We’ve put our movie critic glasses on and take a look at a film that questions how art and human existence collide. Yes, it’s not to everyone’s taste but 2001 Oscar nominated, Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz, is well worth a watch-based breakdown.
The film’s name comes from a Claude Monet painting, The Seine at Argenteuil (1873), in which the open sky appears to sweep across the scene in glorious manner. Similarly dramatic skyscapes can frequently be spotted in the background of the film, especially at the climactic moments at the end. Plus, The Seine at Argenteuil can actually be seen hanging on the wall in David Aames’ (Tom Cruise) apartment. The painterly sky gives the film a surreal atmosphere.
But that’s not all that’s surreal about it. The plot is equally trippy. And yes, spoilers ahead. David Aames is a normal man who inherits his father’s publishing company. However, uninterested in running the company he instead pursues matters of the heart with Sofia (Penelope Cruz). Subsequently, a run in with his jealous ex, Julie (Cameron Diaz) results in a car crash that kills Julie and disfigures David irreparably.
At this point David wears a blank prosthetic mask to hide his scarring, looking like a slightly less creepy Michael Myers. This brings into question how human physical appearance can affect our mental state. David is driven to depression and collapses, drunk in the street. Following this he is afflicted by visions and confusing events that lead him to acts of violence, landing him in jail.
Seriously now, major spoilers ahead. It ultimately transpires that ever since he collapsed on the street he has been jailed in a lucid dream state brought about by a company called Life Extension. They keep people with terminal conditions alive until a cure can be found, and David opted into the scheme so that one day his disfigurement can eventually be repaired. It transpires he’s been lucid dreaming for 150 years, trapped in his own nightmares.
There are plenty of hints littered throughout the film that this is what’s happening, but our favourite is the wristwatch worn by David: an IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XV, an automatic watch with the classically reserved and legible design of an aviation timepiece. IWC and Tom Cruise are famously linked through their respective Top Gun connections, but looking beyond that, it’s a surprisingly poignant choice of wristwear for David Aames.
In the 1998/1999 IWC catalogue, released a few years prior to Vanilla Sky in 2001, the watchmaker’s slogan reads, ‘Watches From IWC. Works of art that outlive their time.’ While it might just be a tin hat conspiracy theory, there’s no way that that’s a coincidence. IWC’s slogan perfectly encapsulates the themes of Vanilla Sky, where art, existence and the ability to outlive your own time through Life Extension are core elements.