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Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick) 1999

    An unfortunate victim of marketing hype, Kubrick's final film is also one of his best, despite popular opinion and critical consensuses. Eyes Wide Shut is an explosive examination of the struggle in a relationship between carnal desires and desires of emotional companionship. The film suggests that it's a near impossibility to achieve both without a considerable amount of work. It suggests marriage is a constant struggle to balance the two.  

    In the film's opening shot Kidman's character is seen from the back as she sheds her dress. This begins a big theme in the film that equates the face with the companionship side of a relationship, and the back or the masked face with the carnal desires. This is the most obvious symbol used throughout the film, and it would be exceptionally difficult to read the film without realizing it. Most people who criticize the film (both professional and armchair critics) don't seem to note this, however.  A lot of the film's prerelease hype dealt with the film's sexual content and it's recreation of New York City on a London soundstage. It seems as if most responses to the film address these points, when the film's really about neither. The film isn't about sex. It's about emotions that create and destroy relationships. Any mature individual should realize there's a huge difference between the two. The film isn't about New York City either. The incorrect period details that appeared to some to be technical gaffes are inconsequential, and in some ways add to the feeling that the film's journey should not be taken on a literal level anyway.  

    The film's based on "Traumanovelle" (Dream Novel) by Schnitzler and there's a real sense in the film that the dream that Alice (Nicole Kidman) describes near the film's end is as relevant as the "real" journey taken by the main character Bill (Tom Cruise). It's interesting that the film, through the use of a mask that Alice apparently finds, and through the description of her dream closely mirroring Bill's journey, suggests both characters desires are the same. The film was derided for being prudish in its display of sexuality, but I cannot think of many other American films that have been brave enough to allow a woman to be a man's sexual equal without turning her into a cartoon of some sort. The film recognizes the difference between sex and sexuality, a distinction that is not as widely held by American filmmakers.  

    Above all, this is a truly adult film. Sexual and emotional fulfillment are both important in a relationship. This film manages to take that thesis and explore it in truly provocative ways. To suggest it's a failure is to probably to suggest you were searching in it for something that it doesn't attempt to give. Few films manage to be as psychologically complex as this one. I haven't even mentioned the exceptional performances by Kidman and Cruise, the unparalleled lighting, or the many nuances in emotions that cause the film to go farther than just about any film on the subject, but I think it goes without saying that I would recommend this film. It's one of the few true masterpieces of the 90's, even if it took me a third viewing to realize just how phenomenal it was.

**** Masterpiece

October, 2001

Jeremy Heilman