"Eyes Wide Shut"

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman talk about the late Stanley Kubrick on the sumptuous DVD release of the most misunderstood film in recent memory.

By Bill Wyman
July 11, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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"Eyes Wide Shut"
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Sydney Pollack
Warner Bros.; full screen (see explanation below)
Extras: Interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg; several trailers

Nearly a year after its release, "Eyes Wide Shut" remains one of the most widely misunderstood films in recent memory. In a persuasive article last fall in Harper's, critic Lee Siegel devastatingly illustrated how almost without exception the nation's film critics reviewed not the film but its marketing campaign, and found the movie -- on that count -- wanting. Criticizing critics is a pointless exercise, of course; anyone can disagree on the merits of a film. Siegel's point was subtler: that a uniform inability even to begin to analyze a director's intentions did not bode well for the state of American pop-culture criticism.


Viewed today with some detachment from the hoopla, the film displays its thesis plainly. Its intent is not to be sexy, but rather to examine, with a droll dispassion, the way people (mostly men) fool themselves about sex. Kubrick's approach is surprising: The famously pitiless puppeteer handles his "Eyes Wide Shut" protagonists with more gentleness, even affection, than he's exhibited before. In a radical move for someone whose misanthropy articulated itself most trenchantly in painful tableaux of man's inhumanity to women, he gives the amazing Nicole Kidman two extraordinarily long and sympathetic monologues -- and the film's alluring last word.

The spectacular DVD resolution makes the movie's sumptuous scenes even more so -- most incessant are the soft, glowing, dreamy Christmas lights and sheets of glowing white bulbs. You also catch the unmistakably dangerous unreality signaled in the first scene: "How do I look?" asks Kidman. "You look great," Cruise replies, facing the other direction. The sexually charged netherworld into which they descend is not an erotic one: instead, it's a clumsily animated, almost cartoony milieu, filled with leering Hungarian counts, swaying models, prostitutes with hearts of gold, mincing homosexuals and joyless debauchees. Cruise, a stilted and unsure hunter, journeys to capture some sex in his bare hands and finds himself, again and again, a Wile E. Coyote flummoxed in one baroque scene after another.

The DVD is presented in full-frame version -- different from the widescreen aspect ratio seen in theaters. But unlike most such versions "Eyes Wide Shut" is not cut or "panned and scanned": rather, the widescreen version is unmatted to give the home viewer a larger, rather than smaller, visual. (For a detailed look at the director's singular approach to his oeuvre on video and DVD, click here.) Scandalously, however, the DVD version includes the notorious prophylactic figures inserted to obscure the naughtier parts of the now infamously absurd orgy scene. Boo! For extras, we get a couple of trailers and 20-minute interviews with Cruise and Kidman, who are allowed to emote appropriately about the death of their good friend Stanley. (There's also a chat with Steven Spielberg, for some reason.) Nothing spectacular, but a lot more than the director would have given us had he lived, implacable believer that he was in his films' being left to speak for themselves.

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon and National Public Radio.

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