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by: Michael Dequina

The late Stanley Kubrick's long-awaited final film, Eyes Wide Shut, is the perfect example of a true NC-17 film--but not in the way one would be led to believe. Ever since production began on the film way back in the fall of 1996, rumors have been swirling about the sexual content of the film: "Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bare all and really do the nasty"; "Tom wears a dress"; "Tom lusts after teenage Leelee Sobieski"--if the reports were to be believed, Eyes Wide Shut would turn out to be a high-budget, A-list porn film. Fanning the flames of speculation was the now-familiar scene of a nude Cruise and Kidman making love in front of a mirror, the first taste of the film made available to the public.

Having seen the actual film, I advise anyone ready to don their raincoats for a showing of Eyes Wide Shut to think twice. Yes, there is some strong sexual content (some of which was altered to receive an R rating, but more on that later), but not the wall-to-wall fornication as had been whispered. Rather than being sex, Eyes Wide Shut is about sex--a film that explores this adult theme in a sensitive, mature, and thoughtful manner. If that isn't a film that could not better exemplify a rating that simply means, in its literal definition, "No one 17 and under admitted," then I don't know what is.

Kubrick isn't above a little playful teasing, and that's what he does for the opening section of Eyes Wide Shut, which appears to suggest all manner of ensuing tawdriness. The opening shot is of Kidman's character, former art gallery manager (not psychiatrist nor medical doctor) Alice Harford, doffing her duds and baring nearly all. Once fully dressed, she and her husband, Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) make their way to a swank party thrown by wealthy friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack, in a role once meant for Harvey Keitel). At the soirée, a tipsy Alice engages in a dangerous flirtation with an anonymous partygoer while eyeing her husband getting friendly with a pair of seductive models.

Not too long after that, a fully nude female form appears onscreen, but not in the way one would expect. Similarly unexpected is the turn that soon comes in one astonishing Cruise-Kidman bedroom scene, which reveals itself to be the film's driving dramatic force. While this scene is all about sex, it is not of sex; in fact, it is of words describing sex, and in decidedly inexplicit terms. What lends this scene such power, however, is the hypnotic effect that comes when all facets of cinema are triumphantly married: photography, editing, writing, and especially directing and acting. A description of what the scene literally entails would sound deceptively simple and thus completely fail to do it justice. Directed with remarkable precision and control by Kubrick and quite simply the most triumphant moment in Kidman's entire acting career, this scene is the first of Eyes Wide Shut's fair share of haunting moments.

This charged encounter sends Bill off into the streets and the film into its main (for lack of a better term) action, where in one, long night, he is simultaneously repulsed and enticed by various sex-related situations he happens to stumble upon. The decadent centerpiece of his journey (and of the film itself) is a now-notorious orgy sequence, made even more controversial by the addition of some obvious digital effects work used to obscure some sex acts--and hence secure an R rating. From what I understand, no genitalia nor glimpses of penetration could be seen in Kubrick's unobstructed view, which is just as well--the point of the scene is not to titillate but to create an unsettling atmosphere where desire and carnal curiosity becomes tinged with danger and outright fear. (The atmosphere is stunningly bolstered by Jocelyn Pook's chilling minimalist score.) The point still comes across in the censored version, but undoubtedly diluted, for the unc


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