Eyes Wide Shut ★★★★★

I vividly remember seeing Eyes Wide Shut for the first time. It was opening day back in 1999. I went in with a mixture of anticipation and sadness. Anticipation because Kubrick had pronounced this to be the best film he’s ever made. Sadness because I knew it was the last time I would see a Kubrick for the first time.

After the show was finished, my friend and I walked to a café. We barely spoke about it. I was befuddled; far more befuddled than after seeing 2001 for the first time back in 1968 as a nine year old. What was worse; I was fighting back the agonizing thought that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t like it. How could this be? One of the few things that I said to my friend was that I was going to reserve judgement.

Over the ensuing years I’ve watched Eyes Wide Shut two or three more times. On each subsequent viewing I liked it more, and saw more things, but still didn’t love it. Beginning to emerge to me was that Eyes Wide Shut was less about the fantasy and reality of sexual dynamics and more about class and privilege, and the extremes it affords, including subjugation. On the surface, objectification of women is an easy theme to spot, but slightly below the surface you see that the class system subjugates all below their strata. Bill is the subject of his immediate better, Victor. Victor is subject to those above him who can’t be named. Place in society also dictates their likelihood of being saved. There is no one to protect and prop up Domino and Nick. It is easier just to have them replaced. Mandy only gets a second chance because her death would be inconvenient at that particular point in time.

Depravity is counterbalanced by innocence, as we see in Bil and Alice’s little girl, Helena. Innocent, and most beautiful. On this watch I thought it was interesting that on their Christmas shopping trip Helena first chose a stroller, and Alice admonished the choice as being ‘old fashioned’. Perhaps the comment that the notion of sex for procreation is old fashioned? Then she chooses a larger than her teddy bear. Perhaps the nascent want of comfort and protection? Helena, in her math lesson, is taught to be able to judge the difference in how much money one boy has versus another. As money is the currency of strata, is this an early life lesson? Helena sleeps soundly. She has protectors; for now. As with Milich’s daughter, is the loss of Helena’s innocence just a short march of years away?

The flipside, of course is excitement. Sex is all about excitement. Excitement that you can only experience when innocence is lost.

In all previous watches I’ve been too distracted trying to unravel Kubrick’s intent that I didn’t even notice his cinematography or score. Here, his cinematography, while still bearing his trademarks, is eerily fluid. Static observational shots give way to flowing follows. His natural lightning technique that originally emerged with Barry Lyndon is now so integrated that you have to look to notice it, but it’s effect in undeniable. On the sound side, when observed it is shockingly romantic. When I Fall In Love, It Had To Be You, I’m In The Mood For Love, Strangers In The Night. This is a complete counterpoise to what we see, yet, somehow, it’s the same thing. This is what gave me my epiphany on this viewing.

Kubrick has often been accused of being one of the most soulless, cold, directors who has ever brought stories to the silver screen. More and more I think Kubrick is one of the most humanist directors who has ever lived. He doesn’t tell you this in his stories; he makes you see it for yourself.

Besides the musical choices, one thing stuck out for me near the very beginning is Alice, the epitome of desirable beauty, is pictured on the toilet. Despite her goddess like perfection, she is still an animal. This got me thinking about all of other Kubrick’s films. He has always had a particular fascination with humankind. Who we are. What we are. What we want. What are our failings? What are our triumphs? What makes us tick? Eyes Wide Shut is no different; in fact, its reach for these questions is even greater in scope than any film he has ever made. Eyes Wide Shut explores the most primal emotion and behavior of humankind. Sex, desire, fear, bravado, insecurity, jealousy, power, and dominance.

The final piece in the puzzle on this viewing was the newspaper headline ‘Lucky To Be Alive’. I remember spotting that the first time I saw the film. I thought at that time that it was an over-broad comment on Dr. Bill, and how throughout his perilous explorations he was always rescued. On subsequent viewings, I was kind of annoyed at how many times it shown. I was always thinking ‘yeah, I got it’. No, I didn’t. I now think this was Stanley Kubrick’s final statement about all of the human themes he’s explored throughout his filmography. 'Lucky To Be Alive'; as enigmatic as he always has been.

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