'Eyes Wide Shut' a complex, personal study of a big bump in a couple's marriage
Despite all the tongue-wagging about philandering shrinks and other rumor mill jazz, "Eyes Wide Shut" turns out to not be entirely about sex after all.
Instead its something even more shocking by Hollywood standards -- a complex and intimate study of a couple surviving a very big bump in their marriage.
There is sex. Plenty of it. But more frequently there's almost sex and fantasy sex when a small marital spat between a rich, handsome couple of nine years escalates into a confession that begets a downward spiral jealousy, obsession and, most of all, temptation.
Dr. Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are both beautiful, inherently sexy people, so temptation is nothing new to them. This is established early on at a black tie party where two delicious vixen models proposition Bill in tandem. With one of them on each arm and his charm turned up full-blast, he's being lead upstairs when he's called away to a medical emergency. But the question lingers in the air: Would he have done it?
Meanwhile, Alice has had a little too much champagne and is dancing and flirting madly with -- scratch that, she's teasing -- a seductive, falsely sophisticated, let- me- take- you- away- from- all- this type Hungarian Lothario. She snaps out of it and remembers herself just as he's about to kiss her.
The next night buried feelings from seeing each other tempted at the party turn a tender and steamy bedtime scene into an argument that shakes the foundation of their marriage.
"You wanted to f**k those models," Alice spits angrily at her husband. He says he wouldn't have, and that he would trust her if the situation was reversed. Then she confesses a deeply buried fantasy about another man, concluding that "I would have left for one night with him."
Why does she do this? To prove a point to her husband about women's sexual desires? To rattle his confidence in his hold on her? Whatever the motivation, Bill suddenly goes from zero to 60 in about three seconds. He's consumed with jealousy.
But another medical emergency interrupts their conversation, leaving him seething green as he wanders Manhattan into the wee hours of the morning, envisioning his wife's fantasy infidelity and finding himself tested more than Job.
The mourning daughter of dead patient throws herself at him. A shop owner offers him a night with his teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski) for a handful of cash. A fresh-faced, young hooker (Vinessa Shaw) propositions him and he finds himself sitting on her bed, unknotting his tie before he thinks the better of it.
When he does get home, Alice wakes up and confesses she was dreaming about her fantasy man again, making matters worse.
Stanley Kubrick's infamously obsessive-compulsive direction pays off with Cruise and Kidman, inspiring fully-fleshed and manifold performances from his stars.
Cruise's character isn't nearly as comfortable with himself as he tries to put across. He is often at a loss for words and has a habit of flashing his medical license, which he keeps in his wallet, like a badge when he trying to convince strangers of his sincerity on any topic -- as if he's saying, "Trust me, I'm a doctor."
He has very human flaws when it comes to temptation, and he visibly, physically struggles in resisting the beautiful, easy women put in his path.
Kidman's role as the wife is smaller but even more complex, and she proves here, once again, that she's a much better actress than she gets credit for. Her feelings of infidelity stem from her imagination, but they still weave a web of guilt and jealousy in her own mind.
Cruise and Kidman must have plumbed the depths of their own relationship and their own true emotions to get at the heart of this couple's crisis. It feels so authentic one can't help but wonder if the effects linger in their real lives.
But while this absorbing story about a successful marriage manages to also be erotic, torrid and zealous, one of the few notable flaws in the movie is its most pivotal, controversial and sexual scene -- a graphic orgy (toned down slightly for an R rating) at which Bill is enticed, seduced and bodily threatened, in an attempt to add a thriller element to the film.
Overflowing with nude models in porcelain masks striking silly poses and mysterious men in Druid cloaks looking like something out of a cheap sci-fi movie, the scene is not only absurd and lacking the tension it's intended to have (the chorus-of-monks incidental music doesn't help either) -- but after a while it's downright laughable, like a Playboy Channel cult film.
Regardless of the failure of that important scene, after a four-decade career of groundbreaking genius, this final film from Kubrick is his most intimate and emotionally provoking. Directed with such precision that just a shot of Cruise walking down the street the night of the fight is exploding with tension, and every moment we share with Kidman and Cruise together feels deeply personal and voyeuristic. Its no coincidence Kubrick cast a famous married couple in the roles -- it aides that sense of voyeurism as the movie explores how the mind and the heart are connected.