In Defense of Vanilla Sky, a Sci-Fi Movie

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People hate Vanilla Sky.  I think a lot of that can be attributed to the “Tom Cruise is a psycho and he annoys me” factor, but I also think that a lot of people were caught off guard when they first saw this movie.  Vanilla Sky was marketed as a romance, but at its core, it’s a true sci-fi flick.  Sure, some of you may say, “I know it’s a sci-fi flick, Madison, and it still sucks,” and that’s fine.  It’s fine that your inability to grasp any concepts or themes that require you to fire off so much as single neuron in an attempt to create anything resembling an abstract thought prevents you from enjoying movies like Vanilla Sky.  But for those of us who are interested in the confrontation of immortality and using technology to extend and alter our lives and minds, Vanilla Sky is reminiscent of a classic Philip K. Dick story.  Read more after the jump:

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Vanilla Sky was based on the Spanish movie Abre Los Ojos, which translates to “Open Your Eyes.”  Me penga es muy grueso, tambien.  Abre Los Ojos, incidentally, was voted the #84 movie in the 2002 Top 100 Sci-Fi List by the Online Film Critics Society.  Now, that doesn’t mean that it was good, but it does strengthen the argument that Vanilla Sky is indeed a sci-fi movie.

Tom Cruise’s character, David Ames, falls for this hot little Spanish number named Sofia.  Just as their romance is budding, though, his crazy f*ck-buddy played by Cameron Diaz drives her car off a bridge while he is sitting in the passenger seat.  David is horribly disfigured and loses the use of his arm.  Things with him and Sofia aren’t the same and after a night out at a dance club, David passes out in the street, drunk.  Which is a pretty regular thing for me, especially if you replace “club” with “Bennigan’s” and “drunk” with “tripping balls” and add a little bit of vomit and crapped pants to the mix.  I still manage to score f*ck-buddies, though.  They don’t even have homes!

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Anyway, David wakes up the next day and continues his romance with Sofia.  Or so it seems.  His life becomes a nightmare, and David can hardly differentiate between Sofia and his crazy ex-f*ck-buddy.  With this help of his psychologist, David locates a company called Life Extension.  A man (or image?) from Tech Support informs David that after his car wreck, David contacted Life Extension and subsequently committed suicide.  Life Extension cryogenically froze David and uploaded a “lucid dream” into his mind.  David’s dream – which started the morning after the night he passed out in the street – became a nightmare.  The man from Tech Support gives David the option of returning to the real world, reanimated and with the technology to fix his face and arm, or to continue his lucid dream, which will be “fixed,” enabling him to spend forever with Sofia.

If you take away the way this film was marketed and look just at the story itself, it’s a classic sci-fi movie.  It’s exactly the type of thing about which Ray Bradbury or Philip K. Dick would have written.  Of course, I’m not suggesting that all sci-fi movies are good.  Not even close.  I am suggesting, though, that this movie is much more enjoyable when viewed with the sci-fi genre in mind, without the viewer being ambushed.  I mean, a guy gets into a horrible accident, is cryogenically frozen, has dreams uploaded into his mind, and is then given the choice to awaken 150 years in the future?  Very cool concept — but you market that as a romance??? Ugh.

It also has, as an aside, one of the best usages of a song in a movie – Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, at the time when David realizes he is living his lucid dream.

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All that said, I welcome your insults that allude to my sexual orientation.  Vanilla Sky is a good movie, it just wasn’t presented the right way.  I don’t wipe properly!


  • billyhank

    Conceptually it’s fine, bad marketing aside. The problem with the movie is the slack story-telling. 95% of the flick is scene-setting for 10 minutes of exposition at the end. If you have to end the movie by telling the audience exactly what it was that they just saw — given that there was no real way for them to have put it together on their own — you’ve screwed up in a fairly big way.

    JACOB’S LADDER is similar in tone and big mindfucks, but the whole movie is a trail of breadcrumbs to get you through to the end. Excellent story-telling, everything is shown and almost nothing is said, you see?

    That said, the bit where Kurt Russell’s character begins to understand that he’s just someone else’s daydream? Great stuff.

  • Justin

    I really did enjoy Vanilla Sky, but I liked Abre Los Ojos better. Crowe had a great cast and a big budget, but the direction wasn’t as good(I hate to say it because love Cameron Crowe). Plus I thought the addition of the “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” thing was really cheesy.

  • revdon

    Vanilla Sky is an unfortunate pastiche that only works if you’ve never seen any other sci-fi. So, I can understand why it appealed to a lot of mainstream movie goers who don’t like the genre, but for geeks it was pastiche-y as hell.

    How many other genre movie can you think of where:

    The main character is a paranoiac who isn’t sure who he can trust.

    Also, he isn’t sure where the dream/delusion begins and ends.

    But, it turns out he’s just stuck in a computer simulation. Whew!

  • ea

    I think you all missed a number of important points:

    Duality, existence, love, friends, choices & consequences

    The fact that David Ames grows along the way and never gets to change while being him “pretty” self. How he has physical love but finds “true” love and thus the duality of body vs soul, one lacking the other. His choices & consequences lead him to loose it all and get it back, this in his dreams which contrasts his real life meets each other to form the perfect existence that is not real and never could be so it falls apart. This takes us to the final judgment where he faces his fears and chooses one existence. Either live with your love knowing it is not physically real but emotional or live physically as you mentally perceive yourself without any physical wealth.

    This is just scratching the surface of this movie.

    I know I should not say this but Vanilla sky is in the top ten best movies ever made. Seriously, it has all genres in it and is an amazing journey through self realization.

    I have two multimedia, arts major and a medialogy degrees, seen thousands of movies and never have I seen anything like this all wrapped together so neatly.

  • Snoopies622

    Overall I’d say Vanilla Sky is worth seeing as good sci-fi. I liked the last thirty or so minutes of the film very much, but personally was mystified by the choice of “Good Vibrations” as background music for the big relevation scene. What on earth is the connection between the lyrics and mood of that song, and what is happening in the story at that moment? I actually thought it was a technical error.

  • Pedro Antunes

    Vanilla is my FAVORITE movie

    that’s all 🙂

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  • I’m a big fan too of this story but the thing is that I saw Abre los ojos first, and I really love it, and when Vanilla Sky come out, I just don’t get off me the idea that is just a remake of a great movie.

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  • Mike

    Vanilla Sky is my favorite movie of all time! Second place goes to Fight Club. You could say, I love mindf*ck movies.

  • Bill Ross

    So the entire “narration” of the film was Ames talking about his experiences to his Shrink, who is a creation of Ames’ subconscious. He relates his memory of what really happened and then the spliced memories. In hindsight there are plenty of clues that he is in a dream or alternate reality. That scene in an empty Times Square with the projected images on buildings and billboards in sync with the sitar music (by Mint Royale) is one of most memorable scenes I’ve seen in a movie..