Eyes Wide Shut’ is brilliantly photographed, (there’s a scene in a Manhattan cafe near the end of the movie where the winter windows are fogged over. Perfect.) and Nicole Kidman gives an awesome performance. Plus, the Glen Cove mansion sequence is one of the most memorable party scenes in the history of movies. The flaws in the movie rest with the Bill Harford character. Too often in the film, there’s simply not enough of an explanation for his behavior and decision making. We don’t have enough of a sense that this person existed before the movie began, unlike with the Alice character, who is haunted by something specific in her recent past.
The Bill character feels like a conduit for the themes of the screenplay to be explored. In certain moments, he seems like a lustful adventurer, and you’ll notice Cruise often leaning forward in his chair during those scenes, eyes agleam. In the scene when he convinces his old friend Nick to give him information about the party, Cruise has an expression on his face reminiscent of Jack Nicholson. We can see that character having a spontaneous interaction with a prostitute because he is insecure about his masculinity, (then bringing pastries to the same prostitute in a later scene) we can see that character charging into a depraved mask and ice cream social and then staying despite being warned to leave. We can see that character desperate for information about his possibly missing friend, despite being threatened by forces more powerful than him. In those moments, Harford is reminiscent of the kind of character Nicholson would have been at home playing in 60’s or 70’s noire. Unfortunately, there are scenes which contradict that kind of emotionally spontaneous, dangerously curious, occasionally courageous personality. What about when he has absolutely no reaction to his dead patient’s daughter saying that she loves him? (though he does call her later to hear her voice, then hangs up when the husband answers. Right, but he seemed to have hardly an emotional reaction when she first told him) What about when he pays little mind to the disgusting exploitation happening at the mask shop? How about his interaction with Nick in the first party scene, where he seems perplexed that his old friend didn’t take a more rational approach to life? Wait, so you’re telling me Harford has the guts to go back to the mansion in broad daylight, but then allows the gross Sydney Pollack character to use profanity when referring to Nick, then buys his lies about the beauty queen? His presence in that last scene harkens back to the boring Dr. Bill we meet in the beginning of the movie.
I found myself concluding that the character’s unpredictable behavior could be a metaphor for the unpredictability of people in general, but I think that lets Kubrick off the hook for thinking the themes of the movie were more important than the protagonist feeling like a real person. Despite all that, I think the movie is brilliant. Great film, though the script was not perfect.