Original release: December 14th, viagra canada 2001
Running time: 136 minutes
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writers: Cameron Crowe, Alejandro Amenábar, Mateo Gil
Cast: Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Kurt Russell, Cameron Diaz
“Open your eyes”
I don’t know what’s real.
I’m real, aren’t I? I can smell the air, I can taste the food in my mouth and I can feel the pages of a book when I turn them with my fingers. I can hear the birds outside my window, I can sense the passing of time as the Earth spins and I’m aware of my thoughts as I experience all of this. This isn’t a dream and I’m not a character in someone else’s dream who’ll cease to exist when the dreamer awakes… Or am I? Are we all?
Vanilla Sky is the kind of film that puts these philosophical wonderings into perspective for a mainstream audience. Directed by Cameron Crowe and released just three months after the September 11th attacks in 2001, it’s an English-language remake of the Spanish film, Abre los ojos (1997), written by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil. Right from its start we meet David Aames (Tom Cruise), who we can describe as having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Having inherited his father’s publishing firm in New York City, he’s never had to work for anything in his life, but he’s about to have himself one hell of an existential crisis.
At the start of the film we see him waking up, gazing at his perfect reflection in the mirror before noticing a grey hair, which he proceeds to pluck. Next we see him driving, it’s still morning and it’s very quiet outside. Eventually David notices the streets that should be filled with traffic and hoards of commuters, shoppers and passersby are actually empty. Deathly empty and terrifyingly quiet. As this realization dawns on him, panic kicks in and he starts to run, eventually causing the nightmare to end and waking up safe and sound in his bed again, however, this time there’s a beautiful woman with him – Julianna “Julie” Gianni (Cameron Diaz).
David’s best friend, Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) is introduced shortly afterwards and it’s through their conversations with each other that David’s bachelor life comes to light, particularly in the scene where they’re both almost hit by truck while driving.
How was it?
Almost worth dying for.
The woman Brian’s nuts about, Julie, is David’s new fuck buddy but this doesn’t deter him in the slightest bit as it would you or me, actually he seems quite proud of that fact. He’s as narcissistic as they come. A little while after, at a party, Brian arrives with a date, Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz), and not being content with Julie, he goes on to flirt with her. As they hit it off, it becomes clear to Brian that he’s going to lose out again to his better looking and wealthier friend, he’s probably used to it by it now.
While Vanilla Sky might read up until now like a typical romantic drama with a bit of rivalry between friends thrown in, things start to get complicated when Julie becomes obsessed with pursuing a relationship with David. Confronting him after he’s been with Sofia, he then gets into a car with her and they drive, but during the course of their journey Julie becomes upset and irrational. When she drives the car, with both of them in it, off a bridge, she apparently dies in the crash while David survives but is horribly disfigured for the rest of his life. He has to wear a mask to hide the injuries, without it he looks more like the Elephant Man than the Tom Cruise we’re familiar with.
From there, Vanilla Sky begins its trek into the surreal, building toward a climax that’s more a trenchant critique on a society that’s so far taken everything it experiences at face value.
As a film that takes place completely within a dream, Vanilla Sky gives David (and us) little clues along the way to help solve the riddle. The pieces of conscious reality he experiences are made up of memories, thoughts and desires and David recounts them all to a character he’s created in the dream, the imaginary psychiatrist Dr. Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell). When he realizes the life he’s known is nothing but a dream, his tech support from the Oasis Project (aka Life Extension), Edmund Ventura (Noah Taylor), appears to help guide him through the final moments to face his fears and end the dream-state.
Like Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Dark City (1998) and The Matrix (1999) before it Vanilla Sky presents us with the idea of a simulated reality and brings us back to Descartes original idea; “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am), meaning that while we can remain skeptical about an external world there’s one thing we can’t doubt and that’s our own minds. By not providing us with a coherent time scale, the story-time is purposely distorted to prevent us from having easy access to the film, enabling us to take just as long as it takes David in the film to figure out the truth. The film’s final moments are thus beautifully executed because it allows us that time to reflect on what we’ve experienced so far with this character.
With so much to take in; its complex and intertwining themes of love, hate, friendship, work and sex, Vanilla Sky never lets us forget its core message, that in order to live life you must open your eyes.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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