Open your eyes.
Surrealistic. Colour. Dizzy montages. Floating dreamscapes. I thought this film was an absolute treasure. I just came back from it & my head is still slightly spinning from its surprises & themes, reminiscent of the Matrix in terms of the main character’s reality & perceived reality. David (played by Tom Cruise) is plagued by dreams, and nightmares. He is never sure where the fantasies end and his actual life begins.. Cameron Crowe's incredible visual and mood effects capture the confusion and the levitation of the nuances between dreams and life. It is very tightly directed & at times wholly celestial, for example the scene towards the finish in which we witness an endless glass elevator ride up a Manhattan skyscraper. And of course, the breathtaking (literally.. you catch your breath) opening sequence where Tom Cruise runs down an empty Times Square. In an unprecedented turn of events, Cameron Crowe was granted a three hour time window in which to complete their scene just after daybreak one Sunday morning. They wanted to do it the old-school way, without resorting to computer enhancement. Test audiences marvelled at the "convincing computer effect" regardless.
The film is actually a remake of a mysterious Spanish film Abre los Ojos (or, Open Your Eyes), and is the story of a cocksure young man who has a very lax attitude towards life, being born into wealth, as well as handsome and charming and all the rest. He has inherited a magazine publishing fortune and runs his business with such a nonchalance and broad grin as though he has never had a difficult day in his life - and he hasn't. His peers, "the seven dwarves" as he calls them, are fairly obviously trying to get him out of the business; they refer to him as "Citizen Dildo" behind his back, but it is doubtful David would even care if he knew. He holds a party in his apartment which boasts an amazing array of pop-culture artifacts, my favourite being the hologram of John Coltrane playing his saxophone. He also owns paintings by Monet and Joni Mitchell. He immediately falls in love with Sofia (Penélope Cruz), much to the dismay of Cameron Diaz's character, "the saddest woman to ever hold a martini". Suicidally frustrated that David had been so casual about what he had regarded as their "fling", she drove them both off a bridge. And the film strangely unravels.
I wasn't entirely sure why the film got an R rating, but I suppose the sexual content was fairly intense and violent. In this one particular scene, the nudity is non-explicit but the sex is very prolonged and visceral. Apart from this, you get to see Penelope Cruz's breasts, and they all speak about sexually related things, although to me it faded into the background - it wasn't until I researched why it got an R rating that I remembered.
I have read more than a fair amount of reviews implying that Cameron Crowe's untarnished list of great films ended with Vanilla Sky. These reviewers claim that the montages are too confusing and that although they recognise this is done to create the suspense, it makes for a weak characterisation. In that, if we are constantly re-evaluating the realities in the film, if we are constantly finding our orientation, we are unable to find the time to identify emotionally with the main character. Apparently Tom Cruise's character was 'unconvincing', & we are left wondering, who is he? To this I say firstly that I don't think the movie was necessarily supposed to have been character driven by nature & stood on itself as a great film without that. Secondly, I did identify emotionally with David. The fact that he doesn't seem to have a clear, detailed personality as such in fact makes it easier for one to identify with his situation, as we can sort of project ourselves on to him & imagine we are in his place. He wasn't a definite character; he could have been anybody, and I like that.
Penélope, who I had my doubts about before I saw this film, absolutely won me over. While she was introvertedly charming, and again not very well developed as a "character", she played the part of the dream so beautifully, or perhaps it was just me. She is so sweet like a little bird, & with her little jumps and skips and her cute spanish accent. I fell in love with her too.
In an interview Tom Cruise was asked about Cameron Crowe's tendency to work with music. He says:
"Cameron is a musician also. He’s a writer, a musician, a filmmaker and we just started playing around one day and he just had music. As an actor you just let it wash over you and see what color it’s going to bring to the scene. He also does stuff where we’re going along and he’ll throw out lines at me, it feels like a workshop when we’re working. Everybody is very comfortable and relaxed and there was a lot of focus on the scene and everyone kind of contributes. It helps the actors and sometimes you get different ideas and colors. For this movie we listened to Kid A a lot and to the U2 album. The Icelandic group (Sigur Ros) too. Of course, the Stones and Bruce Springsteen but a lot of Kid A. Walking through New York I think of U2 and I think of Radiohead."
Vanilla Sky touches the idea of making a choice between fantasies, dreams, and all-consuming entertainment, and then the stark realities of actual life. Without giving the plot away too much, I was shocked at David's choice but not disappointed. Or perhaps I was disappointed in his choice but not shocked. It made me consider the way in which humans, when given the choice, will always choose knowledge over happiness. Ignorance is bliss, but no one ever chooses that path; as in the Matrix, no one chooses the blue pill. Humans resign themselves to "reality" (which is subjective anyway), & moan about the tragedies & the bleakness, but when given the chance to be comfortable and peaceful and to luxuriate in pleasantness and dreamy times, one will give it all up in the name of "truth".. it seems odd. But still natural. David's best friend Brian (played by Jason Lee makes references several times to the sweet and sour nature of life, i.e. things are more sweet, when you've experienced the sour. The beauty of life is more truly appreciated when the trials and heartbreak are fully experienced.
When the movie was over, my housemate and I looked at each other and declared, this is seriously now one of my favourite movies. Shock, because I haven't seen a film on the big screen in forever that made it on to my Best Of All Time list. It's often hard to decide whether you are being objective because movies always seem better on the big screen, but I'd rather not be objective in this case because the whole point about whether a movie is enjoyable or not is whether you can find yourself inside it, and I for one was fully immersed. I dropped a coin on the ground as the credits were rolling, and when I looked up, the screen was purple, which shocked me; I walked outside and the cinema lighting was purple, and outside, a storm was brewing - the sky was violet too. Very, very surreal.
Oh and the term "Vanilla Sky" is a reference to a Monet painting, and the way David chose to paint his "backdrops" in his lucid dreams.
ohmygod.. my friend just told me that a girl jumped off the cinema complex in our suburb. & she had a vanilla sky ticket in her pocket. that's... amazing.