Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Monday, November 12, 2007

EYES WIDE SHUT: The blind leading the sighted

As one of the millions confused and put off by EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) when I saw it in its original release, I know I've got some knee-jerk reactions to get over if I'm to appreciate whatever Kubrick had in mind for it, so it was a delight to find the film in the new Kubrick boxed set and have the chance to see it again in a different context. Now, though an intervening almost-decade casts a new glow to the film, it's still a tawdry glow, enhanced (if that is the word) by the waning of the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman superstar marriage. We can see their coupledom refracted in the film itself... and their later divorce bears this out. Kidman realizes she's more complex than her husband, burdened with a greater self-awareness, and she has an inner self (which harbors her repressed slutty dimension and academy award-winning range) while Cruise is left ping-ponging through his hall of vanity mirrors.

Much as I detest Cruise as a persona, I can respect him to a point as a movie craftsman, knowing how much effort he throws into his films, which you can feel in pics like LAST SAMURAI and MI3. That said, his persona represents much of what sucks about contemporary masculinity - style over substance, spoiled bratty misogyny (when his characters finally gets their head out their asses, we're supposed to applaud, like an audience of doting potty-trainers) and self-confidence ratcheted up to dangerous heights based on his motor skills and little else.

Kubrick tries to capture this Cruisian narcissist regression in EWS, I think, to comment on marriage as a self-imposed prison protecting one from the dangers of their own misperceptions about reality and sex, but Kubrick himself seems guilty of this myopia as well.

All I could keep thinking is "Man, Kubrick really didn't get out much, did he?"

The world of NYC-17 sexuality Kubrick creates is one where hyper-stylization seems more like a smokescreen for lack of familiarity with the environment than a choice backed by any creative need. One gets the impression of threatened 17 year-old virgin lying about his exploits to sound experienced to his more worldly friends, and the friends then pressing him on details to expose his lack of actual experience. The erotically challenged orgy sequence and Cruise's ridiculous "rescue" of the overdosed prostitute are the most obvious and embarrassing examples.

Of course part of Kubrick's enduring popularity is how open to interpretation his films are: 2001 can be duller than paint drying or a spiritual awakening depending on your state of mind when you see it, and maybe the time of day, so who knows, maybe one day I'll see this film again and love it, but for right now SHUT stands in my mind as the definitive example of when genius becomes paralyzed by its own shadow.

Incidentally, if you want to see a really great Nicole Kidman-Kubrick film, check out BIRTH. Kubrick actually had nothing to do with it, but it seems like the film EYES should have been, and as such it borrows heavily from the master's sense of framing, pacing and tone. It even features Kidman in the same role, that of a pampered upper East Side socialite with a penchant for making bad marriage choices. My review is here.

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