Eyes Wide Shut is second to 2001: A Space Odyssey as my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. Which is to say, it is one of my all-time favorite movies. It is also a film set near Christmas, a fact often overlooked when recalling great Christmas films. He’s my breakdown of some things I love about the movie that are often overlooked. Please be advised that five of the screenshots in this post feature nude women. My intention of using these shots was not to objectify, but rather, to break down other aspects of the film that are featured in the those specific frames.
I love that Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice’s bedroom has some clutter in it. Filmmakers are often so concerned with living spaces looking pristine. This lived-in set dressing feels much more authentic.
What a joy that the third shot of the movie is an intricate, 60-second long stealth oner (a single take disguised as a single take). The movie is full of these, and I love that Kubrick sets the tone with this one.
The extended cross fades in the film are glorious. They really add to the dreamlike quality of the experience.
I love how the movie is just a touch brighter than normal. The f-stop of the film was overexposed by two clicks. This way, Kubrick and his cinematographer, Larry Smith, could film in low light using natural lights in the scene, as opposed to movie lights hidden off camera.
The lavish set design, the flawless props, the costumed cast, the slow pull back of the camera – THIS is a Stanley Kubrick shot.
Everything about this shot. Kidman’s determined strut, the way she quickly (but gracefully) nabs a flute of champagne, her insistence on downing it right away, and the look on her face at she finishes it.
Kidman doesn’t get enough credit for how well she plays drunk in this scene. Her speech, movement, and flirtation is all so believable.
Also, this actor is named Sky du Mont, and although I can’t recall seeing him in anything before or since, he kills this scene with his rich charm.
Bill playing with his wedding ring during this scene. Is he relying on it for strength, or wishing he could secretly remove it?
Bill’s delivery of “Heroin and coke?” He says it with the subtle disapproval that only a doctor could manage.
Also, look at this goddamn bathroom. It has a comfortable chair, a desk… I’ve lived in apartments smaller than this thing.
The cut from Alice dancing to Bill and Alice in their apartment is an excellent example of Kubrick knowing exactly when to cut out of a scene. It’s so perfectly abrupt, it feels like a punch.
“We should call the Ziegler’s and thank them for the party last night.”
“I’ve taken care of that.”
Again with the overt politeness.
The argument scene has been a huge influence for me. In fact, it was the main inspiration for a lengthy argument in my own film, Wait. The length of the argument in Eyes Wide Shut (13 minutes), the framing of the shots, the arc from calm to hysterical to calm, the blue light in the background – I cannot express how important this scene has been to me.
Everything about the composition of this shot. Cruise’s dark wardrobe, the low lighting, the artificial background – love it all.
More blue pouring in from outside. Love the film’s visual motif of cold always trying to corrupt warmth.
Marion (Marie Richardson) getting emotional when Bill puts his hand on the head of Marion’s recently deceased father.
I don’t know if Bill’s nose is running, or if Domino’s (Vinessa Shaw) apartment smells bad, but I love Cruise’s little gesture here.
While her husband is trying to get laid with a lady of the night, Alice is just sitting in her kitchen, watching an old movie, enjoying her munchies.
Whenever I watch this scene, I’m reminded how much I want Todd Field to direct more films. In the Bedroom and Little Children are two of my favorites of the 2000s.
Milich’s (Rade Serbedzija) insistence on helping Bill out, even after Milich discovers his daughter’s (Leelee Sobieski) bad deeds.
I’ve always wondered about the movie conceit of ripping a bill apart and using it as collateral. Like… you’ve never been able to use a bill that is ripped apart, so why is this a thing in movies?
The subtle blue lighting of the shot inside the cab. In the next shot, it’s clear that there is no natural light source to project this blue hue, but damn if it doesn’t help cement Kubrick’s visual pattern.
Seriously, look how this mansion is bathed in blue light. There must have been a ton of lights directly off camera. What a gorgeous frame to feast upon.
Nick said these parties usually don’t get started until 2 a.m. Seems so late for such a lively event. Don’t these people have to work in the morning? Or do they all collectively call in sick? “Gonna stay home today. Still recovering from the orgy.”
We figure out later how and why Bill was called out at the orgy, but I’ve always wondered how this woman knew he didn’t belong there. She was already in the main room when Bill arrived. What about Bill’s demeanor makes him such an obvious outlier?
The first time I saw Eyes Wide Shut, this shot made me jump. “Oh no,” I thought. “This could go very, very badly.” I love that Kubrick had that power over his audience.
I love how theatrical this whole rescue sequence is. It feels forced and rehearsed (which, we later learn, was exactly the point).
Again, look how Kubrick uses color to inform character. Before, the bedroom was warm and the outside was blue. Now it’s the opposite.
I love that Alan Cumming gets his own cut-in close up. Right as his desk clerk character is turning in the wide shot, Kubrick cuts in with a closer, matching shot. It really helps emphasize that this is a person we should pay attention to.
Love the desk clerk’s delivery of, “Bill?” as if he’s asking for permission to call the good doctor by his first name.
Point in fact, Alan Cumming is incredible in this movie. He steals his lone scene with humor, innocence, and conviction. You really believe this desk clerk is relaying all this information for the first time, as the character naturally would in real life.
Love how quickly the people in the mansion typed, printed, sealed, and delivered this note. Bill has been at the gate for all of 52 seconds. Sure, they could’ve already had the note ready, but were they just waiting by the security monitor, hoping Bill would show up? Either way, they fired off that damn note right quick.
This is one of my favorite shots in any Kubrick film. The low frame, the slow zoom in, the dimly lit composition, Cruise’s confused face – it’s just perfect.
Sydney Pollack was a great filmmaker. He excelled in directing, producing, and, we must remember, acting. I always liked Pollack’s conviction as an actor, and this scene is my favorite work he delivered. The arc of the sequence, both in narrative and character, is so damn compelling.
By the way, this scene took three weeks to film, which is insane, even by Kubrick’s standards. I mention this because I would love even the tiniest bit of insight as to how you go about editing a scene like this. Filming one scene for three weeks would produce a ridiculous amount of footage. Where the hell do you even begin to assemble something like that?
But why? Victor has just caught Bill up on everything. He’s provided reasonable explanations for the mansion, Nick, and the dead woman. Bill has no reason to not believe Victor. And Victor, in turn, has no reason to think Bill will continue to pursue his investigation. So why place Bill’s mask on his pillow? Why continue to fuck with Bill and intimidate him? Why, indeed.
The final line of this film is many things. It is one of my favorite closing lines in all of cinema, and it is, without question, my favorite use of the word “Fuck” in cinema. It isn’t just the the word itself. It’s the context in which the word is used, and Kidman’s confident delivery of it. It’s also the last word Stanley Kubrick ever put on screen. Can you imagine one better?