Monday, April 22, 2002

The Nightmare of Sleeping with Cameron Diaz

"If the world really looks like that I will paint no more!"
- Claude Monet, flinging away a pair of glasses for which he had been fitted to correct a severe astigmatism.

I had a friend who didn't know much about art but knew enough to know she liked Monet's paintings. I had another friend who believed some movies were more real than reality and thus would be wiped out and would go off the deep end for awhile if he saw one that he related to too closely and let seep in too deeply. I had another friend who chose not to write his novel in the first, second, or third person but rather in the fifth person. Thus every sentence began, "I had a friend who had a friend, who had a friend who heard from a friend that..."

I could relate to all three of them I guess. I guess in the end that's why we have friends. Friends relate. I'm not sure where any of these once significant and near souls are today but I do know all of them would have liked the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky. Indeed after seeing the movie last week I wistfully felt like I had been with my friends once again. It's a challenging movie that asks some serious questions about the nature of our dreams, our realities and how art interacts and intercedes with our perceptions of both.

The movie starts off fairly conventionally with Cruise awakening from a snooze (his alarm clock coos, "open your eyes" which coincidentally is the name of the Spanish movie that Vanilla Sky is a remake of) and lumbers over to his vanity mirror to marvel at his own good looks. But things veer off when we soon learn through a visually eye popping and amazing (when you think about it) scene that things aren't exactly as they seem to appear. And that sets the fluid tone for the rest of the film.

Like a certain person I knew (or thought I did) Cruise's character, David Aames, gets involved way over his head with an insane woman (Cameron Diaz) who falls into a category slightly lower than a proximity infatuation, and who drives them over the brink of disaster. David ends up either blamed for things he did or did not do or at the very least ends up blaming himself for things he had a hand in but had no control over (though he selfishly thought he did until it was too late). They lock him up to diagnose things apparently too to find a cure but a question arises about whether the cure is worse than the disease.

Just before a disfigured David loses himself behind a mask (or because he loses himself behind a mask) he meets the last guileless woman in New York City (Penelope Cruz). She's the type of woman who has the inner stuff to make him feel more true to himself than he's ever felt and better yet inspires him to feel that is a good thing. She's also the type of woman you probably would never meet in the real world (if one actually exists), although I swear I did a few years back. She's a keen observer making David smile at a party with a remark about another woman, "She's the saddest looking woman to ever hold a martini..." Also frustrating him after the accident with a cryptic but equally endearing comment after he inquires what is bothering her, "I'll tell you in another life when we are both cats." Their actual relationship is all too brief but changes him and lingers inside in ways he never thought possible.

At one point David reveals to the psychologist (Kurt Russell) trying to analyze his shattered state of mind that his dreams are like jokes that taunt him to the point where he doesn't want to sleep anymore. Unfortunately what he soon learns is that what is actually in front of him (again, in this so called real world that in this case is just a movie) is much more difficult to face then the haunting images that flow over and through him.

Vanilla Sky isn't a flawless movie. The end tries too hard to explain the rest of the movie which in the world it creates defies a coherent explanation. This is Cruise's best performance however, as he plays off his own image in such a scathing manner that it adds to the eeriness of the storyline. Diaz too creates a character both psychotic and irresistible. When I first heard Paul McCartney's theme song performed at the Oscars, I thought it was McCartney at his worst- meandering and trying to be clever. But as I sat in the dark after the movie was finished and the credits were rolling by, Paul's song perfectly captured the mood of the film: sweet as it is sour. Scarred soulless like a John Coltrane hologram, superficially penetrating, restrictive to an increasingly silent and solitary world. An unequivocal plea to abre los ojos.

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