Fear and Desire

Throughout these events Cruise looks mostly confused. (And we share the feeling.) If there had been anything like a logical emotional progression in his performance, the film might have accumulated some dramatic momentum and suspense, but alas, our forever boyish star just can't deliver. At moments like the one in which he goes to examine the corpse of a dead junkie who perhaps is the woman who rescued him from the angry group the night before, his actions are totally baffling.

And so are Kubrick's, until the picture's final scene when he decides he needs to wrap everything up in a nice, neat little package. His mouthpiece is Alice, who tells her husband that maybe all they've been going through is just a dream. But as we all know, a dream is never just a dream. And maybe now that they are awake, what they should feel is grateful; grateful that they have been able to survive all the temptations placed in their paths, to be together after all their adventures. The audience, of course, wonders: What temptations? What adventures? From where we sit, their only challenges were a couple of mildly bad dreams. No real danger threatened them, and nothing really was at stake.

What is interesting, though, is that at least in subject matter, Eyes Wide Shut deals more with the problems of normal, everyday life than perhaps any movie Kubrick has ever made. In this sense it is his most personal, most mature work. Unfortunately what it reveals is that, of all the subjects he might have chosen, this was the one about which he was least familiar. As a result, Eyes Wide Shut comes off as an attempt by the director, near the end of his life, to come to terms not with the future or outer space or creation or war but something so small and vital as the emotional life of a couple. Perhaps it was his attempt to return to the real world of feelings and emotions.

Tom Cruise plays doctor with real-life wife Nicole Kidman
Tom Cruise plays doctor with real-life wife Nicole Kidman

This makes his failure here -- and his death -- all the more poignant. As a filmmaker he was still young. The saddest fact is that we will never know if, indeed, this film signaled a change of direction or if in subsequent films he would have blasted off again into other worlds. And for that we can never feel grateful.

Eyes Wide Shut. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, from a screenplay by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, inspired by a novella by Arthur Schnitzler. Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

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