Took some time this week to re-watch a favorite, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. I find this film endlessly fascinating, and not least for the fact that Tom Cruise shows evidence of depth and sophistication as an actor. This of course is rare in his catalog.
I think of EWS differently each time I see it. This latest viewing reminded me of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” and how Gabriel comes a bit unglued after realizing there is a previously unknown depth of experience hidden away behind his wife’s adoring eyes. Cruise’s Dr. Bill doesn’t see Alice standing meditatively at the top of the stair, but she reveals to him a story of profound unwavering lust for another man after a small argument gets heated. This is unimaginable to Dr. Bill–the idea that his wife might throw over her entire life with him, and might even sacrifice her relationship to their daughter–for one hot night with a naval officer. Even though the affair was not consummated, Dr. Bill is so overwrought by the implications of what Alice told him that he is launched on a mysterious night voyage. He encounters a variety of synchronistic events: immediately he is confronted by the daughter of a deceased patient who professes the exact sort of lust Alice described, but for him. This lust seems monstrous and inexplicable, but he sees it in action. Then his sexuality is challenged by a bunch of frat boys, he is lured by a prostitute to her flat, he sees a young Lolita completely control two grown men, he ends up at an ornate mansion where a spooky orgy takes place, there is a terrible sacrifice, Alice confounds him again with an even more scandalous internal affair, and then at the end his mask finally comes off. Dr. Bill is forthright with Alice for the first time–he’s deceived her the entire film, since he lied about the reason he went upstairs at Ziegler’s party. Finally he has a confession equal in scope to hers. The film suggests Dr. Bill’s sins were in “real” life, while Alice’s were merely imagined or possible. But both have had lust in their hearts, and hence the sins were actual.
At the end there is a very strange, cold scene where Alice and Bill take their daughter to a toy store for Xmas shopping. Their darling child gleefully chases bubbles, plays with a pram, and then holds up Barbie (in the original packaging) for Alice’s notice; Alice grunts and nods slightly, acknowledging the role she’s shattered during the action of the film, and perhaps pondering her daughter’s future. Alice’s suggestion as to the next step for their marriage is a wonderful way to tie up Kubrick’s meditation: she doesn’t say “make love,” she says “fuck,” and Kubrick, at the end of his life, at the end of his art, is sharing the solution to life’s mysteries and foibles. Joyous, carefree, animalistic rutting is what Alice has in mind, and this celebratory play is exactly what their relationship needs. Remove the obligations of the capitalist system, the obligations of parenthood, the obligations to play roles, and what is left? Liberation/play/imagination–the setting for this scene speaks volumes!
I have more to say about Eyes Wide Shut, but I’ll stop for now and wait until I view it again in a couple years.