Eyes Wide Shut
|Eyes Wide Shut|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stanley Kubrick|
|Produced by||Stanley Kubrick|
by Arthur Schnitzler
|Music by||Jocelyn Pook|
|Edited by||Nigel Galt|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$162.1 million|
Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 erotic thriller film loosely based upon Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story). The film was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick. It was his last film, as he died six days after showing his final cut to Warner Bros. studios. The story, set in and around New York City, follows the sexually charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford, who is shocked when his wife, Alice, reveals that she had contemplated an affair a year earlier. He embarks on a night-long adventure, during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society.
Kubrick obtained the filming rights for Dream Story in the 1960s, considering it a perfect novel to adapt on a film about sexual relations. The project was only revived in the 1990s, when the director hired writer Frederic Raphael to help him with the adaptation. The film was mostly shot in the United Kingdom (aside from some exterior establishing shots), and included a detailed recreation of some exterior Greenwich Village street scenes at Pinewood Studios. The film spent a long time in production, and holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot period, at 400 days.
Eyes Wide Shut was released on July 16, 1999, a few months following Kubrick's death, to positive critical reaction and intakes of $162 million at the worldwide box office. Its strong sexual content also made it controversial; to ensure a theatrical R rating in the United States, Warner Bros. digitally altered several scenes during post-production. The uncut version has since been released in DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray Disc formats.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Music
- 5 Themes and interpretation
- 6 Release
- 7 Controversies
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), are a young couple living in New York. They go to a Christmas party thrown by a wealthy patient, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). Bill meets an old friend from medical school, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who now plays piano professionally. While a Hungarian man named Sandor Szavost (Sky du Mont) tries to pick up Alice, two young models try to take Bill off for a tryst. He is interrupted by a call from his host upstairs, who had been having sex with Mandy (Julienne Davis), a young woman who has overdosed on a speedball. Mandy recovers with Bill's aid.
The next evening at home, while smoking cannabis, Alice asks him if he had sex with the two girls. After Bill reassures her, she asks if he is ever jealous of men who are attracted to her. As the discussion gets heated, he states that he thinks women are more faithful than men. She rebuts him, telling him of a recent fantasy she had about a naval officer they had encountered on a vacation. Disturbed by Alice's revelation, Bill is then called by the daughter of a patient who has just died; he then heads over to her place. In her pain, Marion Nathanson (Marie Richardson) impulsively kisses him and says she loves him. Putting her off before her fiance Carl (Thomas Gibson) arrives, Bill takes a walk. He meets a prostitute named Domino (Vinessa Shaw) and goes to her apartment.
Alice phones just as Domino begins to kiss Bill, after which he calls off the awkward encounter. Meeting Nick at the jazz club where he's just finishing his last set, Bill learns that Nick has an engagement where he must play piano blindfolded. Bill presses for details. He learns that to gain admittance, one needs a costume, a mask, and the password (which Nick writes down for him). Bill goes to a costume shop. He offers the owner, Mr. Milich (Rade Serbedzija), a generous amount of money to rent a costume. In the shop, Milich catches his teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski) with two Japanese men and expresses outrage at their lack of a sense of decency.
Bill takes a taxi to the country mansion mentioned by Nick. He gives the password and discovers a quasi-religious sexual ritual is taking place. Although he is masked, a woman takes Bill aside and warns him he does not belong there, insisting he is in terrible danger. She is then whisked away by someone else, so Bill spends some time wandering from room to room in the mansion, where groups of masked people are engaged in various types of sexual acts, while others watch. He is then interrupted by a porter who tells Bill that the taxi driver wants to speak urgently with him at the front door. However, the porter takes him to the ritual room, where a disguised red-cloaked Master of Ceremonies confronts Bill with a question about a second password. Bill says he has forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies insists that Bill "kindly remove his mask", then his clothes. The masked woman who had tried to warn Bill now intervenes and insists that she be punished instead of him. Bill is ushered from the mansion and warned not to tell anyone about what happened there.
Just before dawn, Bill arrives home guilty and confused. He finds Alice laughing loudly in her sleep and awakens her. While crying, she tells him of a troubling dream in which she was having sex with the naval officer and many other men, and laughing at the idea of Bill seeing her with them. The next morning, Bill goes to Nick's hotel, where the desk clerk (Alan Cumming) tells Bill that a bruised and frightened Nick checked out a few hours earlier after returning with two large, dangerous-looking men. Nick tried to pass an envelope to the clerk when they were leaving, but it was intercepted, and Nick was driven away by the two men.
Bill goes to return the costume — but not the mask, which he has misplaced — and Milich, with his daughter by his side, states he can do other favors for Bill "and it needn't be a costume." The same two Japanese men leave; Milich implies to Bill that he has sold his daughter for prostitution. Bill returns to the country mansion in his own car and is met at the gate by a man with a note warning him to cease and desist his inquiries. At home, Bill thinks about Alice's dream while watching her tutor their daughter.
Bill reconsiders his sexual offers the night before. He first phones Marion, but hangs up after Carl answers the phone. Bill then goes to Domino's apartment with a gift. Her roommate Sally (Fay Masterson) is home, but not Domino. After Bill attempts to seduce Sally, she reveals to him that Domino has just tested positive for HIV. Bill leaves and notices a man is following him. After reading a newspaper story about a beauty queen who died of a drug overdose, Bill views the body at the morgue and identifies it as Mandy. Bill is summoned to Ziegler's house, where he is confronted with the events of the past night and day. Ziegler was one of those involved with the ritual orgy, and identified Bill and his connection with Nick. His own position with the secret society has been jeopardized by Bill's intrusion since Ziegler recommended Nick for the job.
Ziegler claims that he had Bill followed for his own protection, and that the warnings made against Bill by the society are only intended to scare him from speaking about the orgy. But he implies the society is capable of acting on their threats, telling Bill: "If I told you their names, I don't think you'd sleep so well". Bill asks about the death of Mandy, whom Ziegler has identified as the masked woman at the party who'd "sacrificed" herself to prevent Bill's punishment, and about the disappearance of Nick, the piano player. Ziegler insists that Nick is safely back at his home in Seattle. Ziegler also says the "punishment" was a charade by the secret society to further frighten Bill, and it had nothing to do with Mandy's death; she was a hooker and addict and had indeed died from another accidental drug overdose. Bill clearly does not know if Ziegler is telling him the truth about Nick's disappearance or Mandy's death, but he says nothing further and lets the matter drop.
When he returns home, Bill finds the rented mask on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. He breaks down in tears and decides to tell Alice the whole truth of the past two days. The next morning, they go Christmas shopping with their daughter. Alice muses that they should be grateful they have survived, that she loves him, and there is something they must do as soon as possible. When Bill asks what it may be, she simply says: "Fuck".
While Stanley Kubrick was interested in making a film about sexual relations as early as 1962, during production of Dr. Strangelove, the project only took off after he read Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story in 1968, when he was seeking a work to follow on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick got interested in adapting the story, and with the help of then-journalist Jay Cocks, bought the filming rights to the novel. In the 1970s, Kubrick had thought of Woody Allen as the Jewish protagonist. For the following decade, Kubrick even considered making his Dream Story adaptation a sex comedy "with a wild and somber streak running through it", starring Steve Martin in the main role. The project was only revived in 1994, when Kubrick hired Frederic Raphael to work on the script, updating the setting from 19th century Vienna to 20th century New York City. Kubrick invited Michael Herr, a personal friend who helped write Full Metal Jacket, for revisions, but Herr declined for fear that he would both be underpaid and would commit to an overlong production.
Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Dream Story is set around Vienna shortly after the turn of the century. The main characters are a couple named Fridolin and Albertina; their home is a typical suburban middle-class home, not the film's posh urban apartment. Schnitzler himself, like the protagonist of this novel, lived in Vienna, was Jewish, and a medical doctor, though Schnitzler eventually abandoned medicine for writing.
While Fridolin and Albertina, the protagonist couple of Dream Story, are sometimes implied to be Jewish, there is nothing in the novella which justifies this assumption, and neither Fridolin nor Albertina are typical Jewish names; whereas Nachtigall (Nightingale) is overtly identified as Jewish. Kubrick (himself of Jewish descent) frequently removed references to the Jewishness of characters in the novels he adapted. In the case of Eyes Wide Shut, Frederic Raphael (who is also Jewish) wanted to keep the Jewish background of the protagonists, but Kubrick insisted that they should be "vanilla" Americans, without any details that would arouse any presumptions. The director added that Bill should be a "Harrison Ford-ish goy", and created the surname of Harford as an allusion to the actor. This is reflected in the way the film handles the way Bill Harford is taunted by college students when going home in the morning. In the film, Bill is taunted with homophobic slurs. In the novella, these boys are recognized to be members of an anti-Semitic college fraternity. Kubrick's co-screenwriter, Frederic Raphael, in an introduction to a Penguin Classics edition of Dream Story, writes "Fridolin is not declared to be a Jew, but his feelings of cowardice, for failing to challenge his aggressor, echo the uneasiness of Austrian Jews in the face of Gentile provocation."
The novella is set during the Carnival, when people often wear masks to parties. The party that both husband and wife attend at the opening of the story is a masked Carnival ball, whereas the film's story begins at Christmas time.
Critic Randy Rasmussen suggests that the character of Bill is fundamentally more naïve, strait-laced, less disclosing and more unconscious of his vindictive motives than his counterpart, Fridolin. For Rasmussen and others, the film's Bill Harford is essentially sleep-walking through life with no deeper awareness of his surrounding. In the novella when his wife discloses a private sexual fantasy, he in turn admits one of his own (of a girl in her mid to late teens), while in the film he is simply shocked. The film's argument over whether he has fantasies over female patients and whether women have sexual fantasies is simply absent from the novella where both husband and wife assume the other has fantasies. In the film, Bill's estrangement from Alice revolves around her confessing a recent fantasy to him; in the novella both exchange fantasies after which she declares that in her youth she could have easily married someone else, which is what precipitates their sense of estrangement.
In the novella, the husband long suspected that his patient (Marion) was infatuated with him, while in the film it is a complete surprise and he seems shocked. He is also more overwhelmed by the orgy in the film than in the novella. Fridolin is socially bolder but less sexual with the prostitute (Mizzi in the novella, Domino in the film). Fridolin is also conscious of looking old in the novella, though he hardly does in the film.
In the novella, the party (which is sparsely attended) uses "Denmark" as the password for entrance; that is significant in that Albertina had her infatuation with her soldier in Denmark. The film's password is "Fidelio", from the Latin word for "faithful", and which is the title of Beethoven's only opera (Fidelio, or Married Love). In early drafts of the screenplay, the password was "Fidelio Rainbow". Jonathan Rosenbaum notes that both passwords echo elements of one member of the couple's behaviour, though in opposite ways. The party in the novella consists mostly of nude ballroom dancing.
In the novella the woman who "redeems" Fridolin at the party, saving him from punishment, is costumed as a nun, and most of the characters at the party are dressed as nuns or monks; Fridolin himself used a monk costume. This aspect was retained in the film's original screenplay, but was deleted in the filmed version.
In the novella, when the husband returns home, the wife's dream is an elaborate drama that concludes with him getting crucified in a village square after Fridolin refuses to separate from Albertina and become the paramour of the village princess, even though Albertina is now occupied with copulating with other men, and watches him "without pity". By being faithful, Fridolin thus fails to save himself from execution in Albertina's dream although he was apparently spared by the woman's "sacrifice" at the masked sex party. In both the novella and film, the wife states that the laugh in her sleep just before she woke was a laugh of scornful contempt for her husband; although awake she states this matter-of-factly. The novella makes it clear that Fridolin at this point hates Albertina more than ever, thinking they are now lying together "like mortal enemies". It has been argued that the dramatic climax of the novella is actually Albertina's dream, and the film has shifted the focus to Bill's visit to the secret society's orgy whose content is more shocking in the film.
The adaptation created a character with no counterpart in the novella: Ziegler, who represents both the high wealth and prestige to which Bill Harford aspires, and a connection between Bill's two worlds (his regular life, and the secret society organizing the ball). Critic Randy Rasmussen interprets Ziegler as representing Bill's worst self, much as in other Kubrick films; the title character in Dr. Strangelove represents the worst of the American national security establishment, Charles Grady represents the worst of Jack Torrance in The Shining, and Clare Quilty represents the worst of Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
Ziegler's presence allows Kubrick to change the mechanics of the story in a few ways. In the film, Bill first meets his piano-playing friend at Ziegler's party, and then while wandering around town, seeks him out at the Sonata Café. In the novella, the café encounter with Nightingale is a delightful coincidence. Similarly, the dead woman whom Bill suspects of being the woman at the party who saved him is a baroness that he was acquainted with earlier, not a hooker at Ziegler's party.
More significantly, in the film, Ziegler gives a commentary on the whole story to Bill, including an explanation that the party incident, where Bill is apprehended, threatened, and ultimately redeemed by the woman's sacrifice, was staged. Whether this is to be believed or not, it is an exposition of Ziegler's view of the ways of the world as a member of the power elite.
The novella explains why the husband's mask is on the pillow next to his sleeping wife, she having discovered it when it slipped out of his suitcase, and placing it there as a statement of understanding. This is left unexplained in the film and left to the viewer's interpretation.
When Warner Bros. president Terry Semel approved production, he asked Kubrick to cast a movie star, as "you haven't done that since Jack Nicholson [in The Shining]." Cruise was in England because his wife Nicole Kidman was there shooting The Portrait of a Lady, and eventually Cruise decided to visit Kubrick's estate with Kidman. After that meeting, the director awarded them the roles. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Harvey Keitel each were cast and filmed by Kubrick. Due to scheduling conflicts both had to drop out – first Keitel with Finding Graceland, then Leigh with eXistenZ – and their roles were replaced by Marie Richardson and Sydney Pollack in the final cut.
Principal photography began in November 1996. Kubrick's perfectionism led to script pages being rewritten on the set, and most scenes requiring numerous takes. The shoot went much longer than expected, with Vinessa Shaw—playing the HIV-positive prostitute—being initially contracted for two weeks but ending up working for two months. The crew got exhausted. Filming finally wrapped in June 1998. The Guinness World Records recognized Eyes Wide Shut as the longest constant movie shoot, "for over 15 months, a period that included an unbroken shoot of 46 weeks".
Given Kubrick's fear of flying, the entire film was shot in England. Sound-stage works were done at London's Pinewood Studios, which included a detailed recreation of Greenwich Village. Kubrick's perfectionism went as far as sending workmen to Manhattan to measure street widths and note newspaper vending machine locations. Real New York footage was also shot to be rear projected behind Cruise. Production was followed by a strong campaign of secrecy, helped by Kubrick always working with a short team on set. Outdoor locations included Hatton Garden for a Greenwich Village street, Hamleys for the toy store from the film's ending, and Mentmore Towers and Elveden Hall in Elveden, Suffolk, England for the mansion. Larry Smith, who had first served as a gaffer on both Barry Lyndon and The Shining, was chosen by Kubrick to be the film's cinematographer. Kubrick refused to use studio lighting, forcing Smith to use the available light sources visible in the shot, such as lamps and Christmas tree lights. When this was not adequate, Smith used Chinese paper ball lamps to softly brighten the scene. The color was enhanced by push processing the film reels, which helped bring out the intensity of color.
Kubrick's perfectionism led him to overseeing every visual element that would appear in a given frame, from props and furniture to the color of walls and other objects. One such element were the masks used in the orgy, which were inspired by the masked Carnival balls visited by the protagonists of the novel. Costume designer Marit Allen explained that Kubrick felt they fit in that scene for being part of the imaginary world and ended up "creat[ing] the impression of menace, but without exaggeration". Many masks as used in the Venetian carnival were sent to London, and Kubrick separated who would wear each piece. The paintings of Kubrick's wife Christiane are featured on decoration.
After shooting completed, Kubrick entered a prolonged post-production process. On March 1, 1999, Kubrick showed a cut to Cruise, Kidman, and the Warner Bros. executives. The director died six days later.
Jocelyn Pook wrote the original music for Eyes Wide Shut, but like other Kubrick movies the film was noted for its usage of classical music. The opening title music is Shostakovich's "Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra", misidentified as "Waltz 2 from Jazz Suite". One recurring piece is the second movement of György Ligeti's piano cycle "Musica ricercata". Kubrick originally intended to feature "Im Treibhaus" from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, but the director eventually replaced it with Ligeti's tune feeling Wagner's song was "too beautiful". In the morgue scene, Franz Liszt's late solo piano piece, "Nuages Gris" ("Grey Clouds") (1881) is heard. "Rex tremendae" from Mozart's Requiem plays as Bill walks into the cafe and reads of Mandy's death.
Pook was hired after choreographer Yolande Snaith rehearsed the masked ball orgy scene using Pook's composition "Backwards Priests" – which features a Romanian Orthodox Divine Liturgy recorded in a church in Baia Mare, played backwards – as a reference track. Kubrick then called the composer and asked if she had anything else "weird" like that song, which was reworked for the final cut of the scene, with the title "Masked Ball". Pook ended up composing and recording four pieces of music, many times based on her previous work, totaling 24 minutes. The composer's work ended up having mostly string instruments – including a viola played by Pook herself – with no brass or woodwinds as Pook "just couldn't justify these other textures", particularly as she wanted the tracks played on dialogue-heavy scenes to be "subliminal" and felt such instruments would be intrusive.
Another track in the orgy, "Migrations", features a Tamil song sung by Manickam Yogeswaran, a Carnatic singer. The original cut had a scriptural recitation of the Bhagavad Gita which Pook took from a previous Yogeswaran recording. As a result of Hindus protesting against their most sacred scripture being used in such a context, Warner Bros. issued a public apology, and hired the singer to record a similar track to replace the chant.
The party at Ziegler's house features rearrangements of love songs such as "When I Fall in Love" and "It Had to Be You", used in increasingly ironic ways considering how Alice and Bill flirt with other people in the scene. As Kidman was nervous about doing nude scenes, Kubrick stated she could bring music to liven up. When Kidman brought a Chris Isaak CD, Kubrick approved it, and incorporated Isaak's song "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" to both an early romantic embrace of Bill and Alice and the film's trailer.
Themes and interpretation
The film was described by some reviewers and partially marketed as an erotic thriller, a categorization disputed by others. It is classified as such in the book The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema by Linda Ruth Williams, and was described as such in two news articles about Cruise and Kidman's lawsuit over assertions they saw a sex therapist during filming. The positive review in Combustible Celluloid describes it as an erotic thriller upon first viewing, but actually a "complex story about marriage and sexuality". Also positive was High-Def Digest, also calling it an erotic thriller.
However, reviewing the film on AboutFilm.com, Carlo Cavagna regards this as a misleading classification, as does Leo Goldsmith writing on notcoming.com and the review on Blu-ray.com did the same. Writing in TV Guide, Maitland McDonagh writes "No one familiar with the cold precision of Kubrick's work will be surprised that this isn't the steamy erotic thriller a synopsis (or the ads) might suggest." Writing in general about the genre of 'erotic thriller' for CineAction in 2001, Douglas Keesey states that the film "whatever its actual type, was at least marketed as an erotic thriller". Michael Koresky writing in the 2006 issue of film journal Reverse Shot writes "this director, who defies expectations at every turn and brings genre to his feet, was ... setting out to make neither the 'erotic thriller' that the press maintained nor an easily identifiable 'Kubrick film'". DVD Talk similarly dissociates the film from this genre.
In addition to relocating the story from Vienna in the 1900s to New York City in the 1990s, Kubrick changed the time-frame of Schnitzler's story from Mardi Gras to Christmas. One critic believes Kubrick did this because of the rejuvenating symbolism of Christmas. Others have noted that Christmas lights allow Kubrick to employ some of his distinct methods of shooting including using source location lighting, as he did in Barry Lyndon. The New York Times noted that the film "gives an otherworldly radiance and personality to Christmas lights", and similarly critic Randy Rasmussen notes that "colorful Christmas lights ... illuminate almost every location in the film." Harper's film critic, Lee Siegel, believes the film's recurring motif is the Christmas tree, because it symbolizes the way that "Compared with the everyday reality of sex and emotion, our fantasies of gratification are, yes, pompous and solemn in the extreme ... For desire is like Christmas: it always promises more than it delivers." Author Tim Kreider notes that the "Satanic" mansion-party at Somerton is the only set in the film without a Christmas tree, stating "Almost every set is suffused with the dreamlike, hazy glow of colored lights and tinsel ... Eyes Wide Shut, though it was released in summer, was the Christmas movie of 1999." Noting that Kubrick has shown viewers the dark side of Christmas consumerism, Louise Kaplan notes that the film illustrates ways that the "material reality of money" is shown replacing the spiritual values of Christmas, charity and compassion. While virtually every scene has a Christmas tree, there is "no Christmas music or cheery Christmas spirit." Critic Alonso Duralde in his book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas categorizes this film as a "Christmas movie for grownups" (as he also does with Bergman's Fanny and Alexander and The Lion in Winter), arguing that "Christmas weaves its way through the film from start to finish".
Use of Venetian masks
Historians, travel guide authors, novelists, and merchants of Venetian masks have noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscuous activities. Authors Tim Kreider and Thomas Nelson have linked the film's usage of these to Venice's reputation as a center of both eroticism and mercantilism. Nelson notes that the sex ritual combines elements of Venetian Carnival and Catholic rites. (In particular, the character of "Red Cloak" simultaneously serves as Grand Inquisitor and King of Carnival.) As such, Nelson argues the sex ritual is a symbolic mirror of the darker truth behind the façade of Victor Ziegler's earlier Christmas party. Carolin Ruwe writing in her 2007 book Symbols in Stanley Kubrick's Movie 'Eyes Wide Shut' argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, the masks at Somerton mansion reflecting the masks that all wear in society, a point reinforced by Tim Kreider who notes the many masks in the prostitute's apartment and her having been renamed in the film "Domino" which is a style of Venetian mask.
Warner Bros. heavily promoted Eyes Wide Shut, while following Kubrick's secrecy campaign – to the point the film's press kits contained no production notes – and also the director's suggestions to Semel regarding the marketing campaign, given one week prior to Kubrick's death. The first footage was shown to theater owners attending the 1999 edition of the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas. TV spots featured both Isaak and Ligeti's songs from the soundtrack while revealing little about the movie's plot. The film also appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and on show business programs such as Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.
Eyes Wide Shut opened on July 16, 1999 in the United States. The film topped the weekend box office with $21.7 million from 2,411 screens. These numbers surpassed the studio's expectations of $20 million, and became both Cruise's sixth consecutive chart topper and Kubrick's highest opening weekend. Audiences had a drop from Friday to Saturday, which analysts attributed to the news coverage of John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s disappearance. It ended up grossing a total of $55,691,208 in the US. The numbers put it as Kubrick's second most successful film in the country behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, but were considered a box office disappointment.
Shortly after its screening at the Venice Film Festival, Eyes Wide Shut saw a British premiere on September 3, 1999 at the Warner Village cinema in Leicester Square. The film's wide opening occurred the following weekend, and topped the UK charts with £1,189,672. It remained atop the charts the following weekend, and finished its box office run with £5,065,520.
The international performances for Eyes Wide Shut were more positive, with Kubrick's long-time assistant and brother-in-law Jan Harlan stating that "It was badly received in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it was very well received in the Latin world and Japan. In Italy, it was a huge hit." Overseas earnings of over $105 million led to a $162,091,208 box office run worldwide, turning it into the highest-grossing Kubrick film.
Eyes Wide Shut received positive reviews from critics and currently has a "Certified Fresh" score of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 146 reviews with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10. The critical consensus states "Kubrick's intense study of the human psyche yields an impressive cinematic work." The film also has a score of 68 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 33 critics indicating "Generally favorable reviews". Over 50 critics listed the film among the best of 1999.
Critics objected to two features. The first complaint was that the movie's pacing was too slow; while this may have been intended to convey a dream state, critics objected that it made actions and decisions seem labored. Second, reviewers commented that Kubrick had shot his NYC scenes in a studio and that New York "didn't look like New York". Writing about erotic mystery thrillers, writer Leigh Lundin comments that watching the dissolving marriage was painful and the backdrop of Christmas against the dark topic was disturbing, but "the oblique, well-told plot rewards an attentive viewer".
Lee Siegel from Harper's felt that most critics responded mainly to the marketing campaign and did not address the film on its own terms. Others felt that American censorship took an esoteric film and made it even harder to understand. Reviewer James Berardinelli stated that it was arguably one of Kubrick's best films. Writing for The New York Times, reviewer Janet Maslin commented "This is a dead-serious film about sexual yearnings, one that flirts with ridicule yet sustains its fundamental eeriness and gravity throughout. The dreamlike intensity of previous Kubrick visions is in full force here."
On the television show Roger Ebert & the Movies, director Martin Scorsese named Eyes Wide Shut his fourth-favorite film of the 1990s. For the introduction to Michel Ciment's Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, Scorsese wrote: "When Eyes Wide Shut came out a few months after Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999, it was severely misunderstood, which came as no surprise. If you go back and look at the contemporary reactions to any Kubrick picture (except the earliest ones), you'll see that all his films were initially misunderstood. Then, after five or ten years came the realization that 2001 or Barry Lyndon or The Shining was like nothing else before or since." Mystery writer and commentator Jon Breen agrees. In 2012, Slant Magazine ranked the film #2 on its list of the 100 Best Films of the 1990s. The BBC listed it number 61 on their 100 greatest American films of all time time.
Awards and honors
- Golden Globes
- Golden Globes Award for Best Original Score – Motion Picture – Jocelyn Pook (nominated)
- Venice Film Festival
- Filmcritica "Bastone Bianco" Award – Stanley Kubrick (Won)
- Chicago Film Critics Association
- Best Director – Stanley Kubrick (nominated)
- Best Cinematography – Stanley Kubrick and Larry Smith (nominated)
- Best Original score – Jocelyn Pook (nominated)
- Costume Designers Guild
- Excellence in Costume Design for Film – Contemporary – Marit Allen (nominated)
- Satellite Award
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama – Nicole Kidman (nominated)
- Best Cinematography – Larry Smith (nominated)
- Best Sound – Paul Conway and Edward Tise (nominated)
- Online Film Critics Society
- Best Director – Stanley Kubrick (nominated)
- Best Cinematography – Larry Smith (nominated)
- Best Original score – Jocelyn Pook (nominated)
Eyes Wide Shut was first released in VHS and DVD on March 7, 2000. The original DVD release corrects technical gaffes, including a reflected crew member, and altering a piece of Alice Harford's dialogue. Most home videos remove the verse that was claimed to be cited from the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (although it was Pook's reworking of "Backwards Priests" as stated above.)
On October 23, 2007, Warner Home Video released Eyes Wide Shut in a special edition DVD, plus the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats. This is the first home video release that presents the film in anamorphic 1.78:1 (16:9) format (note that the film was shown theatrically as soft matted 1.66:1 in Europe and 1.85:1 in the USA and Japan). The previous DVD release used a 1.33:1 (4:3) aspect ratio. It is also the first American home video release to feature the uncut version. Although the earliest American DVD of the uncut version states on the cover that it includes both the R-rated and unrated editions, in actuality only the unrated edition is on the DVD.
R. Lee Ermey, an actor in Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket, claimed that Kubrick phoned him two weeks before his death to express his despondency over Eyes Wide Shut. "He told me it was a piece of shit", Ermey said in Radar magazine, "and that he was disgusted with it and that the critics were going to 'have him for lunch'. He said Cruise and Kidman had their way with him – exactly the words he used."
According to Todd Field, Kubrick's friend and an actor in Eyes Wide Shut, Ermey's claims do not accurately reflect Kubrick's essential attitude. Field's response appeared in a 26 October 2006 interview with Slashfilm.com:
The polite thing would be to say 'No comment'. But the truth is that ... let's put it this way, you've never seen two actors more completely subservient and prostrate themselves at the feet of a director. Stanley was absolutely thrilled with the film. He was still working on the film when he died. And he probably died because he finally relaxed. It was one of the happiest weekends of his life, right before he died, after he had shown the first cut to Terry, Tom and Nicole. He would have kept working on it, like he did on all of his films. But I know that from people around him personally, my partner who was his assistant for thirty years. And I thought about R. Lee Ermey for In the Bedroom. And I talked to Stanley a lot about that film, and all I can say is Stanley was adamant that I shouldn't work with him for all kinds of reasons that I won't get into because there is no reason to do that to anyone, even if they are saying slanderous things that I know are completely untrue.
In a reddit "Ask Me Anything" session, Stanley Kubrick's daughter, Katharina Kubrick, claimed that her father was very proud of the film. She also discredited Ermey's claims, saying to a user who asked about Kubrick's alleged comments, "[not to] believe that for a second."
Studio censorship and classification
Citing contractual obligations to deliver an R rating, Warner Bros. digitally altered the orgy for the American release, blocking out graphic sexuality by inserting additional figures to obscure the view, avoiding an adults-only NC-17 rating that limited distribution, as some large American theaters and video store operators disallow films with that rating. This alteration antagonized film critics and cinephiles, as they argued that Kubrick had never been shy about ratings (A Clockwork Orange was originally given an X-rating). The unrated version of Eyes Wide Shut was released in the United States on 23 October 2007 in DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray Disc formats.
The version in South America, Europe and Australia featured the orgy scene intact (theatrical and DVD release) with ratings mostly for people of 18+. In New Zealand and in Europe, the uncensored version has been shown on television with some controversy. In Australia, it was broadcast on Network Ten with the alterations in the American version for an MA rating, blurring and cutting explicit sexuality.
Roger Ebert objected to the technique of using digital images to mask the action. He said it "should not have been done at all" and it is "symbolic of the moral hypocrisy of the rating system that it would force a great director to compromise his vision, while by the same process making his adult film more accessible to young viewers." Although Ebert has been frequently cited as calling the standard North American R-rated version the "Austin Powers" version of Eyes Wide Shut – referencing two scenes in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in which, through camera angles and coincidences, sexual body parts are blocked from view in a comical way – his review stated that this joke referred to an early rough draft of the altered scene, never publicly released.
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