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Submission 081

Light Adaptation and the Human Imagination

Whether it is the flicker of the candle in her eyes or the way shadows seem to frame his

smile in a way that borders on the realm of surreal beauty, the mysticism of the night and darkness

have often produced seductive imagery that have only been seen or experienced in the dreams of the

human mind. Though two people may completely surrender to the images the power of the night

has set before them, can the light of day transform such constructed images from a surreal state into

a more true or real state? To help contribute to the notion that one truly can see things in a whole

new light, an application of it and associated concepts will be used in relation to the movie, Vanilla

Sky. Also, a case to prove the movie is actually a contemporary film noir feature with shared

characteristics to the classic movie, Vertigo, will be introduced.

“Light adaptation-noun: A form of adaptation in which the visual system is adjusted for

efficient response to the light under conditions of strong illumination… (Colman 234).” Scientific

studies have concluded that human beings see either in scotopic (dark adapted) or photopic (light

adapted) vision (Kaiser). For photopic, cone vision of red, orange, and yellow appear more vivid in

bright illumination; scotopic, rod vision that contributes more to the attributes of blue and green

colors. If by going with the eye and emotional reaction to colors seen—generally speaking—the

colors associated with scotopic vision are more relaxing and calm in comparison to those viewed in

photopic vision. To relate this to our case notion in a literal sense, a shift from night (when one may

be allured by the calm and soothing colors that surround the object of their desire) to day (when

colors are more aggressive to the idea) may result in a shock of sorts—displeasing the viewer with

the real image. The allure toward the colors in scotopic vision may also be from association to

emotions of death. Red, yellow, and orange become grey in dim light, which accompany blue and

green in a very calm combination of color (Birren 24). This appeal toward the world of the non-

living, or death drive (and even to an extent, masochistic behavior); can be further illustrated

through Scottie’s actions in Vertigo as well as David’s actions in Vanilla Sky.

In Vertigo, Scottie finds himself overwhelmed with acrophobia from the beginning of the

movie—resulting in the death of another. From there on, a spiraling tale ensues of masochistic

pleasure and a fascination with death. A de-maculated male lead finds himself in not in control of

his life as well as the woman it comes to revolve around. In the end, after reconstructing the

beautiful image he once viewed in the darkness (figurative), the light of truth shines down

shattering his fixation and temporary contentment. Can the same themes and notions be detected in

the film, Vanilla Sky, as in Vertigo? Does Vanilla Sky fit into the category of a contemporary film


The entire movie is filmed in the view of David with the overshadowing dominant male

figure in the form of his own father—the man for whom David owes all of his fortune. A narration

from him as he is discussing off scene the events which unfold (this also is required to meet the

standard of film noir). From the very beginning David is living in the romantic world of figurative

darkness, not having to experience the crude realism of an average person’s life. He has a love

affair with a blonde femme fatale, sharing much of their romance in the literal evening hours.

Things escalate later as David meets another young woman in the calm and alluring night time,

Sofia. Seeing each other only in the single evening they share together, they part ways come time

for morning. In this process, David is confronted by his blonde femme fatale whom exposed in the

harsh light of truth is actually a lover turned stalker. David, even when seeing and absorbing this

information as it sits in plain view, decides to take up an offer by the blonde fatale to have another

sexual encounter as they have before. The end result is a hysterical breakdown on the part of the

femme fatale, killing herself in a fatal car crash and scarring David physically for life. Thus, it is

from such moment early in the film that David begins the process of reasserting his identity in a

more elongated fashion unlike film noir in the past. Also, he must separate himself from the figure

of Sofia, for which his universe begins to revolve around after the aforementioned event.

So how does the mysticism of the night and the truth of day fall into play here? David,

when confronted with the choice of joining the blonde femme fatal or going to his business
meeting, he decided to play with the stalker. Why? Most likely it is because the thought of

experiencing that dark-realm—before he discovered her true nature—was so tempting to him? A

possible death-drive psyche that tempts him to take part in such destructive behavior may be a

plausible cause as with Scottie in Vertigo.

The hysterical breakdown of David’s blonde lover triggers a new journey of self-discovery

for David. He must now regain his empowerment to maintain his social life and business life.

Without anyone to immediately turn to he decided to confront the last person who with he shared

enchantment, Sofia. In broad day light he shows himself with his deformed face. It is a literal and

figurative display of how the light of day has changed the perception of how she sees him. She has

never seen him in the day or in his new state, thus, a double impact for her. However, she continues

to help him regain himself over a period of time. Things seem almost too good to be true as David

reconstructs his face and obtains true love with Sofia. However, as soon as his greatest happiness is

fulfilled, it unravels in complete confusion. The end is a plot twist that may have been unexpected

(and questionable) to many. Concluding that the moment David started truly interacting with Sofia

was his own design and in fact a lucid dream leaves one with the questions: Did David torture

himself on purpose? Did he emancipate himself from the grasp of both women and emerge a much

more distinctive man? Or was his final aim to emancipate himself from the images constructed and

lingering in his mind?

Strikingly similar shared themes exist throughout this movie that can relate to that of

Vertigo. Besides the symptoms of acrophobia, it is as though both lead male roles are very

masochistic and deliberately put themselves in positions to be dealt pain in various doses.

Furthermore, both seem to put themselves in these situations in order to set themselves free from

the grasp of the woman that fit into their surreal constructed images. An identity crisis occurred

with the women in both their lives with a death of the first girl, and identity mix-up with the latter.

The final outcome is a last confrontation with their biggest fear, the acrophobia. In Vertigo, he

finally makes it to the top of the tower and kisses his love goodbye before she accidentally throws
herself off to her doom. Whereas in Vanilla Sky David is confronted with the choice of staying in

the figurative dark and relive his dreams over and over or throwing himself off of the building and

into the light of truth. In the end, both men emancipate themselves from what they long for and

open their eyes. However, is there an underlying message informing us that only through death can

one obtain their freedom? For Scottie, the death of both his women from a tower worked. But for

David, he pre-arranged his situation to decide to jump off the building or stay behind. This clearly

illustrates the death drive in use for pleasure or relief. In any case, it is safe to say that both

characters’ eyes became light-adapted, accepting the truth in which their imaginations desired to