The weirdest sci-fi film on Amazon Prime reveals the limits of a bizarre technology

The 2000s were a weird time for movies. Absurd plot twists, annoying rich men played by Tom Cruise, and insane fairy dream girlfriends abounded in cinema—and vanilla heaven contains all three in spades.

While many of the 2001 film’s plot points haven’t aged well in 2022, there’s one central conceit that has perhaps become even more relevant since the film’s release: the quest for eternal life. Warning: spoiler ahead for vanilla heaven.

The story revolves around David, a handsome rich heir who is frankly a selfish jerk. He only has one friend to take care of him – until he meets the mysterious and beautiful Sofia, who blows his mind. But when a car accident badly bruises his face, the now-insecure David becomes even more desperate in his attempts to woo Sofia.

At the end of the film we find out that the main character David is not actually in a relationship with his girlfriend Sofia, but that he has died and his body is being frozen by a company called Life Extension. who will revive his body at a later date.

At first glance, this plot seems like a ridiculous Hollywood invention, but as it turns out, there are real companies that offer the ability to freeze customers’ bodies for a price in hopes of bringing them back to life at some point in the future when technology makes it viable – a concept known as “cryonics”. Vice versa spoke to cryonics experts to unpack whether vanilla heaven ever be possible in real life. The answer: It depends who you ask.

“The prospect of physical resurrection after freezing is imaginative,” says Clive Coen, a professor of neuroscience at King’s College London who has written on cryonics Vice versa.

role science is a Vice versa Series that reveal the true (and false) science behind your favorite movies and series.

is vanilla heaven a realistic representation of cryonics?

in the vanilla heavenTom Cruise and Penelope Cruz play lovers David and Sofia – but none of it is real.Paramount Pictures

Cryonics is the process of freezing a human body after death with the intention of later thawing and bringing that person back to life. It’s not the same as cryogenics, which simply means the science of freezing things at very low temperatures.

Cryonics companies use various cryopreservation techniques to freeze and preserve tissues or even an entire living organism in liquid nitrogen at 196 below zero degrees Celsius (-320 degrees Fahrenheit). In fact, by freezing and preventing the body’s cells from deteriorating, scientists put the body into a form of stasis known as “pending hibernation.”

It may seem so vanilla heavenThe description of the cryonics process – narrated by an unflappable Tilda Swinton – is pretty accurate:

Chronicization: the human body’s journey after awakening after being preserved at extremely low temperatures. Within an hour of your death, your body will be transferred to a jar and frozen at 196 degrees below zero… Nothing will affect your sleep state.

But Peter Tsolakides, Founder and Director of Southern Cryonics – the first cryonics facility in the southern hemispheresays that while this characterization of cryonics is, on the whole, fairly accurate, it is missing some important details.

“Not far away, though [an] Hour is optimistic unless the person walks past the facility or very close to the facility itself,” says Tsolakides.

Tsolakides adds that after an antifreeze is passed through a person’s body – a process called perfusion – the patient is slowly brought to freezing temperature in a computer-controlled chamber over three days before long-term storage in liquid nitrogen .

“The reason is to minimize the stresses that occur in the brain — stresses can cause large cracks to form in the brain — which can occur when temperatures drop rapidly to liquid nitrogen,” explains Tsolakides.

The trailer for vanilla heaven (2001).

Additionally, the suspension process cannot be performed on living patients—instead, patients must agree that the procedure will be performed under the right conditions after their death.

“If they’re alive and you enforce a suspension, that’s murder. Therefore all cryonic processes begin after legal death.” says Tsolakides.

But Coen says that suspended hibernation is not possible in humans, as the film shows. Hibernation, which involves “living at a low temperature that must be above freezing,” is possible in some animals that can lower their body’s metabolic needs, but not in humans.

“Certain surgical procedures in humans require an induced reduction in metabolic rate, but this is only possible for a limited time,” says Coen.

He adds that “hibernation” in the film is a totally inappropriate and ignorant term given the reference to “196 degrees below zero”.

Can we put our minds into a floating hibernation?

The fictional company Life Extension lets David (Tom Cruise) live in a Metaverse-like fantasy dream world. Paramount Pictures

By the end of the film, we realize that the happy life David has built with Sofia — as well as David’s darker turn as a man jailed for murder — is simply a “lucid dream” factory that Life Extension engineered to to entertain their customers in its frozen slumber state. As the company representative explains:

After the resurrection you will continue in a timeless state. Preserved, living in the present, with a future of your choosing. Your death will be erased from your memory. Your life will go on as a realistic work of art. Life Extension’s Promise to You: Living, Part 2. A Living Dream.”

Nobody in cryonics is seriously suggesting that this kind of Hollywood sci-fi technology is a possibility now – but maybe we could achieve that kind of post-death metaverse in the future.

Tsolakides says that “with the potential developments in mind uploading, AI, and computers, there’s a reasonable chance your thoughts will be uploaded to a computer, allowing you to live in a virtual world in about 50 to 100 years.”

In that sense, the ending of the film – which is to give David the choice of bringing his body back to the modern world or staying in the virtual world – isn’t entirely far-fetched.

But some, like Coen, would frown on hypothetical cryonics companies selling customers a fantasy dream world scenario, since none of this is possible in our current reality.

“These statements amount to a fantasy fueling a shameless attempt to make money,” he says.

Are we closer to cryonics now than when? vanilla heaven came out in 2001?

Some neuroscientists say cryonics is an imaginative term, but cryonics companies believe current and future improvements mean the technology isn’t necessarily unattainable.Shutterstock

Cryonics is still very hypothetical at this point. The film’s ending, set on a future earth, suggests that this is possible. But to date, no one has been successfully resuscitated in this way.

There are two parts to cryonics: suspension and resuscitation. Tsolakides is very optimistic that he can successfully perform the former without harming the patient.

“If you act quickly after legal death — legal death isn’t brain death — there’s a good chance that all brain activity is still intact and will be frozen right at that point,” says Tsolakides.

Coen is less optimistic, explaining that freezing a human body is more difficult than simply freezing sperm — like we do in infertility treatments — because the brain is likely to sustain an “immensity large amount” of fracture damage from the freezing temperature.

“There is no evidence of the professed belief in the antifreeze treatment,” says Coen

While the second part of cryonics – bringing people back to life – is not currently possible, Tsolakides believes that recent and future developments in brain preservation techniques, nanotechnology, AI and other fields could lead to a more promising future for resuscitation.

If that’s the case, vanilla heaven – strange and bizarre as a film is – could offer a window into our distant future.

“Imagine where we were in medicine and science 250 years ago, and now try to project 250 years into the future. No one saw what evolved 250 years ago.” Tsolakides

vanilla heaven is available to stream on Amazon Prime with an EPIX or Paramount Plus free trial or subscription.

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