In Defense of David Aames (Character Study – Vanilla Sky)

Oh, look at us doing something new! We have been toying with the idea of dedicating posts to certain characters, and we’re flexing our fingers by trying it out with David Aames! If you’re looking for our Vanilla Sky movie review, look no further! This post may or may not make more sense if you read this after you read the movie review. But it will definitely make more sense if you have seen the movie first.

Go ahead. We’ll wait.  Here’s a handy link for you:

Okay! You went? You watched the movie? Great!

Now let’s get started!

***Spoilers beyond this point!***

Come on now…

Okay, we know what you’re thinking. Of course Buttered Popcorn wants to defend David! He looks just like Tom Cruise, all they watch is Tom Cruise movies, they’re totally biased. Maybe. But great looks notwithstanding, we noticed that David Aames gets a bad rap from… pretty much everyone in the movie.

Don’t get us wrong! At the beginning of the movie, he’s a cad when it comes to women – by his own admission. David tells McCabe, his psychologist, that he used to have complex systems with women that “you wouldn’t believe”. He takes advantage of Julie. Even if you make the argument (which we do) that Julie probably should have realized David just wasn’t that into her, he could also have been firm and just told her his feelings were never going to change. But still! Buttered Popcorn maintains he is not the horrible person most people make him out to be.

I’m a doctor!

Near the beginning of the film, while David is talking to his psychologist (McCabe) about the dream that he is completely alone in New York, McCabe says, “Well, I suppose the empty street meant loneliness.” David replies derisively, “You’re a shrink! You gotta do better than that.” McCabe’s answer is, in our humble true and correct opinion, the crux of David’s story. He says:

“Let’s not stereotype each other. Not all rich kids are soulless, and not all psychologists care about dreams.”

David gets pounded on from every side, and no one in the movie (except Thomas Tipp) ever gives him the benefit of the doubt. (“Sofia” does, but only in his imagination. The real woman does not. There, see? We told you! We spoiled the hell out if it!) People assume they know how David feels all the time, and when he tells them something in direct contradiction to what they think, they ignore it in favor of their own ideas. People who say they care about him constantly act like the fact that he’s rich means he has no real problems.

In one of those cleverly crafted moments that could easily slip by, but is really so telling, Brian has brought Sofia to David’s house, and he says, “Welcome to Graceland!” Hmmmmmmmmmm! So, David just been compared to Elvis Presley, a man who had a mansion with every possible amenity, an airplane with a full-sized bed inside (we’ve seen it in person guys, it’s magnificent), and who was thought to have a charmed life by most people, but truly had some darkness and malcontent in his life that money and fame weren’t able to wash away. In fact, money and fame were the cause of some of those very problems. Intentional? We think so.

We’d like to bring up more evidence of David’s non-assholishness by taking a look at the way major people in David’s life treat him.

The Seven Dwarves are so bitter.

He gets it ALL.

They are always there in the background, waiting to strike and try to seize control of a family company that was left to David by his father. I’m pretty sure board members with as much control as they have are well off. They’re not hungry, they live comfortably. We have people assuming left and right that David is a shallow, money-hungry rich brat, but the board is ready to “sell this tradition of words so they can eat in a better cafeteria.” Gross! Is it any wonder David would rather play racket ball than be in meetings with them?

Julie Gianni is a stalker.


Seriously, she sat up all night and waited for him in an alley. That is not healthy!! It seems like David is using her, and we’re not going to argue against it. But let’s talk about the first morning we see. Julie brought chicken soup for David, and “fucked his brains out” the night before. Later, we learn from Brian that he tried to invite David out somewhere the night before, and Brian assumed he faked having a cold so he could be with Julie. We have discussed the movie (it used to be our hobby to watch this and pick it apart piece by piece), and we imagine that David was alone the night before, but Julie dropped in after Brian’s phone call. And he really does have a cold! Maybe Julie called and David said the same thing he said to Brian. But instead of staying home, Julie came over with soup (and other things).

Promises are different for Julie.

“When you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether YOU do or not!”

It seems clear to us that Julie doesn’t really care what David wants. Her goal is to change him, and make him commit to her, rather than accepting the no-strings-attached relationship he is willing to be part of. Having a no-strings-attached, physical relationship isn’t a horrible thing in itself. It may be naive, or (as the movie says) careless on David’s part to take Julie’s word for it that she’s okay with things as they stand. But if you think about it, David’s doing with Julie what Julie refuses to do with him. He’s taking her words at face value, and behaving as if she means what she says where their relationship is concerned. Is that really so bad?

Brian is a meanie.

That didn’t come out right.

David’s best friend is constantly talking about what a charmed life David has. He gets everything he wants, he’s handsome, he’s (apparently) constantly stealing Brian’s dream girls. Mind you, this is a person who knows that the board of directors hates David and wishes he didn’t exist. At the birthday party, when David tries to assert that he’s Brian’s friend and cares about him, Brian reacts with ridicule, saying that David “owns” him because he’s funding Brian’s book. Wow. Really, dude? If you were just a hanger-on or a business partner, why would he be trying so hard to convince you how much you matter to him??

Oh, and before you remind us that David stole Sofia from Brian right under his nose? First, let’s remember that Sofia and Julie are both Brian’s dream girls. Next, let’s remember Brian and Sofia were not dating, Brian met her the afternoon of the party. Finally, let’s take a look at these pictures that took place about ten seconds after Brian brought Sofia into the house:

Frankly? We think Brian’s gonna be okay.

It’s much worse after the accident. Brian is (perhaps justifiably) hurt that David never asked him to come over, but he shows no attempt AT ALL to sympathize with the fact that David is now literally deformed, in constant pain, and shunned and ridiculed by everyone who sees him. Instead, he joins the ridicule. He gives David shit about his masks, he’s accusatory about David not calling him to come over, without showing the least attempt to see that it might be hard for David to invite someone over, and without thinking – hey, he must REALLY feel terrible if he doesn’t even want ME around. He gives David no quarter here. David can’t even get a courtesy laugh!

Meanwhile, we have seen Brian having a pity-party for himself, and David’s reaction was to take Brian by the shoulders and tell him firmly that he’s brilliant, he’s a great writer, and he’s handsome. After all, “Who am I if I can’t be the one to tell you you’re not ugly?” Where is that kind of support when David needs it? And come on! Brian feels bad for himself because he’s not as cute or rich as David, and David tries to help. “You are brilliant! You are good looking!” David feels bad because he may have driven a woman to commit suicide, he faces agonizing pain, he can’t even physically smile anymore, and everyone he meets on the streets reacts as if they’ve seen a monster, and Brian makes it about himself. “Why didn’t you call me? The new guy is shit!” It really hurts to see Brian abandon David with a tossed off, “We’ll hang soon. And bring your mask if you want, I’m getting used to it.” Wow. REALLY??

Sofia is not as kind as she seems.

Good things will happen if you have a positive attitude!

Sofia is like the shining star of this film, and of David’s life. She’s the quirky little doe-eyed, “guileless” girl that David falls head over heels for. But she’s not all she’s cracked up to be. (Dare we quote Tech Support? “Forgive me. I’m blowing your mind.”) Sofia came to David’s party as Brian’s date, but if you look closely, you will see that the instant she saw David, she had already cast Brian aside. Someone comes to take her coat, and Sofia insists on keeping it. When David comes to talk to her, she makes cute, “embarrassed” small talk about how her coat was too big for the closet. David calls the maid to take the coat away, and they’re in deep with each other in an instant. It was a calculated move on Sofia’s part. Nothing wrong with being calculating, I guess. But David calling her “guileless” is a little bit of that unreliable narrator showing. Julie was actually right. “Some clever girl in a big silly coat” really did come along and play David just the right way.

Sofia doesn’t care about David’s rich-people problems, either. David is enamored of her life. She lives simply, she’s struggling to pay her rent, but she has a dog, she’s okay with being messy, she’s funny and clever, and she seems happy. “I like your life,” he says. This, from a man who has servants to bring him breakfast outside on the sidewalk by his office, and who can basically snap his fingers and get whatever he wants. It goes by so quickly you might not catch it, but David just said, “wealth and power is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Apparently, it went by too quickly for Sofia to see it, too. He says, “Never run a company. Stay an artist. Stay an arms dealer.” Her response?

“Oh PLEASE. Somehow, I can’t play the violin for you. Although, it must be difficult controlling all those people’s lives. Everyone at that party is connected to you for survival in some way.”

And… that’s… a good thing? Everyone at my birthday party needs me for a job! YAY nobody’s here just because they like me! Hooray!! No, Sofia! NO!

Let’s get together soon.

After the accident, when David finally gains the courage to go and see Sofia again, it’s obvious that she’s uncomfortable. If you watch closely (or watch again and again and again like we did), you can see that she’s uncomfortable from the first moment she sees him. It becomes painfully obvious that she doesn’t want to be alone with him when she asks Brian to accompany her on a date with David. And, you can see her discussing with a blond man how David’s face looks, and she’s obviously nonplussed by it. She can’t deal with drunk!David (okay, we don’t blame her, he was getting pretty weird), but she didn’t want to see him again in the first place. She called for Brian’s help before she ever saw him drunk. And when David was at the dance studio, he was acting like his normal self. He was funny, charming, playful, but she felt the need to call Brian to chaperone. Hm.

You have to pull it the fuck together.

“If this turns out to be a big mistake, I have the ability to fall out of love with you like THAT!”

We come to learn that after she ran from him at the club, she never contacted David again, and David never sees her again. She can’t handle what the accident has done to him, and (what’s worse) she’s not willing to try. Now, to be fair, she only spent one night with him. But it was long enough for David to fall head over heels with this unique woman, and we had no reason to believe she didn’t feel the same way. It’s sad that the Sofia we see running away from David and Brian was not the girl that David hoped she was. (Dream!Sofia is a whole different story. Buttered Popcorn approves of Dream!Sofia.)

David Aames is not as shallow/shitty/callous as people make him out to be.

I’m from Ohio

Not all rich kids are soulless.” David faces constant ridicule and secret resentment at work. At home, he lives alone except for occasional visits from a woman who wants more from him than he’s willing to give, and a “best friend” who also kind of resents him, though at least he usually only shows that when he’s drunk. David’s father basically wrote him off as a child because David was afraid of heights. (Really, dad?)

Everyone seems to think he’s shallow. Brian’s claim that “Julie Gianni – my dream girl – is your fuck buddy,” is supposed to make us think that if Brian had a chance with her, he would have a really meaningful relationship, instead of just having sex with her like David. Sofia mentions how much money he has multiple times, and her caricature of him shows a rich boy having fun, surrounded by girls and cash. Just what so many people see on the surface. Julie (in her angry moments) has reduced everything David does to part of his “complicated systems with women” without ever considering that he might have genuine feelings for someone else.

You do your best.

Even the doctors think David is shallow. They assume that he’s upset because of his face, and they tell him he should be grateful that he’s had the “aesthetic benefit of plastic surgery”. Meanwhile, he has migraines that he compares to “steel plates slicing through my every thought.” David has to tell them outright:

“This isn’t about vanity. This is about functioning in the world. It’s my job to be out there, functioning.”

And all they can do is look at their watches and wonder when this uncomfortable meeting will be over. It seems like the only people who care about him unconditionally are his (dead) mother, and his family lawyer. With a life like that, you would think David would be every negative thing people say about him. Shallow. Careless. Heartless. But he’s not. And contrary to what we might assume, it didn’t take getting his face and shoulder crushed for him to “see the light”.

David likes to sit and have deep conversations with people. He calls himself a pleasure delayer when McCabe asks why he didn’t sleep with Sofia that first night. But David had plenty of pleasure that night. He got to talk about life, random things on TV, and just hang out with someone. In fact, he was on his way to convincing someone that he was more than just a princeling with a big inheritance. He was glowing from his evening with her, and it seemed to disappoint him that Julie immediately reduced it all to David playing one of his sex games.

David is determined to “claim” his life and fight the good fight for his company before he gets into the car with Julie. That moment is seen as a huge mistake (“I lost you when I got into that car.”), but it was born of good intentions. He wanted Julie’s friendship still (though clearly he was trying to pull away). A cold, completely selfish person would never have been moved by her line, “You just never seem to be there for your friends until they’ve already given up on you.” If he wasn’t a good guy, he would have left her with a “Yup, that’s right! Can you never call me again?” and it would have been a whole different movie.

I grew stronger in ways I’d never known before.

And after the accident? Man, David is great! It’s so wonderful to see him taking back his life again. In fact, his triumph over the board and his discovery of his own new inner strength is a joy to watch. In a way, we wish that he could have lived his life happily, rather than longing for Sofia, and succumbing to the horrible headaches. But it’s SO great to think that now he has the chance to make a whole new life for himself. And remember, Tech Support told him that his finances wouldn’t last long. It seems like a warning, but David has no qualms about it at all. We already know he wasn’t too thrilled with wealth and power. He was enamored of Sofia’s life, and he’s an artist himself. We at Buttered Popcorn like to think that maybe he went out after leaving The Oasis Project, got himself a small place and became an artist. (Or maybe an arms dealer. ;p)

Pic Spam! Here’s a bunch MORE pics we liked! (We capped them all ourselves!)

Having a bad night…
It was Sofia who never truly recovered.
I’m not gonna be afraid of you anymore.
You are NOT SoFIA! Also don’t touch me.

Final Verdict: David is good people! We like watching him, even when it means he has to go through all kinds of insane drama and outright MESS. Thanks for the ride, Vanilla Sky! And if you haven’t read it yet, please head over and check out our review of the movie and let us know what you think!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.