(Poster art via Kyle Lambert)
The erotic tone of the film (I watched the NR version) is set early with Alice (Nicole Kidman) nude in the opening scene. An equally prevalent disjointed tone soon appears as she and her husband, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), say goodnight to their young daughter, Helena (Madison Eginton), before attending a rich Manhattan society Christmas party. In the scene Helena asks if she can stay up late to watch “The Nutcracker” on television while surrounded by a lit Christmas tree, holiday cheer and a normal looking babysitter. This tonal tug-of-war is prevalent throughout the film with contrasts between erotica and tradition as well as nightmares and reality.
At the holiday party, thrown by a rich patient, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollock), erotica returns with both husband and wife being separately propositioned for sex, Alice by a wealthy Hungarian, Sandor Szavost (Sky du Mont), and Bill by two young models. A tipsy Alice turns down the silver fox but Bill is saved from himself by Victor who needs help with a prostitute, Mandy (Julienne Davis), who overdosed. This turn of events makes me wonder if this is a typical service Bill provides for his wealthy clientele. Also, if not for Victor, would Bill have cheated on Alice? Seemed likely, which foreshadows his path into a sexual underworld as he tiptoes around promiscuity, never taking the plunge into an affair. Also foreshadowed is the sexual underworld itself as he hardly bats an eye at Victor’s situation.
Also during the somewhat lengthy party scene, Bill meets an old medical school friend, now pianist, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who he agrees to see perform at a local jazz club in the coming week or so. Mandy and Nick will become principal players in Bill’s adventure, as well as the disjointed tone of the film as bizarre supporting characters weave in and out of the story, including a prostitute named Domino (Vinessa Shaw) and a costume peddler (Rade Serbedzija) who also pimps out his young daughter (Leelee Sobieski).
The next evening while at home we learn more about the Harford’s as they smoke cannabis kept hidden in a tin Band-Aid container stashed away in the medicine cabinet – “Let’s just relax Alice. This pot is making you aggressive.” Scenes of Bill at work helping patients and Alice caring for their daughter contrast to what they do behind closed bedroom doors or gallivanting at parties. While stoned, Alice details her fantasy involving a young naval officer she met while on vacation in an attempt to argue Bill’s theory women are the more faithful sex. Before he can express distress over this revelation, the daughter of a patient summons Bill. Confused by grief, her father recently passed, or perhaps finally able to admit her feelings, the daughter (Marie Richardson) professes her love for Bill and kisses him. Again Bill is saved from himself as her fiancé Carl (Thomas Gibson) arrives.
Instead of returning home to confront Alice’s confession, Bill wanders downtown New York City with visions of Alice’s fantasy invading his thoughts, starting his evening of erotica. The night, and the following day, features a religious sex cult of sorts and the odd supporting characters mentioned above, including a desk clerk (Alan Cumming) reminiscent of Pee-Wee Herman’s cameo in his biopic in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”
The ending was an odd attempt at cohesion in an incohesive film but I otherwise enjoyed “Eyes Wide Shut,” especially the scene where dramatic underscores Bill’s confrontation with a group of people shrouded in cloaks, masks and secrets (not as creepy as Tom Cruise crying but it’s close). I can’t say I enjoyed it while watching the film but I appreciate its lack of backstory, where you try to figure out what is going on while also trying to get a feel for Bill and Alice as characters. Was Bill jealous of his wife’s mental cheating or has he wanted to go on a sexual adventure? Do you believe Victor’s explanation, which I found similar to Freud interpreting a dream?
I also enjoyed the tone of the film, which is unsettling, strange and occasionally erotic. The scenes seem disjointed with only Bill connecting them, like floating through a dream where the only constant is your unconscious. It was definitely a different experience for a movie.
Is it a thriller or nightmare? I don’t know but I wonder if this is what Tom Cruise and Scientology is like in real life. Merry Shitmas.