Stanley Kubrick's last film is a grand old mystery. Released in 1999 a few months after Kubrick's death, Eyes Wide Shut created a great deal of controversy, with its erotic subject matter, the byzantine plot, and endless speculation that had Kubrick lived longer the film would have been somehow different.
Kubrick had the reputation like some auteurs such as Kar Wai Wong (Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love) of endlessly refining and editing his films, so in some ways the speculation is valid, but the nature of the film is such that one doubts if there can be any one definitive interpretation.
A master of cinema, yet often misunderstood in his day, Kubrick wrote, produced, and directed his final film on a shoot that took a record 400 days. During this period Nicole Kidman who plays Alice Harford and Tom Cruise who plays her husband Dr William "Bill" Harford were more or less sequestered away from the world with Kubrick. They spoke of their experience working with him as rewarding, but also harrowing. The couple were also married in real life at the time and separated in 2001.
There are many ways to view this film in retrospect more than a decade after its release - Tom Cruise's ardent affiliation with the cult like religion of Scientology being one of them. His most recent wife Katie Holmes 'escaped' from their five year long marriage amidst media speculation that she didn't want their daughter Suri brought up under any kind of influence of the secretive Church of Scientology.
In the film, Cruise's character, Dr Bill, a handsome successful general practitioner finds himself gate crashing a cult like ritual in a mansion just outside of Manhattan after a swanky Christmas party where he meets an old friend and medical school drop out who now plays piano and is occasionally summoned, with a secret password, to these clandestine events where everyone is masked and where the men are clothed, but the women are stark naked.
There has been more endless speculation that Kubrick was emulating Masonic rituals or perhaps even the shadowy Illuminati made famous by The Da Vinci Code, but what is most striking in hindsight is the uncanny coincidence of Cruise's character being caught up in a sinister cult that veers him away from his lovely wife and his picture perfect life.
It is, of course, unfair to speculate in this way about the private life of actors, even as it is impossible not to draw the above admittedly disturbing parallel. But then, the entire film carries a heavy and sinister atmosphere that makes for this exact kind of conspiracy theory like speculation.
Directed by the hand of a master, Kidman and Cruise carry the complex overtones of the film as best they can. Sometimes heavy handed in their acting, one still must applaud how they gamely take on one particularly long, torturous conversation scene with just the two of them intensely discussing the urge to cheat, even in a happy marriage, all the while under the influence of marijuana.
As Tom Cruise's character flounders through his nightmarish evening (the sinister events take place over two nights, but they seem melded into one long one) he runs the course of lust, and comes back to his wife and home, guilty and ready to confess.
Meanwhile Alice, herself no innocent, has had portentous, uncannily similar dreams of herself being naked among many powerful men.
In the end, we never know what really happened, and whether any of it was even real. Regardless of this, it is fascinating to be a viewer to such a powerful artifact of cinema that holds a mesmerising power years after it was released, still leaving much speculation in its wake.