Monday, March 03, 2008

Mondays With Stanley - Dr. Tom's Erotic Walkabout

Eyes Wide Shut was the first Kubrick film I saw when it was "new," by which I mean immediately when it was released on video. As such, I always felt a little more fond about it than most others seem to. I'm intrigued that going back through the reviews that greeted the film upon its release, such as Roger Ebert's and Janet Maslin's in the New York Times, are very positive, if not exactly glowing. I think the unease that lots of people felt for the film comes from the fact that it's less obviously a masterpiece than some of Kubrick's earlier works. Oh, and it's all about sex.

Well, desire, more accurately, I think. The tale involves a married couple, played by then marrieds Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who, after a glitzy Christmas party at which both of them shamelessly flirted with other folks, have a devastating pot-fueled argument, during which Nicole admits having lusted mightily in her heart for another man previously during their marriage. Thrown from his moorings, and called out of the midst of this argument for a dead patient, Dr. Tom begins an erotic journey that takes him through the surreal underbelly of the city. What exactly does Dr. Tom make of all this, much less Nicole when he tearfully confesses where he's been? It's not entirely clear, although a tacked-on final scene tries to tie up the loose ends.

The journey of Dr. Tom, during which he repeatedly whips out his medical license as a sort of talisman (or police badge) to get people to open up to him, is strung together with a dreamlike quality. It doesn't quite makes sense or proceed linearly from one point to another, but the bits themselves while they happen are often intense and hypnotic. At the center of Dr. Tom's journey is the famous orgy scene, made notable during the initial release for the digitally inserted people blocking (as Ebert puts it)the "energetic rumpy-pumpy."

The current DVD release thankfully does away with the alteration, thankfully. It doesn't make those 60 seconds incredibly erotic or titillating (think late-night Cinemax with better production values), but at least it's not cringe-inducing. Which is important, 'cause the whole long scene, from the bizarre ritual punctuated by the spooky as hell use of Ligeti's Musica Ricercata (three notes never sounded so ominous), needs to maintain the dream-like quality for a long long time. As Kubrick filmed it, it works quite well.

As I said, in the end I'm not quite sure what to make of Eyes Wide Shut as a whole. I, quite frankly, need to ruminate it about it some more (and read this detailed essay I stumbled across). But I will say this. If you've dismissed Eyes Wide Shut as a half-baked final product that didn't live up to Kubrick's reputation (or just the hype), give it a second look. It's a interesting strange trip, at least.

1 comment:

The Film Geek said...

I had this movie lined up for a future "Flashback! Bad Movies That Haunt Me" blogpsot. :)

It wasn't that bad, really. But I credit it as being the beginning of the artistic downfall of Cruise.

Oh, wait...that may have been Days Of Thunder.