Film Review

Vanilla Sky
Reviewed by Jason M. Flato
University of Denver


Vol. 6, No. 1 April 2002

Vanilla Sky

[1] Cameron Crowe's latest offering, Vanilla Sky, is akin to viewing a Georgia O'Keefe painting. There is a disjunctive movement that places the viewer into the film's world, a world where existence and understanding rarely coalesce. Indeed, O'Keefe's oft cited quip is relevant--"there is nothing less real than realism."

[2] The plot revolves around publishing heir David Aames (Tom Cruise), who zips around Manhattan in his expensive car, eats at exclusive restaurants only to return to his luxurious apartment(s) where his lover Julie (Cameron Diaz) drinks lattes and leaves messages on his alarm clock--suggestively uttering, "open your eyes, David." Indeed. The rest of the film takes us through jealous lovers, a defacing car crash, barrooms, prison cells, a caring psychiatrist, immortality, and unusual dreams. Yet, none of this is quite as it appears: Is Sofia (Penelope Cruz) merely a psychological projection? Is Julie dead? Is David' s face unscathed? The line between dream and reality is displaced. The film weaves a tapestry where dreams, existence, projection, and the external world are at the same time interwoven and undone.

[3] Although Vanilla Sky wants to moralize Cruise's movement throughout the film ( recall Jerry Maguire ), it is not simply about gray hairs and pretty faces. David Aames seeks an inoculation against finitude, striving to overcome mortality .In terms of life affirmation, Vanilla Sky is paradoxical: memory and recollection become a jumbled mess. Such as this is, Cruise's character equates the transcendent world with everyday life, comprehending the abhorrent reality behind the reality. The abhorrent reality is conveyed wonderfully in a scene that takes place in a dark club to pulsating techno music. We watch David descend into drunken madness as he removes his latex mask and confronts his brute existence. Moreover, in the scenes where David talks with his psychiatrist (a miscast Kurt Russell) we watch as he forms and deforms life-- consequently, as viewers we share in David' s maddening confusion. This commonality between character and audience is tied to the very ground of religious experience: in the face of finitude we seek to affirm life as we repeatedly encounter anxiety , death and suffering.

[4] The idea of transcendence is centered on the fleeting character of love, represented by Sofia. At the end of the film, high above the streets of Manhattan, the choice Aames must make is ultimate: to decide between disembodiment and incarnation. This emerges in light of interplay between the absence and presence of Sofia, "the last guileless woman in Manhattan"--she is the eternal embodiment of the centered self The ultimate concerns that Aames must make are subverted the practical ones of Sofia; in her harmony with the world she is just doing what one does, resolutely living choice by choice.

[5] In the end, I want to suggest that the film presents us with a sort of Nietzschean theological anthropology: to live is to dance on the abyss and die at the right time. This is the anthropological scaffolding that holds the other religious themes together. Interpretation wields meaning upon appearances. The discontinuity between interpretation and experience, a continual theme, probes at deeper questions about memory , recollection and ontological forgetting.

[6] The notion that we can domesticate God is undone in Vanilla Sky. To choose immortality is to displace God and in turn dissolve ourselves in light of a transcendent void. See Vanilla Sky if only for the re-presentation of the album cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and the other clues to decoding the film. Viewed as a love story, a struggle for the soul, or an existential confrontation with the eternal, Vanilla Sky should be seen late at night in one of those stadium-style theater.

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