Eyes Wide Shut (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Wow, I just watched this movie again, and I can't stop humming the lilting and catchy "funereal theme song from the spooky orgy".  Now I understand the movie a lot better. I know Cruise is one of the best looking guys in the world, and most women would stand in line to have sex with him, so people wonder why he would mess around with these old guys who have somber, joyless, ritualistic sex to sepulchral music. Well, now I get it. The tune got him, it got me, and it'll get you, too. You won't be able to stop whistling it, like "Andy of Mayberry" or "The Colonel Bogey March". Who could question why he just had to get down 'n funky with those musical party monsters? Hell, I want to party with them, plus I want to go to their Karaoke Night, so we can all sing the best funeral music together. Now that's hot stuff.

The guy in the picture to the right has just finished "we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun ...." and is about to break into his party and wedding favorite, the hokey-pokey. When I wore a younger man's clothes, many's the night I'd wander in at dawn after an all-nighter of nude hokey-pokey, my right foot completely exhausted from being shaken all about.

As you may know, this is the final Kubrick film, actually released posthumously. It is the best of films, it is the worst of films. It attains greatness with spectacular use of the camera. The composition is extraordinary, the colors are exquisite, the lighting is perfect, the camera motion is consistently imaginative. It was filmed in the spring of hope. It attains shame because it wasn't worth filming to begin with. It was screened in the winter of despair.

You have to love the fact that, as far as I know, this film is the lowest-rated film in history from Apollo members. Set aside the bull and look at the facts, kids, this movie is just about unwatchable for most people.

You have to acknowledge that it is masterfully filmed. Even Peter Greenaway has to take a back seat to Kubrick in the use of light. Barry Lyndon was, as far as I know, the only movie ever filmed entirely in natural light indoors and out. I love the lighting effects Kubrick creates, and admire the genius it takes to think of them. 

There is one scene where Kidman is standing in her night clothes in a room bathed in orange light, and moves in front of the doorway leading to a room bathed entirely in dark blue light. What an effect. I just stood in awe of the way the scenes were lit, and the settings they found in which to shoot them. Tremendous visuals, effective music, as always in a Kubrick film.

EWS is also a near-literal adaptation of Schnitzler's novel, as you'll see if you read the summary below.


Kidman from the rear - several times, stark naked in beautiful light.

Her breasts are seen in the fantasy scene with the sailor, in the mirror when she embraces Cruise, and underneath a gauzy top in the "confession" scene with Cruise.

There is additional female nudity in copious quantity, from full frontals all the way to an orgy scene (which was digitally censored in the theatrical version and in the Region 1 DVD).

Abigail Good and Julienne Davis were among the actresses to perform full-frontal nudity in this movie.

I think you can also find plenty of legitimate things to complain about here:

  • Kubrick, always languid in his pacing, descends to a snail's pace in this one. The two and a half hour movie has less plot than the average two minute MTV video.
  • Kubrick (apparently) compromised and included a scene at the end for the very dumb, where Cruise meets with Sydney Pollack, and Big Sid explains the events of the previous night. The scene, for me, plays like James Joyce giving Dan Quayle a two-minute overview of Finnegan's Wake. And, frankly, I didn't want all the mysteries explained. Sometimes magic is better when you don't know the secrets. What would you rather look at, a normally unmagnified picture of Liz Hurley naked, or a picture multiplied 50 times where you can see the individual pixels? Personally, I rarely care about the pixels.
  • Furthermore, a smart doctor (Cruise character) wouldn't believe Pollack's bullshit cover-ups anyway, and he could easily call Seattle to see if the missing piano player was really there.
  • Although I thought Nicole Kidman got the rhythm of the movie perfectly, Tom Cruise seemed to be out of pace with the rest of the movie, and ill at ease in his role as a doctor. He still seems like the handsome frat boy whose mom still keeps expecting him to grow into his sweaters.
  • Personally, I would have completely axed the sub-plot with the female friend whose father died. Apart from echoing themes from other scenes, the only purpose that I could fathom for this sub-plot was to get Cruise out of the house late at night, and any other pretext could have worked as well without slowing the movie as much. Hell, Cruise and Kidman were arguing - he could simply have gone out for a head-clearing walk.
  • Finally, and most important, the novel was written 80 years ago, but Kubrick didn't change much in relocating it to the present. In the period between the wars, it was easy to understand the psychological trauma caused by a fantasy infidelity. In today's world, such a confession to a highly educated man of science would not be likely to precipitate such an extreme reaction or, for that matter, much of a reaction at all.
  • Between the gutless studio and the artless MPAA, they managed to sabotage Kubrick's intentions and some of our fun. Oh, they didn't cut anything. Instead, they did the Austin Powers Opening Credits trick, and digitally added additional people in several camera set-ups, positioned solely to obscure our view of the ol' in-out. (You can see the original cut in the European and Japanese versions). You may have seen this kind of alteration in the past if, for example, you have the R-rated and the unrated versions of Last Tango. It's bad enough that they did such a thing to get an R rating, but it is worse still that they were forced to. If they had not, the MPAA would have given Kubrick's movie the same NC-17 they would assign to a sex flick. If the MPAA weren't so unyielding, and had simply given an R to the original version, both Warner and Blockbuster (which forced the DVD to include the digital extras) could have saved face. Mind you, I don't care about the scenes. It's pretty much just some guys' butts pumping up and down, and I don't want to see that unless it's my own butt in the mirror as I plunge into Joan Severance. But all this could have been avoided. Wouldn't you think that being hired by the MPAA would require (a) a love of films (b) some backbone (c) the intellectual subtlety to make a distinction between a Kubrick film and a Julie Strain film?

It is my belief that critics rarely have the cojones to criticize a big-time director, for fear they will be seen as intellectually inferior, or out of the even greater fear that they will be cut off from access to the director, or the studio, or advance screeners, or interviews and parties, or the other contacts they need. Very few of the mainstream critics had the chutzpah to point out that this movie, while possessing great positives, can be summed up as having bitten the big one. It is an arty film with top-notch production values and a touch of genius. It is perfectly crafted, but slow, filled with unrealistic behavior by modern standards, and boring. 

And I am a great fan of Kubrick's work. If you don't love some of his more famous films, you're gonna hate this one.


Since I seem to be the only person who owns a copy, here is a summary of Traumnovelle, a 1925 novel by Arthur Schnitzler. It may not be completely precise, because I wrote the summary in English after reading it in German, and my German is not as good as it should be for this task. (Any corrections of my translation would be welcome)

Schnitzler is a turn-of-the-century (1862-1931) Viennese author, possibly best known in his own time as a playwright, although he also wrote many prose works and a comprehensive diary. Traumnovelle is one of his later works, and it takes place in Vienna in the time of horse-drawn carriages and gaslight.


Fridolin was a successful 35 year old physician, with a wife (Albertina) and a six year old daughter. One night he and his wife attended a masquerade ball. No sooner had they entered the ball than Fridolin was greeted and whisked away by two women costumed as red dominoes. They completely absorbed his attention and invited him up to their box, but then as suddenly as they had appeared, they abandoned him in the box. Returning to the ballroom, Fridolin was greeted by his wife, who had been in the company of a mysterious Polish stranger whose easy charm had at first fascinated her until he had frightened her with an impertinent suggestion.

The talked about their experiences, and confessed themselves glad to have escaped from what was obviously a typical masquerade prank. Glowing in enjoyment of each other, they ate and drank too much and hurried home to make the most ardent and blissful love they had made in a long time.

The next night, they discussed their experience, and this led to an argument. First there was some light teasing about the previous night, in which each of them exaggerated the charm of the previous night's flirtation, denied any jealousy, and made fun of the obvious jealousy and denials of the other. Their irritation with the other's lack of candor led to a deeper discussion of the hidden wishes inside every soul, and the temptations which affect everyone. Each realized that the others' susceptibility to the seductions of the previous night implied that more could have happened under slightly different circumstances, or perhaps had happened in the past. They probed each other for confessions, and each produced one.

Albertina confessed to an obsession with a Danish sailor they had spotted while on holiday on the Danish seashore. Although she had never acted on the fantasy, her attraction was so strong that she considered going up to the stranger and offering herself to him, irrespective of the impact on her marriage. When she discovered that he had left the resort, she was both crushed and relieved.

Fridolin confessed that he had watched a young girl on the shore, that she had noticed him and smiled, that he had actually reached out to her, mistaking her smile for an invitation, but that she had waved him away. He never saw the girl again, yet when trapped in her glance, Fridolin had felt an emotion so intense that he had nearly fainted.

Albertina then remembered Fridolin's experiences before he had met her, and confessed that she had been a virgin on her marriage bed only because a certain young man had never asked when she was willing. As it turns out, that man was Fridolin, but he is upset because it might just as easily have occurred with another man on another summer night.

Their discussion was interrupted by a medical emergency. The Privy Councilor had a very serious heart attack, and Doctor Fridolin had been summoned. When he arrived, however, his patient had already died, and he found himself alone with the patient's daughter. In the process of consoling the patient's daughter, he became very bored and uncomfortable and wished for someone else to arrive. Suddenly, the girl fell to the ground and kissed his feet, then threw herself sobbingly into his arms confessing not grief for her father, but love for Fridolin. This represented a betrayal of the man she was about to marry. Fridolin was repelled by the faithlessness, which reminded him of his own wife's potential for betrayal, and rather repelled by her unwashed hair and "unaired dress", as well as the presence and smell of death. He took his leave as soon as he could, slowed only by his legal responsibility to fill out the death certificate.

He resolved to stop at a cafe before returning home. As he walked through the pleasant night, lost in his thoughts of his wife and the past, he found himself following a teenaged streetwalker to her quarters, attracted by her girlish innocence. She could see that he did not really desire her, so withdrew her affections even when he feigned interest. She hinted that he was right to be afraid of sex with her, but did not specify why. He treated her with great respect, and made a note of her address, intending to send by some small gifts the next day. He thought of the word "afraid", which the prostitute had used, and the fact hat he had also backed down from the challenge of a drunken student in the streets. Was he now a fearful man?

He found himself wandering still farther from his home, as he became psychologically distanced from his everyday life. Instead of going home, he continued his adventure in a third-rate cafe in a dubious part of town, where he encountered an old medical school colleague who was currently working as a coffeehouse pianist. This medical school dropout, Nachtigall (Nightengale), spun a strange story of his current musical career, the strangest part of which involved playing the piano blindfolded at a secret society ritual filled with masked costumed men and masked naked women, and for which he required a secret address and a password, both of which changed each time, and which did not arrive until the last minute. (Nachtigall knew about the activities because with his head lowered to the keyboard, he could peek through the top of the blindfold into a mirror next to the piano.) Fridolin asked if he could go, but Nachtigall replied that to do so would require great courage. This seemed to stir in Fridolin a need to prove that he was not afraid. Although he had no costume, and Nachtigall had not yet received that day's address and password, Fridolin resolved to attend, and set a rendezvous with Nachtigall to pick up the secret information.

The owner of the nearby costume shop was not at all surprised by a knock on his door at one in the morning, and managed to summon an appropriate monk's costume, although the transaction was interrupted by some shenanigans from his underage daughter dressed as Pierrette and a couple of French men dressed as judges. The costumer resolved to call the police when he discovered this hanky-panky, and sent his daughter to bed for later punishment. Strangely, the daughter hid behind Fridolin, as if she needed his protection, and could trust the stranger more than her father. She cast sexual glances at Fridolin as well. Fearing that the girl was in serious trouble of some kind, Fridolin offered the costumer his help as a physician, an offer met with some derision.

Fridolin and Nachtigall met. Mysteriously enough, the password was "Denmark", but Nachtigall had no address, only the coach (a hearse) sent for him, so Fridolin had to hail his own carriage to follow the mourning-wagon. His thoughts during the ride strayed to the events of the night, and he resolved that he must not turn back from his adventure, even if it meant death.

When he gained admittance into the party, he beheld a room full of masked monks and nuns, and filled with somber and ponderous church music, and he sensed that they already knew he was an outsider. A woman's voice from behind him said "leave while you still have a chance to get away", but he resolved to stay. As the ceremony progressed, the nuns shed their habits, except for masks and veils. As the ceremony progressed still further, all the monks disappeared, and returned dressed in gaily colored knight's clothing and began dancing with the naked women. Fridolin was trapped because he was still clothed as a monk. He was temporarily saved because the woman who tried to help him earlier had created a ruse in the room, and had led everyone to believe Fridolin was one of their acquaintances playing a trick on them. She again begged him to leave, but this time the sight of her nakedness had inflamed his passion beyond the point of return. He was resolved to have her, no matter the cost. He reached for her veil, but she drew back in terror, telling him that a woman who was exposed at a similar perty some weeks earlier was the very woman in the papers who "took poison" the day before her wedding.

The friendly woman was whisked away to dance, and Fridolin was asked imperiously for the "second password". Exposed as an outsider, he was told to remove his mask and hear his punishment. He refused to comply, and was on the verge of physical confrontation when his mysterious angel reappeared, dressed again as a nun, and offered to receive the punishment in his place. He refused to allow her to do so and insisted he was willing to face whatever they could mete out, but they informed him that her fate was sealed irrespective of his actions. As she dropped her clothing and said "take me then, all of you", he was manhandled out of the house and into the hearse. On the ride back he realized that the women there had not been prostitutes, that the other woman who had "committed suicide" had been an Italian princess, and that his own savior had also been of aristocratic bearing. The windows of the hearse were opaque, so he could not see where they were going, and he began to panic, but the ride ended suddenly, both doors sprung open, and he found himself again in town. At this moment, filled with feverish thoughts, he thought that he might actually be in bed dreaming everything, but he tested himself and appeared to be fully awake.

When he made his way home, he found his wife in the midst of an agonized dream, and awakened her. As she recollected the dream, Fridolin realized that her dream was more frightening to him than the reality of the night he had just experienced. Her dream involved first intense shame at her own thrill upon being separated from her husband, then intense happiness in an infidelity with the Danish sailor and maybe many other men, and ended with a queen insisting that Fridolin make love to her, then crucifying him when he insisted on staying faithful to his wife, an event which transpired while his wife laughed. And the queen in the dream was Albertina's conception of the young girl on the Danish shore. Upon hearing this dream, Fridolin was filled with rage at his wife, whom he felt to be revealed by this dream as faithless and cruel, and he resolved to go back to all the sexual opportunities he had missed the previous night - the prostitute, the masked woman, the Councilor's daughter, the costumer's daughter - and make love to all of them to punish his wife. But before falling asleep, he took her hand gently.

He resolved the next day to pass off his medical responsibilities, and to re-trace his steps.

He sought Nachtigall, but discovered that he had checked out of his hotel early that morning, accompanied by two men in disguise, and he had left no forwarding address although he had tried unsuccessfully to pass a secret note to the concierge.

He returned the costume and advised the proprietor to seek medical advice for his daughter, which the man mistook as a veiled sexual offering from the doctor, and to which he surprisingly acceded. While there, Fridolin saw the Frenchmen who had been with the daughter the night before, and they were now completely friendly with the costumer.

He went to the house where the secret cabal had met, but was handed a note at the gate which admonished him to abandon his inquiries for his own good.

He went to visit the Councilor's daughter, but when he got there he ended up dealing with her in a quiet and cold manner as if the night before had never occurred. She was appalled by this inconsiderate behavior, and refused his hand as he left.

He went to visit the prostitute, and found that she had been committed to a hospital/sanitarium for six to eight weeks, for reasons implied to be a contagious disease, but not specified.

He sat in a cafe reading the paper, and read of the suicide by poison of an unusually attractive and mysterious Baroness in a fashionable hotel. The story related that she had returned to her room at four the previous morning, accompanied by two mysterious men. He realizes that this must have been the woman from the secret party, and that she apparently had died for him. He made his way to the morgue, and studied the body. "He bent over her, as if magically attracted". He could not be sure if it was the same woman, but whether it was or not, she stood as a symbol of the previous night, now dead and decaying.

Upon his return home to Albertina, he found her in bed, and next to her on his pillow, his mask from the previous night, as though the mask were replacing his own face in their bed, and symbolizing that the man in her bed was wearing a mask when he should not. He understood that she or the maid had found it where he hid it, and that she had placed it there as a gentle warning that she knew he had secrets, and also as a statement that it was time for him to explain, and that she was willing to listen and forgive.

When he had confessed everything to her, he asked "what shall we do now?"

"I think we should be grateful that we were not harmed by our adventures, whether real or only a dream. The reality of one night, nor that of a whole lifetime, cannot be the whole truth"

"And no dream," he responded, "is entirely a dream."

"Now I suppose we are awake", she said, "for a long time to come"

And the new day began with hope and sunshine and normal street-noises, and the sound of their daughter laughing outside their door.

Tuna's comments in yellow 

I was able to get a Region 2 uncensored copy of Eyes Wide Shut. Even though it was NTSC, it seemed cleaner then the US release. I comparison images to evaluate what the MPAA had added digitally to prevent us from seeing women enjoy sex. "Did this make the movie worse?" was my big question. In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. The MPAA release seemed to me to depict Cruz walking around and seeing a bunch of voyeurs watching a few people have sex. My assumption was that the voyeurs were wealthy and older, and this was a show for them. 

The way Kubrick designed the scene, Cruise sees sex act after sex act, with every possible gender pairing, all consensual, enthusiastic and more than likely adulterous. After Kidman's revelation that she nearly left him for a sailor, this is more than he ever wanted to know about female sexuality. Basically, the MPAA buggered the pivotal scene in the film, rendering it confusing at best. I award "Tuna's fickle fin of fate" to the MPAA, with a sincere hope that none of them ever enjoy sex. I would hate to see them procreate.

Eyes Wide Shut is Stanley Kubrick's last, and some say is worst, film. The first two times I watched it, I was convinced that it was a misunderstood film, and much better than most gave it credit for. I have to say it did not bear a third viewing. Knowing the plot already, it was a colossal bore this time through.  Leelee Sobieski was just as adorable in her short role, the nudity was great, and so was the lighting and photography, but this was a case where European deliberate pacing really worked against the story. To become involved in the story, you have to accept that Cruise has his world shaken by his wife's confession that she once wanted an affair, and that he spins out of control through a smorgasbord of sexuality, where he learns more than he ever wanted to know about female sexuality. The Tom Cruise patented little boy persona was correct for the film, but with the slow pacing, it was hard to believe he was caught up in anything.

DVD info from Amazon

  • I am at a loss to explain why the final film of the most meticulous director in history was released with no features.

I also made the effort to ignore Nicole Kidman's body this time, and watch her performance. When she was straight, there was no problem, but she has one lengthy scene drunk on champagne and another stoned on grass, and she portrayed both exactly the same. I enjoyed the performance by
Rade Serbedzija as Milich, Leelee's father, and Sydney Pollack was also very good, but little boy Cruise was in nearly every scene.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: 3.5 stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 87, Maltin 3/4. I believe that this was the most articulate and detailed negative review. I believe Berardinelli's was the most incisive positive review of this film, with plot info and some background on the ratings controversy. His review comes from his heart. He's not an insider, so really has no reason to fear losing his privileges.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.0, Apollo users 15/100.
  • With their dollars ... a mid-level hit with $55 million in revenues in the 2500 screen roll-out, but with production costs of about $65 million. It probably would have done less, except for the publicity surrounding Kubrick's demise.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ (both reviewers). Scoop says, "It is a technical marvel ... but completely lacking in credibility and duller than dishwater."

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