SPOILER ALERT: I talk about the movie a lot, if you haven’t seen it, don’t read this. It’s on Netflix, go watch it.
I was 18 when I first watched Vanilla Sky. It had the distinction of being the first movie I ever watched living on my own.
I remember hating it with a passion, particularly the end sequences when we’re treated to Aames, played by Tom Cruise, yelling for tech support. I thought was silly. It became a running joke with my friends to yell for tech support whenever we ran into a problem.
It wasn’t until tonight, with my girlfriend out of town and Netflix’s recent film update did I decide to give it another chance.
I can only blame my youth, as my original analysis of the film was purely superficial. Cruz or Diaz? That mask looks stupid. Why is he so unhappy? He’s rich!
But now give a guy some heartaches and roadbumps and 11 years, the film is the same but I am a much different person.
Director Cameron Crowe gave five possible explanations for the ending of the film.
I like to go with the most basic. That is, that the ending is true, and that it is 150 years into the future and Aames has been frozen.
(EDIT: Click here to read my review of my review in which I decide it was actually all a dream)
I felt truly heartbroken for Aames, I really did. Wash away the playboy persona of Aames and sci-fi loops Cameron Crowe makes you jump through, and you have a person dealing with defining happiness. A reoccurring question that Aames is literally asked by characters at pivotal moments in the life he assumes he is living.
He struggles with the scars that are left from leading a life that’s less than admirable, so he hides behind a mask. The world he knew is crumbling down.
And yet, when he finally opens his eyes and “lives life” again with Sofia, everything begins to sort out. Miraculously the doctors can fix his face. He is happy, albeit until his dream begins to glitch.
Watching these sequences I realized that he actually didn’t get his face fixed. His internal re-framing of happiness and vanity were the real doctors. The surgery was merely his mind creating a scenario to explain how he sees himself. And as his mind starts to unravel the happy life that the lucid dreaming created, he begins to wear the mask again, with his scars appearing and disappearing beyond his control.
Aames faces a constant struggle with what it means to be happy and the guilt of the past. Tech Support tells him his mind created idealized relationships from pop culture. A Bob Dylan album cover here. An Atticus Finch like father figure there.
The older Peter now really understands Vanilla Sky. The song lyric we hear. The happy movie love story. Those things can haunt us. The yearning for an ideal is painful, especially if we believe that we were so close to getting it like Aames was with Sofia. We create masks, barriers and facades, that we think will help us but only shut us off.
And like Aames, we must face our fears, take a leap to wake up and “live a real life”.
Open your eyes.
What’s happiness to you?