4. “Vanilla Sky”
In this American reworking of the 1997 Alejandro Amenábar film “Abre Los Ojos”, David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a highly successful New York publicist whom, after a vicious car crash leaving his partner (Cameron Diaz) dead and him disfigured, struggles to cope under interrogation as his memory fades and his psyche unfurls.
The Dream Angle
Home to a plethora of wonderful, deliberately subtle inconsistencies, if “The Good Night” was the introduction to lucid dreaming, then “Vanilla Sky” is the initiation ceremony. From the outset, the incongruous tone of the winding narrative is set. Aames (Cruise) wakes up, saunters around his lush bachelor pad as he gets ready for work and leaves as usual – only as he enters Times Square it’s completely empty. The billboards play on but the world is totally devoid of life save Aames, a fitting visual metaphor that succinctly details the emotional rollercoaster the film plunges him into. He wakes up again, this time for real. A perfect illustration of a ‘false awakening’, a rather self-explanatory term for an instance in which a dreamer is tricked into finding themselves wake up and going about their daily routine before they wake up for real – it is the bane of the existence of many practicing conscious dreamers, particularly those who try to actively enter a dream from being awake (Wake Induced Lucid Dream), as often it causes them to feel they have failed when in reality they are sound asleep.
The film plays out in a linear fashion until a car accident fuelled by the rage of Aames’ on-and-off girlfriend Julie Gianni (Diaz), who after discovering Aames has fallen in love with friend Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz), deliberately drives off of a bridge. From that point onwards, the film adopts a precise and calculated timeline, weaving in and out of interpretations of dreams and hallucinations whilst intertwining with a perceived reality – which ultimately conspires to be one plain of existence short of what we understand as real life.
The idea of conscious dreaming isn’t directly tackled in an obvious way on a first time viewing (that is, until the ending is taken into consideration of course), however the elements of the universal dream world [things that everyone experiences] are meticulously scattered throughout the film, for example: The re-occurrences of a Monet painting, people trading places and sudden clarity triggered by an event such as the dialogue in this case, are all classic ‘dream signs’ – a circumstance practitioners train themselves to look for in the dream state to signify they are dreaming and pull the proverbial subconscious wool from over their eyes. Another beautiful detail is the incorporation of external stimuli in the framing such as a recreation of the Monet vanilla sky in some scenes and the recreation of the album cover for “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” with Cruise and Cruz replacing Dylan and Suze Rotolo respectively. Perhaps the biggest example of the seamless drifting between dream and reality states in this film, is a scene in a bar reminiscent of that in “Inception”, where Aames is confronted by Noah Taylor who frankly explains to Cruise that he is the reason the people around him exist and that Aames is “their god”. Cruise dismisses this to find the entire bar deadly silent and staring at him – a brilliant demonstration of how quickly a dream can turn and become unstable once lucidity is achieved.
For those who are interested in the psychological aspects to lucid dreaming. With fairly accurate depictions of how blurred the lines between reality and dreaming can become when practicing as an oneironaut (conscious dreamer) ‘Vanilla Sky’ is certainly one to make you think, and a message can certainly be gleaned from it – that it is important to be wary of how these skills are used. A desire to be able to control dreams stems from wanting to understand and experience that which is difficult or unattainable in waking life – but being able to exert such power has the ability to change the way one thinks about reality and while it isn’t dangerous, it can lead to frustration. As a film, it is an entertaining, thought-provoking story and with a cracking soundtrack to boot, it is one worth seeking out.
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