The year was 1997. Cameron Crowe was watching a Spanish film that he wouldn't be able to get out of his mind, Abre Los Ojos. He felt deeply connected to the film. And at some point, he felt inspired enough to direct an American adaptation. Thus Vanilla Sky was born.
Where Abre Los Ojos is dialed back and subtle, Vanilla Sky is fully-charged and pulsating. The soundtrack itself takes listeners through an array of rhythms, speeds, and emotions. Be it the Chemical Brothers inviting you to ask yourself, "Where Do I Begin," Leftfield driving the rhythms of "Afrika Shoxx," through your ear dreams (and maybe your soul), Peter Gabriel helping you move your feet alongside the beating drums that crescendo toward the end of "Solisbury Hill," or the Red House Painters slowing things down and asking, "Have You Forgotten How to Love Yourself?" there's plenty to soak in and enjoy.
Where Abre Los Ojos is set in Madrid, Vanilla Sky makes New York City circa 2000 its home. With New York City providing the backdrop, the same range of ideas and emotions as the accompanying soundtrack move throughout the film.
Tom Cruise plays the lead role of David Aimes Jr, a man in his early thirties who has inherited his father's billion dollar publishing company. His life is a dream. And he's not sure whether he ever wants to wake up.
When we first see him he's shirtless and pulling himself out of a king-size bed set perfectly in the center of a bedroom of a spacious and sweeping Upper West Side apartment. Although we're only just getting to meet him, we get the sense that women, as with his career, mean only so much to him.
They show up. They disappear. They show up then disappear again. This time around its the blonde, tall, and beautiful Julie Guliani (Cameron Diaz) who wakes up beside Aimes. Promptly, just after Aimes makes his way out of the room, she answers her phone (which happens to be a flip phone ––– remember, this is 2000 –––) and after a short conversation with a co-worker surreptitiously declares, "I have to go, I'm with David," then snaps her phone shut.
From there, the film moves us through Aimes' morning drive with his presumptive best friend Brian Shelby (Jason Lee). In a polished and lightning quick 1967 Ford Mustang, they move down Central Park West then make their way into the heart of Midtown. From there, we're carried through the mostly fluf-filled beginning of Aimes' typical work day. Lots of flirting, a few people requesting then almost begging for his attention, then finally a dull meeting before the seven board members who own exactly 49% of his company.
All of this is to say that despite all of the promise, prestige, beauty, and wealth that Manhattan offer David, there's only one particular neighborhood, apartment, and woman that manage to draw him out of his dream-like and nearly fictitious (we know, the movie is fictitious ––– fiction within fiction) existence.
That woman is Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). And she lives in Dumbo.
After Aimes and Serrano meet at his birthday party in the same Upper West Side apartment, owing to the sudden and compelling interest that they find in each other, Aimes offers to give his new friend a ride home.
They walk up to her apartment. It's a dark night in Brooklyn. And if you listen just closely enough, you can hear the trains subtly rumbling over the Manhattan Bridge above. Although the interior of Serrano's apartment was shot in a Hollywood studio, there's no doubt that the outside is 57 Jay Street.
Although Vanilla Sky presents Aimes' and Serano's meeting as the cornerstone that moves Aimes away from a life of dreaming toward one in which he decides to embrace the difficult but also comforting and rewarding realities of his actual life, we like to think his escape from Manhattan and journey through and about the cobblestone streets of Dumbo made more than a small contribution to his new view.
Although the re-appearance of Guliana takes the film in a different direction, at least for that one evening, and one bright Brooklyn morning, anything and everything feels not only possible, but also promised to Aimes.
If you haven't already, why not take a couple of hours to check out the film. And although Dumbo appears in others scenes as well, perhaps the best one can be seen here.