Last Friday night, WHC showed two films based on works by Arthur Schnitzler. I went to see La Ronde (1950) because I've never seen a Max Ophuls film before, but I also stayed for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999) even though I've seen it on-screen at least three times before. Somehow I just couldn't not watch it again.
Maybe that's why I had to stay for the showing of Kubrick's final film. Based on Schnitzler's Traumnovelle, which is much more engaged by the grip of passion -- in this case jealousy -- than the wry spoofing of La Ronde could manifest. I'll admit when I first saw Eyes, I was a bit disbelieving toward its central problem: that a man should be surprised that his wife has an interior sexual life, a world of fantasies and desires separate from him. It seemed indeed an insight that belonged to Schnitzler's world, the turn-of-the-century and the discovery of the unconscious and so forth. The knowing, man-of-the-world air that La Ronde so cleverly achieves would indicate that such a man is nothing but a fool, so why deliberate on his absurdity for well over two hours? That's not to say I didn't enjoy the film -- it was far too much fun for that -- but I couldn't quite accept its premise.
Subsequent viewings altered that situation, but even more to the point is the fact that I now simply watch it in delight, captivated by its relentlessly stately pace, its visual splendors of interiors, hallways, portals, streets as only Stanley could render them; its lovely women, nude, nearly nude, or simply alluring; its use of music -- especially that jarring piano theme plucked note by note; its engaging character-actor turns by the likes of Todd Field, Alan Cumming, Sydney Pollack, Rade Sherbegia; its color sense -- all that blue and orange and all those Christmas tree lights; in short, its sheer command of every aspect of cinema.
All the interruptions that intrude from the end of her monologue are Jovian jokes at the couple's expense, delay mechanisms to keep them apart, showing them, and shoving them into, a funhouse world of distorting mirrors, becoming gradually a nightmare world if they can't manage to (the last word of the film, wonderfully) fuck.
It's the difference between a masterful shrug at obsessions and a masterfully charted course through the potential abyss.