My 2006 Vanilla Sky Analysis

Assumptions

A couple ground rules or presumptions that I have established:

1) The director, Cameron Crowe, either didn’t himself know what to make of his own movie or he failed to show “his” true “meaning”. I figure this based on this trivia bit from IMDB:

According to Cameron Crowe’s commentary, there are 4 different interpretations of the ending.

* #1 is that tech support is telling the truth, that 150 years have passed since David Aames killed himself, and that everything after his passing out on the sidewalk was a dream.

* #2 is the entire movie was a dream, as evidenced by the sticker on David’s car that reads ‘2/30/01′.

* #3 is the idea that the movie takes place with David’s Coma.

* #4 is Cameron Crowe’s own idea, that it is the novel that Brian was working on.

How in the heck do you make a movie and not even know what you are shooting means? Anyway, I’ll let this slide since as a viewer I’m free to interpret the movie as I see fit.

2) The “Lucid Dream” was exactly that. He was cryogenically frozen. All of the events that happened after the splice did not happen in physical “reality”. The importance, however, is that they did happen, just in David’s head. This is why this movie is not Usual Suspects; none of those things happened in any way and were completely fictitious. Vanilla Sky still has an element of reality.

Characters

Vanilla Sky is great because you get to see characters from two points of views: as they are in real life and as they “should be” according to David’s mind. For the most part, these viewpoints don’t agree with each other. You have to pause and take this into consideration when you analyze the events of the film.

Sofia:

Sofia In reality, we don’t really get to know this character. In fact, a popular criticism of the movie is that it’s never really explained why David is suddenly attracted to her. I don’t think that’s a fault. He simply has a crush on her and as the nature of crushes tend to be, his crush makes him deeply infatuated with her. Regardless, from what we witnessed “pre-splice”, she’s basically a bubbly, fun-seeking woman. That’s it. She says she believes good things happen to good people with good attitudes, but that doesn’t make her good. I don’t recall any mention of her visiting David when he was in a coma. In fact, it seems she made a point to distance herself after the wreck. She’s clearly startled when David meets her at her studio unannounced; she wants little to do with this crippled David Aames. I don’t think this makes her a bad person by default; in the very least it’s a little messed up that the guy you just spent all night talking to was seriously injured in an attempted murder just minutes after he left your apartment. It’ll mess your head up a bit, sure. Regardless, after that night she moved on completely. The club outing night was so awful for David because he went from being somewhat optimistic to being destroyed when he figured this out.

“Are you okay?”

“No.”

“Why? What’s wrong? Is it me?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

“Something’s wrong, tell me now. Talk about it. Get it all out.”

“I’ll tell you in another life, when we are both cats.”

Legendary playboy David Aames being completely shut down. Granted, he was being obnoxious, but at this point he’s at his most vulnerable state and he is not getting help from anyone. He went from being a good time to being a burden. He could have used a little help, but Sofia was not there for him. When the party stops, the guests leave.

The last line of that bit of dialogue is important. It’s nonsensical gibberish that is simply another way of saying “…this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” In short, it’s when David realizes Sofia’s done being nice. It will come up later and will be equally important.

Sofia visits David’s wake, or at least tries to. You would too if that obnoxious guy you shut down killed himself after you cut off all communication with him. She’s probably remorseful. Like I said, I don’t think she’s a bad character but we have little evidence to show us she’s good. The point is, we only know the real Sofia superficially.

David fills in the blanks in his Lucid Dream. Suddenly she’s compassionate, caring, loving, and totally into David. Most of all, she’s supportive. Previously, she had not shown David any support. In his dream, she picks him up when he needs it the most. In reality, no one did and he spiraled even deeper. I think the film refers to her as his “savior”. Ultimately, however, in his Lucid Dream she just becomes his object of pleasure. Having a girl like Sofia love him and take care of him makes David happy. His subconsciouses makes it so.

David

David is rich, powerful, and handsome. He knows this: he’s also arrogant, vain, cocky, etc. He’s insecure; he knows his hold of his company is threatened. He doesn’t care so much for business, but he wants very much to be in control of what is his. He wants order; he wants things in the right place. An amusing irony is that he walks around like he owns the world.

He’s not really a jerk, though. David is friendly and outgoing. He shows warmth and compassion, both which are probably artificial–but he’s trying. He seems to be generally nice, though sometimes it’s so fake and forced that it seems a bit cloying. Regardless, he’s good to his friend, Brian. One can imagine Brian going to David for funding and David handing Brian a blank check.

I would argue that David is aware of his personality, he just does nothing to change it. He’s having casual sex with a supermodel so something must be working. He briefly pauses and flashes some guilt when discussing with Brian his relationship with Julie; “Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t treat her like that”, he ponders. It’s this awareness that ruins his Lucid Dream. He can’t “sell” to himself the idea of deserving all the good things that have suddenly happened to him. Deep down, he knows he’s probably a little bit responsible for Julia.

A main flaw in David’s character is that he doesn’t know how to weigh his actions, or simply chooses not to. When you use a girl for casual sex and then move on, it might hurt her feelings. When you snatch your best friend’s crush for the night after he tells you she might be “the one”, your best friend might get upset. Combine the two, and bad things are going to happen. Yet, David floats from day to day as if the world is his playground.

His lucid dream resurrects this image of himself. However, his subconscious is in charge now. Things go awry when the guilt he had been repressing starts taking form.

Did he learn his lesson? In the end he still thinks his biggest mistake was getting in “that car”. It probably had more to do with the way he had been treating Julie, but I suppose “getting into that car” encapsulates this notion. Sofia may have been the greatest thing to happen to his life, but consequences got in the way…”the little things”. He accepts this.

Sofía: I’ll find you again.

David: I’ll see you in another life… when we are both cats.

David realizing thingsIn other words, “no.. you won’t”. He has realized the absurdity of anything “real” with Sofia (”I’m frozen and you’re dead.. and I love you”). With his fascination towards Sofia consummated, he starts his life anew with perhaps a better understanding that you can’t make toys out of people.

Julia

Julia loves David. She’s a high profile supermodel, but all she wants is David to love her back. He doesn’t, and he never will. She will let herself be used so long as there’s a chance it will lead to his love. It won’t. She has placed so much devotion into the idea that David will love her than she loses it when she realizes how David thinks of her. A casual sex partner, nothing more.

(It’s never fully established that Brian set her off, but I’m going on the assumption that he did. I’ll explain this assumption later.) Brian tells Julie she’s David’s “fuck buddy”. The term is, obviously, a little rough and informal. Moreover, the label implies something very explicitly: they are not in a relationship, they just have sex. This devastates Julia. She wants this casual sex to “mean something”; it doesn’t.

I would argue that Julia is a victim. David feels remorse later on. That’s not to say that going crazy and trying to kill yourself and someone else by driving a car into a wall is the solution. It’s notable, however, that David too chooses suicide as a solution to rejection.

Brian

Infuriated that David has once again taken his girl–after flat out explaining the importance of this one–Brian slips up and tells Julia exactly what she didn’t want to hear. I would imagine their conversation went like this (you have to slur the speech a little bit):

Julia: Brian! Hey, have you seen David?

Brian: Yeah, he’s up with some other girl in his penthouse.

Julia: Oh…

Brian: You know, he calls you his fuck buddy.. what’s that about?

The look on Brian’s face when David flatly asked Brian about this conversation establishes his guilt. I don’t believe Brian was aware of how this might affect Julia, but he had to get his shots in. That guy just took his girl, again. Brian is jealous of David, but remains his friend anyway. It’s unlikely Brian respects David, but David is a fun enough guy to hang around with and David essentially subsidizes his life. He too probably felt guilty after David’s suicide, though I wouldn’t use his funeral service as evidence of being a “true friend”. When David tries to open up to him after the club, Brian shoots him down with “You’re drunk”, a line nobody wants to hear when vulnerable. Granted, David was being a jackass and taunting Brian, but at some point someone needs to cut the man a break. It makes me wonder if Brian was secretly happy that David got what was coming to him.

Brian harps on about the necessity sour and the sweet, but he secretly despises David since David seemingly only knows the sweet. “Why does he get off like that?”, Brian wonders. Like Sofia, we don’t really get to know Brian too much. He’s essentially David’s Tonto, bumbling about while giving David someone to talk to. In David’s Lucid Dream, Brian is resurrected as this self-deprecating Tonto. Having a worshiping Brian around makes David happy, perhaps giving him a false sense of accomplishment. “If someone out there wants to be like me”, David asserts to himself, “then I must be doing something right.” David fails to realize the difference between jealously and envy; the real Brian is jealous, the Lucid Dream Brian is envious.

Conclusion

No one is free from consequence. Even those who act as if they are free from consequence will face ramifications in the end. Are things more “sweet” when you’ve tasted “sour”? Maybe, maybe not, but expect to taste both in life.

5 thoughts on “My 2006 Vanilla Sky Analysis

  1. David………I like your life
    Sofia………Well, it’s mine and you can’t have it!
    This sums up the whole movie.

    Brian ………”Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, and I know the sour.”
    He insinuates that David has never known the sour but Brian (along with everyone else) overlooks the fact that David lost his parents when he was eleven years of age. And that is why he ‘likes Sofia’s life as portrayed in the pictures at her apartment. It shows family which is what he misses. When he shows her the Monet that was his mother’s , it reveals a little of his longing for his mother. Later, in the elevator scene, tech support reminds him of the Monet like skies and he tenderly remember’s that it was his ‘mother’s favorite’. Ultimately, David wanted to be loved for who he was, not for his money and it ‘seemed’ that Sofia might be the one.(maybe Sofia reminded him of his mother?) She wasn’t impressed by money. In fact, her dog’s name, Pablo, means ‘humble or small’ in Spanish. David makes a comment about the ‘little things’ in the elevator. “The little things… there’s nothing bigger, is there?”
    I see this as a story of a boy who lost his parents and he desperately misses his mother and is hoping that there is some one to take her place in his life. He sees that there is no one and thus, the lucid dream and vanilla sky (my mother’s favorite). In the end, he sees that Sofia didn’t have any feelings for him the way he thought he did for her. “I’ll see you in another life… when we are both cats.”

  2. Good stuff. Probably the only legit counter-analysis I’ve ever read. Then again, I don’t visit the IMDB boards because they give cancer to my brain.

  3. I wrote a couple posts last night and this morning reviewing the movie after watching it again for the first time in 11 years.

    I came to the conclusion that the story is about a person redefining happiness, and also that the entire movie is a dream.

    If you’re interested in reading my analysis, you can check them out here.

    http://peternyc.tumblr.com/post/30918974785/in-which-i-watch-vanilla-sky-again-after-11-years

    http://peternyc.tumblr.com/post/30934583946/in-which-i-re-examine-my-review-of-vanilla-sky-from-last

  4. Thanks for visiting. I like your ideas. I guess my only criticism that it was all a dream–despite the fact that you got Sofia in his dream pre-Sofia and the 2/30/11 date–is that I would really hate that to be true because, as you said, it’s a pretty lame cop-out and kind of calls into question what is factual in the movie. It’s like debating the merits of an event that didn’t happen.

  5. I recently re-watched this film for the first time in a long time too, and the story and sequence of events became quite clear to me this time around:

    David has everything: all the money in the world, good looks, charm, any girl he wants. But that still isn’t enough, and he takes the girl that his best friend, Brian, had just met and is really into, Sofia.

    Everyone in David’s life is in one way or another employed by him through the company that his father had left him, including his best fringed Brian. So, David becomes accustom to treating everyone in his life as an employee, even though he never earned that position. David has no real friends, and never learned what it means to be a friend. He is the boss to everyone in his life, and anything that he wants is his, and no one is going to tell him he cant have it.

    He treated his “fuck buddy,” Julie, this way. She was clearly madly in love with him, but he refused to acknowledge it, and would only use her the same way he used everyone else in his life. He got away with treating people like this his whole life.

    After the night that he meets Sofia, David appears to falls in love with her, and for the first time in his life feels humility. But this is too little too late, because the next morning, Julia breaks down after seeing David spending the night with Sophia, and wrecks her car with David in it, killing herself and mangling David’s face.

    After facial reconstructive surgery, David the vain person that he is, realizes that he cannot continue to live with his altered physical appearance. In addition, when Sophia does not respond to him the same way as she did prior to the accident, David elects to preserve his body at a cryogenics lab until a time in the future when medical technology advances enough to restore his face the way that it was before the accident. (It appears as if David does not consider that Sophia will not be there when he is brought back to life sometime in the future; this is because he really does not care about her.)

    From early on in the film, scenes weave back and forth from prior to and post David cryo preserving himself. The post cryo scenes are confusing to the viewer, as it does not become apparent as to what they really mean until later on in the film. The post cryo scenes are a dreamlike state that begin the moment after David commits himself to the cryo lab. This dreamlike state is called “Lucid Dream,” and is a new technology offered by the cryo lab that allows the patient to live in a dreamlike state that is programmed to their specifications and lasts the duration of the time they are preserved. David’s specifications are the life he was living prior to the accident, in a happy relationship with Sophia.

    The lucid dream starts out for David as planned, but in an unexpected turn for the worse, the Lucid Dream turns into a Lucid Nightmare, as David begins to treat Sophia the same way he treated Julie, and all of the other women he ever had in his life. Hating himself for this, he kills Sophia by suffocating her with a pillow while in bed. (In this scene, Sophia is represented as Julie, Julie being a general representation for all women in his life. By killing Sophia, David is subconsciously killing a part of himself that he hates. Sophia is not special to him, just like Julia was not special to him, no women will ever be special to him because he lacks humility.) Thus this “Lucid Nightmare” is in fact still his “Lucid Dream,” in that they both represent his real life, as he requested at the cyro lab. Throughout the dream-state, David begins to see himself as others see him, and begins to realize the ugly person he really is (even with a beautiful face).

    At the end of the film, David kills himself in his dreamlike state by jumping off of a skyscraper, in turn reintroducing himself to his real life, as he is now ready face life knowing that he needs to change the ugliness on his inside, not the outside.

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