Vanilla Sky Movie Review: Duality, Lucid Dreaming And More


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To the layman, Vanilla Sky may seem like your typical erotic science fiction movie that ponders the hallucinatory nature of reality. To the lucid dreamer or, oneironaut, the movie offers viewers with a lot more food for thought as well as a profound glimpse into the mysterious world of lucid dreaming and the illusion of duality.

“It shall be called “Bottom’s Dream” because it hath no bottom. –William Shakespeare: A Dream That Has No Bottom”

The movie starts off simply enough. The main character, David, (Tom Cruise) is presented to us as a “man who has it all” type: a womanizer with dashing good looks, a successful publishing business and a plush Manhattan apartment.

Here’s a quick movie trailer by the way, so you can get excited about this with us!

He is introduced to the beautiful Sofia (Penelope Cruz) at a party, they hit it off and fall in love. Sofia is just the girl that David has been looking for and his jaded attitude to love and women is turned upside down.

His infatuation with Sofia is soon discovered by his jealous ex-girlfriend Julie (Cameron Diaz) who then stages a car crash that ends up killing her and permanently scarring David’s face. At different stages throughout the movie, David is told conflicting things about the scars he has gotten from the car accident.

At one point he is told that he’ll have to wear a mask for the rest of his life and at another point he undergoes reconstructive surgery that magically transforms his appearance.

In this version of reality David is living contently. He is dating Sofia, the woman of his dreams, and his face has been restored even though he had been initially told that any chance of reconstructive surgery was impossible.

One day, on entering Sofia’s apartment, he is horrified to find Julie there instead of Sofia and he suffocates her and is eventually arrested by the police.

Clues that all is not what it seems is evidenced by the fact that David randomly catches flashes of himself with his formerly disfigured face as well as some strange encounters he has with a man at a bar who tells him that he can control the entire world (which is totally possible when you are in a lucid state).

Is Vanilla Sky “just a dream?”

Vanilla Sky starts off in a sequential fashion, however, it goes on to become surreal and disjointed, leaving the viewer confused about when events are actually taking place (if they are, indeed taking place at all) and what is really happening and who it’s happening to. Is Adam the dreamer or the dreamed? Is he asleep or awake? What is “real” and what is “just a dream”?

The widespread notion that dreams have no beginning and no end is as old as time itself and has been touched upon in every cultural and spiritual tradition the world over.

Life is “like a dream that has no bottom” as the saying goes and it is through the magical medium of lucid dreaming that we are given a chance to explore parallel realities and even determine their outcome. The movie’s open-ended finale echoes this theme as well.

Time Has No Beginning and No End

One could argue that Adam’s initial reality as a successful, womanizing hotshot represents his ability to control his dream to achieve the life he desires.

If time has no beginning and no end then who’s to say what stage of Adam’s “reality” precedes the other?

We get repeating themes throughout the film (such as the female voice that repeats the words “open your eyes”) that make it feel cyclical and repetitive at the same time as confusing, unpredictable and changeable.

Another recurring theme is the car sticker that reads 02/30/01 (i.e. February 30th), which is not a date that exists in the Gregorian calendar. Seasoned lucid dreamers will understand too well the fragmented and disjointed nature of David’s reality as well as its cyclical and repetitive nature.

The idea that reality is forever changing but repeats its cycle in an unchanging way has been expressed in every cultural and spiritual tradition the world over –from the Cosmic Serpent (Ouroboros) that eats its own tail only to give birth to itself again to the Wheel of Samsara (Karma) in the Hindu tradition.

Even the Moon, which, traditionally speaking, governs fate and fortune was known as the “Great Round” in ancient times (the circle theme again) and was linked to the unconscious and, by extension, to the feminine.

Lunar (un)consciousness/subconscious as opposed to solar consciousness was seen as a prison because it governs our animal natures, the subconscious and our irrational biological nature that resists all change and spiritual evolution.

In order for David to get out of the nightmarish deadlock that he is in he must take a leap of faith (both literally and metaphorically) by overcoming his fear of heights.

Understanding the Nature of Duality in Vanilla Sky

The interplay of dream (illusion)/waking reality, conscious/unconscious, birth/death, masculine/feminine, yin/yang) is fundamental to understanding Vanilla Sky and the world of lucid dreaming.

This is because the ultimate purpose of lucid dreaming is to transcend duality and experience “oneness.”

The cyclical and repetitive nature of reality is built into the very cycle of sleeping and waking: we go to sleep every night, we dream, we wake up, we go to work, repeat.

The circle or wheel is both an image of eternal damnation and salvation. To Medieval alchemists it was a symbol of the circular process of continual purification while to Buddhists and Hindus it represents the wheel of rebirth.

Facing our Fears

How do we move up on the evolutionary ladder? By overcoming our limitations and our past incarnations and attachments, of course.

How does it work?

These limitations/attachments are all stored in the subconscious and David can only achieve full lucidity by saying goodbye to his old life (former attachments) and by facing his biggest fears head on by jumping off a building into the unknown.

He must embrace his new life, while saying goodbye to that which holds him back. One of the defining moments in Vanilla Sky is when Adam gets into a car with his ex-girlfriend Julie. Julie’s status as his ex-girlfriend also shows us that she represents a former attachment that must be left behind.

Most of us have had dreams (lucid and non-lucid) where something or someone else is “running the show,” or, driving the car as the case may be. David is still being controlled by his so-called limitations –the limitations of his former realities.

The subconscious mind is our biggest hurdle in achieving lucidity in dreams.

David has only been able to achieve partial lucidity and is only able to control part of his dream, which is why everything turns out so badly. Lucid dreamers in general but newbie lucid dreamers in particular will resonate with this scenario.

To achieve consistent success when we start off lucid dreaming, we need to be able to eradicate our self-sabotaging tendencies (stored in our subconscious) so that we can go on to achieve the lucidity that we seek.

The reason that Adam’s lucid dream (if it is indeed a dream) goes so disastrously is because he has unresolved emotional conflicts that hinder his ability to achieve complete lucidity.

Dispelling the “Myth” of Linear Time

As lucid dreamers, we understand that the skin between the worlds is thin and things can change at the drop of a hat. Life is ambiguous and reality is not as cut and dry as we believe it to be.

No one knows this better than someone who has explored the world of lucid dreaming (and “altered” states of consciousness in general).

David is only partially lucid and that’s why things go disastrously, however, experiencing things in terms of masculine/feminine are binary and dualistic and they must, ultimately, be transcended. Click here to get a copy of this incredible film, or look at some other lucid dreaming movies!