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Eyes Wide Shut: 20th anniversary of 'alternative' festive film at The Showroom

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Revisit Stanley Kubrick's mystifying, slow-paced swansong this month at The Showroom if you dare.

At the turn of the millennium and nearing the very brink of his life, the legendary director focussed on a novel adaptation, as he often did throughout his career, like glorious period-piece Barry Lyndon and household horror The Shining. This particular story seems an unremarkable choice for a director running out of time: Traumnovelle (Dream Story), a decadent Viennese novel by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler about marital secrets and filthy flights of fancy. Set at this time of year, it's more of a Christmas mystery than a Christmas miracle, but if you're looking for more adult holiday fare, try Kubrick's gift-wrapped present.

The director translated the novel across time and place to 90s New York, but the premise mostly remains intact. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, then married and arguably at the peak of their celebrity, play wealthy socialites Dr Bill Hartford and his ornamental wife Alice. After a drawn-out and almost sleep-inducing argument which captures the monotony of marital tension, Alice admits to a ravishing and unfaithful fantasy she had about a naval officer they met in passing a year ago.

This admission astounds and deeply wounds Bill, sending him on a contemplative, hazy nighttime walk through the city. Throughout, he finds himself in increasingly bizarre and dangerous sexualised encounters with other nocturnal New Yorkers. This ends with Bill infiltrating the film's infamous central set-piece, a clandestine bourgeoise orgy in a secret country mansion, its participants clad in nefarious robes and Venetian masks.

If this part sounds like cliched vulgarity, fear not, because by this point the film's plodding pace has become clearly intentional, meant to slowly drag its viewers into an ethereal subjective glaze.

It's an odyssey through Bill's mental insecurities rather than a shock-factor Hollywood drama, despite its desirable A-list stars. This is never clearer than its cloud-parting daybreak conclusion, one of the best and most ambiguous endings in cinema. Taken at face value, it's a hollow film, but the elusive Kubrick traded in masks - both thematic and literal - throughout his career. It's fitting that his last film would make such use of a symbolic Venetian prop. Peel it off and who knows what you'll find.

Though Eyes Wide Shut was met with mixed critical responses on its release 20 years ago, it's now regarded as one of Kubrick's finest achievements. Kubrick himself died less than a week after finishing a cut of it. Kidman and Cruise, somewhat ironically, divorced a short time after that.

The infamous secret society scene, which many found silly in 1999, has sadly aged like fine wine at the end of a decade that saw shocking revelations about the Catholic Church, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Saville, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. As we step into 2020, Eyes Wide Shut seems more like a prophecy than a puzzle box.

Eyes Wide Shut is showing at the Showroom on Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Wednesday 18 December.

All screenings start with a screening of new short-documentary, Never Just A Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut.

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