I used to live in San Francisco, but now I live in Los Angeles. If you’ve ever logged some serious time in our cultural Mecca, you find that an integral part of your existence occurs behind the wheel of a car. In L.A., it is a uniquely harrowing experience. With insurance rates higher than rent in most parts of the country, you must defend yourself against something like five competing styles of driving. At least four of those suck pretty hard, and they all involve a degree of self-absorption. The worst are the “blinders”. These are the meek little flowers who tread slowly down the road, slower than the rest of traffic, paranoid of collision and breaking the law.
Why? Part of it is they avoid conflict because they don’t know how to respond to it. They may live their lives according to some precise (and simplistic) view of life and the world, as if from a written list. Job, marriage, kids,… they probably do what’s expected of them and don’t risk too many judgement calls on their own. Right and wrong are objective considerations.
Unfortunately, they may lack any comprehension of what falls outside of their limited field of vision. They don’t see or acknowledge that their actions may build up traffic behind them. They just want to traverse the scattered fragments of their isolated universe and stay on the map.
But what happens when someone takes your little rulebook, sets it on fire, and laughs in your face? What do you do?
In Stanley Kubrick’s incredible final film, Tom Cruise stars as M.D., Bill Hartford. He’s pretty sure he’s got it all: a beautiful wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), and lovely daughter, a thriving practice and beautiful apartment in Manhattan, and rich clientele. These are the things that define him, but they are all that does. He makes no judgements nor has he any original thoughts. The words coming out of his mouth often echo that of the last person who spoke. He doesn’t seem to have any friends. He never strays from the path of his existence, not due to a developed moral sense, but because “it is the wrong thing to do”.
Well, one night Dr. Bill is unceremoniously drop-kicked off that path. By the time he realizes that he can no longer claim to be an innocent bystander, it is waaaaaay too late. Now he must learn to respond to the world like a real adult. Will he fall back on his old ways, or will respond with honesty and thought to his predicaments? We’ll see.
What’s the biggest surprise of “Eyes Wide Shut”? It would be that Kubrick has nearly made a David Lynch movie. Dr. Bill is essentially Jeffrey Beaumont before he found the ear. Even though Cruise was around 35 when he shot this film, he still has the boyish looks and appears as someone who might respond to everything with a child’s world-view and adolescent urges. There’s also that Lynch motif of throwing the protagonist into the middle of an absurd situation where neither he (nor the audience) has or will have any idea of what’s going on. The entire film is seen through the eyes of Dr. Bill. We are never thrown, though, into something like Lynch’s “subjective reality”, where we see things that occur only in the character’s mind.
What’s very Kubrickian is that despite many moments of humor (usually at the expense of either Cruise or his character), the sexual and emotional tension starts quickly and NEVER lets up for the entire length of the movie. Once the doctor goes off the rails, they rip up the track behind him. He’s never getting back on. Everything becomes a kind of confrontation where he must make a judgement call, and like a teenager, he must learn that decisions come with repercussions.
Aside from Lynch, there are actually echoes of other works. Part of the film is thematically similar to Martin Scorcese’s “After Hours” and John Landis’ underrated “Into the Night”. The funniest similarity would be, that even though the film really is far more weird and kinky than erotic, a huge chunk of it is actually structured like an “adult” film. Only here a scene ends and Dr. Bill has to leave at the point where you might expect characters to start going at it. Maybe they could take care of this in the porn version called either “Legs Wide Open” or “Aye! Tight Butt”. It makes even more sense when your hear the final word spoken in the final Stanley Kubrick film. Many in the audience probably gasped the same word after sitting through the amazing final work of the man who until recently was the best living film director in the world.