The top secret nature surrounding Kubrick’s opus meant that most audiences had little idea of what the film was about. Does Nicole play another doctor? Is Tom a sex therapist who can’t cope with his own sexuality? What were Harvey Keitel’s and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s roles before they were left on the cutting room floor and replaced by Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson respectively? Is it about sex, violence, or marriage? Do Tom and Nicole go hardcore?
After you see the film though, its secret nature will make sense. The plot on the other hand"¦.
All you really need to know is the title. This film is about having your eyes wide shut. It’s about fantasy vs. reality. It’s about contradictions, small details and symbolism. It’s also a film seen through the eyes of a character discovering the world around him.
Dr Bill Hartford’s (Tom Cruise) dilemma is not too dissimilar to Michael Douglas’ in The Game. He’s out for a bit of adventure, thinking that he’s constantly in control. Unfortunately someone else is pulling the strings. As a viewer this means we’re at the character’s mercy, believing and seeing what he believes and sees, until we start panicking, just like him, to get to the bottom of an enigmatic strange conspiracy. As it turns out, Eyes Wide Out ends on an inconclusive note. Resolution is not final, and the only way to really understand it would be a second viewing. Based on therapist Arthur Schnitzler’s novel Traumnovelle, Eyes Wide Shut could almost be seen as a psychotherapist’s manual. 'So what do you think it all means?"
Deceptively, the first half of the film plays like the Tom & Nicole show. She’s a bankrupted art gallery owner (or so she tells a man she doesn’t really need to tell the truth) who’s now a full time housewife for general practitioner Tom. They live a very comfortable Manhattan existence with their young daughter. After nine years of marriage, Nicole starts getting jealous, breaking to Tom that she fantasises as well. He can’t deal with it, goes off into the city, taking part in a mysterious sex ritual for the wealthy, and paying the price for the rest of the film.
Seeing the film twice will not only give you the benefit of understanding the deliberate pacing and subtlety of the story, but also a few ghosts dwelling within the film’s frames. When Tom revives a junkie for his rich pal Victor, he walks past a reflective surface that gives us a quick glimpse of an accidental bystander; and what’s that looping squeaking noise when Tom discovers Nicole’s fantasises? Are these deliberate fibres of Kubrick’s vision or accidents that couldn’t be fixed due to his death?
Eyes Wide Shut is an enigma. The performances are brave (although Nicole can’t help her self-consciousness), the music stark, the images unforgettable. It’s a bold stroke and a rebellion against commercial cinema of the '90s. You can still make art it seems, though whether Kubrick’s passing is as symbolic as his film, we are still to find out.