Year Released: 1997
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
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It’s no wonder Tom Cruise wanted to remake this masterpiece. But why call it Vanilla Sky?
“Open Your Eyes” is a thriller that exists in a place we can’t see – the hero’s consciousness. It’s the kind of movie where it’s criminal to give away the movie’s surprise, and since “Open Your Eyes” is really one big surprise, it’s hard to describe the story in detail. There are things that may or may not be true.
One constant is Cesar (Eduardo Noriega), the “hero” of the film, although he’s not very likable. He’s a playboy who does nothing but trade off of his one asset – his good looks and charisma. Cesar’s involved in a purely sexual relationship with Nuria (Najwa Nimri), but he feels nothing for her. In fact, it’s kind of like a game to Cesar, the idea of seeing two beautiful women at once. Then, his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez) introduces him to his girlfriend Sofia (the lovely Penelope Cruz) and Cesar falls in love for the first time. It all happens so smoothly that we suspect something is strange. Sofia’s like an angel that appeared out of nowhere, or maybe from someplace else altogether.
It’s not that Cesar’s a bad man so to speak, but he’s not a good man either. He’s kind of worthless, and we slowly realize that his is the type of character we usually like to see get killed in horror films. Maybe to be more exact, he’s the type of character we like to see be toyed with. Cesar himself has horrifying visions. Pieces of his world don’t quite fit, random streets he moves by are completely empty. It’s as if Cesar’s brain is still forming ideas. Either that or he’s just a brain in a vat. Don’t we all get that feeling sometime, like the Tim Robbins’ character in “Jacob’s Ladder,” that everyone around us is a demon?
So Cesar falls for Sofia, much to Pelayo’s understandable chagrin. Pelayo’s an interesting contrast to Cesar. Pelayo has all of the inner qualities that Cesar lacks, and predictably, the thought of losing his looks terrifies Cesar more than anything else in the world.
It’s here that Amenabar really springs the film upon us with surprise after surprise. After establishing the premise we expect several things to happen. We expect that Nuria will hatch some diabolical plot to destroy Sofia, namely her lovely face, but not to hurt Cesar, who she’s a fool for. Likewise with the interminably underrated Pelayo, we expect, from his jealous glances, that he will set out to get revenge against his friend Cesar, for stealing the woman he hoped he would find happiness with. Then we predict, more or less, that Cesar will end up in some kind of Kafka-esque web of murder, mayhem and evidence where only Nuria or Pelayo or both can save him, sort of like Hitchcock’s reliable wrongfully accused man storyline, this time set in a bizarro universe.
But we’re wrong and delightfully so. The subtle clues only seem visible afterwards. The events in Cesar’s life are so neat and tidy, we get the rising feeling that something is off kilter, but not in the typical movie thriller sense. What’s that voice at the beginning of the film, covered in darkness, whispering, “Open your eyes…open your eyes…open your eyes?” Actually, Cesar does eventually become entangled in the nightmare scenarios described above, but it happens in such an unexpected way that we’re totally captivated.
It’s no surprise when Cesar does lose his good looks, the film has been setting it up almost from the beginning. What happens next is much more interesting as reality and truth seem to hover just out of Cesar’s grasp. Nothing is real anymore, not his life, not his face, not even his world. It’s as if…his brain were making it up as it went along and what we see being spit out of his head is part reality and part lies. How do you prove that your memories are real if you can’t trust any images? After his disfiguring “accident,” Cesar is unable to receive information in any normal, reliable sense. To be more exact, Cesar can’t trust what he sees or hears, because as the film progresses, what he does experience contradicts everything he thought was real.
Nothing more of the plot should be said. For the unknowing viewer, “Open Your Eyes” offers a truly original psychological thriller in the guise of a romantic-fantasy. For those who are familiar with the basic premise, the film makes you guess wrong. At first, the dizzying images and surprises in “Open Your Eyes” make it seem confused, but it’s not, it’s about confusion. To look back at the film is to try and reassemble a handsomely crafted jigsaw puzzle that plays fair with the audience, which is on the one pitfall films like this usually fall into.
With “Open Your Eyes,” Alejandro Amenabar announced himself in the category of the top level of directors working today. Unlike other European horror directors(Argento, Bava)Amenabar isn’t interested in just showing horrifying images at the expense of story credibility. In “Open Your Eyes” we see a thriller that questions the essence of existence, what’s real, what’s not. Another level of existence. The film kind of suggests that we have “another sense,” constantly dormant, that’s capable of seeing through the disguises of the world we live in.
There’s something else cool about the film. While all of the other genre entries set up the idea of a sequel with mind numbing action and boring cliffhangers, “Open Your Eyes” offers up a possible sequel that exists “somewhere” else altogether, a place that can’t be seen. Not to spoil the ending but, suffice to say, all Cesar has to do is open his eyes. All will be revealed.
Posted on December 14, 2001 in Reviews by David Grove
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