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"The film leads us to consider the mystical idea that the mind is somehow responsible for creating our reality."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above or by clicking here.
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
Visionaries like prophets aren't always appreciated in their own time and land. One character in this mesmerizing puzzle-of-a-film says, "They laughed at Jules Verne too."
Verne, of course, was the nineteenth-century French science fiction writer who accurately predicted such inventions as airplanes, televisions, submarines, and space satellites.
While Verne was dealing with the material world and its manifestations, the writers and makers of Vanilla Sky are concerned with the inner world of reality and with the relationship between dream worlds and waking worlds.
Some will no doubt laugh at the metaphysical ideas and the science-fiction plot so cleverly presented -- but remember, they laughed at the explorations of Jules Verne too.
Vanilla Sky is director Cameron Crowe's adaptation of Alejandro Amenabar's hit Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). Tom Cruise, who stars in the film as wealthy playboy David Aames, brought the project to Crowe.
From the beginning, the film has many lines and occurrences that suggest all is not what it seems to be in David's life, and the viewer is challenged immediately to try to differentiate between so-called reality and dreams. It's no accident that the first words in the film are "Open your eyes."
"Open your eyes" is exactly what the characters, especially David, whose idyllic life quickly falls apart in unsettling and logic-defying ways, and the audience are invited to do.
Open our eyes about what? Life, meaning, reality, Spirit, the Big Questions that include What is real? What is illusion? Who is responsible for what is happening to us? Who is really creating life? What is the purpose of life? To what extent are we victims of the emotions of guilt, hate, shame, revenge, and love? What is happiness?
Even if your eyes are only partially opened, you must be aware that the film is begging us to look for answers to all of these important questions -- look for answers within the story, but more importantly within the self.
David's eyes begin to be opened when he meets Sophia (Penelope Cruz) while trying to avoid an obsessed admirer, Julie (Cameron Diaz). It soon becomes clear that reality and dreams are dangerously blurring and David's life may be outside the regular confines of space and time.
What's David doing? "Living the dream, living the dream," he says.
Later, "My dreams are a cruel joke. They taunt me. Even in my dreams I'm an idiot who knows he's about to wake up to reality."
And then there is this exchange:
Sophia: Is this a dream?
When a prison psychologist (Kurt Russell) asks David if he can tell the difference between dreams and reality, David replies, "I don't know what's real."
Obviously, the film is concerned with dreams -- in a major way. Clues point to interpretations of what is going on within the expanded concepts of the characters' realities and dreams. A recurring clue is advertising for a cryogenic project called Life Extension that promises "eternal life."
A technician with Life Extension finally shows up to offer more reality-dream hints about what is happening: "You can take control of all of this... Everything is your creation."
Another Life Extension employee asks, "What is any life if not the pursuit of a dream?"
With such observations, the film leads us to consider the mystical idea that the mind is somehow responsible for creating our reality, all levels of our reality. Is anything too far-fetched for us to create? Could we create states and worlds of dream and waking consciousness? Through science and technology and human imagination, could mortal life really be extended -- and at what price? Wow, serious issues are lurking within this sexy thriller.
Even Sophia suggests the impact of personal responsibility and the power of the mind: "Every passing minute is a chance to turn it all around." Director Crowe and star Cruise also paired on the film Jerry Maguire (1996), which is about a high-pressure sports agent who has a spiritual "breakthrough" (Jerry's words) when he realizes that meaning, not money, is most important in life.
In Vanilla Sky, Cruise's David is another Jerry Maguire learning painful lessons about what is truly meaningful in life, but David is taking the search for meaning to new, surreal heights -- or perhaps inner depths. Like the inventive animated film Waking Life, Vanilla Sky doesn't have all the answers, but it does a mind-boggling jog of posing some of the important questions of life. Jules Verne was rather mind-boggling for his time, too.