Two films will be released in the coming months, star vehicles
for two of Hollywood's better actors. Tom Cruise (yes, I believe
he can act) stars in
Vanilla Sky, a film about a good looking guy who is
rebuffed when he makes a pass at his best friend's girl, and
ends up in a car accident which leaves his face a mess. Then,
really strange things start happening...
There is also K-Pax a Kevin Spacey film about an inmate
in an insane asylum who claims he is an alien who receives
signals from his home planet. The doctors in the asylum assume
he's delusional, but the other inmates find him inspiring.
Although neither of these films had opened before I sat down
to write this
article, I had the distinct impression that I had seen them
That's probably because I had. Vanilla Sky is based
on a Spanish-language film called Open Your Eyes (both
of which star Penelope Cruz go figure). K-Pax
has the same storyline as another Spanish film, Man Facing
Southeast, which suggests to me that they are based on
the same source material.
It's hard to look forward to these films with much anticipation;
Hollywood remakes of foreign film are not as good as the originals.
are many reasons for this.
For one thing, Hollywood films are star-driven; scripts are
often shaped to
fit the talents of the actors who play in (and who generate
them. When such talents areahemlimited, this necessarily
limits the quality of the film. Even when the stars themselves
are talented, however,
their presence in the films tends to overshadow... well, the
who go to Vanilla Sky, for example, wondering what
role Penelope Cruz played in the destruction of Tom Cruise's
marriage to Nicole Kidman aren't likely to appreciate the
film on its (potentially considerable) merits.
Another consideration is that American science fiction is
dominated by special effects, an approach which invariably
leaves little room for character development. However, both
Open Your Eyes and Man Facing Southeast are
character-driven stories; the science fiction elements in
these films are very low key. In Open Your Eyes, the
science fiction doesn't kick in until halfway through the
movie. With Man Facing Southeast, there can be some
question of whether it is sci-fi at all. One can only hope
the makers of Vanilla Sky and K-Pax resist the
urge to add visual effects to the films, since they can only
detract from the development of the characters which was the
heart of the originals.
This may not be seen as a problem for the American filmmakers
generally, Hollywood remakes tend to soften the characters
in remakes of
foreign films. Consider how bland the characters in Three
Men and a Baby are compared to the originals in Trois
Hommes et un Couffin, or the shallowness of The Bird
Cage compared with the much sharper understanding of sexual
politics in La Cage aux Folles.
Where mainstream American films tend to hollow out inner
complexity, they also tend to broaden outer emotional displays.
for K-Pax suggests that the inmates of the asylum are
euphoric at Spacey's presence. While there is certainly an
element of that in Man Facing Southeast, the emotion
isn't so broad, so...obvious.
There is also the problem of endings. Robert McKee, in Story,
claims that there are two types of narrative structure which
lead to different endings: open and closed. Open narratives
leave some questions open at the end of the film; in the most
extreme cases (think: Last Year at Marienbad
or Goddard's Weekend), these films open up a variety
of possibilities which are never brought to any kind of closure.
Closed structures, on the other hand, answer every question
they raise, tie up all loose ends, explain everything.
McKee argues that, while both forms have their uses, closed
more satisfying than open ones. This was certainly Aristotle's
(although he was speaking specifically about tragedy, not
the profusion of
genres we have today). Such narratives seem more popular with
judging by box office.
I don't entirely agree. The problem with closed narratives
is that they
leave the audience little room to create its own experience.
mainstream films are quickly forgotten the moment you leave
the theatre; to be sure, this is partially because they just
aren't very good, but I would argue that at least part of
the reason is that they leave us with nothing to think about
when they are finished. Just as we like to walk out of the
museum thinking, "What was the Mona Lisa smiling about?",
if some aspects of the narrative are left unresolved, audiences
will leave the theatre trying to puzzle them out. Not satisfying
the audience's need to have every
question answered may paradoxically lead to a more involvedand
This was certainly true of Man Facing Southeast and
Open Your Eyes both of which ended with questions rather
than answers. One can only hope that the American versions
will maintain this (but you will forgive me if I have doubts).
I wish Vanilla Sky and K-Pax big opening weekends
and long runs. However, if I were you, I would go to the large
foreign section of your regular video store (and shame on
you if your regular video store doesn't have a large foreign
section) and rent Open Your Eyes and Man Facing
Southeast. When it comes to cinematic creativity, accept
Copyright © 2001 Ira Nayman. All Rights
Ira Nayman has a PhD in Communications from
McGill University. He has written on film for over 10 years,
writing which has appeared in Creative Screenwriting and Reel
Independence, among other publications.