This week in Film School & Chill, Rohan Stephens picks an unusual Stanley Kubrick movie: Eyes Wide Shut, the controversial film in which Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy couple trying to spice up their married life – and getting into all manner of strife in doing so.
EYES WIDE SHUT, 1999. Dir., Stanley Kubrick.
What is it?
Before Fifty Shades of Grey, before Fifty Shades Darker (and what one can only assume to be the next instalment, Fifty Shades Deeper/Harder/Faster) there was Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick’s lavish foray into the murky world of sexually frustrated, middle class, heterosexual couples shocked and scandalised with its explicit story of extra-martial activities, least of which starred the only celebrity couple worth talking about at the time, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.
Based on the novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler, which was first published in Austria in 1926, upon purchasing the film rights Kubrick intended on turning the story into a comedy starring Woody Allen in the 1960s, going through a slew of other lead actors in the process such as Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, before settling on the dark, moody cast and film we know today.
As with most of Kubrick’s films, the story behind the production, the directorial nuances, and the trademark overrun on shoots, are all almost as fascinating as the end product.
The film follows the events of a roughly 48-hour period which sees a successful New York City doctor, Bill Hartford (Cruise), grappling with the revelation of his wife Alice (Kidman) admitting to coming very close to having an affair with a handsome naval officer some years prior. Bill in turn finds himself wandering the night, contemplating his own infidelity only to find himself embroiled in a mysterious society of masked members engaging in a lavish orgy in a mansion just outside the city. His experience, however, comes to an abrupt end when the party soon realises he has snuck into the house and he is asked to leave, to which he is then subsequently followed and threatened to not reveal what he has seen to anyone.
As with most of Kubrick’s films, the story behind the production, the directorial nuances, and the trademark overrun on shoots, are all almost as fascinating as the end product. And in this case, Eyes Wide Shut is no exception. Ultimately his final film, released posthumously after his sudden death six days after showing the final cut to Cruise and Kidman, it holds the Guinness World Record for the longest shoot in history at a total length of 400 continuous days of filming. Kubrick’s own personal archive, recently made public at an exhibition in London, displays tens of thousands of photographs, books and detailed research notes on scenery, locations and costumes all showing an intense interest in the most minute of details – even down to the personal belongings strewn across the apartment of the film’s characters.
‘Eyes Wide Shut’ holds the Guinness World Record for the longest film shoot in history at a total length of 400 continuous days of filming.
Also, rather amazingly, despite being set in New York City, due to Kubrick’s crippling fear of flying, the entire film was shot in England, and I challenge anyone to try to pick holes in the set up of the street scenes: cars, license plates, the placement of newspaper stands and subway grates, are all perfectly positioned, giving absolutely nothing away that everything was contained within the famous Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. A testament to Kubrick’s total mastering of detail.
Why should I have already seen it?
The film is very Kubrick. So if you are already a fan, you will not be disappointed. Though the subject matter is a little more intimate and contained than his examinations of things like the psychology of war (Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove), evolution (2001: A Space Oddysy), or violent dystopias (A Clockwork Orange), it has all the trappings of his iconic style through opulent sets, a great soundtrack, fascinating dialogue and brilliantly directed performances from incredible actors. It’s a fascinating, deeply voyeuristic look into the complications of adult relationships and effectively peels back the veneer of success and perfection to reveal those primal urges that all still continue to bubble beneath the surface despite us having to save face in everyday life. It’s the final work of an absolute master of cinema, and despite how you may feel towards the subject matter, this film really shouldn’t be missed.
Where do I find it?
Stan (AU) & Prime.