It is Sunday night and the Hurricane named Jeanne is upon us. I am holding down the fort while my wife and son are at a hotel with relatives. Guess it’s just the guy in me that won’t leave. Anyway, I’m sitting here and I can’t take “Soul Plane” back for another rental so I had to dig into the archives. Well, digging into my DVD archives, I came up for air holding Vanilla Sky.
Alot of people really did NOT like Vanilla Sky. I am not one of those people. I absolutely LOVED Vanilla Sky. There I said it. For the remainder of this post, I’m going to attempt to wax articulate about Vanilla Sky. If you haven’t seen the movie and have no idea what it’s about, then I suggest you leave now because spoilers will abound in this review….
OK, WARNING OVER.
I have not seen this movie in quite sometime and my wife groans everytime she hears me say I’d like to watch it again and tonight was no different. She joked with me by saying “Phew, glad I’m not there to watch THAT again”. Well all naysaying aside, let’s get reviewing…
Vanilla Sky is the story of David Aames, played by Tom Cruise. David is the head of a successful magazine but he is BARELY on the side of leadership (when his father died, he left David with 51% of the company and 49% of the company left to 7 board members that David refers to as “The Seven Dwarves”).
We start the movie in a prison, while David paints a picture of his life before the current surroundings to Dr Curtis McCabe, played by Kurt Russell.
David is young and David is vain. A good example of his vanity is one of the first things he does upon waking in the morning is he heads into the bathroom and checks his head for grey hairs, tweezing any that he finds. The beginning of the movie is narrated by David who is speaking to that psychologist in the prison (we’ll get there, don’t worry) and he actually feeds upon his own vanity by making statements like “Isn’t that what being young is about? Believing secretly that you would be the one person in the history of man who would live forever?”
David has a female friend named Julie Gianni, brought to life by Cameron Diaz. Julie is David’s “fuck buddy” as it is so succintly put by another character.
David’s best friend, played by Jason Lee (one of my favorite comedic actors), is Bryan Shelby. Bryan is writing a novel and David is funnelling money into Bryan’s book. Bypassing the indentured servitude, Bryan and David are best friends as well. Bryan has some great dialogue thru the movie, at least I would think so. About a half hour into the movie, after introducing David to Sophia (The human mosquito, Penelope Cruz) and realizing that the sparks flying between David and Sophia leave him heading home alone for the evening, he makes a statement to David. He says “You will never know the exquisite pain of the guy who goes home alone”. He’s right, the character of David Aames gets EVERY ITEM HE WANTS. EVERY WOMAN HE WANTS. David can have it all, and he actually DOES have it all. All of this showiness of David’s possessions and arrogance serve to make the following tragedy more bittersweet.
Going back to David’s love life, he meets Sophia at his birthday party (watch for a cameo from Steven Spielberg) and is instantly smitten with her. He relishes her free spirit and her lack of worry. As he puts it himself in an overdub, “I dug her completely. Somehow I’d found the last semi-guileless girl in New York City.”
After a night of talking and caricatures drawn of each other (with Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” in the background), David attempts to head home floating on Cloud 9. (a perfect song once again, is present in Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye”). On his way to the car, Julie drives up (she has followed him to Sophia’s flat) and begins talking to him about the previous night’s festivities with Sophia. When Julie asks him to ride with her for awhile and talk, this is a pivotal moment in the movie. While in the car, a MOVING car I might add, she lets it all out; (“I love you David, I fucking love you! You fucked me 4 times, that means something” and “When you sleep with someone, you’re body makes a promise whether you do or not. Tell me something, David. Do you believe in God?”) These are the statements she makes RIGHT BEFORE DRIVING OFF A BRIDGE WITH HER AND DAVID IN THE CAR.
David is now disfigured and his arm is basically useless. Remember earlier when I told you that David had it all? Well, that included good looks as well. His mishap with Julie has taken away those devilish good looks and he is forced to reevaluate his life. While moping around the apartment, we get to hear the laid back sounds of Sigur Ros (I’d try to identify the song but one of their albums has EVERY song listed as “untitled”, so whatever. Beautiful stuff though)
He goes to see Sophia, all the while getting stares from her dancing peers (oh yeah, forgot to mention she’s a ballerina). Sophia is visibly shaken with his appearance but agrees to head out with him for an evening. David is giddy with his feelings for Sophia once again and he leaves weird messages on her machine about a special they had seen together that first and only night about Life Extensions, or L.E. for short (“I’m back in your life, I saw you earlier today. I loved seeing you today. You’re a great dancer. I just saw Benny the Dog on Conan”. WHAT???).
The evening with Sophia does not go like he had hoped. His friend Bryan is there and he feels like Bryan is the third wheel. His feelings are hurt when he finds out that Sophia requested Bryan’s accompaniment. The entire evening is filled with David’s animosity towards all other people. I mean, honestly think about it. He had everything, the looks, any woman he could have and now he’s maimed and the people who he once counted on for companionship are acting different around him. His trip to the restroom results in an unkind statement made by a fellow clubber; “Dude! Fix your fucking face”.
Upon the conclusion of the evening, REM’s “Sweetness Follows” drifts over the audio tracks while we watch David visualize Bryan and Sophia joining up and spending the evening together. It is this memory that is the last thing he remembers before waking up on the curb outside of Sophia’s apartment the next morning.
He is awakened by Sophia who tells him that she will give him a chance if he can “pull it the fuck together”. This is the start of David’s new life, happy with Sophia.
David’s face is now fixed, PERFECTLY. Everything is back to normal for David. He is with Sophia, his arm is like new and what’s even better, his FACE IS BACK TO IT’S TOM CRUISE-like status. During the scene where we get to see his new face, cue the Bob Dylan music (“Fourth Time Around”).
All seems to be forgiven at this point, seeing as how Bryan and David are once again friends. A Crowe’ism is present here when Bryan says “she was a proximity infatuation”.
David starts to see things (his face all scarred up again) and we are led to believe that he is going crazy now but it turns out that it was just a dream. It begins to get REEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAALLLLLLLL freakin weird now. Going back to bed, he is touched lovingly by Sophia but it turns out that its really Julie, claiming to be Sophia (ya got that? he he he). David ties her up (“I’m tying this know 4 times, you know why? Because 4 times MEANS SOMETHING”). She says “Wake up man” which is a tipoff to the audience of something larger going on here. There’s several statements now that lead you to “WTF Land”.
David splits with his friend Bryan after a violent and hostile confrontation and heads to a bar. While in this bar, Edmund Ventura (played by Noah Taylor, a Crowe alumni: see Almost Famous) approaches David and tells him that he needs to calm down, to take control of his life once again. He lets David conduct an experiment by controlling the room that he is in. For instance, he tells him “All the people in this room are only here because you want them here”. David’s reply to all this is “What I would really like them to do is shut the fuck up, especially YOU”. No sooner does he utter those words than the entire room is dead silent, like drop-of-a-pin silent. David now realizes, like the audience has started to pick up, that there is some seriously weird shit going on.
Flashing back to the conversation with Dr McCabe, more of the big picture is being explained, being extrapolated from David’s memories. We find out, thru brief glimpses, that David has signed some paperwork with a huge corporation and he is still not sure who they are and what he signed. Dr McCabe explains that David was hollering “Ellie” all night long and he’s not sure who Ellie is, exactly.
Visiting Sophia’s apartment, he gets an ass kicking by Julie, who is now Sophia. (Yeah, I know it’s weird). Julie leaves the room and then David’s Sophia returns. Although we are still scratching our heads, we are happy for David. A trip to the bedroom is immediately following her return and during the course of the copulation, Julie resurfaces. Mixing “Porpoise Song” from The Monkees and “Western Union” by the Five Americans, we watch as David smothers Julie, only to find out that it really IS Sophia’s light he has just extinguished. His face is now disfigured once again. WTF???
Dr McCabe is now back again, asking who David met at the bar. He explains to David that his subconscious is a very powerful enemy and that dreams can force faces to switch back and forth. You may be dreaming of one person but have their face on another person. He suggests that David’s thoughts of Julie may have made him turn Sophia INTO Julie. He leaves empty-handed, since David can offer no useful information about how and why he killed Sophia. When he leaves, David happens to notice a commercial on the television for L.E. (Life Extensions, remember? L.E. sounds a lot like Ellie doesn’t it?) and hollers for Dr McCabe to return. Upon his return, they head to the Life Extensions headquarters to get to the bottom of the weirdness. The secretary, Libby, is played by none other than the scrumb-diddlee-umptious Alicia Witt. Ok, stupid sidenote. Sorry.
The Life Extensions program is explained by Rebecca Dearborn (Tilda Swinton). Basically L.E. can extend your life by deep-freezing your body (196 degrees below zero, to be precise) almost immediately upon your death. Rebecca explains the newest program, the Lucid Dream option. It appears that David may have taken part in the Lucid Dream program. Watching the promotional video, the gentleman from the bar is shown as a tech support guy. Hmmmm.
David asks what could happen if his Lucid Dream becomes a nightmare. Rebecca explains that the subconscious can really wreak havoc on your Lucid Dream. During David’s epiphany, we are treated to The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and David makes a run for it. He races out of the room screaming “I WANT TO WAKE UP!!! TECH SUPPORT!!!!” Well, after all the screaming, Tech Support makes an appearance, albeit a very quiet one. An elevator door opens and the beginning tones of Freur’s “Doot Doot” begin playing. Everything is explained to David, which equates to the audience being explained to. Here’s the explanation from Tech Support.
“Do you remember the day at the night club? That night, after Sophia left you and you fell asleep on the pavement that was the moment YOU chose for ‘the splice’.”
“Splice. The ending of your REAL life and the beginning of L.E.’s Lucid Dream. From the moment you woke up on that street, nothing was ‘real’ in a traditional sense. Your Lucid Dream was monitored by Life Extensions and a panel of experts who were following your every thought, EVEN AT THIS MOMENT. We erased what really happened from your memory.”
“Replaced by a better life. Under these beautiful Monet-like skies. A better life because you had Sophia and you sculpted your Lucid Dream out of the iconography of your youth. This was a kind woman, an individual more than your record. You barely knew her in your real life but in your Lucid Dream, she was your saviour.”
“What happened in my real life? Something happened. What did you erase?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Tell me everything”
“The morning after that nightclub, you woke up on that street hungover and alone. You got up and you walked away. You never saw Sophia again.”
“I didn’t kill Sophia.”
“No. You battled your board, The Seven Dwarves, for control of the company. In the end it was Thomas Tipp, your father’s friend whose job YOU saved, who wrenched the company back into your control.”
“But then somebody died.”
“You longed for Sophia. You shut yourself away for months. You were alone; you couldn’t stand the pain any more. You could barely function.”
“I found you on the internet, I signed a contract with you and then…I remember. Somebody died. It was me”
“And on a day in late December, you gave yourself to us. You’re now in a suspended state. Your friend Bryan Shelby threw a three day memorial in your honor. He was a true friend. You were missed, David. It was Sophia who never fully recovered. It was she who somehow knew you best and, like you, she never forgot that night where true love seemed to blossom. Consequences, David. It’s the little things”
“The little things. There’s nothing bigger, is there?”
“Your subconscious DID create problems. Your dream turned into a nightmare which has been corrected.”
Tech Support explains that David has the option of living in the real world again if he’d like or he can continue his Lucid Dream, being happy forever with Sophia. His response is “I want to live a real life. I don’t want to dream any longer.” This is the scene of the movie that has always made my eyes wet. The voice of Sigur Ros’ lead singer singing the Icelandic verbage of “Nosjavelin” is so beautiful. It doesn’t help matters much when David sees Sophia one last time and says to her “Look at us. I’m frozen and you’re dead. And I love you.” I know it’s so hokey but it sounds so genuine to me. I don’t know what it is about this movie that I love so much but that is one of my fav lines in the entire movie. “I lost you when I got in that car. I’m sorry.” Such a bittersweet ending.
All the directions that our lives could take if we only made one decision differently. I guess it’s a personal quandary of mine. I suppose I am happy with my life, there’s alot left I want to do but I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful new baby boy. I guess it doesn’t get much better than that. I still love the movie though.
One thing I absolutely LOVED here was the fact that Cameron Crowe kept the World Trade Center in the shots. He refused to remove it like so many other directors who had been filming prior to 9/11. Thought that was really cool of him to do.