Synopsis: In this steamy, intriguingly complex, psychological thriller the line between reality and fantasy is hopelessly blurred. Cesar tries to make sense of his life after a car crash leaves his once-handsome face grotesquely disfigured. After he is placed into a psychiatric penitentiary for a murder he doesn’t remember committing, Cesar’s only hope is to delve into the depths of his subconscious mind where the answer to ending his living nightmare lies in his dreams.
Abre los ojos 8.5
eyelights: its plot. its construction. its great reveal. the performances.
eyesores: its finale.
“Open your eyes.”
‘Abre los ojos’ is a phenomenal movie. It doesn’t look like much at first glance, seeming like just your average romantic drama – both due to its North American poster and because of its initial volley, but there’s so much more beneath the surface, behind its mask. It’s actually a multi-layered mind-bending picture in the same vein as ‘Memento‘ or ‘Inception‘.
If you enjoy that type of movie, and you haven’t yet seen ‘Abre los ojos’ (or its lesser American remake, ‘Vanilla Sky’), then read no further. Get it and watch it cold. Now. Personally, I’ve watched it 3 or 4 times and thoroughly enjoy it without fail: its characters are appropriately realistic, the dynamics are complex, and it teases the mind with its delicious opaqueness.
I love how puzzling it is. We never know what is real and what isn’t because our protagonist doesn’t know himself: he is having nightmares, is delusional, and his life is unraveling. That’s part of the picture’s charm, because we have to stay alert just in case we might miss a clue. To me, this make it intensely more satisfying than a picture that spoonfeeds its audience.
‘Abre los ojos’ follows César, the wealthy owner of a successful catering franchise. A handsome philanderer, he falls for his best friend’s date to his birthday celebration, and selfishly railroads the latter’s romantic intentions. But before he can make the most of his developing romance, he finds himself in a severe accident affecting his close relationships and mental stability.
I am quite impressed with how the picture manages to transition César from a hunky jerk into a relatively sympathetic, if troubled, guy; although we can’t help but dislike him at first, he becomes so vulnerable that we end up empathizing with him. Genius. The fact that neither he nor we know what is going on gives him a pass of sorts because it lumps us in with him.
Similarly a lot of the other characters’ behaviours can be inconsistent, but we become so sure that a lot of it is mere delusion that we accept that they act the way they do because they are a figment of his troubled mind. From that perspective, they can do anything that he wills them to, irrespective of whether or not it’s in character. So even that isn’t destabilizing at all.
All of the performances are rock solid, but they aren’t outstanding. Although Eduardo Noriega (who looks not unlike a Spanish Peter Gallagher) won for best actor at his country’s Goya Awards, his best moments as César are probably hidden behind masks – one of which is eerily similar to Michael Myers‘ original mask. More is expected of him emotionally then, but we don’t see it.
Meanwhile, Fele Martínez is fine as Pelayo, César’s friend, making him probably the most sympathetic of the lot, but he’s not unforgettable. On the flipside, I must admit that, while I don’t usually like Penélope Cruz, I was totally won over by her here; her freshness was like a shining light in this picture. Interestingly enough, she plays the same role in the American remake, ‘Vanilla Sky’.
In any event, if the picture belongs to anyone, it’s to Alejandro Amenábar, who not only directed it, but co-wrote and co-scored its soundtrack. He craftily tosses so many red herrings into his Hitchcockian tale that we are convinced that we know its secret – and yet we are inevitably wrong. The ending alone is terrific because it was been hinted at throughout, but never revealed.
Granted, for all the subtle maneuvers that he makes over the course of the film, Amenábar still manages to dish out some gratuity, like full-frontal female nudity and some cheap thrills (ex: the rather implausible ending – I would never react the way César does). These are done for effect, and are totally unnecessary, but they also don’t take away from the picture’s many achievements.
Because, in the end ‘Abre los ojos’ is a unique motion picture: it involves us in the protagonist’s inner life and consequently leaves us as disturbed as he is. And as relieved, when he finds his “redemption”. And bedazzled by the picture’s eventual revelations – to the extent that it compels its audience to start over from the top the moment that it’s done, something that’s very rare.
Once your eyes have been opened, you feel the need to see the story unfold with this brand new perspective.
Date of viewing: May 21, 2015