One of the most talked about films of 1999 was Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. It was Stanley Kubrick’s final film, and one in which he explores the nature of sexuality, desire and intimacy. It’s also very explicit.
Tom Cruise plays a successful young doctor, Bill Harford and Kidman plays his wife, Alice. They’ve been married nine years, have a daughter, have money, and seemingly have it all.
Then one night at a party both engage in a bit of flirtation. When they get home Alice reveals that she once had a very powerful sexual fantasy about a man she saw in a hotel. She’d never met the man before, she never acted on the fantasy, but it seemed so powerful she had actually imagined herself leaving Bill to pursue it. Bill is shocked, and throughout the rest of the film we find himself giving in to his own desires. He has an encounter with a prostitute, and as he spirals further and further into a web of depravity, he ends up at an invitation-only orgy that exposes him to the extremes of sexual desire and almost gets him killed.
Paralleling Bill’s sexual journey is the declining intimacy in his marriage. The sexual tension and deceit push Bill and Alice further apart, until towards the end of the movie they both realise just how destructive this sexual web has been, how close they’ve come to surrendering all that is good in their relationship. The film closes with an act of forgiveness in which Alice tells Bill that she loves him and that they need to make love.
Critics debate exactly what Kubrick was trying to say in the movie, but I think that one of the messages is the power of sexual desire to be constructive and destructive in our relationships. We learn that dark sexual desire lurks in the most unsuspected places – in ourselves, in our partners, in the very everyday people around us. Kubric wants us to see how powerful these are, how they can ensnare even the best of us. We discover that darker sexual desires can be exhilarating when fulfilled, but that they are ultimately empty when compared to the genuine emotional intimacy of a good marriage relationship. And I think the end of the movie makes clear the need to preserve our marriages from sexual depravity through a passionate pursuit of desire within the relationship.