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Is Stanley Kubricks Eyes Wide Shut the work of a genius?

At the heart of the story in both the original and the adaptation is the sudden emergence of a violent undercurrent (what Schnitzler called "dangerous whirlpools") in the couple's sexual life together. The novella essentially concerns the husband's jealousy and a subsequent adventure—real or dreamed—fraught with sex, peril, even death, an adventure that unfolds like textbook Freud. Alice remains at home, but she's also all the women on Bill's journey underground, beautiful women whose sexual appetites are hinted at in his wife's own sly, sideways glance. The unspoken threat in that glance should cast a spell over everything that follows, perfuming the air with fear and desire. But after the dreamy high of the opening Christmas party, Kubrick's film settles into a flat-footed monotone that is at odds with the story he's telling. There's little here of the director's famously heightened realism, those nervously pitched altered states that characterize films such as The Shining, which so effortlessly and scarily slips between reality and fantasy, and makes each equally unsettling. When the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut, which is meant to be the apotheosis of Bill's experience, is stripped of its erotic violence and pumping automatons, the scene itself becomes coy, decorative and all but meaningless. The dreamer is left without his dream.

Schnitzler steadfastly refused to explain whether Fridolin's adventures are actual or the feverish payoff of his paranoid jealousy; he blurs dream and reality because it finally doesn't matter if the doctor went to the mansion. What matters are the waking hours to come, in the couple's newly arrived-at morality and their deepened understanding of each other. Kubrick, a virtuoso of glittering surfaces, never bothered to dig deep, to excavate meaning. That's why his greatest films—Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, Barry Lyndonare seamless fusions of content and form. Their form is their content. That's also why it's a fundamental cliché to call his characters cold and inhuman: of course they're cold and inhuman—at least the ones we love most—that's what makes them so wretchedly human, and recognizable. Kubrick wasn't interested in showing the why of people. There may be psychological explanations for Humbert Humbert, Jack Torrance and Barry Lyndon (or HAL 9000), but in Kubrick's rendering, their motivations remain opaque. They are exactly what they seem—no more and no less. Bill and Alice, in contrast, are neither cold nor inhuman, but they are—at least in their original incarnations—the sort of characters that Kubrick never seemed intuitively or intellectually turned on by: dreamers. Perhaps there was no place in his world for anyone else's imagination. In the universe of genius, there is sometimes little room for company.

Eyes Wide Shut was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick; written by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, based on the novella "Traumnovelle" by Arthur Schnitzler; and stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Now playing countywide.

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