“Open your eyes” was the refrain throughout the 2001 film Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz, a science fiction/love story about death, life, cryonics and lucid dreams. Vanilla Sky is a remake of Abre los ojos (1997) and a story I enjoyed as I tend to like plots where they play with time, you have to figure out what’s going on, questioning what’s real, perceived, and what really matters. Seeing and perception are so subjective anyway. We experience movies differently, and life differently. Even something as simple as coloring…I was reminded last week when my 11 year old niece asked me why I drew all my people gray. We were playing a game called Draw Something on the iPad and I insisted the color was brown, I was drawing brown people; she insisted the color was gray. People shouldn’t be gray and according to her, I needed to have my eyes checked. Independently, we were both sure we were right because our own eyes told us so.
We don’t all see the same. Perception is colored by family and life experiences, colored by gender, race, and ethnicity; colored by power and privilege or their lack; colored by social position, and more. And does seeing equate truth? A radio preacher back in the day who I liked listening to always warned his audience, “there is more hidden than seen so proceed with caution.” That line stuck with me, there is more hidden than seen.
The lesson of seeing planted itself on me years ago when a 14 year old black boy growing up in Camden, NJ told me that he might be dead before he was 25. I had never heard a 14 year old say anything like that. I had asked him a very simple question “what ya wanna be or do when you’re older?” “Well, I might be dead by then” he said. This young man saw and experienced a reality I had not even begun to perceive back then… which was that an overwhelming number of black males growing up in extreme poverty were killed before they reached 25. Many of the young brothers living around him were dead by age 25. And guess what… so was he. And that’s why I remember him. He taught me that structural violence and physical violence often go hand in hand. He also taught me to work hard at trying to see the realities of other people…as much as I could…with the awareness that my view is limited and maybe even a bit skewed.
In the end of Vanilla Sky the character played by Cruise begins to experience some technical difficulties. His lucid dream goes haywire tossing in bits of reality and messing up things. Real life consists of deep wounds, painful events that haunt his perfected dream state. His dreamy vanilla sky is idyllic and lovely, seems so real. Reality is ugly, but also so real. The film culminates with Cruise having to make a choice. Remove the reality bugs and remain in his perfect dreamlike state, or fall, open his eyes, see, and really live.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely ~1 Corinthians
Check out the final scene from Vanilla Sky. It’s beautiful. (2:54)