Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Fourth time around

with 4 comments

Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut

The other day, for the first time in years, I watched Eyes Wide Shut. It’s no longer my favorite Kubrick film, but I’d definitely rank it in his top three or four, and I still believe that it’s among the most undervalued movies of the last two decades. I’ve loved it ever since I first saw it, or, more precisely, since the first four times I saw it—which is the number of times I paid to see it in theaters. I was there for the very first screening on opening day, and later went back that same night, which is the only time I’ve ever done this. (On my second viewing, I saw it with a friend who disliked it so intensely that she walked out halfway through, and she only came back because she had to give me a ride home.) Since then, I’ve probably seen it, in bits and pieces, another dozen times. And what I found when I watched it again this weekend is that it remains a great movie: undeniably flawed, but rich, intricate, and ingenious in ways that I can still appreciate even if I know every beat or line of dialogue by heart. It was like listening to an album you haven’t picked up since you were in high school, but the moment you press the play button, you realize that you never stopped carrying it around in your head.

And it made me regret the fact that I may never have the chance to repeatedly explore a movie in quite the same way. When I was younger, I’d often pay to see movies multiple times, both for new releases and for old favorites that were returning to theaters: I’ve seen The Red Shoes on the big screen maybe four or five times, Casablanca the same, Blue Velvet at least three, and when they first came out, I saw movies like The Dark Knight, Children of Men, and Minority Report three times each. And, of course, I endlessly rewatched my favorite movies at home. If I had to guess, I’d say that the films I’ve watched most often with a reasonable amount of attentiveness would be Blue Velvet, The Usual Suspects, and maybe Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and I’ve long since lost track of the actual number of viewings—twenty or thirty? Which doesn’t even consider the uncounted viewings of my ten favorite movies. As a result, I tend to think of each of these films as a unified whole to an extent you can’t when you’ve only seen them once or twice: I’ve internalized them the way you absorb a piece of music, treasuring odd little moments and continuity errors, and I can effortlessly relate an image in the first ten minutes to a passing echo near the end.

Danielle Darrieux in The Earrings of Madame de...

Those days, alas, are over. I’ve already mentioned how my moviegoing life has experienced a decisive shift since the birth of my first daughter—it’s hard enough to get out to see a film once, let alone three times—and it’s also affected the way I watch movies at home. We’re trying to keep Beatrix away from screens of any kind, particularly television and movies, for the first two years, and this means that I can no longer just casually pop in a DVD when I’m home alone. Even after the baby goes to bed, there’s more pressure to catch up on the countless films my wife and I have missed than to revisit an old favorite. This means that it’s no longer possible to get to know a movie in the way I once did: I need to content myself with a first impression. Two years ago, for instance, I finally saw The Earrings of Madame de… by Max Ophuls, which blew me away like few movies before or since. If I had a chance to rewatch it a few times, I’m sure it would become one of my favorite films, but as it stands, all I retain of it are a few moments, a handful of images, and that initial sense of discovery.

It doesn’t help that I don’t have the same memory for these things that I once did: aside from a few vivid exceptions, like The Master, I’m lucky if I can remember three or four good scenes from a movie I saw last year. In short, another chapter of my movie life is closing. As time goes on, it’s going to be increasingly hard for a movie to become a part of me in quite the same way; every now and then, an outstanding film may leave a lasting mark, but otherwise, I’ll need to be content with movies that live somewhere outside my head, rather than burrowing in deeply. But there’s one possible loophole. Once Beatrix is old enough, she’ll start watching movies, too, and if she’s anything like most kids I know, she’ll want to watch the same videos over and over. I fully expect to see My Neighbor Totoro or the Toy Story films several hundred times over the next few years—at least if all goes according to plan. (More likely, I’ll end up becoming intimately familiar with the likes of Caillou.) Later, as she gets older, she’ll go through the same phases that I did, and I like to think that I’ll see her cueing up Singin’ in the Rain or Mary Poppins to watch yet again. Clearly, then, all I need to do is show her Madame de… I’m sure she’ll love it.

Written by nevalalee

October 29, 2013 at 8:58 am

4 Responses

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  1. I love Eyes Wide Shut! It certainly was an underrated film, and it comes in as my second favorite Kubrick film (behind 2001: A Space Odyssey). Tom Cruise is surprisingly good too, especially in a role where great acting is critical.
    I’m with you too on the downward turn my movie-watching took after my son was born. He’s two now, and I can easily count with two hands the number of movies I’ve seen in the theater since he came along.
    Thanks for this post; I may just have to put Eyes Wide Shut on again one of these days.


    October 29, 2013 at 10:43 pm

  2. Glad you agree! I still hold out the hope that it will be reevaluated, like many of Kubrick’s films, although we’re already at fourteen years and counting…


    October 30, 2013 at 9:38 am

  3. As the Red Cloak character says in “Eyes Wide Shut”, “That’s unfortunate…because here it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember it or if you ever knew it!” While I’m not the biggest Tom Cruise fan, I have an abiding love for “Eyes Wide Shut”, and I’m glad to see I’m not alone. Kubrick’s films were more than banal entertainment like much of the Hollywood fluff today, and were you to watch and study “Eyes Wide Shut”…I believe that you’d start to understand just why it was his last film. Do a google search about “The Symbolism of Eyes Wide Shut” and see what I’m talking about.


    November 25, 2013 at 4:56 am

  4. Glad to hear it! It’s definitely a movie I never get tired of revisiting.


    November 25, 2013 at 8:33 pm

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