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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> August 1999 >> Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
August 1999
IMDB Name:
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick
drama, suspense
MPAA Rating:
R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug-related material.


For many, the summer cinematic event was Phantom Menace. Not me. I was much more excited about the notion of a new Kubrick movie. Oddly, I'd only seen 2001, but I had fallen prey to all of the hype that surrounds him. 2001 is a tremendous bit of filmmaking, but I entered Eyes Wide Shut with mostly second-hand knowledge of the rest of his work.

I read an awful lot about movies. There are a few critics who I read voraciously (you tend to see them in the Other Opinions), and I can cruise the IMDB for hours. At some point, though, I decided to seal myself off from Eyes Wide Shut information. I didn't want any other opinions. I didn't want to know the plot. I'd heard too much in the form of rumors that were floating around over a year ago. I'll say it now, if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading. Go now! I don't want to be responsible for ruining it for you. The movie is excellent when you approach it without being tainted by prior knowledge.


Kubrick is famous for letting things unfold slowly and gracefully. 2001 featured the docking maneuver of the shuttle and space station. Eyes Wide Shut has something a little different. The ritual at the party is captivating for many reasons, from the creepy chanting to the bizarre costumery, to the anticipation of Bill's discovery. The scene is especially troubling because no amount of scrutinizing faces for emotion reveals anything. I kept waiting for the masks to budge and show something, but that's obviously not possible. Kubrick's movement past masks in the crowd with particular expressions is the closest thing, and brutally effective.


When you reach a certain level of cinematic snootiness, you feel the need to snub certain actors and directors just because it's what the cool snobs do. I'd like to think I'm not like that, but I am. After Mission: Impossible and Top Gun, my only previous exposure to Tom Cruise, you can understand that I'd consider him somewhat of a lightweight actor. No longer! In the hands of Kubrick, Cruise can be quite effective, even when he's just echoing the amazement of the audience. Cruise's character is the centerpiece of the movie, and he is excellent throughout.

I'd seen Nicole Kidman heat up the screen before in Batman Forever and To Die For, but here she is a force to be reckoned with. This is a woman who can dominate a scene no matter what the setup or getup. She's great playing stoned, playing drunk, playing really tired, and playing normal. She mesmerizes equally well naked and fully clothed. She even makes those glasses look fantastic.


The casting is exquisite. The movie only covers about two days, and so most of the characters other than Cruise's and Kidman's appear for one scene and occasionally two. Consider Sky Dumont. He appears in only one scene as an enchanting dancer at a swanky party. He brings marvelous charisma to the role, and makes for a very believable womanizer. Look at Alan Cumming. There's a slim chance you'll remember him as the obnoxious, self-declaredly invincible programmer in GoldenEye. Here, he's the hotel desk clerk who's there primarily as an exposition device, but he makes his part so much more, ogling Cruise like there's no tomorrow.


An ultra- prep Manhattan doctor has his choice of many beers to keep in the fridge, but this one slums it. I mean, really, Budweiser is bad enough, but in a can?


Like almost anyone who gives a damn about movies, I made lots of noise about the censorship in the American theatrical release. To meet his contractual obligation with Warner Brothers for an R rating from the MPAA, Kubrick had to clean up an orgy scene. To accomplish this, he supposedly approved the use of digitally generated figures that would obscure the naughtiest of bits. There was much hoopla in the film community, including exhortations for the MPAA to have a rating that allows adults to make films for adults. The NC-17 rating supposedly fills this gap, but it carries a stigma of pornography, and many movie venues refuse to carry anything stronger than an R. MPAA figurehead Jack Valenti does nothing to discourage the association of NC-17 with pornography, so it's not even a good-faith effort on the part of the MPAA.

Warner Brothers claimed that the home video release would not have the digitally-added characters, giving cinemaphiles and Kubrick fans the original vision of a director whose reputation as a visionary is hard to beat. In practice, they've backed down from this stance, and Americans are offered only the censored version, even on DVD. This is particularly disappointing in the aftermath of the home video release of American Pie in both R and Unrated versions. All reports indicate that the Unrated one is far outselling the R version, but the R version adorns the shelves of prudishly-minded video chains like Blockbuster.

What's the point? Vote with your wallet. Do not buy the censored Eyes Wide Shut. Send a message to Warner Brothers and the MPAA that the commercialization of art must not take precedence over the integrity of the art. For a country that claims to offer freedom, the United States is certainly not a haven for daring filmmakers.

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Copyright 1999-2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.