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If you polled 100 people and asked them to name a Christmas film, I don’t think anyone would say Eyes Wide Shut. After all, we rarely associate the idea of ‘Christmas’ with elite sexual occultist conspiracies or heterosexual cuckolding. Yet, both are present in Kubrick’s take on the Christmas film – his final movie, an enigma wrapped in tinsel.
While Eyes Wide Shut doesn’t directly tackle the festive spirit nor the holiday itself, it is set at Christmas. And let’s face it, if Die Hard is a Christmas film, then so is Kubrick’s final masterpiece. However, it’s also fair to say that Eyes Wide Shut is not exactly full of festive cheer. After all, this is a movie that explores the breakdown of a family during the “happiest” time of the year.
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Disturbed by the sudden sexual revelations of his wife (Nicole Kidman), Dr Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) struggles to move past the recurring mental image of her with another man. His obsessions, eating away at his soul as he embarks on his own trip into a secret psycho-sexual Manhattan fantasy. However, Eyes Wide Shut remains fascinating because everyone seems to be in on the joke of Harford’s meaningless exploration, except for Cruise. Here there is a self-awareness to everyone’s performances, bar him. Cruise plays it seriously from start to finish; in fact, one could argue Kubrick is playing the grandest trick possible by tormenting the character and actor in unison. However, while Cruise’s performance shouldn’t work, it does perfectly.
Kubrick never allows Cruise or his character to find any real significance. If anything, he kicks him further and further down the ladder until his wealthy patient Victor Ziegler firmly puts him in his place by reminding him that he is a nobody; his ideas of an orgy, nothing more than a fantasy. Even in the film’s final moments, Harford finds no validation as he is forced to move on with his life. It’s an oddly hilarious end for Cruise, typically the leading male hero, as he becomes a mentally-cuckolded and bewildered middle-class husband.
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With a mammoth production shoot of fifteen months, Eyes Wide Shut would push Cruise and Kidman’s relationship to the brink. Many since commentating that this was the point at which their marriage became untenable. Of course, we may never know the whole truth of this, but the resulting film undoubtedly and blatantly psychoanalysed Hollywood’s golden couple. And for this reason, Eyes Wide Shut remains a fascinating but also uncomfortable watch.
Why Kubrick opted to set Eyes Wide Shut during the holidays remains a mystery, with no festive link to the original 1926 novella Rhapsody: A Dream Novel. Some writers like Brianna Zigler have theorised that this is Kubrick’s anti-consumerist critique of what Christmas has become, which is a solid take. However, you could also just read this as a Kubrickian take on a Christmas romp – one that celebrates Kubrick’s dark sense of humour and disposition for psychological drama. Either way, Eyes Wide Shut remains an enigma wrapped in fairy lights and sex, a darkly delicious finale from one of the masters of modern film, as he toys with two of the biggest Hollywood stars of 90s cinema.