Think of Dante and his Divine Comedy and what drove him to make such a piece of art – it was his unrequited love for Beatrice. This led him to – for all intents and purposes – become a stalker. That is what most stalkers are, people who have this innate desire to be with someone, even if it’s from afar. They watch, keep their distance, and even sometimes insert themselves into the lives of their victim, both mentally and physically. However, while not all situations revolving in unrequited love result in stalking, half the time they do. This is exactly what happens in the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). Cesar, the main character, suffers so incredibly by his inability to return the love of his stalker Nuria. She haunts him, even when she is not there. That is the impossibility of unrequited love. Cesar may not have felt anything for Nuria, but throughout the film, she continues to impact him, whether by reminding him of his constant fear of loneliness, his inability to take full control over his life or of her, his fear of homeliness and his fear of commitment. Nuria has impacted him incredibly and the film reveals that her unrequited love, the result of her stalking, left a mark, both physical and emotional. This is why the idea of unrequited love is impossible, because even when she is dead, she is still there affecting Cesar throughout the film, indirectly controlling his life.
Abre Los Ojos is a film that puts into question what is real and what isn’t. This is put into play by the insane love Nuria has for Cesar that eventually drove him insane. The film is told from the first person narrative of Cesar in prison. Cesar is a young man who inherited a vast fortune at a young age due to the death of his parents. This leads him to live a life full of unfulfilled relationships because while he has a fear of commitment, he has a need to be in control and also has a fear of being alone. This leads him to have one-night stands that bring Nuria into his life with devastating consequences. Cesar is recounting all the events that began with Nuria, the woman who haunts him throughout the film. Nuria is a fascinating and frightening character because she says so little but has an incredible impact throughout the film. She’s a sociopath, exhibiting extreme emotional behavior and a lack of a moral conscious. However, she is also a low-spirited and pathetic character. Nuria is broken and that is evident in the fact that she says so little throughout the film yet says so much. The whole premise of the film is that she is has replaced Sophia, the girl who Cesar loves and wants to be with. This leads him, Cesar, to kill Sophia/Nuria. Now the audience has to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Is the film nothing but a delusion? Is it reality? Not even Cesar knows, and that is because of Nuria’s impact on his psyche, on his fear of being ugly and how, for him, that means being alone. For Cesar, to fight the fear, he not only needs control, but he also needs his beauty to lure women. That is the only way he won’t be alone. The opening sequence doesn’t show Nuria just her voice in the background haunting Cesar, playing back on his alarm clock, telling him to open his eyes. The narration is telling the audience that this story begins here, with Nuria and her voice. The film carefully hides Nuria in the beginning, revealing her after Cesar’s morning routine:
NURIA: Where are you going?
CESAR: Out. (pause) Stop leaving messages on the alarm.
CESAR: Just don’t.
These two characters have very little interaction with one another. Nuria is smitten with him, later revealing her obsession with Cesar, but to him, she’s nothing except something to sleep with. The filmmaker made that very clear by hiding her so well. The viewer wouldn’t think twice about her existence. Cesar also makes a point to say “Stop leaving messages on the alarm”, implying that she has already done this at least once before. He doesn’t like her; the character doesn’t like her, yet she’s there in his bed and it bothers him, especially when her voice echoes into his dreams. The opening sequence of the film begins with her voice telling him to open his eyes in his dream before the alarm went off, truly waking him. Her unrequited love bothers him, and it affects the way he sees the world, revealing his deep-seeded fear of loneliness and commitment. As the opening dream state highlights, he sees the world as empty – streets empty, stores empty, a city without people – with only her voice haunting him in the background. Cesar clearly doesn’t care about this woman, yet he doesn’t say that to her face. Instead Cesar keeps his emotions regarding her to himself, revealing them aloud only in an empty parking garage saying, “Because it pisses me off”. On some level, her passion frightens him because she is able to elicit emotions from him that he seems to have always had a firm control over, as highlighted by the following scene with his friend Pelayo:
CESAR: I’m seeing my partners after this. Why do you think I’m all dressed up?
PELAYO: So you can shout at them. You like that.
CESAR: I don’t shout.
This is the first moment when the filmmakers make it clear that Cesar likes to be in control of his emotions. Even to his best friend, who he is picking up, he says that he doesn’t shout. Shouting would be an expression of emotion and Cesar, as the whole film likes to highlight, likes to signify his ability to control his emotions and how the world sees him. He lost his parents at a very young age, inheriting their money and company becoming this manwhore who doesn’t want to get close to people. Yet Nuria was able to get around that, becoming intimate with him at least twice. In the following conversation with Pelayo, the broken cardinal is revealed, highlighting Cesar’s desire to not be with Nuria publicly:
PELAYO: So tell me, did you screw her?
CESAR: Screw who?
PELAYO: Whoever was there when I called last night.
CESAR: I was alone last night. Anyway, what is it to you?
PELAYO: Nothing, you can do what you want with your life.
CESAR: Thanks very much.
PELAYO: Anyway let’s change the subject. (Pause) Did you screw her?
CESAR: Give me a break. I was on my own.
PELAYO: So, you did. Was it the one you talk so much about?
PELAYO: That Nuria. (CESAR remains silent, trying to hold his expression, a cross between a grin and embarrassment). My God, I can’t believe it! Cesar seeing the same woman twice! She must be great in bed.
Cesar is embarrassed not only because he was caught in his own lie but also because he was caught with Nuria, showing he lost control when he allowed himself to be with her again. This is a woman who he slept with once before who probably felt such an intense connection to him she drew him back to her. Cesar may not be in love with her, he may even hate her, but he desires Nuria’s unrequited love for him, it’s what pulls him back to her. Cesar has the need to control over her because of that. However, he hates her because Nuria is the one who has the control, Nuria is the one who makes him lose his control as the film progresses.
The following scene is just as important in expressing how much Cesar needs control. He and Pelayo are playing racquetball with one another and they are discussing women and what they think woman want in a man and how Pelayo thinks that next to Cesar, he will never be able to anything more than acceptable:
PELAYO: When some girl ties you down, the rest of us will get a chance.
CESAR: Yeah, yeah.
PELAYO: Why not? If you meet the right girl.
CESAR: She doesn’t exist. (Races to hit ball; misses) Shit. How did I miss that?
Cesar, very briefly, lost his control when thinking about women, and as the following scene suggests, Nuria. The film is structured in a way that everything in the past has already happened. This is all Cesar telling a story about Nuria, about her effect on him and the marks her unrequited love left. Cesar is, again, only telling this story because of Nuria and her death, much like Dante writing The Divine Comedy in response to Beatrice’s death.
Now, what the scene picks up on is Pelayo saying that God is punishing him as the reason for him missing the ball. This goes forward to Cesar locked up, talking to the prison psychologist asking Cesar if he believes in God. Cesar responds that he does not believe in God, that he does not hold God responsible for the destruction of his face, only Nuria, and that there is no explanation for his face morphing. The scene continues with Cesar telling the doctor that everything is a lie, that the only thing that “seems real” is the floor on which he is cowering. This ties back to the beginning, to Nuria’s voice sinking into his subconscious, into a dream, a world that wasn’t real. Then it was her voice that woke him in to the reality. Her voice also revealed his fears, his emotions and allowed him to lose control, even if for a brief moment. It is Nuria’s existence that makes him question reality and the illusion, which also happens to be to be the focal point of the film.
Once Cesar and the doctor, Antonio, get resettled from Cesar’s outburst on what is real and what isn’t, he goes back to telling his story. It’s his birthday and Pelayo has brought Sophia to Cesar’s birthday party. Cesar is immediately infatuated with her, and this may be the girl for him that he initially thought didn’t exist. Cesar receives a gift from the both of them and goes to leave it upstairs in his room. This is the next moment that we see Nuria, laying on his bed in a red kimono style dress, fishnet stockings, pretty red Mary Jane’s on her feet, smoking a cigarette. She looks like the image of desire with her red lips and nails. Nuria is covered in red, from head to toe, the color of passion, sexuality, anger and warning. Red as a color means many things but for Nuria, the red is a dangerous color, it’s an alert to the audience that there is something not right with who she is. Cesar, upon seeing her, is less than happy and this moment brings out all the cruelty in his being:
CESAR: What are you doing here?
NURIA: Happy birthday, darling.
CESAR: Thank you. But I didn’t ask you to the party.
NURIA (nodding and putting out her cigarette): That was nice of you. (Stands from the bed and walks to him seductively) I brought you a present too. Why not open it.
NURIA twirls around for him slowly, implying that her body is his preset.
CESAR (sneering): No, thanks. I already know what’s inside.
NURIA: And last night?
CESAR: Listen, Nuria. I don’t like you just turning up, much less coming into my room.
NURIA: Well! Do I have to apologize?
CESAR: No. You have to leave.
NURIA: Right, I know what it is. You don’t want to be seen twice with the same girl. It would ruin your reputation.
CESAR: You understood well.
Cesar is clearly rejecting her, but that doesn’t seem to stop Nuria from coming to the party. He didn’t invite her, left her at his apartment in their first scene, ignoring her existence and goes so far as to insult her, treating her like she is a cheap object. Nuria plays along with him, laughing at the idea of apologizing to him, but her only retaliation is her comment about how she understands that she is nothing to him, and it’s not much of retaliation. In fact, he’s glad that, on some resentful level, she understands. He’s using her unrequited love and desire on her. Nuria’s presence and desire for him is upsetting him to the point that he doesn’t mind being cruel to her, he let her get under his skin, he let her into his bedroom twice, made love to her and on some level, he feels weakened by her, which is why he wants to kick her to the curb. Cesar could just have easily called security, he could have left her, simply told her to go away, but instead he stays and continues to have a conversation with her, ignoring his own birthday party.
However, listen to Nuria’s word choice, and the very subtle reference to that fact that’s she is watching him, stalking him. She said, “I brought you a present too”. The “too” stands out against the backdrop of what she says, not even Cesar notices it, or if he did, he doesn’t give the audience any indication that he did. It’s not till they continue their discussion that she reveals that she was watching him from his bedroom window:
NURIA: And there’s someone else.
NURIA: Who? The brunette you were talking to a minute ago?
Nuria has just admitted to him that she was watching him, but Cesar doesn’t seem fazed. This could be his hindsight influencing the way he tells the story, containing his emotion, but nonetheless, it’s almost like he expected it of her. They continue to go on and Nuria continues to say that she doesn’t care, that she doesn’t need to be seen with him in order to be with him and begins kissing him. At first, Cesar doesn’t respond, but soon he’s kissing her back, holding the back of her neck in a very tender way. It’s not until she starts unzipping his pants that he finally pushes her away, leaving her there, grinning. It was a show of emotion; Cesar lost control and almost let her become intimate with him again.
Nuria continues to remain undiscouraged by him. She plays with her hair and watches him walk away from her, asking him how long he can last without seeing her again, without wanting her as much as she wants him again. Cesar can’t even respond, he stops walking, stares the floor, briefly looking at her to excuse himself, giving her the excuse that he has to see to his guest. Nuria attacks implying that he will get nowhere with Sophia, indirectly pushing him towards Sophia to challenge her.
Because of Nuria and her hurt feelings, he is eager to both challenge her assertions and fight is own inability to stay away from her. This leads him to Sophia, leading him to latch onto her side, asking her for her help to “get rid of some girl who is chasing him”. Together they run off to the study on the lower floor of his apartment in order to hide from Nuria. Additionally, because of Nuria’s inability to get discouraged, the two stay together, and Cesar uses Sophia to escape his own house and party, all to escape Nuria.
Nevertheless, Nuria’s (unrequited) love continues to drive her to him. The following scene is the next morning with Cesar leaving Sophia’s house after not sleeping with her. He has latched onto her emotionally and on some level, this frightens him. Cesar needs control and likes Sophia but knows that she is the type of girl who would be his equal and get him to commit to a relationship. This scares him. That is why, upon seeing Nuria outside Sophia’s car, he gets into it. It’s clear she followed him there and spent the night there, lying about having a one-night stand with some stranger, but this behavior doesn’t bother Cesar. In fact, it seems as though Cesar expects it of her and takes joy in the idea of having this woman in his clutches allowing him to escape commitment while indirectly crawling to it. This only highlights the kind of pull she has on him.
This leads up to the pinnacle moment of the film that builds the rest of the story. In the car, Nuria reveals her love for him, and her actions and word haunt him for the rest of the film:
NURIA:…you I could have a little fun.
CESAR: No, I think I prefer to go home and sleep
NURIA: Come on, Cesar. It’s your birthday.
CESAR looks at Sophia’s apartment.
CESAR: Skip it, I’m going home.
NURIA: What’s up, Cesar? Are you scared?
Every challenge she makes to him, he has to prove her wrong, he has to face her and stand up to her. But his refusal to let her go, to walk away and let her unrequited love burn him is why he she continues to haunt him. Nuria is delusional, and his need to be in control and prove her wrong is his undoing:
CESAR looks at her and get’s into her car. They drive off towards the highway. NURIA fills herself with a handful of drugs along the way.
CESAR (rolling his eyes): What do you want?
NURIA: What’s happiness for you?
NURIA: For me, this is happiness. Being here with you. What about you?
CESAR: I can’t handle heavy conversations right now.
NURIA: You’re thoughts are somewhere else, right?
CESAR (closing his eyes): Maybe.
NURIA: One thing really bothers me.
CESAR (opening eyes): What?
NURIA: You know nothing about me. Except my name’s Nuria and I’m a good fuck.
CESAR: Two important things
NURIA: You don’t know my phone number, or my address.
CESAR: Well we have to start somewhere. I’m going to your house now.
NURIA: It’s not far. (pause) Tell me something. Do you believe in God?
NURIA spends off, driving them both off the highway.
This accident horribly scars him and kills Nuria, leaving him disfigured and his love for Sophia unrequited. Because of Nuria, Cesar is unable to live an ordinary life and be happy. Cesar is continuously reminded every time he looks in the mirror that he now has to live his fear of being alone and his fear of homeliness. The opening dream sequence becoming a reality for Cesar because he is the beast and the woman he would have called Belle won’t look at him. It’s not till he falls unconscious after a drunken night that Sophia returns to him and looks past the horror that is his face. Then he is able to be happy, think positive and gets his face repaired, returning to the handsome prince that he was before.
Until one night, when he wakes from a nightmare of having his face return to the horror, when he crawls into bed, he sees that Sophia has turned into Nuria. Cesar is so convinced that it’s Nuria that he hits her, ties her up and demands to know what she did with Sophia in the span of time from when he went to the bathroom and came back. So he calls the police to have them come and arrest her. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned. He is the only one who is seeing Nuria and according to everyone else, Sophia is the one he hit, the girl he abused, not Nuria. But for Cesar, his perfect reality has been replaced by a nightmare. Everywhere he goes, where he should see Sophia, he sees Nuria. In all the pictures of her, Nuria’s face is the one that looks back at him, including the picture he drew of Sophia from before the accident has been changed. It’s not until, while ransacking her apartment, does Sophia’s face return to him, after she bashes him on the head thinking him an intruder. But the happiness is short lived and while they are making love, Sophia turns back to Nuria and instead of stopping; he places a pillow over her face, suffocating her while he’s making love to her, and his face has returned to its disfigured state. After all that, Cesar lands in prison, charged with Sophia’s murder.
Nuria’s unrequited love drove him mad and in the wake of her death, her madness transferred to Cesar, forever haunting him. Every decision that Cesar made in response to Nuria’s taunts, wants and desires left him with scars both on his face and on his psyche. Her unrequited love left him with a face that made his love for Sophia become unrequited. Even in death, she was still there haunting him, trying to figure out what was reality and what was a delusion leaving him to face his fears of loneliness, homeliness, commitment and of not being in control of his life, catching both him and the audience off guard. Cesar believed his beauty would prevent his nightmare form coming true, but it wasn’t. Cesar pushed everyone away, locked himself away because his face was disfigured, leading to his love of Sophia being unrequited. Maybe she could have loved the beast, but he never gave her the chance. Then, when his beauty was returned to him, he entered into a committed relationship with Sophia. But with commitment comes a loss of control and Cesar’s already damaged psyche because to destroy the relationship by replacing Sophia’s face with Nuria’s. And like the beginning, the film ends with Nuria’s voice and the words “open your eyes”.