Stanley Kubrick creates and works in his own world, and that gives his films a timeless quality.Eyes Wide Shut is inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's novella, Traumnovelle (Dream Story). Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, his collaborator on the screenplay, transposed the story from Vienna at the turn of last century to contemporary New York. The couple at the centre of the film are Dr Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), who also have a small daughter. After a lavish Christmas party, Alice confesses to Bill that she's (previously) fantasised about sex with another man. Eyes Wide Shut explores Bill's confused response to the news, and the choices he finds available once he begins to question his feelings, and those of Alice.
Raphael wrote a short book about his collaboration with Kubrick - Eyes Wide Open - and it's testament to Kubrick's notoriously perfectionist approach to film-making. His tight control over the material means that nothing is left to chance in Eyes Wide Shut, and the film unfolds slowly and deliberately. What's extraordinary is that something so planned can maintain its dreamy, hazy quality - and much of the credit is due to the cinematography of Larry Smith III. Bill and Alice's opulent apartment is filmed in a beautiful golden light and the streets that Bill walks during his early morning odyssey don't seem quite real (as they shouldn't - Pinewood Studios and several London streets double for New York).
Kubrick has made an epic film - about the ramifications of a small moment in an intimate relationship. Cruise still seems to be holding back something in his performance, but he takes risks with this role and you feel for Bill when he's in danger, or struggling with emotions he's never encountered before. Nicole Kidman brings Alice to life and her memorable performance is all the more impressive for its comparative brevity. Casting a married couple (arguably the most famous married acting partners since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) adds a layer of realism to the material, which wanders into distinctly unsettling territory (a major set piece occurs at an upper-class orgy). Jocelyn Pook's chilling original score enhances the menacing atmosphere.Watching Eyes Wide Shut risks making you a spoiled sport - less tolerant of stupid movies. Why are such complex, realistic human characters so few and far between on screen? The spell cast during this movie takes days to disperse. It's lucky that Kubrick completed Eyes Wide Shut before his death, or we may have been denied one of the most mesmerising films of 1999.