Thinking about this movie again thanks to Room 237. It’s nice to sit down with a “proper film” like Wolf of Wall Street, an austere classic like Winter Light, an idiosyncratic puzzle like Upstream Color, but in some ways, Kubrick knocks them all on their asses. From the start it has a commanding power and grace that seems unreal. It’s a motherfucker of a movie.
At a party, Dr. Bill meets his med school friend (Pianist Nick) and two hot babes, but he escapes upstairs to help save host Sydney Pollack’s prostitute from an overdose, while Bill’s wife Alice (for once, seemingly not a Lewis Carroll reference) dances drunkenly all night with a suave Hungarian.
That night, Alice accuses Bill of infidelity, mocks his total confidence in her by confessing an infatuation with a naval officer last year.
Called away because friend Marion’s father has just died, she confesses her love for Dr. Bill just before her boyfriend arrives.
After being pushed aside by rowdy homophobes, Bill allows himself to be taken inside with prostitute Domino (Vinessa Shaw of The Hill Have Eyes Remake), who has masks on her walls, foreshadowing many masks to come, but after a call from his wife he leaves.
Bill comes across the bar where his pianist friend (Todd Field of The Haunting Remake) plays, and wrestles the details of Nick’s next engagement out of him.
Fully flowing wherever this weird evening will take him, Bill goes to a costume shop to get a mask and cloak, awakens the proprietor (Rade Serbedzija, Boris the Blade in Snatch) who discovers his young daughter fooling around with a pair of Japanese men in wigs.
To the masked ball, where it turns out Bill is immediately suspected for having arrived via taxi. Much nudity, an actually-pretty-tame orgy, and taunting masks everywhere as Bill gets caught and kicked out.
The next morning things aren’t going too well for people Bill met last night. Nick has disappeared (according to hotel clerk Alan Cumming), the costume shop man has reached an “arrangement” with the wig men and offers to rent out his daughter to Bill, Domino got news that she’s HIV positive, and Pollack’s prostitute (who Bill suspects was his rescuer at the masked ball) has turned up dead.
Pollack has Bill over to talk him down, and Bill arrives home to see his wife has found the mask, so he tells Alice everything.
The next day they go toy shopping with their daughter. Alice: “Maybe I think we should be grateful – grateful that we’ve managed to survive through all of our adventures, whether they were real or only a dream.”
Cruise plays so overconfident that his character seems on the verge of being a huge asshole, flashing his doctor’s license all over town like a cop, but he also plays unhappiness and remorse so well that it’s hard to judge. Kidman spends too much of her screen time drunk or stoned, moving and speaking very slowly, but nails the last few scenes.
I enjoyed Rosenbaum’s article, and a detailed analysis of symbols on Vigilant Citizen. I knew I’d easily find such a thing, based on the level of Kubrick analysis/lunacy displayed in Room 237.
From an amazing article by Tim Kreider in Film Comment (although note that he buys into the Room 237 theory of The Shining being about the massacre of the Native Americans):
The real pornography in this film is in its lingering, overlit depiction of the shameless, naked wealth of end-of-the-millennium Manhattan, and of the obscene effect of that wealth on the human soul, and on society. National reviewers’ myopic focus on sex and the shallow psychologies of the film’s central couple, the Harfords, at the expense of every other element in the film – the trappings of stupendous wealth, the references to fin-de-siecle Europe and other imperial periods, the Christmastime setting, or even the sum spent by Dr. Harford on a single illicit night out – suggests more about the blindness of the elites to their own surroundings than it does about Stanley Kubrick’s inadequacies as a pornographer. … Kubrick’s films are never only about individuals. (Sometimes, as in the case of 2001, they hardly even contain any.) They are always about civilization, about human history.