'Eyes Wide Shut' 15 Years Later: What Kind Of Legacy Does Stanley Kubrick's Final Film Have?
on July 16, 2014
By Phil Contrino
There are so many stories and intense reactions attached to Eyes Wide Shut, legendary director Stanley Kubrick's polarizing swan song, that it's hard to watch the film on its own terms even 15 years after it hit theaters.
The speculation and rumors that preceded the release of Eyes Wide Shut created expectations that no film could live up to. Two of the biggest movie stars in the world were teaming up with one of the biggest directors in the world to make a movie about sex. The headlines practically wrote themselves whether or not there were any actual stories to back them up.
Of course, it didn't help matters that Kubrick hadn't made a film since 1987's Full Metal Jacket. Film buffs were practically foaming at the mouth for any info on his next project, and when even the smallest tidbit leaked it was often stretched to a point of no return. By this time, Kubrick had an unfair reputation for being a cranky, reclusive hermit who demanded a lot of his cast and crew, which led to even more speculation about Eyes Wide Shut.
How would Eyes Wide Shut have held up under the scrutiny of today's media? Would its secrets have been preserved? Probably not. Set photos taken with a smart phone would leak from the "orgy scene," a shooting script would definitely be readily available, and YouTube video creators would compose manipulative essays accusing the story of being thinly-veiled Scientology propaganda because of Cruise's involvement. (There are already plenty of videos that claim Eyes Wide Shut has a very dark subtext.) It would be a circus.
It's impossible not to dwell on the "What if..." scenarios when it comes to Eyes Wide Shut. What if Kubrick hadn't died so soon after screening his "final cut" for Warner Bros. execs, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman? Would he have continued to tweak the film just as he had other projects? How would he have reacted to the possibility of an NC-17 rating? What if Kubrick made the film in the early '70s with Woody Allen in the lead role as he had once envisioned?
Speculating is fun. It keeps Kubrick's legacy alive outside of his work. With any luck, film enthusiasts will be wondering "What if..." for years to come.
REALITY SETS IN
The world got its first real taste of Eyes Wide Shut at ShoWest, the annual Las Vegas-based convention for exhibitors that is now CinemaCon, in March 1999. The brief clip of Cruise and Kidman engaging in foreplay after returning home from a party already started to polarize. Ain't It Cool News' Drew McWeeny wrote of the clip: "All in all, it lives up to [Kubrick's] reputation and promises real greatness to come. The presentation was confident, brief, in control," while one exhibitor called it "garbage."
More speculation ensued. Then came this brilliant trailer:
When Eyes Wide Shut opened in North America--exactly 15 years ago today on July 16, 1999--it entered a marketplace that included the likes of American Pie, Big Daddy and Wild Wild West. It won the box office during its first weekend with $21.7 million, which would equate to roughly $34 million when adjusting for inflation.
Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick's only film to open in first place in North America--an accomplishment that definitely would have meant a lot to him. By all accounts, Kubrick did not hold himself above the commercial considerations of the movie industry. Far from it. When the controversy surrounding A Clockwork Orange got out of control, Kubrick had the film pulled from theaters in the U.K. even though it was still raking it in at the box office. Kubrick lamented the financial failure of Barry Lyndon, and one of the reasons he followed Lyndon up with The Shining is because he wanted a commercial hit. Kubrick also played a big role in how his films were marketed.
The great thing about Kubrick's films is the initial theatrical run only marks the beginning of a larger conversation. One viewing is never enough. People change their minds about his work all the time: legendary critic Pauline Kael once brutally panned 2001: A Space Odyssey before changing her tune years later.
At the time of its release, Eyes Wide Shut polarized critics. Some threw around phrases such as "control-freak unreality," "As it rambles on...," "overwrought adolescent fantasy," while others used "masterful," "hypnotic" and "riveting" to describe it.
Many film pundits have held on to their disappointment. Hollywood-Elsewhere's Jeff Wells stands by his March 2000 piece in which he wrote:
"So many things about Eyes Wide Shut irritate me. Don't get me started. So many others have riffed on this.
The stiff, phoney-baloney way everyone talks to one another. The unmistakable feeling that the world it presents is much closer to 1920s Vienna (where the original Arthur Schnitzler novella was set) than modern-day Manhattan..."
Others, like AwardsDaily's Sasha Stone and ComingSoon.net's Edward Douglas, remember the film more fondly.
"Though not one of Kubrick's perfect films, Eyes Wide Shut nonetheless remains one of his most under-appreciated," Stone tells BoxOffice. "It makes little sense throughout but is a work of abstract cinematic art nonetheless. Kubrick probably would have tinkered with it if he'd hadn't died so suddenly so who knows what it ultimately would have looked like. In places, in moments it is as magnificent as the best of Kubrick's work. It will age well over time, like all of his films have."
Douglas saw the film for the first time in London three months after it was released in the United States: "I remember leaving the movie quite puzzled by what I had seen and I can't say that I loved or even liked it. Over the years though, thanks to DVD and my growing appreciation of Kubrick's work, the movie has certainly grown on me and I've learned to appreciate it for what it is. I haven't seen it in a couple years but I think it would play even better if it was released now, going by how people like movies such as Under the Skin and the like."
Deadline.com's Pete Hammond wasn't originally a fan of the film, but it still lingers in his mind. Says Hammond, "It was a bittersweet experience to see Eyes Wide Shut because of Kubrick's unexpected death. That made it a different kind of viewing the first time for me since I went in hoping it would be one last masterpiece and knew there would be no more Kubrick movies. Alas, it wasn't and I think in some ways it was even disappointing. It was unmistakably Kubrick, but also a film where his cool style got in the way of what might have been a masterful film exploring a marriage. I had also hoped that since Fredric Raphael collaborated on the screenplay that it would be an insightful film on a relationship since he is responsible for the single greatest movie I have ever seen on the subject, 1967's Stanley Donen masterpiece, Two For The Road. Nevertheless the film, even 15 years later, leaves some haunting memories and I particularly applaud the brave performances of Cruise and Kidman. I actually have not revisited the movie since my first viewing and now am compelled to do so. It strikes me that I have seen so many other Kubrick films often like Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, The Shining, 2001, and Spartacus but not his last one. Perhaps it has aged well? I'm curious."
Whether you love or hate Eyes Wide Shut, it remains impossible to dismiss. For some it will stay a frustrating final installment in Kubrick's career, and for others it will only grow with time. One thing remains certain: Kubrick's legacy is alive and well 15 years after his final film opened.