By Nathan Kamal | Published
Despite all his success (or maybe because of it), Tom Cruise is sometimes perceived as artistically “irrelevant” and stuck in a franchise rut of his own creation with the Mission: Impossible movies. However, it was not always that way; for much of his career, Tom Cruise actively pursued opportunities to work with the great directors of the 20th century. He made a Carson McCullers teen movie with Francis Ford Coppola. He made a poolhall drama with Martin Scorsese. He transformed into a spiritually empty sex guru, a dandyish vampire, and a gray-haired sociopathic contract killer. However, his single weirdest role is in Stanley Kubrick’s unclassifiable 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut. As of right now, Tom Cruise’s creepiest movie is streaming on Netflix.
Eyes Wide Shut stars Tom Cruise as Doctor Bill Harford, a New York City doctor married to Alice, played by Nicole Kidman. The casting of the then-married real-life actors as a married couple was as much news for the movie as the fact that two of the biggest movie stars were working with a director widely regarded as the greatest living filmmaker for his first feature in over a decade. However, audiences could not have been ready for the film that eventually emerged. Eyes Wide Shut takes place over Christmas, beginning at a lavish party thrown by Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack in a role originally intended for Harvey Keitel, who left under unclear circumstances). While Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman begin the film presented as a nice, if somewhat stiff couple, things swiftly begin to get weird.
A mysterious foreign man attempts to seduce Nicole Kidman while they dance. Tom Cruise is sexually propositioned by two models, which he deflects with an awkwardness not usually seen in his performances. Sydney Pollack enlists Tom Cruise to revive a young woman from a drug overdose… after he had been having sex with her. Events begin to spiral into a series of increasingly strange, sexually-charged situations, including Nicole Kidman’s confessions of sexual desire for a Naval officer, a woman attempting to seduce Tom Cruise after he makes a house call to her dead father, and eventually, the Venetian mask orgy that became the defining element of Eyes Wide Shut in the public consciousness.
However, the movie is far more complex than the erotic thriller it was marketed as. In fact, this particular Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman movie (their third and final together) is oddly non-erotic for a film consumed with sex. while Eyes Wide Shut is most definitely a film about sex, it is more about the insecurities, complications, and darkness of the act than its pleasures. More than that, it is about how people remain strangers to their spouses, their lovers, and ultimately themselves.
More than any other movie Tom Cruise has ever made, he allows himself to not just be vulnerable in Eyes Wide Shut, but ineffective and vaguely pathetic. His portrayal of Bill Harford (the surname a clue that Stanley Kubrick originally envisioned a Harrison Ford-type) is successful by every external signifier. He is rich, successful, intelligent, and married to a beautiful woman with an adorable child. However, as the film goes on, it strips Tom Cruise down to show how little understanding of the world he has and how little control over it he has.
It helps that Eyes Wide Shut increasingly feels like a dream as it goes on, which has led many critics to theorize it all might be a sexually-paranoid fantasy of Tom Cruise’s character. A large part of that has to do with the unreality of New York City as presented. The famously detail-oriented Stanley Kubrick had an NYC neighborhood painstakingly replicated in a London sound stage, down to exact measurements of streets and the locations of newspaper boxes. While this may have been due to Kubrick’s fear of flying preventing on-location shoots, it also created a pervasive sense of falseness that permeates Tom Cruise’s every scene and interaction.
Eyes Wide Shut holds a Guinness World Record for the longest film shoot ever, lasting over 15 months (including 46 consecutive weeks of shooting at one point). For comparison, many large-scale production movies take two to three months. Stanley Kubrick died in the final stages of post-production of the film and his thoughts on the film remain controversial, with some believing he held it in low regard and others who say he felt it was his finest work. while EyesWide Shut is now an easy target for sex party jokes, it was still a box office hit, grossing $162 million. That made it Tom Cruise’s sixth consecutive number one film, and Kubrick’s biggest box office ever. It also is still highly regarded by critics, if highly debated. But no one can deny the deep and inherent creepiness of the film, and now you can easily see it for yourself.