The Best Christmas Movie You Didn’t Realize Was A Christmas Movie (Eyes Wide Shut review)

Published in The Spread magazine, December 2011

For a movie set in New York City during Christmas time, Eyes Wide Shut is certainly the most unconventional of its class that you will likely ever see. Instead of a jolly ol’ St. Nick, wintery feel-good tale, this psychosexual thriller explores the dark confines of temptation and infidelity. But it also manages to celebrate the unexpected and mysterious aspects of life that the holiday season allows us to appreciate.

This was legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s last work and is also one of his best. Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Harford, a charming yet unpretentious gentleman married to Alice, played by Nicole Kidman. Both actors are in the prime of their career and effortlessly radiate a youthful, seductive beauty as an elegant Manhattan couple.

At a friend’s holiday party, the two have separate opportunities to cheat on one another, but both ultimately elude the gave of their beautiful stangers. The next evening, Alice surprises Bill by revealing that she is contemplating throwing away her comfortable life with him for the sake of a brief encounter she had with a sailor that previous summer.

Images of Alice and the unnamed sailor making love begin to haunt Bill’s imagination. These conjoured images push him to actualize his fears with his own attempt at a random affair, which ultimately fails to come to fruitition.

The plot thickens when the doctor reunites with a jazz pianist friend who invites him to a secret costume party outside of town. There he discovers an erotic underworld that I think most people assume exists in real life, but nobody would have any idea where to find it. Upon arriving home, Alice reveals that she had practically the same disturbing experience that night in a dream.

Both Alice and Bill share a similar sexual delusion. Alice suffers from the temptations within her mind, while Bill actively pursues them in his behavior. Both conflicts are equally real.

The film is expertly shot with the smooth moving Steady-Cam that Kubrick pioneered with his landmark horror film “The Shining”. The viewer should expect nothing less than stellar cinematography from Kubrick, in both color and composition, and he captures the NYC holiday bustle crisply from beginning to end.

But what makes the film so engaging is the range of unpredictable and intelligent plot twists that sustain the sexual tension between the two but refusing to align them against one another. Judging from its reputation, I expected the film to have more sex scenes than it did. And instead of being over-heated and raunchy, Kubrick used the film’s sexiness as a cautionary device to highlight its broader importance in romantic relationships.

Passion and mystery are the hallmarks of love, and the holidays are a time to be grateful for the people we share it with. Eyes Wide Shut is a powerful film because it appreciates the sanctity of life and how easily it can slip away from us.