one Kubrick used.

It seems to me that, had Cruise not been saved by the masked woman at the orgy, the story might have gone in a more interesting direction. What if he had been forcibly stripped and humiliated? What if he had been pulled deeper into the fantasy, where his basic urges might have been satisfied, but to ironically ill effect? And what if Kidman had been the woman to save Cruise from humiliation?

In the end, I'm convinced that the filmmaker, his stars and the screenwriter played it safe just when it might have gotten more obsessive and as a result more provocative.

While Eyes Wide Shut is still a beautiful piece of filmmaking and the acting isn't altogether off-kilter, it seems to me that Kubrick took too long to film it. He'd been planning to adapt Schnizler's Dream Novel for 25 years . Perhaps he should have made it when he made Barry Lyndon? But isn't that just like Kubrick: always leaving us with nagging questions. He remains cinema's greatest provocateur." - Kristopher Spencer

Nicholas Nahat:

"You asked for my take on Eyes Wide Shut and here it is.

From a purely economic entertainment perspective, this film will probably be a spectacular failure. That is, even if it opens big and generates profit (and the use of very bankable stars give it some liklihood of doing so), the use of assets like Cruise and Kidman over two years is a comparative waste; in that time, they could probably have made something like four Mission Impossibles or Top Guns grossing in the hundreds of millions. We can thank their good taste for the judicious use of their artistic freedom in this respect.

From an artistic perspective, I can't say whether Eyes is altogether successful or not just yet. (The critics are all over the place, and differ substantially in why they think it is a good film, or a bad one — a promising sign!) There's a lot to digest. By 'successful' here I mean whether it will enter the pantheon of world cinema along with other icons like 2001. Regardless, this film, whether or not it is successful, is probably one of the most interesting produced by a major Hollywood studio this season, and should be seen by anybody who professes to enjoy the cinema; in any case, one can say it is arguably better to be associated with an interesting failure than a banal success.

Kubrick should be sorely missed as one of the few auteurs who could bridge the divides between popular, commercial, and artistic considerations.

The film is technically marvelous. The cinematography is luscious. Whether Kubrick is using filters or altering his filmstock in order to manipulate lighting effects, or both, the print is visually rich and sensuous — or seductive, considering the ideas in play here. Related to this idea is the color scheme he develops to reinforce aspects of his theme and narrative. I also like Kubrick's editing and pace, which effectively builds suspense and anticipation. The acting is very good, stylized and mannered, and I wonder how much direction they received, especially during certain scenes, considering the director's fine and precise attention to all details.

I have been trying to think of other films which ask us to consider the balances of marital fidelity, sexual desire, truth, and deception in a way which is similar to Eyes, but I can't at this juncture. The film may be a fairly unique, as well as powerful, treatment, of these perennial issues, and that may be precisely why it will ultimately be "successful" in the wide, artistic, sense.

I will also add that Barnaby Barratt appears to have 'missed the point' in this respect in his article Dis/Passion, which inappropriately overdetermines the film with his own layer of meaning in order to advance an idiosyncratic view of eroticism and society. Let us leave aside the arguable point as to whether Eyes has an "anti-sexual" message for the moment. More importantly, there is no particular reason why Eyes should be "erotically affirmative;" this moral evaluation of cinema is on par with a critique of The Godfather which would argue it was a bad fim because all the bad guys weren't arrested in the end. No one would take that criticism seriously. Second, it is more difficult to evaluate Barrat's claim that Eyes is indicitive of "sex at the end of our millenium, the fading promise of the fullness of naked eroticism." This is a grand conclusion which sounds nice but doesn't bear examination — after all, when was the period of "full" eroticism in "our" millenium from which the promise has "faded?" Always beware when the broadest conclusions are drawn from a sample size of one.

On my view, it is far more plausible that the "brouhaha" over Eyes results not from the "plight" of eroticism's subversion, but because so few contemporary films rise to a level which justify their inclusion in the same sentence as the phrase, "the art of the cinema." - Nicholas Nahat

Dave Lundin:

"Stanley Kubrick's latest and last film, flawed by excess and garbled focus as it may be, is nonetheless turning out to be a veritable Rorschach test for critics and audience alike. I'd like to add my version to the dialogue.

At it's core, the movie seems to me to be about sex, intimacy and j jealousy/control at the heart of the Cruise/Kidman (Dr and Mrs. Bill Harford) relationship. At the movie's beginning, we see the young doctor and his family grooving at the very top of the food chain at a posh party on Manhattan - beautiful people, clothes, apartments and everything that goes with it. We also hear oppressively glib conversation and overall get the feeling that all this isn't enough, that an emptiness and unspoken drive for something more intense, more fulfilling, more stimulating lurks below the surface.

Most notably at the party, Cruise and Kidman separately engage in serious flirting with strangers.Sexual overtures are made and, while no sexual activity takes place, it is not clear if given the right circumstances whether either one might have partaken of the forbidden fruit.

Later back at the apartment getting ready for bed, an animated drug-propelled discussion of their respective encounters ensues. Cruise denies he was flirting at all, his lie provoking a credibility gap, distancing him from his increasingly angry wife, who is obviously and admittedly jealous. He then compounds his wife's pain, unwittingly twisting the dagger as it were, by saying, meaning to compliment her, that she could never make him jealous because he trusts her implicitly as the mother of his children and a loyal wife. Thus Kidman feels doubly vulnerable - not only is she jealous of him, but she is now rendered incapable of making him jealous. The relationship is thus dangerously unbalanced in his favor, perhaps tolerable in past decades when the double standard flourished, but not as we approach the next millennium. She must either put the relationship back in balance, or try to live with the disequilibrium, probably fatally damaging the marriage in the long run.

Kidman unhesitatingly tilts the scale back in her favor and then some by graphically relating a fantasy of how last year she saw a handsome naval officer and wanted to have sex with him. Not only that, but she still wants to fuck him and would now if given half a chance. Cruise becomes tortured by this vision as the conversation is interrupted for an emergency house call. Kidman now has the upper hand, if the game is who can make whom more jealous. (The evolutionary psychologists tell us that males have a harder time with spousal infidelity due to their need to see any potential offspring they commit to protect and nurture as unquestionably their own).

How will Kubrick resolve both the tear in the fabric of their marriage as well as the underlying emptiness in their lives? Or, if the emptiness could be characterized as a lack of true intimacy and connection in their relationship, will the couple reconnect on a deeper level or part ways as enemies forever? Cruise knows Kidman's secret fantasy life, but Kidman does not know Cruise's, as perhaps he himself does not.

The remainder of the movie shows Cruise venturing deeper and deeper into the night and through dreamlike sexually-drenched episodes. Not only do strange events occur, but things are not always as they appear. An innocent looking prostitute carries a deadly disease. Another hooker whose life he saved at the party in turn saves him at the orgy, then turns up dead. The piano player friend who told him about the orgy may have been killed, or merely roughed up. Sex and death lurk around every comer, often intertwined. Cruise never has sex, never kills and does not die, but his life flirts with all these eventualities. At the end he is unmasked to himself and his wife, (literally and figuratively) scared and humbled, unable to hide his fantasy life from her. Guilt-stricken, he now fears for his marriage, but equilibrium having been reestablished, she reassures him that they will be together for the foreseeable future (pointedly not "forever,"), and now they need to fuck. They have jumped off a cliff together, but survived and now passionately recommit to their marriage on a deeper, if not the deepest, level.

What of the big questions of sex, intimacy and jealousy/control? Kubrick seems to be saying that yes, all of us have dark sides that want to have sex with strangers and kill those who get in the way (the fantasy of the secret orgy). If we can admit that to ourselves and our mates, without actually doing it, then that will bring us closer, if not to true intimacy (whatever that is), at least to intense, more-trusting sex, which is not all bad. Surviving danger stimulates desire. He also seems to be saying that each partner needs some feeling of assurance or control, that if they are committing their happiness to the other, then that person should not betray them physically or emotionally; each needs to feel equal to their partner both in vulnerability and level of control or safety. And finally, he may be saying that flirting is not frivolous, but is fraught with mortal danger, for the relationship, or your life, or both.

Without debating the merits of Kubrick's artistic achievement, then, the questions the film explores are worth asking about ourselves and our intimate relationships: Do we acknowledge our sexual and violent dark sides to ourselves? How much of our dreamy underbellies have we shared with our partners and they with us? Do our actions make our partner jealous or vice versa? Is there a jealousy imbalance in our relationship? Should we talk this through with our partner? I wish each of us as many nights as possible at least as good as the one Cruise and Kidman are in for after their Christmas shopping. After all the movie's dancing with the devil, the final scene is shopping for a beloved child amidst plenty in a season celebrating the birth of holiness." - Dave Lundin

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