Wednesday, July 16, 2014

'Eyes Wide Shut' Was Psychological More Than Sexual

Some people think "Eyes Wide Shut," which premiered 15 years ago today, was a fitting finale for director Stanley Kubrick.

Some folks don't.

I saw many trademark Kubrick touches in the movie, and the story was very much in his style — if Kubrick had a style. His movies differed so much in content from each other that I suppose it really isn't accurate to refer to his style in any context other than camerawork.

He could do comedy, he could do satire, and he could do drama.

He had something of a reputation, and so did the source material for his movie, an Austrian novella, "Dream Story," that was published more than 70 years earlier. "Eyes Wide Shut" dealt with the thoughts and personal conversions a Manhattan doctor experienced after his wife told him she had fantasized about having an affair.

Kubrick died shortly after the completion of filming.

I've never read the book so I don't know if the two are described in it as attractive or plain. I suppose it doesn't matter too much in a book, where a reader can imagine characters to be anything that isn't spelled out for them by the author.

It is different in a movie. A character's appearance leaves little to the imagination in a movie. If the book isn't specific — and even if it is — the viewer has to accept the appearance that is given in the movie. Through casting, acting, direction, even story revision, all of the heavy lifting is done for the observer; his/her images will be those created by the writer(s), director and actors.

In casting his movie, Kubrick put two actors in the roles of the husband and wife whose reputations for sexually charged performances preceded them — Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. At the time, they happened to be real–life spouses, which probably raised their level of intensity in the movie. They split up a couple of years later.

Anyway, the talk before "Eyes Wide Shut" made its debut was that it was going to be a sexy movie. Given the nature of the trailers that had been showing in theaters, that is certainly easy to understand.

But it occurred to me as I watched it that Kubrick may have taken a page from Alfred Hitchcock's playbook.

Hitchcock was known for his cameo appearances in his movies; when it was brought to his attention that audiences had been watching for his cameo and didn't settle in for the story until they saw him, Hitchcock began positioning his cameos earlier and earlier in his movies.

In Kubrick's case, audiences were expecting nudity so my guess is that he tossed them a crumb. The audience saw Kidman changing clothes for a party very early (and very briefly) in the movie.

To me, it was as if Kubrick was saying, "OK, there's the nudity. Now, let's focus on the story."

As nearly as I could tell, the story was about jealousy and obsession.

(I've seen this movie six or seven times, at least. I'm still not sure what it was trying to say. It seems to be saying something different each time I watch it.)

That wasn't the end of the nudity, of course.

In fact, the story was about sex and titillation — as well as jealousy and obsession — and nudity, too, but the nudity didn't tend to take the viewers where they probably thought they were going. It may seem like a strange dichotomy, but sex and nudity don't necessarily go hand in hand in the movies — especially a Kubrick movie. Nudity in "Eyes Wide Shut" was treated almost casually. So was sex, for that matter.

Make no mistake, though, there was lots of nudity — and there was some sex, too — but it was interesting that the next time the audience saw Kidman (only about a minute later), she was doing something decidedly not erotic (although some might argue that it was intimate) — sitting on the toilet — while Cruise put the finishing touches on his appearance.

And they were conversing in the way that married people do. She asked about her hair. Did it look all right? He said it looked great. She said he hadn't looked at it — so he did and repeated his compliment.

The night after the party — which was a nice blend of significant moments and red herrings — Cruise and Kidman fired up a joint and engaged in some candid conversation, in which Kidman told Cruise she had fantasized about having an affair — with an anonymous naval officer she had seen during their vacation in Cape Cod a year earlier.

Kidman felt drawn to him, like a moth to a flame. "If he wanted me," she told Cruise, "I would give up everything." She expressed relief that one day he disappeared and never returned. It meant she wouldn't have to make such a choice.

That mental image really lit a fire under Cruise, and he embarked on a two–night odyssey through New York's sexual underworld.

The odyssey took him to many places, and he didn't have to look too hard to find opportunities to be unfaithful to Kidman. Such opportunities found him.

He dabbled in them, was tempted by them, nearly succumbed to them at times.

I guess this was the thing about "Eyes Wide Shut" that I found especially fascinating — Cruise's transformation from a kind of stuffy yet high–minded sort to a no–holds–barred sexual adventurer, all because his wife had told him that she had fantasized about having an affair.

And yet ...

He never gave in to the temptation.

At one point, while making arrangements for a costume to wear to an orgy (which was hosted by an unidentified secret society), Cruise met a young girl (Leelee Sobieski), the daughter of the owner of the costume shop. When Cruise came back the next day to return the costume, the shop owner strongly implied that his daughter was available for sexual favors.

(Some people think Sobieski, who was 13 when filming began and 16 when it ended, bears a resemblance to Helen Hunt, who was one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood at the time. I could see hints of a young Hunt in Sobieski's face in "Eyes Wide Shut," but, overall, as she has grown older, I see less and less of it.

(I guess that was consistent for me. I once worked with a woman who told me she was a dead ringer for Julia Roberts. I didn't see that, either.)

Other interesting angles of the story:

Sydney Pollack played the wealthy patient who hosted the first party and was revealed to have been one of the guests at the orgy. Originally, Harvey Keitel was cast in that role, but he dropped out — as did Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was cast to play Marion, the daughter of one of Cruise's old friends — because of another commitment.

Marion's father was dying, and Cruise was summoned to his side. In the movie, Marion tells Cruise she loves him and kisses him. Marie Richardson played the role instead.

Some movie reviewers classified "Eyes Wide Shut" as an erotic thriller. It was even marketed that way. But that really was misleading.

The final product was really more of a psychological thriller, partly because of things that were done in the editing process.

Apparently, the sexual content was even more graphic than people saw on their movie screens, but, to avoid an NC–17 rating, certain techniques were used to mute it.

That was done after Kubrick had died. Who knows if he would have agreed to what was done?

Of that attempt to mute the content, film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "[I]t is done well, even though it should not have been done at all. ... 'Eyes Wide Shut' should have been released as [Kubrick] made it."

Sounds a lot like the argument I made against "colorizing" black–and–white movies. A movie is a work of art, and the director is the artist. Since the advent of color in the movies, it has always been an artistic decision whether to use it — although the cost played an important role in that decision for many years.

The content of a movie is even more of an artistic decision so I agree with Ebert. The edits should not have been done at all — even if leaving the film as it was meant an NC–17 rating.