Vanilla Sky is a 2001 American science fiction psychological thriller film directed, written, and co-produced by Cameron Crowe. It is an English-language adaptation of Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes, which was written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil, with Penélope Cruz reprising her role from the original film. The film has been described as "an odd mixture of science fiction, romance and reality warp". The film stars Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz, with Jason Lee and Kurt Russell in supporting roles. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, as well as Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Award nominations for Diaz's performance.
David Aames, the owner of a large publishing company he inherited from his father, is in prison. Wearing a prosthetic mask, David tells his life story to court psychologist Dr. Curtis McCabe.
In flashbacks, David leaves the duties of the publisher to his father's trusted associates while living as a playboy in Manhattan. He is introduced to Sofia Serrano by his best friend, Brian Shelby, during a party. David and Sofia spend the night together at Sofia's apartment and fall in love, unaware that David's current lover, Julie Gianni, has followed them there. As David leaves, Julie offers him a ride, and soon reveals her jealousy of Sofia. She purposely crashes the car, killing herself and drastically disfiguring David.
Doctors cannot completely repair David's face using plastic surgery, leaving it scarred and misshapen. David wears a prosthetic mask around others, but the mental and physical scarring from the accident causes him to become withdrawn and depressed. Brian convinces David to join him and Sofia at a club, but David ends up drunk and insults the two. They leave him to wallow in the street outside the club.
The next morning, Sofia returns to David, asleep on the street, and apologizes to him. She takes him home, and over time, helps David emotionally recover. Doctors find a way to surgically repair David's face despite their prior prognosis. While David's life seems perfect, he notices strange oddities, such as brief visions of his distorted face, and a man at a bar who tells David that he could control the world and everyone in it. One day, while at Sofia's, David wakes up to find himself facing Julie, with all the photos of Sofia's face replaced by Julie's. Out of confusion and shock, he suffocates Julie. David is arrested and imprisoned, and finds his face no longer reconstructed and he's once again wearing the mask.
Dr. McCabe conducts several more interviews, which serve to help David to recall the name "Life Extension". Seeing a company with that name nearby, McCabe arranges to take David there under guard. Rebecca, a company representative, explains how Life Extension uses cryonic suspension to save those with terminal illnesses until a cure can be found, keeping them in a lucid dream state to otherwise exercise their mind. David realizes that he is in his own lucid dream, which has become a nightmare. He escapes McCabe and the guards while calling for "tech support", and rushes for the building's lobby, which is suddenly empty. An elevator opens, revealing the strange man from the bar, who invites him in.
As the elevator climbs to the top of an impossibly tall building, the man explains to David he is tech support, and that David has been in suspension for 150 years, starting shortly after the night at the club where Sofia broke up with him. David opted for Life Extension to be woken when technology could repair his face, and left the publishing company in the hands of his father's associates. As part of the program, David had opted for a lucid dream based on the "vanilla sky" from a Claude Monet painting The Seine at Argenteuil, starting the morning after Sofia's breakup. However, the equipment had merged elements of his subconscious, such as Julie, or McCabe as his father figure, within his dream, forcing them to pull him out of the lucid dream state.
They emerge on the rooftop, high above the clouds. Tech support tells David that while they have fixed his lucid dream, he has a choice of either being put back into the dream, or to be woken up in reality, requiring a literal leap of faith off the roof that will wake him from his sleep. David opts to wake up, despite a vision of McCabe warning him against it. Before jumping, David envisions Brian and Sofia to say his goodbyes. David jumps and his life flashes before his eyes before hitting the ground. A female voice commands him to "open your eyes", and David opens his eyes.
Alternative Ending Version
The 2015 Blu-ray release offers the option to watch the film with an alternative ending. This ending expands on the details at the end of the film. While it all leads to the same conclusion, there are additional scenes, alternative takes, and alternative dialogue.
After Rebecca describes the lucid dream, David rushes out of the room but does not immediately dash towards the elevator. He meets McCabe in the restroom who tries to convince him that this is all a hoax and a con and that his case is going to trial. David tells him that he's only in his imagination. Much like in the theatrical cut, the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" plays, but this version makes it clear that David hears the music and that he chose it; meanwhile McCabe tries to convince him there is no music.
At this point, David dashes out of the restroom for the elevator the way he does in the theatrical cut, but the scene in the lobby is expanded: David shoots the police officer who is firing at him and is then surrounded by a SWAT team whom McCabe tries to talk down, but the SWAT team fires at both of them. They black out and wake up in the emptied lobby where McCabe continues to applaud what he believes is a performance while David gets into the elevator with Ventura, who tells him what happened at the end of his real life.
Once they reach the roof, McCabe re-enters again and his pleas to David not to believe Ventura become more and more desperate until he collapses onto the ground in despair. David's interaction with Sofia is extended as he tells her he loves her but "can't settle for a dream". He then jumps off the building, screaming "I want to wake up!" as images from his life flash before his eyes. He wakes up in bed and a voice tells him "Open your eyes. You're going to be fine."
- Tom Cruise as David Aames
- Penélope Cruz as Sofia Serrano
- Cameron Diaz as Julianna "Julie" Gianni
- Kurt Russell as Dr. Curtis McCabe
- Jason Lee as Brian Shelby
- Noah Taylor as Edmund Ventura/Tech Support
- Timothy Spall as Thomas Tipp
- Tilda Swinton as Rebecca Dearborn
- Michael Shannon as Aaron
- Ken Leung as Art Editor
- Shalom Harlow as Colleen
- Oona Hart as Lynette
- Ivana Miličević as Emma
- Johnny Galecki as Peter Brown
- Alicia Witt as Libby
- Laura Fraser as The Future
- Conan O'Brien as Himself
- Tommy Lee as Car Salesman
- Steven Spielberg as Guest at David's Party (Uncredited)
After the American debut of Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 Spanish film Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes) at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner optioned the remake rights. Hoping to entice director Cameron Crowe, who collaborated with Cruise on Jerry Maguire, Cruise invited Crowe over to his house to view the film. Cruise has stated:
The title of the film is a reference to depictions of skies in certain paintings by Claude Monet. In addition to Monet's impressionistic artwork, the film's tone was derived from the acoustic ballad "By Way of Sorrow" by Julie Miller and a line from an early interview of Elvis Presley in which he said, "I feel lonely, even in a crowded room."
Principal photography for Vanilla Sky began in late 2000 and lasted six weeks. On November 12, 2000, shooting for the scene of the deserted Times Square in New York took place in the early hours of the day. A large section of traffic was blocked off around Times Square while the scene was shot. "There was a limit on how long the city would let us lock everything up even on an early Sunday morning when much of NYC would be slow getting up," said Steadicam operator Larry McConkey. "Several times we rehearsed with Steadicam and Crane including a mockup of an unmovable guardrail that we had to work the crane arm around. [Cruise] participated in these rehearsals as well so we shared a clear understanding of what my limitations and requirements would be."
Filming lasted for six weeks around the New York City area, which included scenes in Central Park, the Upper West Side, SoHo, and Brooklyn. One prominent location in the area was the Condé Nast Building that served as Aames Publishing and David's office. After filming finished in New York, production moved to Los Angeles, where the remaining interior shots were completed at Paramount Studios. Crowe intentionally left in shots of the World Trade Center after the September 11 attacks as a tribute.
Despite the film's distorted aspects of reality, the style of cinematography remains grounded for much of the film. "I didn't do anything that was overtly obvious, because the story revolves around the main character not knowing whether he's in a state of reality, a dream or a nightmare, so we want it to feel a little ambiguous," said cinematographer John Toll. "We want the audience to make discoveries as [Cruise]'s character does, rather than ahead of him." American Cinematographer magazine wrote a feature story on the lighting designer Lee Rose's work on the film.
Aside from the opening sequence featuring Radiohead's song "Everything in its Right Place" and selected works by Icelandic group Sigur Rós, Vanilla Sky's score was by Crowe's then wife, Nancy Wilson, who also scored Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Wilson spent nine months on the film's music, which was done through experimentation of sound collages. "We were trying to balance out the heaviness of the story with sugary pop-culture music," she said. "We made sound collages of all kinds. We were channeling Brian Wilson to a large extent. I was recording things through hoses, around corners, playing guitars with cello bows, and with [music editor] Carl Kaller, we tried all kinds of wacky stuff. In the murder–sex scene sound collage, Cameron even used Brian Wilson's speaking voice from a Pet Sounds mix session."
According to Cameron Crowe's commentary, there are five different interpretations of the ending:
- "Tech support" is telling the truth: 150 years have passed since Aames killed himself and subsequent events form a lucid dream.
- The entire film is a dream, evidenced by a sticker on Aames' car that reads "2/30/01" (February 30 does not occur in the Gregorian calendar).
- The events following the crash form a dream that occurs while Aames is in a coma.
- The entire film is the plot of the book that Brian is writing.
- The entire film after the crash is a hallucination caused by the drugs that were administered during Aames' reconstructive surgery.
Crowe notes that the presence of "Vanilla Sky"—the morning reunion after the club scene—marks the first lucid dream scene, and that everything that follows is a dream.
Vanilla Sky opened at #1 at the box office in the United States when it was first presented on December 14, 2001. The opening weekend took in a gross income of $25,015,518 (24.9%). The final domestic gross income was $100.61 million while the international gross income was slightly higher at $102.76m for a total worldwide gross income of $203,388,341.