Title: Eyes Wide Shut
Release Date: 1999
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 159 min
Distributor and Production Company: Warner Brothers
Producer: Arthur Schnitzler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:
"They did a bad, bad thing!"
So here we have it, the most important project of Cruise's and Kidman's lives, the big kahuna. The Big Secret. The movie with a title that is an oxymoron.
Indeed, "Eyes Wide Shut" stands for a concept, an experience. That is, coming back to full circle with commitment to family, after testing the knowledge of good and evil. What is strange is that a movie with a brush with the commercially dreaded NC-17 and whose script closes with a "harmful to minors" bad word, should be so reassuring of marital commitment and permannce.
Of course, the story (based on Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle) does assume that the leading male character has gone through the blind socialization that immutable heterosexuality offers. Indeed, it depicts a physical passion and intensity that I don't personally experience, as if such abandonment were a prerequisite for the commitments of adult personhood. Is Bill Hanford, M.D. (Cruise) a family man first and then a physician dedicated to Hippocrates? Hard to tell, because he has it all. Which is the limitation of the movie: rich people, who can afford to take the chance. Ordinary people sometimes can't.
Indeed, homosexuality is
seen by Kubrick as just a peripheral, if important and catalytic, phenomenon
that requires no particular explanation. Cruise goes on his odyssey after
being taunted in the Village by "fag bashers" because he's
"cute." Indeed, this is (to borrow from ads a few years ago by
This is an art movie, and
a film which sets itself up as an "erotic thriller" by casting a
spell. The garish colors are constantly orange and pink, starting with the
Christmas trees. Kubrick shot the street scenes in
I've heard reports that some people, perhaps impatient with the film's slow pace or offended by its precepts, walked out. I was drawn into this one, though, the way I was drawn into Vertigo. This picture is a mixture of film noir, Hitchcock simplicty of action, and David Lynch weirdness. It is a bit like a dream.
One other thing: the movie industry should get over its fear of NC-17. (Seems to me, the total female nudity of some scenes might have earned one anyway.) Let "X" mean pronography for the sake of pornography, and NC-17 mean, "pornographic" with redeeming social values. It's a voluntary system.
Here, I’ll mention that there’s an imitation
witches’ initiation scene in Roman Polanksi’s
pseudo-gothic-thriller, The Ninth Gate (1999), with Johnny Depp (another tribute to Skinner’s Hairless Man) and
Frank Langela as the perennial villain. In fact, Artisan Entertainment has come a
long way from Blair Witch, to Stir of Echoes, now to this
big-budget film, quite widescreen-spectacular
technically with its scenery from the French toll way system (very
expensive, as I have driven it), with the views of the Central Massif and the
Pyrenees (home of the Basques, perhaps descendents of Atlantis??) Well,
nobody gets sexually defrocked at the Sabbath (held in a voluptuous French
chateau) here either, just murdered.
As for Depp, I know the feeling when he loses
his only copy of The Book. I had that
feeling when I lost my rental car keys in
Old books come up again in the extremely
low-budget, low-tech 16 mm overexposed art film Book Wars (Camerata) (2000), written by Jason Roseta,
who accounts for his time—three years—after becoming a “college graduate”
selling used books around Greenwich Village.
Don’t know why he couldn’t get a real job,
well this was a real job. Raw capitalism, cash economy, off the books. Other undergrounders
imitated him, setting up a robust industry for the street people. They would
live in grungy
Of course, Rudy Guliani’s crowd, making the City more livable, descends
upon them and gradually drives them out of business. Not that
real bookstores cared about the competition. “Livability,” that was a
mantra even here in
There’s another place to look for a tribunal-style (“Eyes Wide Shut” style) ritual, in the pseudo thriller The Skulls, from Universal (now complete with company logo of the world on fire from a meteor hit). The ultimate “government plot” movie where secret societies (Nixon’s “Plumbers”) recruit type-A male college seniors with promises to rule the world. Pretty corny, and one student (Luke McNamara, played by Joshua Jackson) discovers right from wrong. But for the initiations, there are several. For instance, the recruits, after being drugged, have to rouse themselves from coffins. Of they have to tell all to their soul mates. (Boy, a character—lover??--named Caleb [Paul Walker] has to be satanic in a movie-movie like this.) Here the male bonding doesn’t rise to homoeroticism because it’s just too crude. But the most harem-scarem, boo-boo ritual occurs when the boys get their watches: the hairy side of each wrist is branded and scarred, the hairs gone permanently, to provide a permanent home for a rather grabby watch. Young men, after all, are supposed to sacrifice their plumage for function, to attract predators away from the females and the nest! Even James Bond doesn’t go through that. The movie gets a D+ from me. Compare to “Cry_Wolf,” “Secret History of the Freemasons.”
If trouble married couples keep their “eyes wide shut,”
the rest of us have the eyes of others upon us. Tammy Faye is no
exception. I enjoyed Lions Gate Film’s
release of a video documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, 79 minutes,
PG-13. I presume it was shot with home
videocams, because the screen-size was cut down to
the 4:3 aspect ratio of Citizen Kane.
As for the eyes, well maybe they’re like The Eyes of Laura Mars
(1978). The film opens with a shot of her glasses—no contacts, no radial
keratotomy—her glasses were just about her only collectible possessions left.
But she had made Living for the Lord, or Coming Alive through the Lord, so
much fun. Christianity could be fun, with puppets and songs—PTL, the Praise
the Lord Ministry and Heritage
Now, this style of documentary film-making does work for me. Let’s see it used again, maybe with more ambition and bigger stakes.
WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY (Miramax/Zoe, 2000) (or HARRY: HE IS HERE TO HELP). French director Domink Moll knows how to pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock with a wicked thriller about a buddy (Sergei Lopez) from a buddy writer’s past, ready to help him dispatch of family members so that he can regain his “virility” and “creativity.” Ooooo! The French know how to create atmosphere, with gorgeous scenery of the Massif Centrale and impressionistic music in the sound track. (From Stuart Little: we don’t eat family members. But here we kill them. Wicked. Morbid. Funny. Especially when the killer is an imaginary playmate who, when constructed and instantiated, looks real to other family members. Try The Trouble with Harry.)
With A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) (2001), from Warner Brothers and Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg completes one more project envisioned by Stanley Kubrick—another impressionistic vision of ochres and sumptuous music and a surreal environment. The literary source is the 1969 short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss (originally published by Harper’s Bazaar). Haley Joel Osment plays the masterpiece Mecha, “bought” by his parents to provide the love of a “real boy” as their real son recovers from medical problems. The premise is flawed, that the parents would gratify their need for “family” with a being that can never become an adult without being traded in. (This is not to cast aspersions on parents who adopt children with special needs.) There are chilling early scenes, where Osment laughs compulsively at a dinner table where he is not allowed to eat like “real boys.” Enter the android gigolo played by Jude Law (animated, I believe, and unnaturally hairless, evermore than Richard Gere) who takes the boy on an odyssey that sounds like a right wing fantasy of idol burning, until the movie’s 2000-year-long denouement of floods and ice ages and robot alien Grays. And, for extras, you can get reincarnated once, for one day until you fall asleep for good—that’s supposed to be predicted by quantum mechanics. Well, I doubt it. William Hurt is the mad scientist, and Sam Robards and Frances O’Connor star as the beleaguered mom and dad.
(Tidbit review was Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001, Dreamworks/Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg) presents us with the moral dilemma beyond cloning: ”creating life” with a robot boy which yearns to be real and replace his brother. David (Haley Joel Osment) competes with a biological brother who has encountered a tragedy but who might return. The world, in the meantime, has lost its icecaps and coastal cities, and the ending become apocalyptic. Why, then, not use fill wide-screen format?)
Bay certainly has a subtle moral vision. The movie is an obvious argument against cloning and fits into today’s debate on stem cell research, but the more subtle point is that the perpetrators believe they are doing the right thing, saving lives. You can’t always prolong one life without taxing another. That’s true of a lot of things: I may believe I live my private life, but the way I express my values could be taken as a way to put down others. It’s a slippery slope, as the clones were supposed to be created to live in a persistent vegetative state, but then the company found that their organs were no good. So they had to be educated –first with “Fun with Dick and Jane” and then into the mental world of teenagers (at least one clone appears to be in special education).
The original film is The Clonus Horror (aka “Parts: The Clonus Horror, R, 90 min) (1979, Group 1, dir. Robert Fiveson) where the clones are on a farm and we are treated early on to seeing one of them captures, stripped, and drained with iv’s in both arms. Here the politicians are saving themselves.
Blade Runner (1982, Embassy, dir Ridley Scott, based on the story by Philip K. Dick) was the quintessential clone movie. Here the replicants live on space colonies to do menial jobs and then must be terminated. Deckard (Harrison Ford) has to track down four replicants who hijacked a space ship. The visions of future LA are surreal, with aerial trams and taxis, but more diffuse than Bay’s. There are interesting scenes, where one of the replicants seems to be in drag and challenges Decker as to whether she is a replicant. There is some brutality (eye-gouging).
With the UK-Spanish production Sexy Beast (2000, dir. Jonathan Glazer, Fox Searchlight) we have a hard-edged test of “virility” among older men—with their pot bellies and balding legs, as Ben Kingsley travels to the Spanish Gold Coast (I would have preferred San Sebastian) to taunt a former gangster (Ray Winstone) into one more heist. There is another brief orgy scene among older people this time, and the reader can imagine the looks (enough to border on NC-17). This film won the Best British Film award in the UK. Also, there’s an interesting air rage scene. Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
(1966, Paramount, dir. John Frankenheimer) is a
neat little black-and-white thriller where Antiochus Wilson (Rock Hudson)
makes the pact with the devil, to get a new life, as someone else, which
means that someone else must be eliminated, and he must be transformed. A
concept that resembles “The Island”. A roommate at
Cocoon (1985, 20th Century Fox, dir. Ron Howard, PG-13, 117 min) was one of the first big films to give this director fame. Some feisty seniors find alien cocoons in a swimming pool of a rented house (the aliens left the cocoons in the ocean on a space trip millennia before, and the seniors collect them and store them in the pool) and taste the gift youthful vigor and maybe of immortality. Wlfred Brimley , Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jack Gilford, Steve Guttenberg give memorable performances, and Brimley has the line “and you never die.” The idea that one can “change” this way into something younger has always been fascinating, but will it last?
(2005, Paramount/Lakeshore/MTV, dir. Karyn Kusama, 92 min, PG-13, USA/UK/Germany), played by Charlize Theron, is an
assassin, working for the “Monicans”, 400 years in
the future, set out to assassinate the leaders of the utopian walled city of Bregna. Most of the world was killed off by a virus
(H5N1? -- or is this like Stephen
King’s The Stand) and remainder built a Maya-looking modern civilization
somewhere in the Amazon rain forest, so it looks, where inside the city it
looks like eternal spring. The technology is surprisingly organic and
botanical, with little in the way of cyberspace. The Goodchild
family rules things, supposedly with great science, that can reincarnate the
same people infinitely with chemical impregnation (the horror that George
Gilder warned us about in the 80s). Freedom has been lost, as has any
connection of sex to emotion. The idea that the same soul or identity could
come back by a determinate process is interesting—or could the virus have had
something to do with that? The city is interesting, and you want to see more
of it; there are circles of local communities; it seems to be a recreation of
Equilibrium (2002, Dimension, dir. Kurt Wimmer,
107 min, R,
Orchid (1990, Triumph/
Teenage Angst (2009, Picture This! / Gifted, dir. Thomas Stuber, 64 min). Hazing of a possibly gay teen takes places in a German prep school, leading to tragedy. Blogger. Compare to “The Skulls”.
Return to movies (reviews)
Return to home page
Email me at Jboushka@aol.com