Stanley Kubrick's last masterpiece, "Eyes Wide Shut," released after his death in 1999, did not draw great praise from film critics; like so many overly-hyped movies, it opened with great expectations—sparked by the great secrecy surrounding its production—that it was bound to disappoint. In America, the unreal yet worldly orgy scenes were censored so the movie would earn an 'R' rating. Unfortunately, many critics failed to understand that those scenes were not meant to be scary or charged with sexual energy; they were meant to be strange and phantomlike, seeing as Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) found himself in a large mansion among lunatics? conspirators? some religious sect? jokers? We never really know. To see the uncensored, 'NC-17' version, one must obtain the European version, as the European film industry in contrast to Hollywood is more mature about sex on the silver screen. As NYT critic Elvis Mitchell observed, "A foreigner judging the United States by its films would think Americans spend more time running from exploding fireballs than having sex." Indeed, when is the last time you saw a good movie about sex?
"Eyes Wide Shut" is based on Arthur Schnitzler's novella, Traumnovelle ("Dream Story"). Kubrick's is a story about erotic desire and fidelity, whose primary lesson is that, as Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) says at the end of the movie, "dreams are never merely dreams." We come away from the movie questioning the reality of Dr. Bill's ostensibly real adventure consisting in a succession of sexual encounters in a world that feels more and more unreal. And in the second half of the movie, Dr. Bill himself resolves to clear up the mystery of his adventure, to find some meaning in what he has witnessed. Faithful to Schnitzler's novella, Kubrick troubles the distinction between dreams and reality, showing that reality is never entirely real, just as dreams attend and belong to our reality.
Like so many of Kubrick's movies, you have to watch them over and over again to see the things that are not readily apparent. For instance, the experiences of both Dr. Bill and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), testify to the theme of the sudden power of male sexuality over females. This theme is spelled out more explicitly in "Dream Story" than in the movie. As Schnitzler writes, "there may be hours or nights, he thought, in which some strange, irresistible charm emanates from men who under normal circumstances have no special power over the other sex."
If you haven't seen the movie, see it; if you have, see it again.