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Eyes Wide Shut

A movie directed, produced and co-written by Stanley Kubrick

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Tension of uncomfortable sexuality builds, but not enough

  • Apr 27, 2001
This clever but ultimately unsatisfying erotic psychodrama has a couple of high points but for me fell flat most of the way. It is clearly intended to seem unreal, but also seems contrived in too many places. The best parts for me are scenes where Kubrick plays on the ambiguities of jealousy in both male and female flavors. He touches on very uncomfortable realities for both men and women. Yet he lets go of the tension just when he needs it most.

In the pivotal early scene, the wife confesses an intensely erotic adulterous fantasy to her husband. She reveals a deeply disturbing aspect of female sexuality that her husband understandably never considered, that she can feel utter tenderness and devotion to her mate while having overwhelming erotic fantasies of another man.

Possibly we are being treated to the real-life implications of women's mating strategies being a combination of finding reliable resources in a man while seeking out even better genes in another. Since 10% of babies are estimated to belong to a man other than the spouse, this uncomfortable aspect of female sexuality is probably not just a fantasy of Kubrick's.

The husband is obsessed with it for the rest of the movie. Not just for the obvious reason that it makes him jealous and insecure, but I think it is also arousing to him to think of his wife with another man, and that's where the ambiguities in male sexuality seem to come into play. The husband seems driven to put himself in sexual situations, even though he never seems to quite carry them through, just as his wife claims to have never carried out her fantasy.

The movie does a reasonably good job providing an unreal sense of confusing erotic feelings in the main characters, but is curiously lacking in erotic excitement for the movie viewer. The sense of fantasy doesn't quite absorb me, the scenes are just contrived enough that I could never quite feel the conflicts or the desires in the characters, except possibly the powerfully erotic scenes where the husband imagines his wife with the naval officer of her fantasies.

I think part of where this fell down for me was that the wife is clearly ambivalent in her feelings about her husband, not in having had erotic fantasies of another man, but in not even having a strong sense of committment to her husband. This destroys some of the erotic tension. She has an orgy dream with an odd twist where her husband clearly plays the role of an annoyance rather than a jealous lover while she is taken by countless men.

At the climax, where they presumably are recovering from the near-fantasy nature of the rest of the film she reveals that she has a hard time saying "forever" to him; playing on his insecurity about her commitment rather than the sexual jealousy and arousal that seems to obsess him throughout the movie up to that point. But we already sensed that she was ambivalent about her marriage before that, since her dream of sex with countless men. The initial palpable tug between her committment and her sexual passion was already broken by then, and she just seems uninterested rather than torn. Perhaps that ironically foreshadowed what happened to Tom and Nicole.

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More Eyes Wide Shut reviews
review by . August 05, 2009
Tom Cruise stars as  Bill a man in a mundane marriage with an equally bored wife Alice (Nicole Kidman).  After a strange party involving a near fatal overdose and seduction, the couple return home where Alice tells Bill a tale about a time that she would have left him for one night just to spend time with an naval officer who caught her fancy.  Bill shocked by her admission is left in a daze that follow a series of events that will test their relationship as temptation, sexual situations …
review by . February 24, 2005
Pros: Nicole Kidman.     Cons: Script lacked cohesion; there was no real story here.     The Bottom Line: It turned out instead to be a bit of a bore, with a few titillating scenes thrown in for good measure.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I remember when the whispers began about Eyes Wide Shut, a supposedly incredibly erotic and sensual dramatic film staring the husband and wife team of Tom …
review by . May 15, 2000
Pros: Beautiful scenery     Cons: Way too long, plot was very thin, bad acting     What a let down this film was. After all of the hype and then Kubrick dying. I had high expectations about this film but was really dissapointed by it in many ways.      The plot didn't make any sense. It was all cloak and daggers and fog that went no where. It was two steps away from being laughable. Several times the audience tittered nervously throughout …
About this movie


Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is a psychological drama with many elements of an erotic thriller considered by some a cult film directed, produced and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler. It was Kubrick's last film before his death. The story, set in and around New York City, follows the surreal, sexually charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), who is shocked after his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), reveals she contemplated an affair a year earlier. This leads him on a night-long, eventful sexual adventure, which climaxes with him infiltrating a masked orgy.

The film appeared on 16 July 1999 to generally positive critical reaction.

The film begins in the apartment of a wealthy, married couple, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman), who are preparing for a Christmas party at the home of Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), a friend and patient of Bill's. During the party, a Hungarian man (Sky du Mont) tries to seduce Alice, while two younger models try to seduce Bill. Alice and Bill both resist temptations. During the party, Bill is summoned by Ziegler to his bathroom where he finds a naked woman, Mandy (Julienne Davis), over-dosed from a speedball. Bill helps her regain consciousness and promises Victor he will not speak of the event. Bill also meets an old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), a former fellow student who dropped out of medical school and is now a pianist at the...
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