Stanley Kubrick’s quasi-erotic thriller, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut, is a Christmas movie. Of this we can be sure because it takes place during Christmastime and Kubrick crammed yuletide ephemera into many of its frames (here’s a supercut of just the Christmas trees that appear in the movie). We also know Eyes Wide Shut is a Christmas movie because its status as one has become an annual tradition for culture writers to assess and argue. It’s the best Christmas movie. It’s the darkest Christmas movie of all time. It’s pushback on the holiday’s inherent consumerism. It’s the “perfect inversion” of “The Gift of Magi.” It’s the only Christmas movie to end with an f-bomb.
Sure! I would add that the decided lack of chemistry between its stars, then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is a novel way of illustrating the way Christmas compels us to spend time with family members that we’d rather not. Also, despite the pronounced holiday backdrop, there’s virtually no acknowledgment of Christmas, save a holiday party and a toy-shopping scene. In following Cruise’s Dr. Bill Harford on his inquiry into human sexuality after his wife Alice reveals fantasies about sex with other men, Eyes Wide Shut suggests that even at Christmastime there’s way more shit going on than just Christmas. People fuck at Christmas time, or at least are tempted to, sometimes at lavish orgies. That’s not a reminder you get in every Christmas movie!
When you consider the aforementioned lack of chemistry, Eyes Wide Shut’s treatment of sex, the laser focus on Bill’s sexuality at the expense of giving Alice much of anything to do, and the ultimate moral that adhering to the societal imperative of monogamy is the way to make a relationship work makes me reluctant to agree with many critics that this film is a masterpiece. It’s certainly a rich text, but also some conservative straight-people shit. I do think it gets better with every viewing. I admire its nearly dreamlike vibe that walks the line between fantasy and reality. It also undoubtedly influential, even in places you might not expect it. Many of its actors feature in only one extended scene, so that their presence leaves a mark despite its relative brevity (a quirk Paul Thomas Anderson evinces in Licorice Pizza). Kubrick also tends to keep his interactions between two characters in unbroken mid shots that don’t flash to facial closeups (a technique present in this year’s festival favs Memoria and Bad Luck Banging). The net effect is chilly and alienating...kind of like Christmas, if you aren’t super into it!
But the Christmas content of Eyes Wide Shut is most explicitly aesthetic, so just for kicks, here are some Christmas cards made from screenshots of Kubrick’s cinematic swan song.