Cinema: All Eyes On Them

The theme is sexual obsession. The stars are Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The director is Stanley Kubrick. Who could look anywhere else?

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History and horror, crime and war, sci-fi and sexual transgression. He may have made only 13 feature films in the course of his 46-year career, but Stanley Kubrick covered a range that more prolific filmmakers might--and often did--envy. But whether the films were set in the deep past or the near future, whether their prevailing tone was comic or violent, sly or brutish, weary or idealistic, Kubrick really made the same movie over and over again--vivid, brilliant, emotionally unforgiving, imagistically unforgettable variations on the theme that preoccupied him all his mature life.

That theme was at once simple and sophisticated: a man (or sometimes a group of men), without thinking very hard about it, places his faith either in his own rationality or in the rationality of the systems by which his world is governed, whereupon something goes awry, his illusions of order are stripped away, and he is left to fend with the sometimes deadly, always devastating consequences of that loss.

These occurrences need not be cataclysmic. They can be something as simple as the sight of a young girl practicing with her Hula Hoop (Lolita). Or a communications goof in the supposedly fail-safe nuclear-defense program (Dr. Strangelove). Or, as in the case of Eyes Wide Shut--which is due to open July 16 after years of wildly misguided speculation about its content--a confession of unconsummated sexual flirtation.

Such incidents are usually not things most people notice much or worry about greatly. And often enough they're right. Normality generally reasserts itself after one of these blips.

The films that Kubrick cared about--there were three early ones he disowned--are all in one way or another explorations of how minor mishaps can grow into major disasters, with the one exception of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which miscalculation leads to redemption, rebirth, a radiant transcendence of ordinary expectations. But Eyes Wide Shut, though it is finally less bleak in its moral implications than most Kubrick movies, is in the more typical line of a man perpetually disappointed by the world's failure to abide by his standards of logic and civility.

Why, then, the avid interest in it, the reams of goofy gossip and scandalized speculation that have surrounded its lengthy creation? Maybe it had something to do with the very long time between Kubrick pictures--the last one, Full Metal Jacket, was released 12 years ago. Maybe the director's increasing elusiveness had its effect. He had quit talking to reporters years ago, and it seemed to the media's increasingly resentful minions that he got around in public even less than he formerly had, which was not very much. On the other hand, Eyes Wide Shut did encompass the three elements that legitimately capture the public's attention--story, stars, director--in a particularly piquant package.

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