Open Your Eyes (Abre Los Ojos)

Don't accept rides from deranged exes
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1997
Director: 
Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: 
Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Cruz, Chete Lera, Fele Martínez, Najwa Nimri
The Setup: 
Rich playboy… well, it’s really too complicated.
Discussion: 

I had often heard how GREAT this movie was, and knew first-hand how, er, OFF its American remake, Vanilla Sky was, so I was really expecting that this version would be very different and work a lot better. To my surprise, turns out that Vanilla Sky was a VERY faithful remake, like virtually scene-for-scene, just with the added problem of Tom Cruise, which we’ll get to later. So the thing is, if you’ve seen Vanilla Sky, you already know everything that’s going on here, which signifcantly reduces the power and interest of this film. And if you’ve seen this film, there’s really no reason in the world to watch Vanilla Sky. So you see what perilous movie water we tread in. So be warned, spoilers for this movie will also spoil Vanilla Sky.

Anyway, we open with this repeated voice saying “Open your eyes,” then our hero, Cesar, gets up, brushes his teeth, and drives down what should be a busy street, but it’s deserted! Then he wakes up again—it was a dream! He gets ready and goes out again, but now there’s all sorts of people.

So at some point in the future Cesar is in jail, accused of murder, and wearing a weird face mask while being interviewed by this prison psychologist. He tells the rest of the story in flashbacks. Cesar was this hot, rich playboy who gets everything and everyone he wants, resulting in him not valuing anything or anyone very much. He is a total narcissist. His best friend Pelayo complains that it’s impossible for him to score with women while Cesar is around, and that night, he brings Penelope Cruz as Sofia to Cesar’s birthday party, and Cesar promptly steals her.

But first Cesar goes upstairs and finds Nuria, a woman he slept with and abandoned earlier. She is not invited to the party, and is a little bitter about being tossed aside. Her pursuit of Cesar at the party leads him to leave with Sofia. Pelayo explicitly calls Cesar a shithead for stealing his girl, but Cesar is like “What?” He has absolutely no conception of why he shouldn’t just do whatever he wants.

SPOILERS > > > AND SPOILERS FOR THIS MOVIE WILL ALSO SPOIL VANILLA SKY > > > So after spending a blissful night of love with Sofia, Cesar leaves the next morning to find Nuria outside, in her RED dress, driving her RED car. She is obviously a giant RED flag, and Cesar needs to start making out a restraining order, but instead he gets into her car. A bit down the way, she guns it and runs off the road, straight into a wall.

So Cesar wakes up, and it was all a dream! But then he wakes up from that dream, and now his face is hideously disfigured. He has the world’s best plastic surgeons on the case, but there’s only so much they can do, which doesn’t stop Cesar from being a total cock to them about it. One nice thing is that Cesar doesn’t suddenly come to appreciate the gift of life, but remains the same self-centered prick he was beforehand, acting as though this cannot be allowed to happen to HIM—anyone else, fine, but not HIM—and expecting everyone else to agree.

So now he’s all obsessed with Sofia, who is sort of trying to ignore him. The movie gets a lot of mileage, for this section of the movie, on how Cesar spent years picking up people, then forgetting them, and now faces the reality of being forgotten and dropped himself. A minor problem, however, is that we are somehow supposed to believe that Sofia is different from all the women that have come before, and that Cesar really feels a connection to her, which is hard to demonstrate, and detracts a little bit from our ability to really believe Cesar. Anyway, Cesar becomes a bit of a pest and shows up at nightclubs where Sofia is and gets drunk and invites himself home with her and Pelayo. Eventually he ends up passed out in the street and falls asleep. This turns out to be an important moment.

The next morning Sofia wakes him in the street, and she’s all lovey-dovey from then on. Then the doctors announce a miracle cure for his face, and soon his face is back exactly as it was. And now Pelayo doesn’t mind that he’s taking Sofia, and is happy for both of them. Then Cesar is in bed with Sofia, gets up to go to the bathroom, and when he comes back—it’s Nuria! Only she swears that SHE is Sofia!

MORE SERIOUS SPOILERS > > >
It goes on, with all sorts of little mysteries like this, and eventually Cesar starts having vague memories of going to an office and suchlike. Knowing the secret, I started to feel like this movie was just wasting time and laying on “spooky” mysteries in order to extend the running time. At last Cesar and the doctor piece together that it has to do with the cryonics lab, and they go there.

Okay, here’s the ending, which will also spoil Vanilla Sky for you—if you haven’t seen either, I’d think twice about reading this. A man from the company explains everything—with clear graphic accompaniment. Cryonics allows you to be frozen just before death, with the idea that they can wake you up when medical science has advanced, and whatever’s wrong with you can be cured. While you’re frozen, they put you in a dream of how you want life to be. They start the dream at a point late in your life, so that you never know you were frozen, and as far as you know everything just continued. They spliced Cesar into his new life when he passes out in the street, which is why when he woke, suddenly Sofia loved him and there was a miracle cure for his face. But Cesar’s mind couldn’t control his real memories, which created glitches in the system such as when Sofia suddenly switches for Nuria. His mind couldn’t just relax and go with his dream, he messed it up from the inside, and “created his own hell,” as the man from the company says.

But now in reality it’s 150 years after Cesar lived before. The company guy suggests that Cesar might want to wake now, as plastic surgery has advanced so much in that time. To do this Cesar has to kill himself. After a brief interlude, he does, the screen goes black, and we hear a voice, “Open you eyes.”

Seeing Vanilla Sky first, that movie just seemed very odd, and the transition into science-fiction and virtual reality came so late that it just left one confused and feeling a little cheated. It’s hard to do multi-genre movies, since the audience came to the theater to see one kind of movie, and they can feel bamboozled when you suddenly pull the rug out on them. I think in the case of Vanilla Sky, a lot of this was because our hero is Tom Cruise, and he brings with him his own set of expectations and history of who he is. It’s difficult to accept him in this role, because although it does play on his image as a good-looking, arrogant jerk, he usually doesn’t allow himself to be such a jerk in movies, so we keep waiting for him to redeem himself. It’s also hard to have sympathy for him, because he’s Tom Cruise. The other problem is that we knew Vanilla Sky was a remake, which, regardless of how obscure the original film is [and this one was not exactly obscure], puts giant quotes around the new movie and brings with it expectations. It struck me that Cesar’s character made a great deal more sense in the context of this film, but it occurred to me that this is probably because one is not familiar with the actor and one doesn’t have expectations for the movie. You’re much more open to its mysteries and where it wants to take you. With Vanilla Sky it’s: “Well, this movie was good enough for them to remake it, so show me what the big deal is.” I remember being frustratedly run around by Vanilla Sky, to the point that by the time the revelations came I had tuned out, and it all was received as “What the hell is this stuff?”

Which is not too far from what happens in the original. I was getting antsy and felt jerked around, given that I knew what the ending was. It’s hard to say what it would be like to experience it without knowing [and several people loved it], but if you do know one becomes aware of how the film is just spinning its wheels for long periods. His face is ruined—Now it’s fixed!—Now it’s Sofia!—Now it’s Nuria!—Now he’s having a weird dream! And in the end one can be a little disappointed that, after all the run-around, it’s really just a good mindfuck. But whatever, we can all use one of those once in a while.

Should you watch it: 

If you've never seen Vanilla Sky and don't know what happens, I say sure.