Welcome to Alt-Christmas, our week of articles dedicated to movies that we like to watch this time of year, especially if we’re not entirely in the spirit of the season.
There are many things that come to mind when thinking about Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Perhaps it is that the film features a then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman at the height of their star power and celebrity. It could also be the fact that it is legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s last completed film before his death. Frankly, it could be that big, outrageous orgy sequence Eyes Wide Shut has become synonymous with. Would it also be fair to say that Eyes Wide Shut is an alternative Christmas classic?
From the opening sequence, Kubrick unveils precisely what audiences should expect from his finale feature. Even before the credits have stopped rolling, Kidman has already undressed completely. Maybe Kubrick believed that he should let audiences have exactly what they came for without hesitation. This was going to be a feature that studied the married life of two individuals who were actually married in real life. Originally the idea was to cast Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in the picture, but perhaps it was fate that led Kidman and Cruise to the film.
Opulence. That is the best word to describe the opening party sequence in Eyes Wide Shut. At the center of it all, it is Bill and Alice Harford (Cruise and Kidman). They mingle with the party guests and discover that neither of them is as committed to their marriage as they thought. The following evening Alice shatters Bill’s image of his wife by revealing that she previously had an affair. This sets forth the downwards spiral of Bill’s morals as he attempts to get even with his wife through multiple different avenues.
The true genius of Eyes Wide Shut is that it is open to so many different interpretations. The biggest theme that the film explores is the sexual interactions between a married couple and how sexual dreams and might-have-been scenarios coincide with reality. Despite Alice having dreams where she is having sex with multiple partners, Bill makes many attempts but fails at each of them. More relevant to the topic at hand, Christmas is a major staple of Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick changed the original novel’s holiday from Mardi Gras to Christmas and there have been many inquiries as to why.
Kubrick famously enjoyed being the man behind the camera and composing many of the shots in his films. While his films do have other credited photographers, one has to wonder how much control Kubrick had over the lens in his movies. With moving the story to a Christmas environment, Kubrick was able to use the glow of Christmas lights in many of his shots which added a particular feeling that would only be achievable during that time of year. With the Christmas setting, there is also this great juxtaposition between the sacred and holy glow of Christmas against the lurid sexual urgency that permeates throughout the film.
Now that might be a good reason to set Eyes Wide Shut during the Christmas season, but outside of a tree appearing in practically every scene, what really makes Eyes Wide Shut a Christmas movie? If we take a look at how Hollywood traditionally categorizes a Christmas movie there is usually a journey to fulfill personal growth at the end of the film. The growth for George Bailey comes quickly near the end of It’s A Wonderful Life as he discovers just how much he means to everyone around him. Scrooge gets visited by three spirits and then he discovers the true meaning of Christmas and finds redemption. By that same token, Bill Harford goes through multiple trials until he discovers the secret to marital bliss.
In the first instance, Bill is making a house call to offer condolences to the daughter of a deceased patient. Emotionally numb, the woman throws herself at Bill, kissing him, and telling him that she has always loved him. This is all very sudden to Bill since he barely knows the woman and her lover will soon be returning. Secondly, Bill roams the streets to clear his head because he is still having visions of Alice sleeping with another man. When he is approached by a hooker her takes her up on her invitation to go back to her place. They are about to become intimate when his wife calls asking when he will be home. That puts an end to that encounter.
Finally, Bill meets up with an old buddy from med school. The friend, now a pianist that gigs wherever he is needed, has a gig that is super secretive. Bill is beyond curious to attend this gathering at whatever cost. When he arrives, he gives the secret password of “fedelio” and is let into the party. Interestingly, Fidelio is the name of an opera with the themes of love, fidelity, and courage winning over the forces of evil. Even when Bill is about to make trouble in this unseemly setting he is once again saved by an outside force. It would seem that at every opportunity that Bill has to cheat on his wife, it is foiled by some circumstance. When he eventually confesses to his wife, he has never actually committed adultery although he has tried many times unsuccessfully. Alice understands what has transpired and in order to keep a marriage going for any length of time, forgiveness needs to be a focal point. Thus she makes it clear that not just one thing will save their marriage, but if they have any shot, they better make love quick.
Eyes Wide Shut might not make the yearly list of movies to bust out at a family gathering, but Kubrick’s film is certainly a treat. There are still theaters that play the film during the Christmas season, usually during a midnight screening at a theater like Nighthawk Cinema in Brooklyn, NY. There should also be an opportunity to mix in some sinful lust with the Christmas cheer. Finished days before Kubrick passed away, Eyes Wide Shut is a fascinating look into the difficulties of keeping a marriage alive and the temptations that entice at every corner. And it is a damn fine Christmas movie to boot.