Movies are a public dream where people sit in a darkened room watching fleeting images flash by while they eat their popcorn. It is fitting to remember this idea when thinking about Tom Cruise’s new movie VANILLA SKY, which explores the impact of dreams and movies on our lives. It is not the first movie to explore this theme and it won’t be the last.
In the story, which is based on a Spanish movie called ABRE LOS OJOS or OPEN YOUR EYES, Cruise plays David Aames, a rich, young, publishing mogul who inherited his father’s successful business when his parents died in a car crash. After having a weird dream where he is in a New York City that is empty of all people, he wakes up next to a beautiful blonde singer he has been seeing, named Julie Gianni, played by Cameron Diaz. Julie wants more from their relationship than David is willing to give. David is more concerned with having a good time and with his daily battles with the board of directors with whom his father saddled him, whom David calls “the seven dwarves.” David goes to the office and meets his best friend Brian (played by Jason Lee), who manages to get David to confess that he just slept with Julie, a girl that Brian had wanted.
The movie suddenly cuts to a prison, where a psychiatrist, played by Kurt Russell, is interviewing David. David is wearing prison garments and a mask. The psychiatrist says that David has been charged with the murder of a woman. David refuses to believe it, but he talks briefly about his father while the psychiatrist talks about guilt, hate, shame, revenge, and love.
The movie flashes back to David’s birthday party, where Brian shows up with a girl he’s just met, Sofia Serrano, played by Penelope Cruz. David immediately falls in love with her beauty and her innocent attitude, which is unimpressed by David’s playboy reputation, wealth and power. Julie crashes the party, however, and nearly makes a scene. Meanwhile, Brian becomes drunk, because he had wanted Julie for himself and now he wants Sofia.
Sofia and David spend the night at her apartment talking and laughing. When David leaves to go home, Julie suddenly drives up, and David realizes she followed them. Julie convinces David to fornicate one last time with her, since it appears he has met a new woman in his life, Sofia. David gets in her car, but the conversation soon collapses into an argument. Julie drives faster and faster until the car runs off a bridge and slams into a wall.
Julie apparently dies in the crash, and David wakes up with a scarred face and a crushed arm and leg. After some plastic surgery, he is able to walk with a limp, but his face remains terribly scarred. The doctors tell him there’s no hope for his face. David is devastated, of course, but he eventually restores control of his publishing company, and tries to re-establish contact with Sofia. Sofia is friendly enough, but it becomes clear that she is now more interested in his best friend Brian, not necessarily because of David’s ugly face, but because David’s guilt about getting in the car with Julie has further damaged his soul. David gets drunk and collapses in the gutter near her apartment. Sofia finds him there the next morning, and, unexpectedly, she takes up with him. Just as suddenly, David’s doctors announce that they’ve found a new technique and they completely heal his face. All seems happy, but David starts having nightmares about his face still being disfigured. Then, there’s that pesky psychiatrist showing up again, trying to get David to remember what happened to the murdered woman.
In one sense, VANILLA SKY is a psychological thriller, but it’s also a mystery and a work of science fiction. As such, its worldview seems to implicitly reflect the pagan theology of the Scientology Church to which Tom Cruise belongs. Scientology teaches a combination of psychological self-help with Eastern enlightenment. The goal is to reach higher and higher levels of personal enlightenment, until you become some sort of god. Although Cruise’s character David does not appear to reach god-hood in any way in VANILLA SKY, the focus of the movie is on how David is able to work out his own personal demons. David’s guilt over the bad way he treated Julie plays an important part in this. His guilt helps him to find moral redemption. Also, at an important point in David’s maturation process, someone asks him to choose either a happy fantasy or reality, and David chooses reality. Thus, despite the movie’s pagan worldview, it seems that Cruise and the filmmakers behind VANILLA SKY consciously or unconsciously retain parts of their Christian heritage, which gives this movie its moral, redemptive qualities. Of course, no non-Christian is totally free from Christian theology, because we all live in a real universe created by the Christian God of the Bible.
In spite of the interesting psychological themes that permeate VANILLA SKY, it is not a successful piece of filmmaking. Until the ending, when everything is explained (or is it?), there are too many possible interpretations of what’s going on in David’s life. There’s even a question at certain points as to whether Julie or Sofia are even real people, or just characters from one or more of David’s dreams. All of this disrupts the viewer’s identification with David, the protagonist. Since the movie leaves viewers guessing what’s really happaning, the purpose of the story is not clearly in focus until the final part of the movie. Also, the acting and characterizations in VANILLA SKY are merely serviceable. They are hurt by a lack of really good dialogue. The all-night talk between David and Sofia, for instance, seems trite and superficial. Furthermore, Julia’s character has few positive characteristics to make viewers care what happens to her, beyond the fact, of course, that David just seems to be using her for sex, which should make any woman appropriately indignant.
Ultimately, purely psychological self-help mechanisms, whether they come from the gibberish that passes for Scientology theology or the latest psychiatric gimmick, do not work unless you establish a personal relationship with God…not the ephemeral god of Eastern mysticism, Scientology or a New Age guru, but a personal relationship with the living God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, who tells us how and helps us to live our lives.
Because it relies on some moral, redemptive elements for its premise, VANILLA SKY is not completely offensive, nor is it an example of explicit Scientology propaganda. It does also include, however, some suicide themes, sexual immorality, nudity, some violence, and plenty of strong foul language. The confusion between reality, dream and fantasy in the movie also is not appropriate for teenagers, even older ones, and may disturb many adults.
(PaPa, H, B, C, LLL, VV, SS, NN, AA, D, M) Pagan worldview with humanist, moral, redemptive, & Christian elements; 53 mostly strong obscenities, 3 mild profanities such as, “My God,” & obscene gesture; brutal car crash but no blood or victims shown, man has terrible scars on his face from car crash, fighting, man shown smothering woman to death in bed, depicted suicide with pills, implied beating of a woman with a photo of cuts and bruises on her face, & man jumps off a tall building but no impact shown; implied & depicted fornication, plus many vulgar sexual lines used; upper male & female nudity; alcohol use & drunkenness; no smoking but painkillers used & man deliberately overdoses on drugs; and, miscellaneous immorality such as jealousy.
VANILLA SKY is based on a Spanish movie called ABRE LOS OJOS or OPEN YOUR EYES. Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a rich, young, publishing mogul who inherited his father’s successful business when his parents died in a car crash. Handsome, wealthy and charismatic, David meets the girl of his dreams, played by Penelope Cruz, but can’t let go of a blonde singer with whom he’s been fornicating, played by Cameron Diaz. Guilty about being so careless with other people’s feelings, David finds himself on a roller-coaster ride between dream and reality, past and present, fantasy and nightmare.
VANILLA SKY is a psychological thriller, a mystery and a work of science fiction. As such, its worldview seems to implicitly reflect the pagan worldview of Tom Cruise’s Scientology religion, where people work out their own demons by discovering the truth about themselves. The movie mitigates this by including some moral, redemptive and even Christian elements. VANILLA SKY suffers, however, from poor dialogue, superficial characters and uninspired acting. It also contains suicide themes, sexual immorality, nudity, some violence, and plenty of strong foul language that is not appropriate for teenagers and many adults.