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Vanilla Sky Explained: Was It All A Lucid Dream?

The 2001 released Vanilla Sky has always been something of a brilliant head-scratcher. Introducing the concept of lucid dreaming in the most elite yet complicated manner, the film has left generations trying to solve the mystery of how much of the film is not a dream. Well, this Tom Cruise classic is one of our favorite films and today, we are going to sit down and decode the real from the dreams for you. 

The story of Vanilla Sky- this part is the real deal

The story of Vanilla Sky focused on David Aames, a wealthy bachelor who has inherited his father’s successful publishing company. He owns 51% of the company while the rest is reserved by the Seven Dwarfs, the name he has given to the group of attorneys who are just waiting for him to take a bad decision so they can swoop in and snatch the ownership from him. While he is brilliant, David lives a carefree life where he is involved with many women and one such woman is Julie Gianni whose “love” for him borders on acute obsession, though it will be very late by the time he realizes the same. 

At his 33rd birthday party, he meets Sophia, a girl his best friend, Brian, is crushing on. They hit it off very quickly and for the first time in his life, David is not rushing to sleep with a woman– he wants to develop a real connection with her. He is enamoured by her, something which both angers and saddens Julie. He leaves with Sofia, has a sleepover at her house and the first sparks of true love are felt by both of them. 

Vanilla Sky
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

When David leaves the next morning, he is cornered by Julie who has been following him. She asks him about Sophie and requests him to ride with her for old times sake. But in reality, she wanted to get back at David for abandoning her and telling Brian that she is his “f*** buddy.” She drives her car off the bridge with the intention of killing them both but she dies and David’s right arm and leg are disfigured beyond repair. 

Because of his untreatable injuries and his debilitating physical health because of the accident, David first starts spiralling into depression but then picks himself up and regains hold of his company. He even works up the courage to meet Sofia again who is visibly shaken to see him and proposes to meet her in a bar. But as Sofia is uncomfortable she calls Brian to join them too, which upsets a drunken David who creates a scene prompting her to end their meeting and run home while he passes out in the alleyway near her house. 

What really happens after this?

David wakes up the next morning and never meets Sofia again. He tries to take control of his life and works hard, but his depression and sadness get the better of him. He finds a company, Life Extension (L.E.), online which promises to put his body, post-death, in a cryogenic state i.e., keep his mind active and make him live a lucid dream of his choice for a hefty amount.

His chosen life would start from the moment he selects and everything after that moment, including his death, will be erased from his consciousness. He will live the dream life as if it were real. He chooses to live a dream life where he reconciles with Sofia and lives a happily-ever-after life with her. The next day, he transfers the company to the Seven Dwarfs and commits suicide. 

David’s lucid dream, his “Vanilla Sky”

Vanilla Sky
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Soon after, L.E. does as promised and David begins his dream life right after the night he passed out in the alley. The next day he is woken up by Sofia who suddenly has no qualms about his looks and readily joins him. Then out of the blue, the very doctors who had given up on David, tell him that a new technology has been discovered that can restructure his face and restore his earlier features. They succeed and David starts living in bliss with Sofia. 

David’s dream life goes wrong

But one day, he wakes up to find Julie in bed instead and despite her repeated claims that she is Sofia, he calls the police. He is not aware but in his rage, he has beaten her up. In reality, the appearance of Julie as Sofia is his subconscious messing up with his lucid dream.

As he always felt guilty for abandoning Julie, she appeared as Sofia to him. His subconscious messed up things to the point that he ended up killing Sofia, believing her to be Julie instead. 

Incoming tech-support

During the glitches in his dream, David who is unaware of the truth keeps seeing a guy everywhere who soon approaches him to remind him that the world around him is his construction and if David wants, he can regain control of it. While in jail for Sofia murder, David’s psychotherapist makes him realize that he killed her but the feeling that he didn’t murder anyone doesn’t go away.

When he sees the add of Life Extension on TV, it triggers his memory and he requests to be taken to the company’s headquarters where he learns the truth– he has been “sleeping” for 150 years, living a lucid dream while Brian, Sofia are all dead in the real world. He is given the choice to either return to his lucid dream, which has now been fixed or return to the real world where the advanced technology can not only wake him up but actually fix his face.

He chooses the latter and bids farewell to his dream characters, promising Sofia that he will meet her in the next life. He jumps from the building to break his lucid dream and wakes up in the real world, where someone, probably an L.E. employee asks him to open his eyes. 

Vanilla Sky is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video