In the opening of the film where Tom Cruise gets out of his car and runs in Times Square, you can see an episode of The Twilight Zone, The Twilight Zone: Shadow Play (1961) being shown on the large screen. The episode is about a convicted man who tries to convince those about to execute him that the world all around them is just his recurring nightmare.
The scene with Tom Cruise alone in Times Square is not computer enhanced. The production was given unprecedented permission to shut down Times Square for one Sunday. At the time, the news ticker was providing updates on the George W. Bush-Al Gore election. To avoid dating the film, Crowe got permission to change the NASDAQ sign in post-production.
Open Your Eyes (1997) director Alejandro Amenábar said about Cameron's version of his film: "When I learned, quite some time ago now, that Cameron Crowe was going to write and direct the film based on Open Your Eyes with Tom Cruise in the leading role, I felt honored. Now that I have seen Vanilla Sky, I couldn't be more proud. Cameron has all my respect and admiration. Respect, for having plumbed the deepest meaning of the work. Admiration, for having sought new viewpoints and a fresh approach to the mise-en-scene, giving the film his own unmistakable touch. Vanilla Sky is as true the original spirit as it is irreverent towards its form, and that makes it a courageous, innovative work. I think I can say that, for me, the projects are like two very special brothers. They have the same concerns, but their personalities are quite different. In other words, they sing the same song but with quite different voices: one likes opera, and the other likes rock and roll."
Cameron Crowe has said, "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."
Studio executives wanted Cameron Crowe to use special effects to remove shots of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Crowe didn't remove them, and they appear in several shots of New York City.
At the start of the movie, when David wakes up with Julie Gianni, her cell phone ringtone is "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" but at the moment she answers the call and the music stops, the next lyric would have been "Life is but a dream".
The flat-screen television that retracts into the floor was thought up by Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise while brainstorming things they've always dreamed of having, that the David Aames character should have. Crowe says in the commentary that the design was drawn up by Cruise, who wanted to install one in his house before realizing that it would retract through the ceiling of the floor below him.
David Aames lives in The Dakota, the famed New York City apartment building where John Lennon lived (and died). The interior was built on a set, and the exterior seen briefly at the start of the film was shot without a permit, as the residents do not allow filming on the premises.
There's an easter egg hidden on the DVD. From the disc's Main Menu, go to the 'Special Features.' There, select the 'Photo Galleries' and once you get to that menu, highlight the 'Special Features' menu entry. Press the 'Right' arrow key now on your remote control to highlight David's mask. If you press 'Enter' now you will be treated to a six minute gag reel.
During the series of random still frames at the end of the film, you can see a frame where David is holding a gun, then another still of the security guard being shot. This is part of the script from Open Your Eyes (1997), however, it was left out of the final cut of the film.
During the Times Square scene, while David is running next to 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. Crowe thought about digitally removing them in post-production, but decided it fit the theme of "subtle paranoia" and left them in.
The song at the end (on the roof of the skyscraper) is called "Njósnavélin" (a.k.a. "The Nothing Song") by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. During the series of random still frames at the end of the film, one of these is an over-exposed picture of the band Sigur Rós.
Cameron Crowe summed up the movie in the production notes with the following words: "Snowboarding through life, David Aames appears to lead a charmed life. Handsome, wealthy and charismatic, the young New York City publishing executive's freewheeling existence is enchanting, yet he seems to be missing something. Like the pointillism of an Impressionist landscape, a life can appear to be entirely different when examined close up. In one night David meets a girl of his dreams and loses her by making a small mistake. Thrust unexpectedly onto a roller-coaster ride of romance, comedy, suspicion, love, sex and dreams, David finds himself on a mind-bending search for his soul and discovers the precious, ephemeral nature of true love."
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) plays in the holding block, on the television screen in the security room, in almost all of the scenes between David and Dr. McCabe. It's one of Cameron Crowe's favorite movies, and it's later revealed that David based his "ideal father figure" on Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch.
Cameron Crowe says, "The original film is like a song our band really liked and we decided to cover it our own way. I view my adaptation as a 'remix' rather than a 'remake'; the film is a genre-bending, mind-twisting portrait of the American male as he exists five minutes into the future. Hopefully, it honors the original. I like the idea it could be sort of a dialogue between the two movies. I kept thinking of the original like a folk song. There's so many different ways you can play it, and you can reinvent it in your own way. I would never say to somebody, 'Don't see his, see ours.' I want people to see both."
In the cell, Carl Jung's book, "Memories, Dreams, and Reflections" can be seen on the table between David and McCabe. The book is all about Jung's personal dreams and how they helped him uncover his "shadow" and remove his persona (or "mask").
Writer/director Cameron 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."
'I Fall Apart' by Julianna Gianni (Cameron Diaz) features music and lyrics by Cameron Crowe and his wife Nancy Wilson. Here's Cameron Diaz's comments: "Well, that was Cameron's request that I sing it. It was a huge fear to conquer ... standing in that booth in front of Nancy Wilson, who has been my goddess since I was a child. My sister and I would just sit with their Heart albums and just be like, 'These beautiful creatures making rock 'n' roll, are you kidding me?' So, when Cameron said Nancy wrote a song, I was like, 'I couldn't!' I had chills. I was so excited to sit in front of her and she just sat there and sang and strummed a guitar and I was just like, 'I can't believe this is happening.' And then to actually go into the studio and record with her ... she had to lay down her own voice underneath mine to help carry the song because there was no way I was surviving on my own."
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.
Many people have asked Cameron Crowe when a consumer version of the John Coltrane hologram will become available, only to be disappointed when informed it was all a visual effect. He explains, "I conceptualized the idea of a holographic stereo to show that David Aames is rich, cutting edge and, because he publishes magazines, companies send him new technology in hopes of getting a product review. The invention doesn't actually exist, and was created using CGI - with classic Coltrane footage used as the source material."
At the club, Sofia wears a t-shirt that says "St. Rose." Along with being the patron saint of Latin 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."
Actors/musicians Mark Kozelek and John Fedevich (bassist Larry Fellows and drummer Ed Vallencourt from Almost Famous (2000)'s Stillwater) make an appearance 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.
The film opens with the song "Everything in Its 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.
Crowe opens the official production notes with two lyrical quotes: 1) "I once loved a woman, a child I'm told. I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul,"- Bob Dylan, Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. 2) "When you were young and on your own, how did it feel to be alone? I was always thinking of games that I was playing, trying to make the best of my time. But only love can break your heart. Try to be sure right from the start. Yes, only love can break your heart. What if your world should fall apart?" - Neil Young, Only Love Can Break Your Heart.
There are two subtle lines that are clues when David is talking to Dr. McCabe while drawing Sophia. First he says, "Everything's a nightmare." And then, inaudibly because Dr. McCabe starts talking over him, he says, "I feel like I'm...in a dream" right after saying, "I don't feel like I killed someone".
The title Vanilla Sky was considered for Cameron Crowe's previous movie, Almost Famous (2000). The original title for Almost Famous was actually "Untitled", however Dreamworks would not allow this, so Cameron Crowe titled the bootleg edition of Almost Famous on DVD "Untitled".
One of the images seen briefly at the beginning of the film, as David runs down the street, is of Jann Wenner, editor of Rolling Stone magazine. The very magazine that Cameron Crowe infamously began writing for at a young age in the early 1970s.
The scene with Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz in the street with a Volkswagen van in the back is a close copy (cars, jacket of Tom Cruise, attitude of the women...) of the cover of Bob Dylan's record "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan".
At the club, Brian tells Sofia that the bathroom is behind the girl who looks like Björk. Bjork pops up later during the pop culture montage of music/movies/television 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.
One of the doctors sitting at the table, when they give David his mask, looks identical to the psychiatrist in Open Your Eyes (1997). He's sitting next to the doctor who states they can do something about David's arm.
David Aames' alarm clock is a JVC FS-SD9. According to the manufacturer, the speaker cabinets have a "real European cherry-wood finish, and are cylinder-shaped for smoother sound with more even dispersion." It was brand-new and top-of-the-line when the film was made, it's long since been discontinued.
Tara Lipinski was auditioning for a part in The Banger Sisters (2002) when she stopped by the set. Crowe saw her and offered her a cameo in the movie. She improvised a scene with Cameron Diaz. She had to stand on a box to get closer to Diaz's height since Lipinski is 5'1" and Diaz is 5'9". The scene didn't make the U.S. version, but can still be seen in the international versions of the movie.
Nancy Wilson's score has never been given an official commercial release. Though a CD was designed and pressed (including artwork and liner notes) it was only sent to Academy voters from Oscar consideration. As of 2013, only a couple of tracks have been released for free on Cameron Crowe's website.
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 (2000)). In fact, that exact picture is available in Maxim magazine (August 2000 issue #32).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When David is arrested, the plaque on his photo lineup reads "W85N 494 T85 4R51M 253OM5 1 N978TM1R5?" Some elementary code-breaking reveals "WHEN DID THE DREAM BECOME A NIGHTMARE?". There are two other coded messages (mentioned on Cameron Crowe's commentary) on the 3D X-Ray of David Aames' skull. To the lower left of the skull it reads "4ON0TW1K589MUP" = "Do not wake him up." To the lower right there is the message, "PL: 51S1NT 4R51MS", or "Pleasant Dreams".
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).
According to Cameron Crowe's website, The Uncool, there are six supported theories on the nature of the film. The site reads, "#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 150 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..."
The Uncool, Cameron Crowe's official website, says, "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."
Among the images shown in the montage at the end of the film are: Billy Crudup's character from Almost Famous (2000), David's doctor giving the middle finger to the camera, Monet's painting 'Seine at Argenteuil,' the cover of Blind Faith's self-titled album, stills from deleted scenes, the cover of Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours, Cameron Crowe's sister leaving home with curlers in her hair (an event recreated in Almost Famous), Tom Cruise and Jason Lee (possible in-character) posing with snowboards (including the one David painted), Patrick Fugit and the band Stillwater walking from the plane in Almost Famous, the cover of Bruce Springsteen's The River, a clip of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954), a clip from The Red Balloon (1956), the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", live footage of the band Sigur Rós, a clip from Leave It to Beaver (1957), a photo of Tom Cruise winning a high school wrestling match, a clip from a Betty Boop cartoon, footage from The Who documentary The Kids Are Alright (1979), a picture of Martin Luther King, clip of Ursula Andress coming out of the water in Dr. No (1962), a photo of Kirsten Dunst, footage of the Astro Orbiter ride at Disneyland, clip from a Heckle and Jeckle cartoon, picture of Tom Cruise kissing his snowboard, the cover to Led Zeppelin's album Houses of the Holy, and a picture of Kate Hudson cuddled up to Patrick Fugit during production of Almost Famous. Much of the super-8 footage came from Cameron Crowe's old home movies from when he was growing up.
When David is awoken on the street by Sofia - where he chooses his splice to be - as Sofia crouches to talk to him we see the sky in the background. It is vibrantly colored and very much resembles a Monet painting, specifically "The Seine at Argenteuil" (Vanilla Sky). Another "clue" that this is where a lucid dream begins. Further, one can hear the sound effect of a tape rewinding and, as mentioned before, an audible "splice."
Cameron Crowe stated on his website, "The events that take place directly after the splice (when the lucid dream begins) 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."
When asked by fans about clues to the film's ending, Crowe said, "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."
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?
According to Cameron Crowe's website, "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."
Right before David collapses on the street after the nightclub, R.E.M.'s "Sweetness Follows" plays. This is the moment right before the Splice where his Lucid Dream begins. R.E.M. is the portion of the sleep cycle where dreams take place.
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. Yet another clue that the dream is just a patchwork of David's pop culture influences.
During the quick montage of stills at the very end of the film, one of the shots (which lasts for only one frame) is of Dr. Pomerantz, David Aames's plastic surgeon (played by Armand Schultz), flipping the bird at the camera.
Two posters from the French New Wave are in David's bedroom, Breathless (1960) and Jules and Jim (1962). Crowe hero, Francois Truffaut wrote Breathless and directed Jules and Jim. These are significant later in the film when the "lucid dream" is revealed. 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 in Vanilla Sky.
When imprisoned David wears a patient ID with his last name and initial. Underneath appear the letters 6R0Z5N and 7UY This translates in code to "Frozen Guy" if you realize the number 6 is an F in the alphabet and 7 is a G.
David shares seats on the board with people whom he calls "The Seven Dwarfs," each of whom represents one of the dwarves from the Disney version of the story. David has his body frozen through cryonics after death. There was a widespread and persistent rumor that Walt Disney, a media magnate also associated with the Seven Dwarfs, had his body frozen after death.
The film's plot was speculated to be the same as Total Recall (1990): In this film, David (Tom Cruise) volunteers to live a life offered to him through a virtual reality program after he is disfigured in an auto accident and is put in a stasis chamber in deep space and is provide with memories to keep his mind activate but there's a glitch. In Total Recall (1990) Quaid (Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets a memory implantation of being a secret agent on Mars which goes terribly wrong. Total Recall (1990) is inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". Tom Cruise later went on to star in Minority Report (2002). The film is loosely based on the Phillip K. Dick short story "The Minority Report".