Stanley Kubrick became a secular American saint long before his recent death, so it's appropriate that legions of filmgoers have anticipated the release of Eyes Wide Shut with a zealous fervor. Loved and revered perhaps more fiercely than any other non-commercial filmmaker of his time, Kubrick was a true iconoclast, a cinematic rebel who could command as much artistic control as any other major director. And, perhaps more than his other films, Eyes Wide Shut epitomizes Kubrick's commendable and audacious willingness to venture into unexplored territory and risk making a fool of himself. Like Crash and Blue Velvet, two similarly fearless, sexually transgressive but ultimately moralistic films that straddled the fine line between genius and lunacy, Eyes Wide Shut is above all a masterpiece of sustained tone, a tightrope act that pays off in rich and unexpected ways. The film follows several dark nights of the soul of a wealthy New York doctor (Tom Cruise) as he enters a world of sexual misbehavior. Functioning as a sort of psychosexual fairy tale for kinky but skittish adults, Eyes Wide Shut looks and feels at times like the world's most artfully composed and photographed porn film. Part of its sleaziness can be attributed to its grainy, seedy cinematography and abundant sexual content, but the film's primal, almost religious intensity and power is primarily derived from its multifaceted realization that disobeying the dictates of society and your conscience can be both terrifying and exhilarating. Like all good fairy tales, Eyes Wide Shut doesn't underestimate the power of evil: The film's depiction of sexual depravity and amorality could easily venture into the realm of camp in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Kubrick depicts primal evil in a way that somehow makes it seem both new and deeply terrifying. As the film's shaky protagonist, Cruise makes his earnest, all-American affability work for him much the way Keanu Reeves made his blankness work for him in The Matrix, and he's more than matched by a flawless cast. As deceptively simple as an Aesop fable, and as haunting and enigmatic as a half-remembered dream, Eyes Wide Shut is a towering final achievement from one of cinema's greatest innovators.
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