Review of "Open Your Eyes"

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Sep 10 2001 - 01:38:50 MDT

"Open Your Eyes"


It is practically impossible to say *anything* about "Open Your Eyes"
without enormous spoilerage, so I'll keep the nonspoiler review short:
Five stars, go watch it. Currently "Open Your Eyes" is available in
Spanish with subtitles (the version I watched). A remake of this movie,
"Vanilla Sky", starring Tom Cruise, is supposed to be in theaters December
14th 2001. If the remake is faithful to the original, and it doesn't win
the Hugo, then the Hugo doesn't deserve to exist. If the remake is not
faithful to the original, I will discover the names of those responsible.

(For those of you who saw "The Others", this is by the same director.
"The Others" was also a good movie, but not as good as this.)


"Open Your Eyes" is carefully structured transhumanist science fiction
(unlike sloppily structured transhumanist science fiction, such as "The
Matrix"). If "The Matrix" is a transhumanist action movie, then "Open
Your Eyes" is a transhumanist psychological thriller. Throughout this
movie I had the interesting experience of repeatedly saying "Could that be
- ? Does that mean - ? Nah, it couldn't possibly. I'm just putting my
own Extropian-acclimated interpretation on it. The director couldn't be
that smart." And then it turns out that the director IS that smart. As
someone who always expects Hollywood to screw up and dumb down whatever
they touch - and yes, this ultimately happened even to "The Matrix" - I
was pleasantly astonished by this movie.

"Open Your Eyes", and the forthcoming "Vanilla Sky" is very definitely an
instance of the mainstream creeping up on transhumanism. Yet another
morsel of understanding that was formerly the sole province of a few
isolated mailing lists is about to be gulped down by the public at large.


In the same sense that the sheer total giveaway of the Matrix is "The main
character is living in a computer simulation run by AIs, and once awakened
by the resistance he is able to gain control of the simulation", the sheer
total giveaway of "Open Your Eyes" is "The main character is in an
accident and has his face terribly disfigured until surgeons miraculously
repair it; it turns out, however, that he actually signed up for cryonics
after his accident, committed suicide, got cryonically frozen, was revived
150 years in the future, and is currently living out a fantasy dream in
which his face was repaired, but the dream has started to go wrong, and he
now needs to wake up." (Note that "Open Your Eyes" was a 1997 movie,
giving it priority over "The Matrix".)

This movie, if the US remake is faithful to the original, will do for
cryonics what "The Matrix" did for the "this world is a computer
simulation" hypothesis. I would say that the presentation is basically
fair to cryonics as described by its advocates. Alcor will probably get a
ton of new inquiries when the US version, "Vanilla Sky" comes out. If
Alcor doesn't know about "Open Your Eyes" and the forthcoming US version,
someone really ought to tell them NOW - although I would be surprised to
find Alcor innocent. The name of the cryonics organization in the movie
is "Life Extension", which is a pretty good match for "Alcor Life
Extension Foundation" if you ask me.

I would rate this movie as SL3 rather than SL4, since it seems pretty
clear that the protagonist's dream is being organized at a gross,
imperfect level, rather than being provided in pixel-by-pixel detail by a
superintelligence. The experiences as depicted in the movie are *not*
experiences that could be had by an uploaded cryonaut existing inside a
Friendly SI; they are experiences of a revivee still living in a
biological body and subject to gross, rather than neuron-by-neuron,
psychological surgery. With that very important caveat, I would say that
the movie is faithful SL3 hard science fiction.

To give an example of the kind of attention to detail I'm talking about -
the same attention to detail that characterized "The Others", come to
think of it - the movie doesn't just suppose that cryonics patients are
put into fantasy worlds. That would be a classic "It's a plot device, we
can do anything we want" dodge. Instead, it turns out that the
protagonist specifically checked off an option on the cryonics contract
requesting a "splice"; that the memory of the cryonics contract, the
checking of that option, and the memory of the actual end-of-life be
eliminated, and that the apparent life continue from a moment shortly
before death. Brian says that Alcor does *not* offer this option on the
cryo contracts... although, of course, his lack of memory is suspect.

Well, no, not really. This is actually the main point I was thinking
about after the movie. I find it easy to imagine a Luddite requesting a
splice post-Singularity - although I expect, and hope, that no more than a
few thousand oddballs will really go for that - but I wouldn't expect the
splicees to have the experiences depicted in the movie. The movie is only
plausible if you assume imperfectly controlled SL3 biological dreaming,
rather than precisely controlled uploading. The three main discordancies
with a true post-Singularity world are these: First, the dream wouldn't
turn into a nightmare; if, somehow, things did start going wrong, it would
be spotted and corrected long before things got so far out of control.
Second, all you need to do to wake up... if it's a Friendly AI providing
the dream... is to genuinely and fully *want* to wake up; a point the
protagonist reached fairly early on in the movie. Third, even though it
seems like such an obvious exit from the simulation, it really shouldn't
be necessary to commit suicide as evidence of commitment.

That last part probably deserves emphasis. It is not fair, or Friendly,
to stick some poor shmuck in a simulated world and say: "Well, you've
*been* provided with an exit from the simulation; if you're ever
completely sure it's a simulation, you can just jump off a roof and wake
up." If this world is a simulation and my being here serves no useful
purpose, then I, for one, definitely and completely want to wake up right
now; if this world is real, I want to stick around and see to the
Singularity. Jumping off a roof is only logical if you are absolutely
certain that the world is a simulation and you are absolutely certain that
"death" is the correct (and only) exit point. But nobody trapped in a
simulation can ever be that sure. The protagonist in the movie couldn't
have been sure that his experiences were the result of a simulated world,
rather than resulting from a schizophrenic breakdown in our world.

In a pre-Singularity world, there is such a thing as involuntary unknowing
insanity... which means you can never be completely sure of *anything*.
It is fair and Friendly to say "If you ever decide that you want to wake
up conditional on the world being a simulation, you will wake up"; it is
not fair or Friendly to require suicide as proof of sincerity. Which
means that if you make the decision to wake up, and you *still* haven't
woken up, then you are definitely not living in a simulation being run by
a Friendly entity... which means that even if the world *is* a simulation,
suicide will probably just kill you. (If you decide to wake up,
conditional on the world you see being a simulation that serves no useful
purpose, then you can be sure that the world is either not a Friendly
simulation, or that the world is a simulation which serves what you would
describe as a worthwhile purpose.) Suicide as a possible way of waking up
is definitely *not* logical, as best I currently understand the rules. I
think this is a fairly important point to establish, and even so, as with
"The Matrix", I would not recommend "Open Your Eyes" to people who are
already mentally unstable.


Eliezer Yudkowsky.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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