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Repost: Vanilla Sky Critique

Jobie and I rewatched Vanilla Sky tonight. I haven’t watched this movie for well over a year. There was a time back in 2003 when I was obsessed with the movie and watched it over and over again. During that time I posted a few things to my old blog “Out of Control.” Here are some postings from August 27, 2003: “My day of Vanilla Sky Madness!”

How I first watched the movie:

last night i re-watched the movie vanilla sky. i hadn’t watched it for quite a while, and it was nice to remember how much i love that movie. so for the remainder of the day, i will be obsessing about it. writing reviews of scenes, thoughts i’ve had after the fact, thinking about the music, trying to find academic papers on it, researching various theories about what happens. it will be fun times.

to kick off the day, i have two tidbits to offer:

first, how i got the movie… my mom had actually bought it because she loves almost famous (also directed by cameron crowe). i believe we were at sam’s club when she got it. anyway, that afternoon i was cooking something for dinner (this was last summer when i went home for a week) or making a cheesecake or something and i asked her if i could watch the movie even though she hadn’t opened it. she said sure. then i borrowed my sister’s new laptop (which had a dvd player) so i could watch it while i was cooking. i loved the movie so much that i convinced my mom that we should trade dvds, since i was going to sell her blue velvet anyway since i got the special edition. so she said yes and the movie was mine…. i’m not sure if she ever did buy a replacement or watch it. sad.

the other piece of information i wanted to share is that one of the songs toward the end (i cannot remember exactly what scene it’s from) which isn’t on the soundtrack is called “ladies and gentleman we are floating in space” by the band spiritualized. the most memorable lyrics (for me) are when they sing, “i could still fall in love with you/i will love you till i die, and i will love you all the time.” it’s just a really soft and relaxing song.

so there is a start for today’s vanilla sky madness.

Roger Ebert’s review and my thoughts on that:

checkout roger ebert’s review of vanilla sky. even though i’m not a huge ebert fan (mostly due to his trashing of david lynch pre-mulholland drive), this review is decent, and he even suggests that the entire movie is fabricated in david’s head. i think most audiences will be happy with “technical support’s” explanation that the splice happened after the night at the club before the movie turns overtly surreal. but ebert seems to think (and i agree) that even at the begining of the movie, david is dead and everything is part of his lucid dream. i think that’s a pretty gutsy suggestion for a mainstream movie reviewer to make, so i complement ebert on that. sometimes i think he’s just a stupid movie reviewer, but then i realize he’s actually pretty academic about stuff (for example, once a year he does this scene-by-scene disection of a movie with a bunch of film students. in the past they’ve done movies like pulp fiction and even mulholland drive).

also, ebert’s article reminded me that at least three somewhat successful movies (vanilla sky — obviously, mulholland drive, and memento) all came out around the same time and, as ebert describes it, “Requires the audience to do some heavy lifting. It has one of those plots that doubles back on itself like an Escher staircase. You get along splendidly one step at a time, but when you get to the top floor you find yourself on the bottom landing.”

interesting, no, that all of these movies do a complete 180degrees at the end and once you watch them the second time it’s an extremely different experience. more so than other movies, i think. i wonder what it was that was going on in american culture that spurred these three stories to simultaneously develop…

My “big deep analysis” of it:

so two ideas that have been rolling around in my head that were re-emphasized by watching vanilla sky is that the movie could be read as a critique of psychology and psychoanalysis in particular in addition to a a critique of film genre.

first, the psychology. most of the story is told in the context of a psychoanalytic discussion between david and his psychiatrist (dr. curtis mccabe). as foucault has taught us, confession is a privileged way of acquiring “truth” in western society, so because david is “confessing” to a “doctor” the audience is lead to believe that everything he says and understands is true — well, we know this is obviously very wrong, thus questioning the value of confession by “deranged” (which is mccabe’s diagnosis of david) people.

in addition, however, mccabe makes numerous comments (mostly early in the film) about how he’s not a “shrink” and “not all psychiatrists believe in studying dreams.” yet despite these claims, he does ask david about his dreams and toward the end of the movie suggests that david cannot tell the difference between dreams and reality. hmm, seems our “psychiatrist” is confused.

so i guess for those reasons it seems to be saying, “hmm, psychology is fucked because it buys into the confession of deranged people and it claims to be about more than dreams yet it’s still hung-up on them… and even when everything is a dream the psychiatrist is the one who argues otherwise, spouting conspiracy theories.” so a critique of psychology? i think so.

also, the movie seems to critique the genre-ization of film. until the end of the movie, vanilla sky comes off as a psychological thriller. the first time we watch the film, our theories as to what is happening are constructed within the context of the thriller genre: are the seven dwarves involved in a conspiracy? is julie somehow a body double/doppelganger of sophia? is david deranged enough to murder his girlfriend?

but then at the end of the movie it turns into this sci-fi movie about cryogenics (body freezing). this forces us to completely understand the movie in a different way. we ask: could this really happen? is he dead or alive? is this a dream or reality? (obviously some questions between the sci-fi elements and the thriller elements overlap).

then, and this is my favorite part, at the very end the movie is framed as “the ultimate love story.” first, david learns that sophia visited his wake and that she (something along the lines of) “also remembered what it was like to fall in love in an evening” and we find out that david’s “splice” occured at a moment so that in his lucid dream (assuming that the “technical support” explanation is true) he could live happily with sophia (until his dream turns into a nightmare). also, it is the impossiblity of their being able to live as lovers (“i’m frozen and you’ve been dead a hundred years”) that causes david to chose life rather than his lucid dream at the end — in hopes that he can hookup with sophia again “when we’re both cats.” love, it seems, is the ultimate drive of david’s lucid dream and thus the whole movie (or at least half of it).

so there ‘ya have it. vanilla sky as a critique of psychology and film genre.