July 19, 1999

“Eyes Wide Shut”


        Let’s not mince words, shall we?  “Eyes Wide Shut” is a complete disaster, a total piece of crap and by far Stanley Kubrick’s worst film.  Even his very early, extremely low-budget 2nd feature, “Killer’s Kiss,” is better than “Eyes Wide Shut,” if for no other reason than it’s 92 minutes shorter (I’ve never seen his first film, “Fear and Desire,” which is supposed to be quite awful). 
        “Eyes Wide Shut” is one of those films where I didn’t give shit about these characters within 120 seconds of the film beginning and it only got worse and worse over the course of the next two hours and forty minutes.  By the end of the film I had been reduced to such utter and total boredom that I felt I would have to go directly to a chiropractor and have them unstick all of the fused vertebrae in my neck.
        My good buddy, whom I saw the film with, who is quite bright, immediately took the burden of not enjoying the film and being completely bored on his own shoulders with, “Kubrick’s a genius, I guess it was over my head.”  Luckily for me, I don’t give anyone that credit.  Not only do I not consider it over my head, I think it’s a badly written, utterly stupid and dull script that’s going nowhere slowly, has no plot, no point, no pace, and no momentum.  It doesn’t even have a good camera angle in it.  Nor, for that matter, does it have a good sex scene or even a legitimately sexy moment.
        Another friend of mine has a theory: old people can’t direct good movies.  The cut-off seems to be at about 65 years old, although most directors are played-out long before that.  Seemingly the biggest problem old directors struggle with is that they have no sense of pace anymore.  I guess as one gets older one becomes more patient, or, more likely, less discerning, but watching films directed by old men is like watching paint dry.
        None of this surprises me in the least because I think Stanley Kubrick actually retired 30 years ago, right after “A Clockwork Orange,” and made a film every seven years since then just to keep his Director’s Guild health and pension plan going.  Everything he made in the last 30 years -- which is only 4 films -- has not been very good, and “Eyes Wide Shut” is the worst of the bunch.
        At the beginning of the film Tom and Nicole, a married couple in the story, go to a party where he flirts with two pretty models and she flirts with a dashing, older man.  When they get home they smoke a joint and are about to have sex, but instead she picks a fight.  This is the core of the movie.  Nicole is taking the moral high ground and saying Tom would have fucked the models, but somehow it was different what she was doing with the older guy?  What the hell is she saying?
        I don’t know, you don’t know, and Kubrick didn’t know (nor co-screenwriter, Fredric Raphael, apparently, either).  [As a little aside here, Fredric Raphael wrote the film “Darling” with Julie Christie which I think is terrific.]  The scene is about nothing and the whole rest of the film is based on it.
        OK.  Now Tom goes to a party where rich masked people that are like Masons or something have sex that you can’t really see.  Tom wasn’t invited and gets caught.  He then spends the rest of the very long movie wandering aimlessly around a slightly cheesy New York street set built in London, getting no answers or clues to anything.  I think an interior view of the vertebrae in my neck solidifying would have been more interesting.
        This idea of rich masked people having sex might have been an audacious concept when Arthur Schnitzler wrote the book in the 1920s, but now it seems meaningless.  And it’s shot so slowly -- Tom wearing a mask walks very slowly, we then get his steadi-cam Point Of View, Tom walks, POV, Tom walks, POV, Tom walks, POV . . . Yeah!  So?  What new information am I getting ten minutes into this sequence?  The same thing goes for that early party scene -- Tom’s with the cute models, Nicole’s with the older guy -- now we’re going to go back and forth for no reason for ten minutes.  Maybe it was only five minutes and just seemed like ten.  It doesn’t matter.  60 seconds into the scene we all have all the information we’re ever going to get; the next four or nine minutes is a jerk-off.
        As is the whole movie.  A slow pointless jerk-off, and not even a sexy one.  It’s a dull, uninteresting mystery with no solution.
        God Bless Stanley Kubrick’s soul and all the wonderful, impressive, ground-breaking films he made between 1955 and 1970.  However, as with many other great director’s last movies -- just like “The Family Plot” for Hitchcock, “The Liberation of L.B. Jones” for William Wyler, “7 Women” for John Ford and “Buddy, Buddy” for Billy Wilder -- “Eyes Wide Shut” is an inglorious end to a brilliant career.

-Josh Becker


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