In 1997, a Spanish language film titled Abre Los Ojos staring Penelope Cruz was released. Four years later, Cruz would act in an English remake of the film adapted and directed by Cameron Crowe that used its predecessor’s title, Abre Los Ojos, as its first line. Vanilla Sky is a sci-fi romance thriller that plays with the balance between dreams and reality. David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a reckless and overconfident man who has inherited his father’s business and is often plagued by strange dreams. In voice-overs from a therapy session, David illustrates his encounter with the beautiful Sofia (Penelope Cruz), the woman that might just be the love of his life, and the freak accident caused by an obsessive stalker that changed everything. As David tells his story and futuristic elements are introduced, it’s unclear what’s real and if anyone can be trusted, even David himself.
The film presents a simple message: reality, though disappointing, is more rewarding than fantasy. Crowe seems to target adults with this movie, encouraging them to enjoy both the “sweet” and the “bitter” parts of life. The choices that David has to make often deal with that subject. He wants to take the easy way out and live in a sort of fantasy where everything is easy for him, but he must learn, as the inheritor of a business, to act like a grown-up and face difficulties. He also faces a conflict with the unknown when the lines of reality are blurred and things stop making sense. The audience also experiences this conflict, since nothing is completely revealed until the end.
The story wasn’t presented as a typical linear progression. It unfolded with new chunks of information that shed light on what had already happened. David has some ups and downs and is changed by the end, but it was the story, more so than the characters, that drove the film. It tied the chunks together and compelled the audience to keep asking “what’s going on?” until everything was revealed in the end.
Without giving everything away, I will say that I found the end of the film to be sort of a cop-out. While the sci-fi elements and the final answer to the mystery were interesting, I thought they diminished the story and the character progress that had already been made, bringing everything to a weird and uncomfortable halt as David makes his final choice. The ending did help to push the film’s message about reality and fantasy, but this made the message almost too forced.
The rest of the film succeed mostly because of Crowe’s trademarks. His dialogue was memorable (“I’ll tell you in another life, when we’re both cats”). The soundtrack, which changed style often, was memorable and helped the audience to move from one strange occurrence to the next. David faced major loss after the accident caused by his stalker, and his character was given more chance to develop with that loss thrown in his way. Sofia also functioned as the “girl he never saw coming,” which served as a catalyst for David to start making changes in his life.
Cinematography was also notable in this film- at times the picture was grainy with surreal lighting, much like the strange dreams that haunt David.
The film focused on changing the audience’s perspective, and in that regard it succeeded. The ending was disappointing, but it accomplished what it needed to for the characters and the overall message.