The devastating ‘Eyes Wide Open’ examines what happens when gay love crashes into a fundamentalist religious order
by Steven Foster
In the opening scene of the riveting Eyes Wide Open, devout, respected husband and father Aaron takes a large stone and begins hammering at a locked door. The chained entrance is to the butcher shop he has inherited from his deceased father. But soon Aaron will break into other sealed rooms, these within his rigid psyche and suffocated sexuality.
The stone that liberates Aaron’s emotional imprisonment is the handsome young Erzi, on whom Aaron takes pity, giving him a job as an apprentice and residence in the storage room upstairs. After several haunted gazes and gentle touches, the two men eventually relent their undeniable attraction to each other and become secret lovers. Their passion—primal, sensual, and raging beneath their devout skins—runs a nervy parallel with the threat of heartbreak, violence, and condemnation roiling just below the surface of the pious community in Jerusalem where they reside. The doom of their relationship is obvious; the only questions being when will their punishment arrive and how wrenching will such recompense be.
Eyes Wide Open is a remarkable achievement, in both storytelling and the assured craftsmanship of first-time director Haim Tabakman. Working from Merav Doster’s delicate but nonetheless powerful script, every shot is impeccably framed with a minimalism that mirrors the self-sacrificing orthodoxy of this nearly ghetto-ized Jewish community. The film looks almost bleached to a pale blue or dying green, wherein the occasional lusty splashes of color—usually the crimson hues of parted lips, butcher shop meat, or drops of blood—provoke an almost horror-film response. Gay love has rarely seemed more dangerous.
The film elegantly unnerves with such potency that every time a character moves toward the meat slicer or meets a stranger from the community’s self-appointed moral police, the aching dread is more anxiety-producing than any thriller to cross the screens in a decade. Comparisons to Brokeback Mountain are inevitable, but that’s a compliment. This elegant independent is as exquisite and heartbreaking as its American sibling, from the violence of the opening image to the devastating final frame. Eyes Wide Open challenges you to view it the same way. Without flinching.
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.