Eyes Wide Shut


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Eyes Wide Shut
"You are never sure what is actually happening, what is real and what is pretending to be real."

If anyone doubts Stanley Kubrick's mastery of the medium, study the seamless passage of paranoia as it soaks through the tissue of Dr Bill Harford's ordered mind. One remark about noticing a Naval officer in a hotel lobby and Alice, his wife, sets in train an extraordinary sexual adventure that leads into areas of perversity, not even imagined in his safe, contented life.

Kubrick's perfectionism can be seen in every frame of this film. His use of light and colour creates exactly the mood he wants, as every prop, piece of furniture or cut of a dress suggests something other. The control is absolute, nothing left to chance, nothing arbitrary, especially where scenes appear just so, not quite realised, arrested at the entrance, or chosen on a whim, without thought of consequence.

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What is so clever - Frederic Raphael's contribution to the script has much to do with this - and why the audience is tantalised by the drift of the narrative, can be compared to a conjuring trick. You are never sure what is actually happening, what is real and what is pretending to be real. Harford discovers that by taking a step off the straight and narrow, he enters unknown territory where danger lurks at every corner.

Nothing is what it seems. Pricked by an intense jealousy, brought on by Alice's revelation that she can make love to him while fantasising about a man she has never met, draws him toward thoughts of forbidden fruit and eventually, masked and cloaked, to a great house where every act of sexual deviance is played out in the public rooms.

Far from being an excuse to eulogise the wonder of women's bodies - there are enough of these, all perfectly formed, to pass the Playboy test - the film explores the nature of desire, how two people are never as close as they imagine because what is in their minds remains individual and secret. The Harfords have been happily married for nine years. Does that mean they have never been tested? What is happiness but the closing of a door? Kubrick kicks the door down. It is a scary experience.

Tom Cruise is perfectly cast here, as the dependable, professional, charming Dr Harford, who does not question machinations of sexual politics and conveys confusion when moral barriers drop with an intensity that feels pain.

Nicole Kidman, as Alice, is quietly sensational. She has the ability to express a multitude of emotions simultaneously, without appearing unhinged, and brings humanity to a role that might have been strictly glamourous.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A doctor embarks on a sexual adventure after a chance remark by his wife leads him to question monogamy.
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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Frederic Raphael, Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Madison Eginton, Jackie Sawiris, Sydney Pollack, Leslie Lowe, Peter Benson, Todd Field, Michael Doven, Sky Dumont, Marie Richardson, Rade Serbedzija

Year: 1999

Runtime: 159 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK


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