“Vanilla Sky” (2001) opens with aerial shots of Manhattan, or what it looks like if you’re flying in too low, ready to crash into a building. Thus, begins the dream… and what is a movie if not a dream? Sometimes, dreams predict things. The camera zooms down toward “The Dakota” – that notorious apartment building we all know from “Rosemary’s Baby” and from where John Lennon was murdered.
“Vanilla Sky” was filmed in 2000 and then released on Dec. 14th, 2001. I’m surprised it wasn’t cut – reedited – as some other pre-9/11 films were. (e.g. “Men in Black 2”, “Spiderman”, and “Collateral Damage”.) There are more 9/11 references , which I’ll get to later.
PLOT. David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a rich playboy who has everything. David and his best friend/employee Brian (Jason Lee) are nearly killed in a car accident toward the beginning. Brian remarks, “You know what? Your life flashed before my eyes.” This warning is laughed off.
David’s quandary: He controls a media conglomerate (left to him by his father), but he’s not taken seriously by “the board”, who want to take it away from him.
More seriously: He is involved with Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) whom Brian refers to as his “fuck buddy”. When Sophia (Penelope Cruz) enters the picture, Julie knows she’s about to lose him.
When David meets Sophia (originally Brian’s girl), they become soulmates in one evening. Just when our hero thinks he’s found his dream girl, Julie returns, luring him into her car, possibly for a sexual rendezvous. While driving, she begins to unravel, revealing that she knows she’s his “fuck buddy” and asks “When did you stop caring?” Ms. Psycho Girlfriend asks “Do you believe in God?”, then rams her car through a railing, crashing into a concrete wall.
David survives, but is left disfigured, his side partially paralyzed with excruciating headaches. After some time of being alone and depressed, he attempts to resume his relationship with Sophia. On their reunion date, she brings along Brian. Things do not go well from there. Drinking tequila shots, David sees Sophia dancing and also sees that she has moved on.
In a short, but very funny scene, David stares at his face in the men’s room mirror. Three guys pass by and one tells him, “Dude, fix your fucking face!” (Even Tom Cruise laughs.)
David finds Sophia (speaking with another man) and basically wants her to tell him where they stand. She doesn’t want to say, then finally she blurts out: “I’ll tell you in another life, when we’re cats.”
Going home, she ditches him for Brian and our former hero is left passed out drunk on the sidewalk.
“Vanilla Sky” shifts into many gears after this, but like I promised , I’ll get to the other 9/11 references.
[WARNING – SPOILER ALERT.]
At the conclusion, David (whom we do not know if he’s dead, alive or dreaming), is forced to confront his greatest fear: heights. His dream guide takes him up an elevator into one of the tallest skyscrapers in New York City. His guide explains that he’s in the future now, “much has changed and your money will not last long.” On top of the building, he meets with his psychiatrist, Brian and Sophia. He is faced with a decision: stay in his “Lucid Dream” or wake up by jumping off the building. Speaking with the only woman he ever loved, he asks Sophia if she remembers telling him – “Every passing minute is a chance to turn it all around.”
David makes the decision to jump. End the dream.
As he is falling, one cannot help but be reminded of the 9/11 jumpers. This is the subliminal message. America was woken out of its dream – its vision of invulnerability. So how did the filmmakers know this beforehand?
In the last shot, we see one eye opening.