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'Eyes' explores hidden temptations

Sometimes, as the song says, love just ain't enough.

Apparently, the late director Stanley Kubrick had that message in mind during the three years it took him to assemble his final film, "Eyes Wide Shut."

Kubrick, the overzealous perfectionist whose film triumvirate of "Dr. Strangelove," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange" catapulted him into the ranks of America's premiere directors, died just days after putting together his final cut of the much-ballyhooed, and equally bleak movie.

"Eyes" purported to be an erotic thriller examining sexual obsession. But this intriguing concept, co-written by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, takes off in a different direction, deliberately leaving audiences unsure of where they are.

Leading viewers through Kubrick's looking glass is Tom Cruise, whose Dr. William Harford is an amalgam of Lewis Carroll's Alice and Griffin Dunne's character from Martin Scorcese's similarly themed "After Hours."

Kubrick opens "Eyes" by showing the emotional absence that can exist within a marriage. After Bill and his wife Alice dress in separate rooms, he enters the bathroom. Alice, draped over the toilet and wearing her eyeglasses, asks how she looks.

"Perfect," Bill answers without taking his eyes off of himself in the mirror. And there Kubrick defines his film's cryptic title.

As the Harfords attend a Christmas party thrown by Bill's colleague Victor Ziegler (Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack), the couple separates and both engage in flirting.

Alice jealously eyes her husband conversing with two flirtatious women while a wealthy Hungarian paramour charms her. Again, one of Kubrick's characters is watching something intently, but the object of her attention is not the person intently watching her.

The next night, after both Harfords have smoked a marijuana joint, Alice tells her husband that she once considered leaving him and their daughter behind to join the company of an attractive naval officer.

Right in that statement lies the heart of "Eyes." Cruise and Kidman are in a relatively vulnerable state, both only clad in their underwear throughout the prolonged argument. Alice tortures both herself and Bill by using sex as her weapon.

Kidman is sensational in this first act, after which Alice becomes wallpaper for the film. Her performance is specific, so full of subtle gestures and postures, and haunting glances, that every shot of her suggests that within her is an entire world that Bill knows nothing about. It is a shame that Kubrick could not have followed her journey instead of Bill's.

Another important aspect of Alice's revelation is that no one can be certain if it is the truth. Whether Alice actually considered betraying Bill or not, her statement maintains the appearance of truth, and as Bill enters a world in which deception reigns supreme, that is all that matters.

Bill steps into this other world immediately after Alice's confession, when he makes a house call to a patient who has passed away. Afterward, Bill opts to tread through the seamy late night Manhattan streets.

Here, Kubrick wants the audience to believe that Bill's sojourn-which includes an encounter with a tempting prostitute and an homage to Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" (another film directed by Kubrick)-is motivated by sexual jealousy.

Bill periodically flashes to an image of Alice having an affair with the naval officer. Kubrick wanted this image to represent Bill's obsessed frustration. However, it is never convincing enough that the various doors of temptation opened by Bill are propelled by carnal desire.

There was an easy way for Kubrick to have suggested the passion within Bill. Why not show Bill thinking about him having sex with Alice? Then the audience could have known that he was looking to quench his sexual appetite and not just exploring a previously undiscovered dark side.

Kubrick and Raphael adapted "Eyes" from August Schnitzler's 1926 short novel "Dream Story." As such, Bill's night plays like one extended dream sequence, with no logical succession nor intertwining of events. Kubrick, with cinematographer Larry Smith, highlights the dream with an increasingly alarming series of re-occurring flashes of red and blue.

Later, these same bold colors come back to haunt Bill in several important scenes that represent a recent film cliché, that of the sex-as-death metaphor. Kubrick and Raphael never clarify what type of doctor Bill is, so as a result his character is reduced to nothing more than a life saver, walking wounded in a world where everything associated with sex is equated with decadence and depravity.

Bill's night (or perhaps, nightmare) culminates in a potentially mesmerizing masked orgy, which again invokes the film's illusory title. Everyone there can see without being identified, but consequently they cannot be certain of exactly what they are seeing.

Kubrick had the opportunity to make the orgy scene an examination of sexual fantasy and security, or to offer fresh insight into the notion that sex can determine one's identity. Instead, though, Kubrick turns the events of the orgy into a mystery of conspiracy that is unfortunately explained away in a disappointing denouement.

A second factor that mars not only the orgy sequence but subsequent scenes as well is Jocelyn Pook's jarring piano beat score. Composed with the goal of disturbing the audience, it merely serves as an annoying distraction to the action at hand. It is one thing for a filmmaker to unnerve his audience, as Kubrick has done in the past; it is an entirely different thing to alienate them completely.

In the end, "Eyes" itself suffers from a similar predicament. Despite its vivid imagery and Kidman's wonderful work, the subject matter never gets under the viewer's skin.

By ignoring any connection between sex and love, Kubrick does not allow the audience, even those watching the film wide-eyed, to feel the movie's message in their hearts.

It remains to be seen whether "Eyes" will fade away like Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" or if it will remain part of the cultural fabric like his greatest works. But "Eyes" is sure to initiate much discussion in an otherwise stagnant summer movie season, thus ensuring that Kubrick's legacy will endure long after the last reel.


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