Lots of spoilers upcoming here so if you’re worried go watch the movie and come back. If it’s been a while since you saw the movie/are interested there is a moderately detailed synopsis after the two reviews!
Ari: Having been a teenage Kubrick fan many years ago, and devouring the elements of uniqueness and the character that distinguished his films, perhaps just by being able to read the anguish and torment off of the actors and actresses faces, a Kubrick film with modern stars seemed unusual from the first scene. A middle-class home in Manhattan, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman getting ready for a dinner party plays like the beginning of a Spielberg movie.
From the beginning, though, and not truly noticeable until later either, is the unstoppable apparent focus in literally every single scene, of what at first appears to be sexuality. Mixed in with a somewhat mediocre, out of place elements, the slightly upper middle class trappings of a doctor that indicates his insecurity by flashing his medical license to display his small modicum of social status in nearly every interaction. Nudity or near-nudity seems pervasive. The focus on the mundane parts of life, the breakfasts and dinners, the entries and exits from doors, things usually cut from other films, makes the apparent sexual tension or frustration bubble up as you wait for something bombastic to happen. At times, it feels like we are watching the process of their marriage, not falling apart, but stretching the way dough does, not breaking, but irreversibly deforming.
The conversations, especially near the beginning are bizarre, realistic, and yet psychotic and unimaginable in real life. Kidman, whether deliberately or not, speaks like a robot or a sociopath, and her unfeeling comes across at many points as perhaps suppressed distaste for her more emotional husband. The atmosphere is very un-Kubrickeque, not surreal in any sense. Everything seems believable.
The scenes are long, and the sets are deliberate with everything carefully arranged and chosen, like the Christmas tree he passes every time going in and out of the house, the reminder of the role he must play as father and husband despite his predilections and constant abortive attempts to cheat. Or the careful choice of colors distinguishing settings of mediocrity, sterility, austerity, a lack of taste, or opulence. The shadow of the nose from a mask placed on a pillow in the moonlight. The newspaper screaming at him on the cover LUCKY TO BE ALIVE.
The crude simplicity at times of these elements striking and brings you out of the film, like the use of a single piano key struck repeatedly to indicate his internal tension, or the sexualization of interactions that seem mundane or should be deeply inappropriate. Almost every single scene, until the end, has a character at least passively possessing possibility of interest in or from protagonist. From the hotel receptionist to the waitresses at every cafe, or to viewing even the corpse, there is a character of the opposite sex, or gay and interested, in nearly every single extended interaction.
Finally, the last scene provides some illumination for why the movie seems to have no direction whatsoever. Perhaps it was not sexuality that Kubrick meant to imply was everywhere, it was human nature, in our covetous desire for everything that we don’t have.
As his child daughter passes through the store, naming every preposterous toy that she likes during the expectations of Christmas shopping, a bear larger than her, a 19th century carriage to push her dolls, it is clear that the symbol here, the reason for the protagonists frustration and inability to understand or join the upper echelons of the cultish power structure, for the stretching of their marriage, is the insatiable desire for more, paired with the unwillingness to accept one’s social station, one’s place, one’s family and the desire to have everything, to climb. All this while the mother grunts her assent, and the father is preoccupied with a sex cult he was denied access to.
It doesn’t seem that this predicates against striving, but against sacrificing the right and mundane, for the wrong and decadent.
One final element of this film that a viewer won’t find in nearly any other movie imaginable is the painstaking details of pricing and bargaining throughout. From negotiating the taxi prices, the cost of the whore, the hood and mask, everything has a price, and the protagonist, thinking himself well off, is generous and never argues price, demonstrating his social status, but also showing his means are well above average. He, however, is not of sufficient social class to access the top of the social pyramid, and thus can not allow that structure to exist while he can not be inside.
Finally, when his wife suggests the solution to their marital tensions, to the threat of this cult, to everything, is to be grateful, it means grateful not only for their lives, but for each other’s love, their daughter’s life, and the already elevated social status they hold, despite both of their self-destructive urges to sacrifice everything just to try more.
Thus, it is not novel sex, new narcotic highs, eclipsing social class, or even consumerism, any of these taken alone. It is the pure element of insatiable human desire to possess everything that is the central motif of all those bizarre elements and connections and that threaten to tear everyone apart, lest they simply forget to be grateful for what they have.
Rating: 1 full speedball syringe.
Jordan: The last word of this film, and any film that Kubrick would ever direct unfortunately, is an interesting choice. It is true there is quite a bit of sexual tension (sometimes one-sided), lust, and (mostly simulated) sex acts in this film. However, it doesn’t seem that sex is really the focus of the movie. It seems that power and the maintenance of it is a much more prominent and important factor.
It is clear from the opening Christmas party that Bill is not the same as the people he does house calls for, which is the reason he was invited to the party in the first place. Even at the party he barely has time to flirt with the two young women throwing themselves at him, while his wife dances with a strange Hungarian man, for five minutes before he is called upstairs to deal with some strange rash that his rich host is dealing with. By rash of course I mean a sex worker in the middle of ODing, but to people like this, the issue is of similar annoyance.
As mentioned above, this film does contain a fair amount of sexual material, that is one of the reasons many people went to see it, but the apparent lack of sex in the main characters lives and their seeming inability to discuss it in a mature way seems to be a more important plot point. The night after their Christmas bash, the couple blazes a fat jay of shake together and do their best impression of machine learning attempting to simulate being stoned. Bill says that he doesn’t believe women get horny for men other than their husbands, then Alice, who Bill thinks is being agro because of all that dank kush, mentions one time she had a fantasy about some navy boy and Bill has a melt down.
Here he begins he film-long hallucination of his wife getting piped down by some suave military man. In spite of numerous opportunities, neither Bill nor his wife ever act upon their seemingly overflowing libidos. Even his hang-ups about his wife’s imagined cheating seem to be more about power than actual sex. In his first interaction with Domino, a sex worker he runs into after rejecting the daughter of a recently deceased patient, Bill quickly runs away after things start getting physical. Even at the final Epstein party, he seems more excited to be in the same room with the rich party guests than actually bedding any of the naked women.
Right after this encounter the doctor runs into some juiced up street punks. They seem to be in the late twenties at least, but are pretending they are in their teens. After being shoulder-checked by one, Bill turns around to face them and their coming verbal assaults. The group then begins shouting homophobic insults at Bill, one even bending over for him. Like many of the scenes, this one is punctuated with sexual notes, but is simply about power, sexualized words, especially homophobic slurs hold a great deal of power and also denote some yet to be deconstructed sexual hierarchy still true in society, even more so at the time the film was made.
Even the rich people, who surround themselves with sex objects in the film, seem to be having very little intercourse. At the Christmas party it is not clear if even Ziegler, the host of the party, got any before his female friend got a bit too faded. At the final party there is a lot more nudity, but similar levels of sex. The vast majority of participants are simply watching and those participating in the acts are almost all acting instead of truly making love. Remember everyone is wearing masks, so they technically can’t even kiss. They are, similar to the allegations regarding one Jeffery Epstein, using this environment of lust and hedonism to secure their power.
This power is derived not only from deciding who may participate, Bill is a good example of this getting kicked out for taking a taxi to an orgy, but also though observation of what everyone who is allowed to participate is doing. The vast majority of those at the party are simply observers, some are naked, but at most only a couple are having sex. It is not the goal of the party, but the method used by those in power to maintain their control.
Ziegler, who hosted the first party and attended the final, has a meeting with Bill towards the conclusion of the movie. He makes it apparent that he ‘Little Saint James’ party they had, was all about influence, certainly not about sex. Bill is questioning him about the woman that saved his life and subsequently “died of an overdose.” The host calmly explains that Bill doesn’t belong in a place like that, filled with so many powerful people. He also tells him that his sex worker friend didn’t have anything done to her that hadn’t happened before, “She got her brains fucked out.” He states this with a matter-of-factness that how unimportant the sex was, concluding that her death was inevitable, she was a lowly drug addict. In this we also see how powerless Bill is, to people like Ziegler he is the same as a sex worker. He is there for the pleasure of his hosts, to fulfil a need and nothing else. At the final party they would have just as soon executed the doctor as they did with the woman who saved him.
When Bill finally returns home he is met with the last (aside from conspiracy theories that we will discuss in another article or on the pod) show of power, his mask from the party is laying on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. One last giant middle finger from the masters he serves. This leaves the couple without any real hope or recourse, and what is there to do when you have control over nothing else?
Rating: 8 masked senators naked under their robes/a country of loveless marriages
Eyes Wide Shut is a film that wonderfully captures the reality of the gulf between the common citizen and the elite.
The film begins as Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are venturing out to what ostensibly seems a normal Christmas party, hosted by a wealthy patient of Bill’s. Almost immediately it is clear that what is happening here is not your average party.
Bill and Alice both begin to be hit on, obnoxiously hard, by members of the party. As the alcohol flows, one begins to wonder which partner will cave into their carnal desires first. Though Bill’s opportunity is short lived as he is called upstairs by his gracious host Victor Ziegler. When he arrives he discovers one of the reoccurring images of the film, a nude sex worker ODing.
The doctor quickly jumps into action and revives the young woman, using his top tier doctor skills to gently talk to the victim. Ziegler is pleased that he does not have to force his butler to dump yet another speedball filled corpse into the river, though he is less than elated that Bill recommends letting the girl rest in the bathroom for a spell.
The next evening, still juiced from the adulterous heavy petting and free booze, the couple decides to partake in another forbidden fruit, GANJA! As the couple enjoys their marijuana cigarette, they quickly lose control of their emotions, especially Alice. Bill becomes worried that the “pot is making [Alice] aggressive,” a classic side effect of doing cannabis (for more information we recommend you watch the documentary Reefer Madness).
All this pot numbs their normal social inhabitations and they begin to discuss lust and infidelity. Bill, a classic socially maladjusted rich boy, doesn’t seem to believe that Alice, and seemingly women more generally, are capable of being unfaithful. Alice now at full tilt from all that loud, drops a bomb on William. She tells him of a time when they visited Cape Cod and she passed a naval officer, who must have been one of the generals from central casting Trump talks about because she continues to tell him about her fantasy of leaving Bill and their daughter then and there. Bill reacts first in his natural method of repeating statements to him as questions, as his face slowly contorts into an expression reminiscent of Biden trying to remember the name of his Defense Secretary, angry, lost, and hurt. Thankfully, Alice and their daughter are saved from a Chris Benoit style murder-suicide, when Bill is called out to visit a deceased patient and his daughter.
Bill heads out, creating a cuck film in his head that will be played on loop for the rest of the movie, from now on I will refer to this phenomenon as auto-cucking. When he arrives at the house, the daughter of the dead man, who almost certainly killed him for insurance purposes, starts to flirt with him. He’s kinda into it at first but then is reminded that the woman is engaged. The woman almost instantly starts throwing her fiancé under the bus saying how much she’d prefer the compact 5’7″ doctor. Bill feeling very hot and overwhelmed leaves as the woman’s partner enters.
To continue the all-American theme of the movie, when Bill gets back on the streets, depressed and directionless as ever, he is harassed by street tuffs. They mostly just shout homophobic slurs and threaten to beat him up/have intercourse with him (for international readers this is a very American troupe, offering yourself up to fulfill their homosexual desires while simultaneously remarking on how gay they are. It might seem confusing, but to many American youths there is nothing more pure.) Just as the doctor is prepared to spiral into the darkness within him, he bumps into a smartly dressed escort.
He accompanies the woman home and is clearly out of his depth. He doesn’t know what he wants, literally asking “What do you suggest?” at one point. It is possible that our lady of the night is playing him as a quick look at her bookshelf shows she is clearly studying sociology. In any case, he gives her over a hundred dollars, because Bill knows in this house we respect sex workers and pay them for their time, and leaves without ever unbuttoning his overpriced suit.
After this encounter it seems that Bill becomes overwhelmed with the recent revelations that his wife would drop him for a PTSD riddled sailor with a decent pension and that in spite of his effort to become a mover and shaker in society, being a doctor only gets him low-level security clearance into the halls of high-society debauchery. However, Wild Bill is a red blooded American and believes as such he is entitled to the meritocracy we are so often erroneously promised.
This is compounded when Bill once again bumps into what is ostensibly and old friend who knows nothing about him, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field). The two seem to have diametrically opposed personalities. Nick is a medical school drop out who left his family in Seattle to New York to play the piano for the wealthy sex perverts that run our country. He is meek and unlike Bill, knows his station in life.
This dichotomy becomes increasingly clear as Nightingale describes a bizarre gig he got where he plays for a gaggle of rich hogs and straight 10s while blindfolded. Bill immediately demands more details and Nick reluctantly gives them. Then Wild Bill is off to get his required costume from another eclectic character, Milich (Rade Serbedzija).
When Bill meets the quirky businessman, they both get right to it. Bill starts waving his money around and Milich makes sure he gets as much as possible. When the two enter the costume shop Milich quickly finds his young daughter cavorting with two older men. He is incensed at his daughters actions, but even more that the two men won’t shut up as he tries to make a sale. After a seduction attempt by Milich’s daughter, Bill leaves to join the rich people’s party in a taxi.
After a long taxi ride, the doctor offers his driver $100, but tears the bill in half, promising to give him the other when he returns. With cheap costume in hand he gives the password and is granted access to the massive compound, its parking lot filled with limousines. It is clear that Bill is, like Theodore Donald Kerabatsos, out of his element. However, Bill, ever the optimist, pushes onward sure that wherever his wallet can’t get him, his awkward attempts at charisma will.
When Bill enters the party the audience is presented with at first seems like a haunting cult like ceremony that quickly borders on humorous. During the initial ritual Bill stares blankly forward, likely feeling he has made it, while eerie music plays in the background. The track is actually a Romanian prayer chant played backwards. After the mostly nude women are finished with their ritual, one makes a beeline for Bill. It seems his Halloween costume is not as deceptive as he thought.
The woman, a character we have met before, warns Bill that he must leave immediately! However, the doctor feels like a bigshot now and is probably looking to meet a hedge fund CEO or former saxophone playing president. Our old female friend is then taken away by another partygoer, once again showing that Bill is bottom tier. With no one to accompany him, Bill goes for a stroll around the orgy.
During his walk, we see many naked people, but like with Bill, there seems to be a veneer over everything taking place. Most of the erotic acts are simply kabuki theater, remember everyone is wearing full-faced masks. Finally our bumbling protagonist stumbles into a girl that is paying attention to him. Unfortunately for Bill’s plans to meet some powerful globalists, our old sex worker friend is back from crushing some sexagenarian’s pelvis. She again tells him they’re both probably going to be murdered if he doesn’t leave immediately. William is set on staying though, however a man informs him that his driver would like to speak to him right away.
Of course his cabby is the least of his worries as he is in fact led to what appears to be a throne room. A mysterious red-clocked figure demands the password and then a second, Bill doesn’t know the second password, then again nobody does. He is then forced to remove his mask, the thin piece of plastic that he hoped would prevent him from being viewed as nothing more than a pawn to these elites. He is then told to undress, but is miraculously saved by the naked woman who had been begging him to leave. Bill is free to go, but it seems the woman has given her life for his and he is told to never discuss this event with anyone.
Bill is now a complete mess, but he’s an American mess and that means not giving in even if its petty and stupid. He keeps auto-cucking, and this only gets worse when he sneaks back to his house and finds his wife having a lurid dream about that damned seaman again. But now he also needs to find out what the party was all about and what happened to his acquaintances.
He starts with Nick going to his old stomping grounds and trying to use the old “I’m a doctor” routine on a waitress to get the pianists’ address, it barely works. He then goes to the hotel where Nick was staying and gets a lot of grim details about what happened to Nick from a sassy hotel desk worker.
Bill goes back to the costume shop to return what he rented and it appears that, like any good businessman, Milich has become his daughter’s pimp and is getting money from the two men he first found his daughter with.
The news isn’t all grim though, he returns to Domino’s house, the fur clad escort he couldn’t bring himself to sleep with, to bring her a gift. She isn’t there, but her roommate is. The roommate is also a sex worker and it appears that old Bill might just lose his adultery virginity after all, but then she stops it and informs bill that Domino just tested positive for HIV.
While he dogged that bullet, he has at this point picked up a trail, from a guy that looks like a family-sized version of Verne Troyer, and he does a terrible job of loosing him, choosing to stare directly into his eyes while trying to buy a newspaper with the heading “LUCKY TO BE ALIVE”.
When he finally does dip inside of a cafe and begins reading the paper, he sees an article about the woman who he initially saved, and was saved by at the party, saying she had ODed again. After some professional “I’m a doctor”-ing, he finds out that the woman has died, ostensibly from the drugs. He then goes to meet Victor.
Victor is playing pool in his mansion and after a failed effort at small talk decided to once again explain the reality of the situation to Bill. He says that Bill has no place at parties like that. When Bill inquires about his heroine, Victor informs him that nothing happened to her that hasn’t happened before and when people like that “die of a drug overdose,” that is just the way of the world.
As the doctor slinks back into his bedroom, he is horrified to find the mask he thought he lost at the party on his pillow next to his sleeping wife, he breaks down and promises to tell her everything.
In the final scene of the movie, the two parents lead their young daughter around a mall while she looks for toys that she hopes Santa will bring her. The two share a heart-to-heart where Bill looks like he is either going to cry or experience spontaneous explosive diarrhea.
Alice makes it clear that there is one thing that they must do immediately, “fuck.”