Stanley Kubrick Had A Strange, Strict Rule For Tom Cruise And Nicole Kidman During Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick's 1999 film "Eyes Wide Shut" was based on a 1926 novella by Arthur Schnitzler called "Traumnovelle" or "Dream Story."  True to the title, Kubrick's film plays out like a dream. Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), upon learning that his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) had an aggressively detailed sexual fantasy about a soldier she saw in a hotel, drifts out into the world in a sexual haze. He experiences an episodic phantasmagoria seemingly constructed of half-memories and surreal, self-contained scenarios, each of which is marked by a sexual element. Bill is tempted to have sex with other women, but doesn't ever complete an affair. In dream-like fashion, sexual encounters are persistently denied. 

"Eyes Wide Shut" is about, among many other things, an adult coming to realize that he lives in a sexual world. Bill has sexual desires — he and Alice are intimate early in the movie — but his sexuality seems weirdly tamped down, formal, and bourgeois. There is a lot of sex in "Eyes Wide Shut," but no warm displays of passion. The film's famous orgy sequence is notable in that the participants are completely nude, save full-face masks. They can have sex, but there is no expression of pleasure to read, no mouths to kiss, no eyes to look into. Sex is detached in "Eyes Wide Shut," and it will be up to Bill and Alice to cognitively wrestle with their unexplored mutual extramarital lusts they haven't the vocabulary to discuss. 

Deliberately uncomfortable

This was a deliberate thematic choice on Kubrick's part, and a 2014 retrospective in Vanity Fair revealed that the director had a number of on-set rules to assure that Bill and Alice were consistently alienated from one another. Namely, Kubrick insisted that stars Cruise and Kidman — actually married at the time — remain apart as much as possible during the shoot.

According to critic Amy Nicholson, Kubrick directed Cruise and Kidman separately, giving them each their own notes that they were forbidden to share with the other. They were allowed to develop their own characters, but disallowed from comparing notes as a couple. 

Additionally, Kubrick attempted to play with actual jealousy. In the film, Bill's sexual odyssey begins when Alice admits to feeling marriage-ending lust for a soldier who just happened to pass by. Bill — and perhaps Alice too — begins having visions of Alice nude in bed with another man. In order to shoot these scenes, Kidman and a male model filmed naked for six days, posing in 50 unique sex positions ... while Cruise was forbidden from visiting the set. Kidman was forbidden to tell Cruise about her experiences filming the sex scenes. 

Cruise and Kidman are professionals, of course, and one might hope that jealousy would become a factor when one performs intimate scenes with another, but the terse nature of Kubrick's movies likely still left a deliberately uncomfortable atmosphere. The shoot for "Eyes Wide Shut" was notoriously long, running consistently for 46 weeks, starting in November of 1996 and lasting until June of 1998. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the longest consistent film shoot in cinema history.

So tired

Because the shoot was so long, and because Kubrick was making films so infrequently — his previous movie was "Full Metal Jacket" in 1987 — there was a lot of journalistic speculation as to the tone on set. Liz Smith, writing for SF Gate, once even posited that life on set was miserable for everyone. According to Nicholson's Vanity Fair article, Cruise was quick to correct Smith, writing the reporter a letter explaining that he, Kidman, and Kubrick all got along swimmingly. This was in spite of a comment from actress Vinessa Shaw, who plays a sex worker. Shaw noted that Cruise, after working so intensely for so long, seemingly began to run out of energy. She said that "he was still into it, but not as energetic." 

"Eyes Wide Shut" was a massive success in a year full of them. Kubrick reportedly finished his final cut of the movie just prior to his death in March of 1999 at the age of 70. Controversially, Warner Bros., in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, inserted shadowy silhouettes throughout the orgy sequence, blocking the audience's view of some of the sexier acts. Seeing as "Eyes Wide Shut" is a film about marriage, adults, sexuality, and adult issues — it's clearly for an adult audience — it seems quite ridiculous that it should be censored. Was Warner Bros. hoping to rope in a high school audience? 

"Eyes Wide Shut" was nominated for no Academy Awards, however, and currently holds only a 76% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It would take several years for critics and audiences to settle into the complex, heady, dreamlike world Kubrick was creating. Some years later, "Eyes Wide Shut" would be considered one of the best films of the 1990s.