It’s no mystery that Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut, is a film about marriage. It’s also, in itself, a marriage, or conjunction—between different eras and cultures, Europe and America, bridging an older era of studio filmmaking (Kubrick began his career in the 1950s and the film’s principle cinematic influence is probably Max Ophüls) to the faster world of 1999’s summer blockbusters. It ties together contemporary New York to fin de siècle Vienna, theater with murder, dreaming with waking life. In pace with the more deliberative beats of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon than A Clockwork Orange or Full Metal Jacket, in addition to being what seemed like a non-genre exercise for a filmmaker whose cult followed him work against more excitable backdrops (war, science fiction, horror, and hyperbolic satire, sometimes all commingling), its chances for success were slim, a condition exacerbated by how its enigmatic author—who allegedly this time would been more open to interviews—was not living to defend it, or properly midwife the film through the complex web of movie marketing he was notorious for meticulously overseeing (he undoubtedly would have also been tweaking the final cut until the final release date, as it’s known he cut whole sections from 2001 and The Shining after they’d been screened for critics). Sold as an erotic thriller in the decade of Basic Instinct, Indecent Proposal, and Sliver, it’s a movie about sex that was criticized because an alleged lack of chemistry between its two married stars, and then the consequent lack of fulfilling voyeuristic orgasm for the audience. Kubrick was known for taking viewers places—outer space, dystopia, 18th century Europe, a haunted hotel, Vietnam—and Eyes Wide Shut seemed to take people nowhere, its ideas on sex antiquated and part of a bygone era.
Which is to say that it’s an absolutely extraordinary and singular work, and one of the most spectrally fascinating journeys Kubrick was ever to take us. Watching Eyes Wide Shut, as I have many times, I am transported, through the present and to an unknown past and an unknown place. I am in Kubrick’s 1950s New York just as I’m in 1990s New York, or even the 1890s Vienna of the Arthur Schnitzler novella Traumnovelle, upon which Kubrick and Frederic Raphael’s screenplay is based. As in a dream, one person doubles for another, and then a third person, just as locations are themselves amalgamations. The dreamer, meanwhile, is positive he’s awake, though treading uncannily between past and present. When the dreamer is “here,” it is never an exact replica of here. Much like Kubrick’s Shepperton Studios set of Manhattan, it’s not a real New York but a dream New York. It’s the New York that Kubrick left behind and to which he never came back. The bizarre sensibility is reinforced by how he uses color, lighting, and space. My eyes are marveled looking at it: the red and blue in a dueling contrast, then the colors of Christmas and the multitudes of light bulbs diffused by Kubrick’s lenses to give a strange halo effect to everything.