Open Your Eyes and more
Open Your Eyes
Abre los ojos
Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Cruz, Chete Lera, Najwa Nimri
(Canal+; US theatrical: 16 Apr 1999; 1997)
To riff on Winston Churchill, Open Your Eyes is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma… which is then ensconced inside an infinite number of Russian nesting dolls, buried deep inside an impenetrable fever dream, brought to a heady boil of controlled lunacy, and then set adrift on an uncharted sea of madness. Written, directed and scored by Alejandro Amenabar when he was just 25, it is a bravura high wire act of daring, ambition and invention, a slippery changeling of a film that morphs so frequently and so brazenly between styles, tones and genres, that it’s some sort of miracle that it works as a film at all, let alone works so well.
From the opening darkness, we hear a whispered female voice, repeating over and over, “Open your eyes, open your eyes”. A young man, Cesar, awakens in his bed, goes through his morning routine, leaves his apartment, and drives through quiet city streets - too quiet. They have been drained of sound, of all activity, of all humanity. Is he dreaming? Is he the last man on earth? Is he mad? Darkness, again - the voice imploring, again. He awakens again, the film begins again, and the world begins again, this time loud and appropriately populated.
We discover Cesar is a smug, vain, filthy rich Casanova, living off an inheritance, bedding a different woman every night. One particular disturbed castoff, Nuria, starts to stalk him at a party, and Cesar tries to discourage her advances by chatting up his best friend’s girl, Sofia. Later, he accompanies Sofia home, they spend a sexless night talking and flirting, and he leaves in the morning, smitten and in love. Immediately he is pounced on by Nuria, who’s been lurking outside Sofia’s apartment. She offers a weary Cesar a ride, and promptly goes crazy, sending the car careening off the highway and crashing into a wall, killing herself and gravely injuring Cesar.
And appropriately enough, this is where the film goes flying of the rails as well, transforming itself from a blithe romance into a sinister, dreamlike fugue where events and themes start splaying out recklessly in divergent directions, folding back in on themselves and looping in orbit around an unknowable center. To give away too much would be to ruin the sheer enjoyment of watching Amenabar’s “everything and the kitchen sink” aesthetic play out, of trying to unravel the inner workings of the film’s confounding internal logic.
Cesar emerges from the crash with his face horribly disfigured, a lumbering wreck clinging desperately to his fledgling love for Sofia. OR, he is miraculously cured, his face restored, and his love for Sofia consummated. OR, his world has been inverted, fragmented, Sofia forever lost to him, and he is being punished for his sins. OR, he finds the redemption and the love and inner beauty he never had before. OR, he becomes a paranoid wreck, driven to despair and murder. As the film—and Cesar and we the audience—repeatedly fades out to black and reawakens to an ever increasingly disoriented world, are we blinking in and out between reality and dream? And where does the one end and the other begin? Or is there a difference at all? And does it matter? The only certain thing is uncertainty, and eventual madness, as we fall with Cesar down the rabbit hole.
Or maybe he’s just been mad all along. From early in the film, the events depicted are framed and punctuated by an ongoing discussion between an incarcerated Cesar and a prison psychiatrist. As more layers and twists are added—from the hideous to the miraculous, from the just plain confusing to the outright insane—we start to wonder if everything we have seen has been just the ramblings and memories of a diseased mind; or its dreams run amok; or the memories of a dream; or dreams of memories; or the last dying dreams of… Oh but wait! What if all this—the prison, the story—is itself just a dream too! But then, what if… oh, you get the idea. Open Your Eyes is confusion without end, reveling in its definitive refusal to be definitive about anything.
As the film careens towards its heady conclusion, Amenabar offers an explanation of sorts, an answer that seems to be a bit of a cheat until you realize that it has so fundamentally altered everything you’ve just seen—recasts not only the events of the film but the very apprehension of it—that any hope of clarity is put forever out of reach. Plummeting over the edge (quite literally) of sanity in its final frame, Open Your Eyes crashes straight back into its opening scene - the darkness, the voice—looping back around on itself like a Mobius Strip, telling you again to “open your eyes, open your eyes”. Jake Meaney
Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Mark Harelik
Tracy Flick is the kind of girl who’s got a 50/50 shot at becoming President of the United States or a sociopathic serial killer.
That much is clear from our very first glimpse of the ultimate overachiever. She sets up a rickety card table as if the dingy hallway of her high school hallway were a cabinet war room, tape perfectly shaped around a pen and clipboards exactly aligned. You get the feeling that if anyone were to ruin all of her perfect, 90-degree angles, that the tiny, angelic-looking blonde would go medieval on them without a single thought. Election made plenty of contributions to the annals of pop culture. Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Tracy established her as a potential It girl. Director Alexander Payne earned his first Oscar nomination for the screenplay. Chris Klein was plucked from Nebraska obscurity to play Paul Metzler and set out on the path to a bit part as “pre-Tom Cruise fiance” in the Katie Holmes E! True Hollywood Story.
But the movie’s greatest gift was Tracy Flick, a tightly wound ball of single-minded determination and barely concealed rage.
Tracy gains a nemesis in sad sack government teacher Jim McAllister (a doughy Matthew Broderick.) While Tracy spends the initial scenes of the movie unleashing her campaign for student body president, McAllister is down the hall peering into a refrigerator full of his co-worker’s moldy lunches.
Tracy doesn’t care who she needs to walk over to achieve success. But she’s definitely going somewhere fast and that appears to be the very reason that McAllister hates her. McAllister’s attempt to dash Tracy’s dream of becoming student body president pulls in the Metzler siblings – puppy dog Paul and emo chick Tammy (Jessica Campbell). The two are the comic relief, pawns in a much larger game, though Paul is too innocent and Tammy too self-absorbed to notice. Tracy and “Mr. M” are so focused on what they don’t have, that they both spend the movie slowly coming apart at the scenes.
Tracy earns “A” after “A” and takes up more than her fair share of pages in the yearbook, but her fling with a teacher friend of McAllister’s destroyed a marriage. McAllister, a nice guy stifled by a narrow life, is incensed that Little Miss Perfect’s life continued unscathed, undeserving halo firmly in place. McAllister’s pursuit of an election victory for Paul is a substitute for what he can’t achieve for himself.
Witherspoon is pitch perfect as Tracy and shades of her portrayal appear in just about any female character in film or television who is driven to the point of recklessness (for example, add a hair band and a pedigree and you’ve got Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf). But the one place that has truly picked Flick is the American political scene. The list of politicos reportedly accused of being Tracy clones includes former Vice President Al Gore, New York senator Kristen Gillibrand and the woman she replaced in that job, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Slate created an ingenious mash-up that casts young upstart Barack Obama as the target of the more experienced Clinton’s (and Tracy’s) scorn. You can see Tracy in the forced smile Amy Poehler adopted to play a defeated Clinton on Saturday Night Live, and hear her as an inspiration for Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin drawl.
Election provides ample material for any number of Republican vs. Democrat allusions (although truthfully, most of the leaders of either party were probably a bit of a Tracy Flick in high school.) McAllister pulls clueless Paul into the election because he knows that the student body will be drawn to a “regular guy,” someone they could sit down and have a drink with (a six pack, perhaps?). Ultimately he’s wrong. As Election draws to a close, however, Tracy the victor begins to realize that she too has lost something. Rachel Kipp