Vanilla Sky Secrets

Vanilla Sky is a film that strives off of playing with your mind.  Throughout the journey this film takes you on, there are many clues and references left along the way to either further explain the film or just give it more depth.  I have compiled is a list of theories, clues or hidden messages throughout the film by readers of the site.  Some of them are obvious, others aren’t and many are a bit of a stretch.

Crowe says it best in the Vanilla Sky production notes: “We constructed the movie, visually and story-wise, to reveal more and more the closer you look at it. As deep as you want to go with it, my desire was for the movie to meet you there.”

Crowe also referred to the “clues” as his version of the “Paul is Dead” rumor (the notorious Beatles hoax from the late-’60s, when fans became convinced through song lyrics, sonic tricks, and album art that Paul McCartney had died and was replaced by a look-alike). “Divorcing it from whether Paul was really dead or not, that was a really great parlor game: searching for clues, the excitement of different layers, some of them chilling, some of them really funny. It was a great model for us.”

Theories – Based on reader submissions

  • #1 – The movie is just as its explained. David commits suicide, he is frozen and the splice occurs, etc. The sound you hear is David awakening in the future.
  • #2  – Everything up to the car wreck was “real” and the rest of the entire film was ALL in David’s head as he lie in a coma (until the end when he wakes up).
  • #3 – The entire film is a dream as David struggles with his vanity, his sexual past, his ideal woman, etc. The only “real” scene in the entire film would be the last, as he wakes up.
  • #4 – The movie is writer Brian Shelby’s fictional story about his friend (David Aames). A story of the sour and the sweet. He plays the unsung hero to the playboy.
  • #5 – The whole thing is a dream in that the depictions we see take place as reflections within a dream. However, the events are real until the splice, at which time they become fiction. Tech support states that David has been asleep 125 years. David’s sessions seem to be reflections of his past. I think a fair interpretation is that the reflections have been tampered with by the subconscious to reflect his love for Sophia and the regret of his carelessness with Julie. You are relying on the unreliable narrator as to the details like his love sort of being all around him before he meets her, his fears, dates and the music. Like retelling a story that you know ends badly, you may create clues to take the edge off or tip off your subconscious that this is a reflection, a memory, not reality.
  • #6 – Christian Metaphors – A Story of Divinity – David commits suicide, finally driven to it by the guilt over the death of Julie Gianni. As he is dying, his life is passing before his eyes. While his life is passing before his eyes, he is also being tempted to sell his soul to the devil for the chance to make things right (i.e. the dream like utopian scenes between Sophia and David).
    • a. David is asked many times “Did you sign a Contract?
    • b. Lucid Dream, Lucifer?
    • c. Both women at LE have red hair.
    • d. Tilda Swinton has hot sauce behind her.
    • e. More importantly, Tilda Swinton is exactly the kind of personality you would expect the devil to have at the time of one’s death, vaguely sexy, assuring, calming, and persuasive…
    • The ideas of David’s Christlike-ness are from the following ideas. He dies at 33, as did Christ.. His father wrote “THE BOOK”… The book was called Defending the Kingdom… The magazine is called Rise

Secrets – Many of these are reader submissions. Enjoy!

  • When the film starts, a voice says “open your eyes” over and over.. first in Spanish (the title of the original film).. then in English. It’s Sophia’s voice, not Julie’s. Julie’s voice comes the second time, once David wakes up from his dream of deserted times square. What is odd is that he hasn’t even met Sophia yet. Why is she in his dreams? Or does this support the theory that the entire movie is dream.
  • Film opens with the song “Everything in it’s Right Place” by Radiohead.  Chorus of the song is “Yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon” – These words relate directly to Brian Shelby’s sweet and sour speeches. Also, the ‘Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ album cover can be seen in David’s house, this later figures prominently in the film.
  • Two posters from the French New Wave are in David’s bedroom. A bout de Souffle (Breathless) and Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim). Crowe hero, Francois Truffaut wrote “Breathless” and directed “Jules and Jim.” These are significant later in the film when the “lucid dream” is revealed. In the opening of Almost Famous, after the characters have seen To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a marquee with Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses on it. Both Breathless and Jules and Jim deal with self-destructive free-spirited characters whose personal relationships suffer and violently end because of their own needs to be “free”. Jules and Jim ends with Jeanne Moreau driving Henri Serre off a bridge in a car the same way Julie did to David inVanilla Sky.
  • In the first scene when David drives out of his garage…you look on the windshield of his car and the inspection or registration sticker says 02/30/01. The significance is that this is ok in a dream sequence. There’s no Feb 30, right? Not only is that in the first scene on his Ferrari, but it is also on his Mustang throughout the whole movie, which supports that the whole thing, from beginning to end is one big dream/nightmare.
  • During the first dream sequence, when David gets out of his car, what is on the Times Square Jumbotron? The Twilight Zone! It’s an episode called “Shadow Play” (original airdate: May 5, 1961) about a man (Dennis Weaver) found guilty of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. He’s certain that the whole murder is a recurring dream…
  • To Kill a Mockingbird can also be seen at Times Square. You can also see “Excite Your Senses” and “Fatigue” numerous times scrolling by on the electronic billboards. You can also hear tires squealing and one frame of the bridge (right before David and Julie crash). Many other images can be seen from Courtney Love to Russell Crowe to Leave it to Beaver.
  • During the subliminal imagery at the 03:50 minute mark (Times Square Sequence), an image of Katie Holmes on a rubber tire is seen. The same picture was used on the cover of Rolling Stone in late ’98/early ’99.
  • You’ll also find one single frame at the 03:55 mark which shows the fence that David and Julianna crash into. What does this mean? If you believe that David is recalling this dream to Dr. McCabe, then it’s probably his subconscious playing tricks on him.
  • In Julianna’s first scene in the movie and her cell phone rings. The cell phone rings to the tune of “Row Row Row Your Boat” which of course, contains the lyric, “life is but a dream”.
  • At David’s birthday party, he’s asked how it’s going. His response? “Livin’ the dream, baby…livin’ the dream”.
  • When David’s smashed guitar is initially shown at the 21 minute mark you can hear “that it was a gift from Danny Bramson”. Bramson is a longtime friend and the producer of many of Crowe’s soundtracks.
  • Also at the party, when Brian Shelby comes into the second apartment where David and Sofia are talking, you can see his t-shirt with the words “fantasy” in sparkly sequins. This supports the idea that the whole movie (until the last scene where David wakes up) is all but a dream.
  • They also have a drink which is a Jack Daniels & Coke… “sweet and sour”?
  • Look for one shot in prison where you get a full view of the chalk board.  You’ll notice many little things like DREAM spelled out backwards, #9, etc.
  • In the cell, Carl Jung’s book, “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections” can be seen on the table between David and Russell’s character. The book is all about Jung’s personal dreams and how they helped him uncover his “shadow” and remove his persona or mask.
  • There are multiple occasions when the number (or time) 9:09 is displayed prominently. (David’s watch, the chalkboard, a kid wearing a blue shirt that says #9 and of course all the mentions of cats (who according to various myths, have nine lives). Crowe has stated in multiple interviews that this is an homage to the Beatles and their song Revolution #9.
  • If you look on David’s prison garb, on his name tag it says “Frozen Guy” in really bad code that is easy to figure out. Also, his L.E. patient number on his cryo tank says PL515NT 4R51MS. If you replace the numbers with the corresponding letters of the alphabet it almost spells out “Pleasant Dreams”. The computer screen at Beth Israel hospital during David’s reconstruction also shows his patient number. Additionally, on the lower left, it spells out “don’t wake him up”
  • When David is getting his mug shot taken, the slate spells out in simple code ‘When did the dream become a nightmare”?
  • At the club, Brian tells Sofia that the bathroom is behind the girl who looks like Bjork. Bjork pops up later during the sort of pop culture montage of music/movies/TV images when David is freaking out. When Noah Taylor’s character compares life to a music video, Bjork’s “Big Time Sensuality” is played. The video looks like it could’ve been shot in Times Square.
  • The board consists of six men and one woman. The team of doctors also appears to be six men and one woman. Both groups have control over part of David’s life. The seven dwarfs, one in real life and one in his lucid dream.
  • Brian Shelby jokes about being from Ohio, but just so happens that Dr. McCabe’s is from Ohio. Could David see a little bit of Brian in his made up fellow?
  • In the funeral scene and on the roof, Sofia wears the same jacket of the actress she is considered to be parallel with in David’s dream explanation.
  • There are two times when Sofia calls David a pleasure delayer, she says it so subtly that it’s almost missed.
  • Dr. McCabe at one point tells David that yesterday he’d had a nightmare.  David replies with “It’s all a nightmare”.
  • Songs for the film were chosen so that the lyrics constantly relay the emotion of the scene. When the characters aren’t speaking, the lyrics take over and continue to carry the set emotion…..listen to them closely.
  • For example, the song that plays over David leaving Sophia’s in the morning is Jeff Buckley’s, “Last Goodbye,” which that morning was there last one true goodbye. Yes, they see each other after this, but after the car wreck when both of their lives are forever changed. “Last Goodbye” also contains the lyrics: “Kiss me, please kiss me, but kiss me out of desire, babe not consolation” which follows David’s plight rather well (as the next time he sees her is after the accident and he wants her affections but not sympathy for his disfigurement).
  • Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” album (featured in the closing montage) also has some lyrical significance. One of the best lines from the song “The River”, is: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”
  • Also, two R.E.M. songs are featured. Don’t forget what R.E.M. stands for. Rapid eye movement. As in a state of sleep. It’s when you dream.
  • You can hear the splice when the “lucid dream” begins.
  • The events that take place directly after the splice involve some of the “sweetest” scenes between David and Sofia (REM’s “The Sweetness Follows”). This stands in contrast to the sour of Radiohead’s “Everything Is In Its Right Place”, which opens the film.
  • Right at the beginning of his Lucid Dream, David’s conscience plays tricks on him.  He immediately mistakes Sofia for Julie when Julie pops up and yells Boo! for a split second when really he’s looking at Sofia.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird also plays in the holding block on the TV screen in the security room in almost all of the scenes between David and Dr. McCabe. It’s one of Crowe’s favorite movies and is later revealed as the “ideal father figure” for David Aames.
  • When David’s face is being repaired, a computer image is shown on the screen.  In the bottom right corner, it reads BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL.  Just one of the many religious hints found….. besides What if God Was One of Us obvious meaning when it is played.
  • When David is arrested and they take his mug shot, his prisoner identification translates into: When has the dream become a nightmare?
  • One of the doctors listed on the X-Ray images of David’s skull is named H. Troma. Or better yet Head Troma?
  • At the club, Sofia wears a t-shirt that says St. Rose. Along with being the patron saint of Latin America and South America , St. Rose is the Patron Saint of Vanity! St. Rose used to pray: “Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Your love in my heart.”
  • When David and Sophia are laying together naked in bed Sophia asks, “Is this is a dream?” David replies, “absolutely.”
  • The second time David wakes up (after seeing himself disfigured in the mirror), he makes two or three faces into the mirror. A smile and making a circle with his mouth. The lead character of Truffaut’s Breathless did the same thing into a mirror more than once
  • During the splicing of subliminal images towards the end of the film, the cover of the Bruce Springsteen’s album The River and Beth Orton’s Trailer Park can be seen.
  • When David is in need of tech support, listen for the bell rings and voices of the monitoring scientists.  There is also the repetition of David’s patient account number (30319) multiple times throughout the film (during glitches).
  • In the elevator, at the end, when David says, “Someone died, it was me.”, you can see a shot of the inside view of the car landing on it’s side (from the crash scene).

Other Tidbits

  • The building at the beginning of the movie is the Dakota, where John Lennon lived.
  • In the opening car scene between David and Brian, David reaches for music to play and he mentions Barcelona, Radiohead and Looper (the last two which appear on the soundtrack).
  • During the Times Square scene, while David is running next to a building. To his right, there’s a building with glass walls. If you look very carefully at the next sequence of frames, you can make out a line of people at the window watching the filming of the movie.
  • The line, “Rumors of my death have been mildly exaggerated,” is a Mark Twain line slightly tweaked. Twain said greatly rather than mildly.
  • The smashed Gibson SG electric guitar is not a genuine Pete Townshend smashed guitar. It’s a replica.
  • Brian Shelby jokes about being from Ohio. Vanilla Sky producer Paula Wagner is from Ohio.
  • When David’s secretary asks him to choose a cover for a magazine-the girl on the cover is actress/supermodel Izabella Miko (Coyote Ugly). In fact, that exact picture is available in Maxim magazine (August 2000 issue #32).
  • One of the doctors sitting at the table when they give David his mask looks identical to the psychiatrist in Abre Los Ojos. He’s sitting next to the doctor who states they can do something about David’s arm.
  • Actors/musicians Mark Kozelek and John Fedevich (bassist Larry Fellows and drummer Ed Vallencourt from Stillwater) can be seen (and heard) in Vanilla Sky. When David Aames is in the bathroom at the club, They both walk in and Mark says “Fix your fuckin’ face” as Ed walks “silently” behind him.
  • Right after David is made fun of in the bathroom, he comes upon Sofia while she is sitting and talking to a guy with blonde hair, who happens to be Tom Cruise’s cousin, William Mapother. He is also featured in the film  In The Bedroom, as the abusive husband.
  • In the hallway at LE at the end of the movie, Alice Crowe (Cameron’s mom) is the first face seen on the television monitors that are promoting LE’s services.
  • Two paintings seen in David Aames’ apartment were painted by Canadian-born singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. The “borrowed” paintings are called Ice Offering and Edmonton.
  • Tech Support (Noah Taylor) can clearly be seen standing in the corner of David’s apartment when he’s telling David about the three day memorial organized by Brian.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the voice at the end of the film that says, “Open Your Eyes”, is not Penelope Cruz. Listed in the credits as “The Future”, the voice belongs to actress Laura Fraser.
  • References are made to both P.J. O’Rourke and Annie Leibovitz. Of course, O’Rourke is a famous political journalist for Rolling Stone while Leibovitz is a world famous photographer who has shot for many magazines including Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. She did some of Cameron Crowe’s early work in the 70’s for Rolling Stone and even did the “Conversations with Cruise”- Crowe’s Vanity Fair interview with Tom Cruise.
  • As stated in the climax, the film shows David and Sofia walking down the same New York block, in the same pose, as Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo did on the cover of 1962’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album.
  • You’ll be surprised at some of the images as David is falling from the skyscraper and his life/memories are flashing before his eyes (and on the screen). I’ve included a sample below. Some of these are incredibly spirited (including the photo of Cameron’s sister that inspired the goodbye scene in Almost Famous) and delightful. A special thanks to “Crowe Fan”, for the help obtaining these!