Vanilla Sky’s Lost and Weird Art: It was 20 years ago this month that I viewed and then rewatched Cameron Crowe’s iconic picture Vanilla Sky for the first time. Films from the Sundance Festival had left me feeling jaded at the time of my watching of the film, which occurred early in February.
For the most part, I had been rewatching films that I had previously enjoyed, or watching films for the first time that were either horrible or not quite exciting. Vanilla Sky, an adaptation of a Spanish film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998, had a profound effect on me.
As if I’ve been aware of Vanilla Sky for the most of my life, it’s likely that everyone is born with a vague awareness of the film. I’ve had this vision of Tom Cruise staring off into the distance against a lovely Mac screensaver background, his eyes following me while I downloaded songs from the soundtrack off of Limewire, stuck in my head since I was in middle or high school.
However, I had no idea what the appeal of Vanilla Sky was (what a treat for me, then, to finally witness at the ripe old age of 27). I was aware of the film’s reputation as an eccentric one, and that Crowe had infamously freaked it out with the track list in the film. I also understood it was a science fiction film, even though I had a hard time seeing how it fit into that category until the very end. To put it another way, they’re no longer made in this fashion.
Vanilla Sky is a film that I don’t believe can ever fully be erased from our collective memory, even if the filmmakers did everything they could to erase it. In my opinion, Vanilla Sky would continue to exist even if the world ended tomorrow, like a dream that one can no longer distinguish from reality or recollection.
As though David Aames’ (Cruise) disturbing recollections of his old life were encroaching on his lucid dream and turning it into a nightmare. By this point, the film had already devolved into ten different films that reveal themselves like Russian nesting dolls throughout the narrative, including his love affair with Penélope Cruz, his attempted murder-suicide with Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), his suicide, and his cryogenically frozen state.
This is not the first time that I’ve watched or rewatched Vanilla Sky and come away with a more acute sense of how bad things have gotten—in the film business, but also everywhere—in the last few years.
When Tom Cruise was still at the top of his game and eager to make dramatic films with auteurs (even though the Mission: Impossible domino had already been struck down at this point), when Jason Lee and Cameron Diaz were still sought-after cinema regulars, this film could only have been made at the turn of the millennium: that post-Matrix technological and existential fixation with finding oneself trapped in an artificial world That person who says, “Watching this work of art is like being high,” while having watched it stone-cold sober, is someone I would rather avoid at all costs. It’s as if you’re on a roller coaster, going from exhilaration to hilarity, to paranoia, to fear, to quiet exhaustion, till you fall asleep.
Vanilla Sky is the sequel to Cruise’s David Aames: Relatively well-off heir to his late father’s publishing company. He battles for control with the board of stockholders, whom he calls “The Seven Dwarves,” for ownership. Julie Gianni (Diaz) and David have a not-so-romantic but extremely sexual connection on the side, which Julie sees as both sexual and romantic to David.
Brian Shelby (Lee) is the one who introduces David to Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz), and David is immediately smitten, much to Julie’s dismay. Julie follows David from the party to Sofia’s place, where he had spent the night, and offers him a ride to work the next day. Amid a ridiculous monologue in which Diaz is forced to say “I drank your cum, that signifies something,” Julie purposefully loses control of the automobile and crashes it, earning her multiple nominations for that year’s best actress and best supporting actress awards. David’s girlfriend Julie was murdered in the collision, and he is left permanently scarred; he must now deal with life as a shudder odd and unattractive person while developing a passionate relationship with Sofia.
By this time, Vanilla Sky has already taken a few unexpected twists, and it just gets worse. As soon as we’re introduced to David’s life in New York, we get flashbacks of his childhood, which are intermingled throughout the film. Kurt Russell interrogates an uncanny, silicone-masked David about a murder charge in the present day. As a result, we know that the story must eventually reveal whether or not David has been framed for murder, right? Isn’t it time for a trial scene? I can assure you that is not the case at all.
In fact, the opposite is true. Because it was such a wonderful journey for me to experience being totally ignorant of the plot—let alone the film’s ridiculous and glorious final act, which left me dumbstruck as to how I got there from where the film began, even though the film has been around for over two decades, I am hesitant to delve any further into the arc’s trajectory and the hard-turn revelations one must endure while watching.
Some of the wackiest and most cringe-inducing montage sequences, like the one when David is boozed up in a bar after his face was mutilated, are accompanied by lines of corny dialogue delivered with the kind of cinematic authenticity that is gradually fading into obsolescence.
Pop-rock needle drops were famously used by a director who had just won an Oscar for his acclaimed film about rock music journalism with a devil-may-care attitude. Another problem with this film is that Tom Cruise’s performance has been referred to as “playing himself” (I’m not sure what that is supposed to signify) or “Cruise’s vein-popping, running the marathon performance.” Cruise’s Aames character has a comic urgency that is enhanced by the fact that the film is a vanity effort, making it all the more amusing.
However, despite being an exact copy of Abre los ojos (Open your eyes), the Spanish film that Vanilla Sky is based on, it’s impossible to deny that the picture is greater because of the reason why it was made. In spite of being a narrative and visual carbon replica of Open Your Eyes, Vanilla Sky serves as a fascinating metaphor for Cruise’s self-centeredness. In light of Cruise’s role in the film and the scarred character he once portrayed, it’s something that has endured and grown increasingly important to his public persona over time.
After witnessing Open Your Eyes at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, Cruise decided to make a remake of the film, and after working with Cameron Crowe on Jerry Maguire, he convinced him to take the reins as director. Since Cruise was a major part of Vanilla Sky, it’s distinct from its predecessor in that it’s a film about a man obsessed with his image, mortality, and the futile search for perpetual youth.
One of a handful of roles between 2001 and 2006, it marks a significant juncture in Cruise’s career, since the actor would soon abandon his varied serious work in favor of action blockbusters. Because of his peculiar infatuation with Vanilla Sky, Cruise may have shown more of himself on screen than he ever intended to or ever would again.
Despite its commercial success, Vanilla Sky received mixed reviews from critics. However, it has gained a cult following over the years, maybe due to the increasing tiredness of the progressively unoriginal neo-Hollywood apparatus.. Since I’m a film critic who enjoys weird, bombastic films that take unusual creative risks and frustrate even the most ardent fans, I’m happy to join the ranks of “Sky Heads” fans.
Is Vanilla Sky a sign of how the business has taken such a depressingly creative fall, causing people to look back on the weird and rosy-eyed nostalgia of yesteryear with the same rosy-eyed nostalgia that spawned the very nostalgic circlejerk of today? Possibly. In the context of today’s vanity projects, it’s an interesting artifact. Even though Clean, Adrian Brody’s latest low-budget film, was a joy to watch, it barely registered. Passion projects like Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, on the other hand, cannot be realized through conventional industry methods since Coppola has to finance the entire thing himself, which falls into the category of vanity.
Vanilla Sky is not exempt from being a part of the current status of the American cinema business because it is a remake. In spite of all this, it remains the symbol of an era of Hollywood that no longer exists, where even the remake of “One of Us” by Joan Osborne could be a swinging for the fences mixture of wide eyed auteurism, celebrity egotism, and a double needle drop of “One of Us.”