THE SECRET BETWEEN THEM : on interpersonal relationships in EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) and IN THE BEDROOM (2001)

**

Two works made within a passage of two years and both conveying the often covert, secretive undercurrents that run in the marital bond between two people. That’s the enigma we toy with, courtesy their respective director’s unblinkered take on the interpersonal stakes in them, in both EYES WIDE SHUT and IN THE BEDROOM. Stanley Kubrick provides us with an uniquely intimate spread of human fallibilities within a marriage of almost a decade in the former while Todd Field deals with the process of confronting deep bowels of grief in terms of a marriage of twenty years and more in his feature length directorial debut. Interestingly, it was Todd’s performance in EYES WIDE SHUT and the extended knowledge perused in BRIAN RAFTERY’s 2019 book BEST MOVIE YEAR EVER : HOW 1999 BLEW UP THE SCREEN that connected both works in sort of an unified package. He is the common link here.

Secondly, as it has happened before on many occasions before, I feel like the cinematic Gods always guide me towards one film and then another one comes along immediately on my radar as a genuine companion piece. That’s the case with viewing EYES WIDE SHUT a week and a half back and then cuing the darkness and blinkered light of lives portrayed in IN THE BEDROOM.

Begin with the titles themselves. EYES WIDE SHUT seems to be evoking the lucid, layered and complex dynamics of the private beats of an individual mind and the opportunities we take to trespass moral limits within a solid, sturdy, publicly solemnized and legal bond as marriage. Closing our eyes figuratively to those trespasses is a common principle to hold a public facade of companionship and unity. While IN THE BEDROOM is like this directly intimate state of union that leads two people to not only share a bed to sleep in but extends itself to the private chambers in which they negotiate loss and an inverted moral compass in the wake of a loved one’s sudden death. A death which comes with no clear forewarning except concern wrought by the parents towards a child who often takes their experience and wisdom for granted. In the film, the title alludes to a technique for catching crabs while at sea but is actually a haunting moral one about the manner in which two people unravel when locked in the same space. Here, the marital space hence becomes the fertile ground for exploring grief through the prism of a middle aged couple while sexual jealousy is at the center of the civil but fraught exchanges in EYES WIDE SHUT, shared between a couple in its thirties .

***

Also the moth balled privilege of the sorroundings in EYES WIDE SHUT opens its zippers to truly divulge a hedonistic vortex / culture in which the character of the conflicted husband (Tom Cruise) gets sucked into after his wife (Nicole Kidman) comes clean about her imagined sensual desires regarding a naval officer that she only looked at while at a holiday retreat with her better half few months back. It isn’t a heated exchange or really an argument but a give and take of opinions that weighs the pros and cons of frankly coming out to a spouse and the gendered rules governing that conversation as also the husband’s passive reaction but internal unraveling thereafter , reflecting a swell of inadequacy. The wife takes her own share of guilt and shame which is transferred to her sense of anger. This exchange becomes a crucial turning point for the surface to crack and the upper class gentility to break forth into mental passages of inscrutable desire.

The husband then is overcome by her confession and for two nights wanders around New York City in the pretext of work , encountering a nocturnal landscape where sexual proclivity is never in check on the part of an assortment of people. Be it one of his patient’s daughter(Marie Richardson) who openly expresses her love/ infatuation for him, the young lady who takes him to her modest apartment for a rendezvous, instances in which he doesn’t act on his impulsive streak in any way, to the costume maker whose teenage daughter(Leelee Sobieski) is caught with two older men or the male hotel employee(Alan Cummings) who expresses an interest in him when he goes there to enquire about his friend , it’s a series of encounters that go on to demonstrate that the opportunities for seeking sexual gratification and going astray are plenty, if one is willing to. None of these episodes make him give in and shows how difficult it is to go against our essential core.

All to be even with his wife perhaps in terms of exploring his own sexuality. A twisted concept that pulls back any hint of apology regarding innate male ego but unfolds from the interior space of the man who still is unable to commit to his sensual awakening at any point. This is compellingly presented as here he is listening to his wife and never displaying an aggressive approach to the confessional. By willing to be solitary in a teeming city after midnight, he self – flagellates himself emotionally, thinking that he’s inadequate for his wife in some glaring way which can’t be expressed merely in words. In subtle terms, benefiting from the excellent facial work of Mr. Cruise and Ms. Kidman , we again come to the forum of male ego suffering a blow. It manifests in a quietly subversive manner , on a deeply personal sojourn of self – discovery, opposed to normative tropes where the man will physically or verbally abuse the other partner or be self – destructive.

Far from being simply about infidelity and unfaithfulness, EYES WIDE SHUT is about being true to oneself even if the mind wavers. This is powerfully displayed in another sequence where he comes home after the first night, to discover his wife smiling away as she dreams and as she actually relays details regarding a painfully transparent dream which again deals with her store of desires and is filled with guilt, shame and yet unblinking honesty, we understand that this marriage has reached a point where withholding information from the other spouse doesn’t seem convenient anymore. Maybe, their mutual love was built on this foundation of truth and honesty, it’s just that unsavoury details have to ultimately make their way to their shared equation. To Mr. Kubrick’s credit, these scenes are imbued with uncharacteristic realism, dealt with empathy, tact and care. We feel the pressures of being faithful and society’s sacred view of marriage itself crack their whips on this couple. This is their coming of age, as adults. Long stretches of slow burning developments and one- take scenes help tremendously to bring those points to clarity and set as it is on the run- up to New Year festivities show that human conflicts can spring up anytime, even bang in the middle of the season of cheer. This grounds it in absolute authenticity.

**

However, there is one extended sequence of close to twenty minutes that is inescapable to trace a sense of dread and abiding fear for Tom Cruise’s character whetting his curiosity as he sneakily makes his way to a countryside estate for an uniquely unpredictable masked ball where anonymity is no cover for a secret society’s hedonistic practices. Sexual recklessness operates here under the guise of secrets and whispers as also faceless identities, available to one exclusive section of society, the one with privilege and bottomless resources to exploit reserves of such an arrangement.

He feels awkward and is lost in this menagerie of nighttime prowlers, chanting men and ritualistic initiations working underground and soon he is confronted by a sinister masked figure( Leon Vitali) who creates the aura of unexpected outcomes for him, publicly shaming him, only to let him go by the scruff of his neck. This passage highlights the dark consequences of our actions which can lead us to unexpected places and people. The nervous tension occasioned here is so palpable and unsettling that it stays with us. It’s truly a horror show as we don’t know what awaits anyone in such a situation.

By the final forty minutes, EYES WIDE SHUT finds the enigma of that visit to the mansion by the man affecting him in different ways because he has clearly gone out of his league and it has generated unease, guilt and shame for him, almost a fear of being observed and threatened by the people whom he briefly met although he never saw their faces or even their appearance, cloaked under robes and elaborate masks of dreadful figures. It is the fear of trespassing his own moral limits and the sanctity of marriage by so much as going to such a location on a whim because he doesn’t indulge in any physical activity at all. In many ways, he is an eyewitness to the degenerate forces present in the world we live in and their collective influences spread far and wide.

His emotional breakdown and bawling self as he comes clean to his wife clears the path for honesty to reign supreme in this relationship. By the end, they negotiate a clear understanding for the future and in actuality their immediate present.

EYES WIDE SHUT is never vulgate or ribald in showing the darker facts of life because its thrust is on the foundation of trust between two committed individuals who see and experience everything and come together for a more stable pursuit of relationships. It is the most honest work of realistic nature that I have seen as an adult. It tells us to not stray too far from our rational cores to prove a point and is openly expressive about how egos function in both genders. Featuring the real life married couple in the lead role, it becomes almost a meta narrative about two beautiful people with privilege negotiating life in the urban jungle and is, to me, more than a vicarious example of actors enacting their parts as jealousy, pressures of a marriage in the public eye and the sundry forces of sensuality within that cocoon is all too palpable.

Keep an open mind for the thematic rendering of emotions here and you will find it to be utterly engrossing, reflecting your own repressions and desires, without a trace of judgement or jumping to conclusions.

***

That said, there is a central piano theme here that builds up this sense of curiosity and apprehensions that is at the heart of EYES WIDE SHUT.

In IN THE BEDROOM, Silence operates as a theme in itself, unfolding in a languorous whole for the middle aged couple (SISSY SPACEK and TOM WILKINSON) living in a peaceful town of Maine. Very soon, it becomes a silence tantamount to grief and repressed anger that envelops them and in turns the whole town and community.

Playing a middle class music teacher and a doctor respectively , SPACEK and WILKINSON are worlds away from the issues in EYES WIDE SHUT but both stories overlap in their dissections of the secrets shared between spouses and the pressure valve of societal expectations that creates an uneasy void. An uneasy truce too transpires for both couples when reality seeps into the inner chambers of the home.

***

I will talk about IN THE BEDROOM further in the next post. So read this post and share your thoughts.

TRIVIA

EYES WIDE SHUT is one of the longest filmed works ever and was also Mr. Kubrick’s swansong before his death. Also, New York was recreated on sets at London’s iconic Shepperton Studios.

IN THE BEDROOM, released in 2001, was an independently funded picture that came out of nowhere, featured profound performances, script and received several accolades including multiple Oscar nominations like BEST PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTRESS, ACTOR and SUPPORTING ACTRESS, marking an engaging overlap with the year’s other dark horse MONSTER’S BALL that grew its clout by dint of word of mouth and its sincere storytelling craft, eventually leading to Halle Berry’s historic Oscar win for Best Actress. Both are sombre and poignant human tales of loss, grief and the company among genders in the wake of death of a loved one .