Revisiting Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky

Cameron Crowe's most divisive film by distance. Carley's look back at his work tackles Vanilla Sky...

I’ll tell you in another life, when we are both cats.” – Sofia

The Recap

After the financial success of Jerry Maguire and the critical success of Almost Famous, it seems strange to think that Cameron Crowe’s next project would be a re-make of an already successful Spanish movie Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), but with power star Tom Cruise at the helm. Nothing could go wrong, right?

New Yorker David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a handsome, wealthy playboy who is head of a publishing company and enjoys living life to the max. At a party one evening, David’s friend Brian (Jason Lee) introduces him to Sofia (Penelope Cruz) and the two hit it off immediately, much to the annoyance of his ex-girlfriend Julianna (Cameron Diaz).

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A few days after the party Julianna offers David a ride in her car and lets him know that, if she can’t have, him nobody can, and crashes the car off a bridge, killing her instantly and disfiguring David’s face. Unable to face the world as he now is, David wears a mask and falls into a deep depression.

On a night out with Sofia and Brian he gets so drunk the two of them leave him to wallow in his own self pity and he passes out on the street.

The next morning, things begin to start looking up as Sofia turns up at David’s apartment, determined to get him back on track. From this point romance blossoms and the two begin a steady relationship. David is also able to get plastic surgery on his face to make him look exactly as he did before the accident. However, strange things soon begin to happen to David. He has hallucinations of his face still being disfigured, when travelling through the city he comes across a completely empty Times Square and, most alarmingly, he keeps coming across a gentleman who keeps telling him he has the power to control the world.

After one particularly powerful hallucination, David goes to see Sofia, only to find her sitting and talking to Julianna. As he looks around the apartment, all the pictures of Sofia and himself have been replaced by pictures of him and Julianna and in a fit of rage he strangles her, only to discover he has strangled Sofia.

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He is arrested and, due to suffering from amnesia, he is placed under the care of Dr. Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell). As the two delve deeper into his past, they discover a link with a company called Life Extension. On a visit there they discover that the company deal in cryonics and that they place their patients in a lucid dream state while, in reality, they are frozen in time awaiting a cure of their various ailments to be made. Realising that he is in his own lucid dream state, David escapes the main company office and is directed to an elevator by a gentleman who is Tech Support for the company.

He explains, in reality, after David had passed out drunk on the evening out with Sofia and Brian, he never saw her again and instead opted to be put into the lucid dream state and live under the vanilla sky his mother used to talk about. He has been frozen for 150 years and it was a malfunction in the system that caused his perfect dream to become a nightmare.

As the two reach their destination, Tech Support gives David a choice. He can live in his lucid dream world and be happy with Sofia forever, or he can take a leap of faith and return to reality. Choosing the latter, David jumps off the building and as he hits the ground a voice tells him to wake up and he slowly opens his eyes back again in the real world.

Thoughts & Reaction

The first thing I want to state before I get into anything about this movie is the fact I am not a fan of remakes. If something is a good enough idea, has been successful and has found its own fanbase, there is no need to try and improve on it. It works as it is and should be left well enough alone.

The re-make/re-imagining trend that seems to be devouring the film industry at the moment is one that annoys me to the brink of turning into the Hulk (you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry) and I do sometimes think that if anybody came up with an original idea I might actually die of shock, but that is the way of the world and, like many other movie fans, I just have to deal with it. Rant over.

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Vanilla Sky is a bit of funny film to dissect and discuss. Financially it was a huge success (a fact which was helped by the Cruise/Cruz romance that developed on set) and introduced the majority of the English speaking world to Penelope Cruz. It was also a brave movie as the ideas raised in it were pretty out there, which I also think was its greatest hindrance when unleashed on the general public, as they were expecting and were, indeed, marketed a more run of the mill thriller type movie.

Casting Tom Cruise in the lead role also probably didn’t help matters as, by the time the movie was released in 2001, he was thought of more of an action hero thanks to his work on the Mission Impossible films rather than the more dramatic roles of his past. Saying that, however, Cruise does almost sell the role of the disturbed protagonist, although it does feel for the first quarter of the movie he is just playing himself and he never really does manage to reach to the darker depths of the character as his predecessor did in the original movie.

Penelope Cruz must have felt more than a sense of déjà vu when filming began on this movie, having lived it all before, but she has an admirable go at the role and never loses focus on the character. Mixed reaction to the film almost put pay to her Hollywood dreams, but after getting herself on the map with this movie, she managed to pick her roles well and could be described as one of the best actresses in Hollywood today.

The biggest surprise in this movie for me was Cameron Diaz. Again, another thing I will admit is that I am not her biggest fan and when I see her name over the title of a movie I let out a bit of an inward groan, but she is fantastic as the jilted, jealous lover and I really wish she would plump for more of these type of roles than the comedy ones she always seems to find herself in. For another example of her on stellar form, check out The Last Supper, a truly great movie.

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Visually, the movie looks good, but it is more or less a clone of its predecessor with some scenes, including clothing and set-up, lifted from one to the other. Although described by Crowe as a very close remake, I would actually say it was more of a carbon copy. Nevertheless, the scene when David encounters an empty Times Square could put goosebumps on the most critical of viewers.

Script-wise, again, the two movies are interlinked, although it does feel that Crowe didn’t go as dark as his source material. A lot of viewers of the film were left with a bit of a WTF moment as the credits rolled and Crowe himself states that there are various interpretations of how the movie ended.

Firstly, that Tech support were telling the truth and everything was a lucid dream, that the entire film was a dream while David was left in a coma after the accident, that nothing was, in fact, real and rather it was a plot of a book David’s friend Brian was writing. Or finally, the entire film is just a normal dream. Whatever your thoughts on the subject there is no simple answer as to what really happened.

When Vanilla Sky was released, critics were split down the middle by it, some loved it and some just saw it as a vanity project for Cruise who not only starred but produced it. Some also saw it as a waste of Crowe’s talent, stating his own original ideas were superior. Nevertheless, it has become a bit of a cult movie and found a more loving home on DVD.

It would take another four years on from the release of Vanilla Sky for Crowe to get back behind the camera and next time I will reach his most recent release, Elizabethtown.

Vanilla Sky Key Info:Released: 14th December 2001 (US) / 22nd January 2002 (UK)Distributed By: Paramount PicturesBudget: $68,000,000Box Office Gross: $203,388,341Best DVD Edition: Vanilla Sky DVD 

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