Vanilla Sky (2001) : Movie Plot Ending Explained

Vanilla Sky is a beautiful remake of the Spanish film “Abre Los Ojos” (Open Your Eyes) by Cameron Crowe. The Vanilla Sky cast includes Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz and Cameron Diaz in leading roles. What begins as a romantic tale with a murder mystery slowly unfolds to become something that warps reality. You know I can’t say more without spoiling it for you. Go watch. Come back. Read on. Here’s the explanation of the plot and ending of the film Vanilla Sky.

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Vanilla Sky is almost like Tom Cruise’s reply to Brad Pitt’s Fight Club, no? 


Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Vanilla Sky: Plot Explanation

The Characters:

David Aames (Tom) – Wealthy owner of a big publishing firm
Julie Gianni (Cameron) – David’s friend with benefits.
Brian Shelby – David’s best friend.
Sofia Serrano (Penélope) – Brian’s crush and the girl David falls in love with.
Dr. Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell) – David’s psychologist inside the Lucid Dream
Tommy – One of David’s firm’s attorney
Edmund Ventura – Tech Support inside the Lucid Dream

We’ll get to Lucid Dream in a bit.


David is a wealthy bachelor and has inherited his father’s company at 51% ownership. The board of directors, who he calls The Seven Dwarfs, hate David as they assumed that one of them would become the eventual owners of the company.



David lives a rockstar lifestyle which involves many women. One such is Julie. Julie and David are friends who sometimes sleep together. Though David considers this relationship no more casually than it is, Julie has developed stronger feelings for David. She loves him but doesn’t tell him that. She expects and assumes that he too loves her back. In one such sleepover, David has a dream about being all alone at Times Square. He wakes up and leaves for work. Julie, however, misses an audition to be with David.


David throws a party on his 33rd birthday and doesn’t care to invite Julie. She shows up anyway. At the party, we are quickly shown a bunch of people that David hardly cares about. Brian shows up to the party with Sofia. David and Sofia are interested in one another and flirt lightly.


Tommy approaches David and thanks him for putting him up for an attorney’s job in London. Tommy has been fired, but in a nice way by David. Tommy, drunk, explains how he understands he has become old and incompetent. He then tells David about how the seven dwarfs are always looking to overthrow David. David gets Tommy driven home and also reinstates his job with a 50% hike. He realizes that Tommy is someone who actually cared for his father and now cares for him.

Julie is Hurt

Upstairs, David receives a naked greeting from Julie. David doesn’t like the fact that she has shown up without being invited. Julie is hurt that she wasn’t invited. David leaves her and heads down.

David and Sofia

He runs into Sofia and they hit it off real quick. Julie watches with a tear rolling down her cheek. David and Sofia disappear into his private office where they talk for a while. Brian shows up and is drunk. He also confesses that he digs Sofia but will give her up because David is interested. Brian leaves. David and Sofia head to her place and they talk all night long, sketch each other, but don’t sleep together.

Vanilla Sky: Life Extension

On TV, there is a show about how a dog, Benny, who was frozen and preserved alive in ice and was thawed back into animation. It’s a company called Life Extension that is offering people cryogenic freezing of their bodies as they sleep the rest of their lives. Soon after the person is dead, the body is frozen and the brain is kept alive in a suspended state. The company also claims that the person can unfreeze a human back to life (provided the person’s body and age support it).

sofia david

The Car Accident

David and Sofia kiss as the night ends. They are about to begin a relationship. He leaves her home and heads to his car. Julie approaches him. She’s been following him and admits to it too. She can’t accept that David is falling in love with Sofia. Julie offers one more fling and asks David to ride with her. He gets in her car and they leave. While driving, Julie tells David that she loves him. She’s also extremely annoyed that he told Brian about being a “F&^k Buddy”. She begins driving real fast and decides to kill them both by driving off a bridge.

Post Accident Events

Julie dies. David goes into a coma for three and a half weeks with a busted arm and jaw. Because of the coma, no surgery could be performed and his face gets deformed beyond repair by plastic surgery. Dejected, David returns to his life. He avoids everyone. Tommy calls David to tell him to take control of the company or the board would take over.

David meets with his doctors and they tell him that there is no further help that plastic surgery can do for him. They offer David a prosthetic mask and this really angers him. After this, David emerges out of his silos. He begins taking board meetings over video calls. He goes to Sofia’s dance class to meet her. She meets him and is visually disturbed by his disfigured face. They plan to meet again but Sofia asks Brian to join.

I’ll tell you in another life when we are both cats

He goes to a club to meet Brian and Sofia. David’s sourness makes Brian get annoyed and they argue. David heads to the bar and gets drunk. He comes back and begins talking to Sofia. Sofia is still disturbed and is not able to come to terms with the way David looks now. They leave the club and Sofia parts ways.

What did Brian tell Julie in Vanilla Sky?

David asks Brian if he told Julie that she was a “F&^k Buddy”. Brian denies it by saying he never talked to her. But at the party, we are shown Brian talking to Julie. Perhaps Brian was way too drunk and ended up saying this to Julie but he can’t remember. If you think about it, Brian came in with Sofia and if he stayed with her, he wouldn’t have gotten that drunk. Because David makes away with Sofia, he gets drunk and blabbers things to Julie which eventually causes the accident. David and Brian part ways. David imagines Brian and Sofia hooking up and passes out on the street.

At this point, we have a tangent. The film splits into “Reality” and the “Lucid Dream

Vanilla Sky: What is Lucid Dream by Life Extension?

At Life Extension, apart from freezing and preserving the body soon after death, they also allow for an endless state of a dream based on what the person wants. The memories from a particular point in life will be erased and replaced with alternate memories chosen by the person. After this, the person remains in cryonised state dreaming of an alternate life, eternally.


What actually happens in reality in Vanilla Sky?

After the drunken night, David wakes up alone on the street. He never meets Sofia after that. David battles the Board with the help of Tommy and gains back the control. After that, David shuts himself away for months. Edmund Ventura, from Life Extension, finds David on the Internet and connects with him. David opts for the Lucid Dream and decides to end his life. Life Extension cryogenically freezes David’s body. As instructed by David, the company erases the memories of his death and events that occur post the drunken night on the street. They replace it with an alternate version and David begins dreaming. Brian Shelby throws a three-day memorial in David’s old home. Sofia attends the memorial and is unable to forget that first night with David.

Alternate Reality in Vanilla Sky: The Lucid Dream

In this version, David decides that he gets back together with Sofia. As instructed by him, the company splices his life events with an alternate reality. A reality where Sofia appears in the morning, picks him up, and takes him home. They begin their relationship.

The dream goes on to doctors flying down someone from Berlin and attempting a new form of reconstructive surgery on his face. After that, his face is fixed and he continues to live a happy life with Sofia. In the real world, 150 years pass.


Then the nightmare begins. One day he wakes up (within the Lucid Dream) to notice that Julie is in bed instead of Sofia. Julie claims that she is Sofia. David ties her up and calls the cops. He believes that the Seven Dwarfs are behind this. That the whole accident was a setup and the real Sofia has been kidnapped.

David’s Guilt

David is in custody. Tommy comes in to help take him out. He shows David pictures of Julie with bruises all over her face. Tommy too refers to her as Sofia. David leaves. Brian meets him outside and grabs him by the collar. He tells David to never hit a girl. David explains to Brian that it was Julie and not Sofia. Brian says he met with Sofia and saw the bruises on her face. Brian also says “Yes! And you stole her from me. The one girl I really wanted and you took her from me”. This is David’s subconscious guilt surfacing up for stealing Brian’s girl. But soon he declares that Brian too is part of the conspiracy and leaves.


Later, David is at a bar. Life Extension is monitoring the Lucid Dream and they have realized that David’s subconscious is turning the dream into a nightmare. They send Tech Support (a digital version of Edmund Ventura) to go meet David. Edmund tells David to calm down and take back control. He tells David that the people in the bar are mere projections and when David says “What I’d love for them to do is shut up”, they do, everyone goes quiet. He’s confused and leaves.

Tech support

Sofia and Julie – all mixed up

David goes to Sofia’s home and all the pictures in the house are replaced with Julie’s, even his sketch. This is all part of the Lucid Dream going wrong. Julie comes in and hits David thinking he’s a thief. Later she gets him a towel. When Julie returns from the room, she turns back into Sofia again. As viewers of the film, we are made to believe that the accident has caused David to have hallucinations, but it’s the Lucid Dream being steered away by David’s subconscious.

Killing Julie and Sofia

David and Sofia make love but then she turns back into Julie again. David is unable to process this and ends up suffocating Julie to death. After which he notices the mole on the chest which confirms that he has killed Sofia.


The authorities arrest David and a psychologist, McCabe, is called in. Remember, this is all still part of the Lucid Dream. David is interviewed by McCabe. This is how the film starts. What you have read till now is narrated by David as a flashback. The conversation between David and McCabe is basically David’s subconscious battling the dream state.

Who is Ellie in Vanilla Sky?

McCabe mentions that David happened to be screaming for Ellie in one of the nights. This is not Ellie, it is L.E – Life Extension. David’s mind is trying to remind him of the company that has put him in this state of dream. Many a time in this conversation with McCabe, David feels like he hasn’t murdered anyone and that all of this feels like a dream. Because, it is, he just doesn’t know yet. McCabe, upset that David has confessed to killing Sofie, leaves. He states that the plea will be for temporary insanity.

David then sees a television which is playing the add for Life Extension. Again this is his subconscious calling out to him. David calls back McCabe asking to be taken to the Life Extension office. The two of them head there. As they go in, they see people that David begins to recollect. This entire office and its people are part of the Lucid Dream. None of these people exist in the current day as it has been 150 years since the dream began.


Vanilla Sky Ending Explained

Who is Rebecca Dearborn?

Eventually, they meet with a Rebecca Dearborn who tells them about L.E and Lucid Dream. Finally, David remembers that he is in a dream state and calls out to Tech Support and says he wants to wake up. He runs out and the door to the lift opens. He enters to find Edmund (digital Tech Support) inside. Edmund explains what has happened to David in his real life and the glitch in the dream state. Once on the roof, David imagines McCabe to be back and he appears from a door. Next, Brian appears. David is given a choice. Edmund says that the glitch has been corrected and can go back to the Lucid Dream with no memories of the nightmare involving Julie. That he can choose go back to Sofia in the dream or he can choose to wake up in the real world. Edmund says that it has been 150 years since David was frozen and that his face and body can now be fixed but the world is different and the finances won’t last.

Open Your Eyes!

To wake up in the real world, David would need to jump off the really tall building. This has been chosen by him to overcome his fear of heights. He has chosen this scenario to ensure it is not easy to decide to wake up. McCabe, David’s projection, tries to convince him against it. Edmund explains he is not real, McCabe doesn’t know the name of his two kids. David chooses to wake up in the real world and live a real life. Edmund asks if he has any last wishes. David asks to meet with Sofia (by asking the technicians to read his mind). Sofia appears and David pledges his love for her one last time. He takes a running leap off the building. He falls. He wakes up in the real world.

He hears the voice of a woman say “Relax, David. Open your eyes”.

No, this is not Sofia. This is one of the staffs of the company bringing David back to life from his cryogenic state. Where he goes from here is up to David and is not part of this film.