A biting comment on today’s personal relationships and especially, those whitin the Marriage institution.
Back in 1999, when Kubrick’s posthumous movie came out, everyone was expecting something sensational. Unfortunately, even though it was sensational, it wasn’t in the way people were expecting it to be. Rumours of a rather stressfull shoot and, that the content of the movie would be highly sexualized, were only the box office bait that the audience needed to turn up in mass to see it. Granted, it’s got some sex scenes that without being overly pornographic, would easily fall in the category of soft porn. But what the movie is great at, is suggesting rather than showing. Everything about it is suggestive of sex, in one form or the other. But that is not really the most interesting narrative that the movie is trying to push. Its main narrative is about deception in personal relationships. From the very first sequence, when the married couple, protagonist of the story, are getting ready to go to a Christmas party, we can see in their respective routines and how they handle themselves that, this is not a happy marriage. The way Doctor Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise), doesn’t even look at his wife, Alice Hartford (Nicole Kidman), when she asks him how her hair looks, is quite revealing. Whether Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were already having problems back then, is unknown ;but the dynamic of a broken couple, which has long since fallen into routine, is very well represented throughout the movie, especially Kidman, who comes out on top in the acting duel. At the party, organized by one of Bill’s patients, Victor Ziegler ( a superb Sydney Pollack), they both will be tempted by the opposite sex into cheating. Although nothing comes out of either attempt, this sole incident will be the trigger for what’s about to follow. It’s later, when they’re back home from the party and start having sex in front of a mirror, that we can see from the look on Alice’s face that, even though she’s receptive to Bill’s sexual attentions, she seems distracted and pensive.
After completing their respective routines the next day, they decide to wind down smoking some pot and that is when all Hell breaks loose. After acknowledging to each other their respective forays with the opposite sex the night before, Alice, quite angry at the suggestion from Bill that her attractiveness and desirability was the main reason for her being hit on, and after Bill’s assurances that he would never cheat on her and, that he’s completely sure of her faithfulness, decides to tell him about an encounter she had while staying at a hotel during their last vacation. Although she reassures him that, in the end, nothing really happened, she tells him about the encounter with a Naval officer, who was staying at the same hotel and with whom she had a sexual fantasy. From that moment on, everything that Bill had ever taken for granted, crumbles all around him. He’s no longer sure about his marriage and every thing that they’ve built together. Everything else that unravels afterwards is a direct consequence of Alice’s revelation. He receives a phone call from the daughter of a patient who’s just died and is struck by yet another revelation, when the daughter confesses to him that’s she’s been secretly in love with him all these years, even though she’s engaged to be married. Unable to cope with this, and still reeling from his recent conversation with Alice, he wanders around the city and winds up being picked up by a very attractive prostitute, Domino (Vinessa Shaw). While in her flat, he receives a call from Alice and, ashamed of what he was about to do, leaves and ends up in a bar, where a friend of his from medical school, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who is a pianist and who he ran into the night before at the Christmas party, tells him of a secret gig he’s been hired for later on that night. Needless to say, this circumstance will prompt a series of sexual related encounters that could end up having dire consequences for both him and his family’s safety. During the majority of the movie, Cruise’s character is shown at his most vulnerable and someone who’s clearly out of his depth. He’s unable to cope with his Wife’s revelation and even though he’s given every chance from then on, to cheat on her, nothing really ever happens. When he does decide to act, he’s taken aback by the intervention of Aids. We witness everything that happens to him as a consequence of his uncertainty and by the end, nothing is really resolved, and there’s just one thing that keeps both Alice and him together. And that is Sex.
There are ample instances throughout the movie where we’re shown the fragile state of their marriage. The aforementioned scene with the hair, the way Alice picks up a glass of Champagne and drinks from it at the Party after leaving Bill to go speak with Nick, the way she flirts with the Hungarian Business man she dances with at the Party, the place where she hides the pot (inside the First Aid kit), when she tells him about the dream she has later on in the movie about having sex with multiple men wearing masks and is related to what happens to Bill at the Orgy, in the old stately House. That scene, the Orgy in the Mansion, where everyone is wearing a mask is quite revealing in that, what we suppose to be wealthy and powerful people who want to hide their true identities to be able to give free rein to their desires, are really revealing their true nature by just doing so. The Deception, the Subterfuge, ultimately, the Mask, is their true identity. Much in the same way as Alice’s dreams and desires and Billy’s failed sexual forays in the night are their true identities. The only difference being, that they’re not wearing masks. They’ve had them and will probably have them all their life.
Thanks for reading.