Few films from the past several years have been as misunderstood as Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky. Marketed mainly as a mainstream Tom Cruise romantic drama, the film is in fact an existential treatise on the nature of reality. Remade (or ‘covered,’ as director Crowe would say) from the Spanish film Open Your Eyes, the film is a remarkable journey into pop culture, futurism, and sexual relationships.
The film represents another step in Tom Cruise’s late-90s renaissance, following Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut. No longer satisfied being simply a matinee idol, Cruise chose a series of films that challenged his star persona and established him as a bona fide actor. Vanilla Sky is aware of Tom Cruise as a megastar and the film plays with that concept, merging the themes of pop culture and identity. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise’s skills as an actor have recently been overshadowed by his eccentric personal life.
Viewed through a philosophical lens, Vanilla Sky also represents a deep and varied examination of the nature of reality. What exactly is real and what exactly is a dream? There are at least four wholly separate interpretations of the film’s narrative, each complex and fascinating. In the future, there is no doubt Vanilla Sky will become an important subject of philosophical discussion.
More than simply a complex ‘ideas’ film, Vanilla Sky also represents an interesting visual and aural creation. Crowe is at his best, crafting innovative compositional sequences and weaving an excellent selection of music, new and old, seamlessly into the narrative. The film works so well because of the music choices (supervised by former Heart vocalist Nancy Wilson, Crowe’s wife). There are many memorable sequences set to music, some disturbing, others uplifting.
In time, Vanilla Sky will be regarded as one of the most important films of 2001, a film both misunderstood and overlooked in its era.