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Oblivion

Oblivion

Imagine a world without people. Now imagine a world
without Tom Cruise. You know which one is more
terrifying.

dir: Joseph Kosinski

The global obsession with obsessively destroying the globe continues…

This is film #437 to come out this year which either has the world about to be destroyed or a world already destroyed as its setting.

When will they just leave the world alone? What did it ever do to you? Why do you always have to be wrecking the place? Get your feet off the couch, and put that beer on a coaster, that coffee table is mahogany, arsehole!

A while back I would have said these flicks of a pre or post-apocalyptic nature reflected our anxiety about the place actually being destroyed, as in we feared nuclear war or pollution or some other catastrophic fuck up permanently. The wrecking of the world would probably be the highest stakes that a film could put up, and so you'd think we'd have to take it really seriously and really care.

Since we see a flick come out almost every week with a world on the brink or just flat out ruined already, I think it signifies that we just gave up being scared about it. We no longer fear that the world will be destroyed, or at least the people at the studios think it's no longer that shocking for us. It's commonplace, it's every day now to think about a world destroyed. And even though we're not going to be able to get internet connectivity or soy lattes in a ruined world, whether it's crawling with mutants or completely poisoned, we're resigned to it, and we're looking forward to what comes next.

Welcome, thus, to a world devoid of people, a graveyard for humanity. And, to not only add insult to injury but to rub arsenic and acid into the wound, one of the last people on earth is Tom Cruise.

Perhaps not Tom Cruise himself, but Tom playing a character called Jack. People mocked him for his crazy Scientology beliefs, but look where they got him, lording it over the broken remnants of civilisation like the king that L. Ron Hubbard promised him he would be.

It was either L. Ron Hubbard or Philip Seymour Hoffman, I'm not sure which one.

The whole premise is laid out for us in Cruise's clipped narration, right at the beginnning, not that it helps us at all. As best as we could work out, 'we' being my partner and I, the only two people left awake on Earth after a Tom Cruise narration, the Earth is fucked.

An alien race he calls Scavengers came to our planet, blew up the moon, killed almost everyone on the planet, and were finally beaten in a catastrophic nuclear war. This war killed off almost everyone that was left, and rendered the planet unliveable. Humanity decided "Screw this, we're out of here" and decided to shuttle everyone that was left to one of Saturn's moons called Titan.

I'm not much of an astronomer, but even I know that humans on Titan is a bit of a hard sell, what with it not having any oxygen and being 200 degrees Celsius or so below zero and all. But who am I to argue with the High Pope of Scientology?

If he says that's where humanity have skedaddled to, then I have to believe that's the case. Jack and his co-worker Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last two people on Earth, whose job it is to oversee the functioning of these drones which protect these vast machines that are sucking up the world's oceans and converting them to... something, I'm not sure what, but the idea was to extract these last resources left on the planet and send them to Titan.

Apart from all the voiceover telling us a lot we probably didn't need to know, there are probably two points which are meant to be the most important. Well, one of them is important, the other is said in such a strange, unadorned way that we're probably meant to forget it and then go "Ah, yeah, I guess that's what that meant" when it comes up again later.

I think it's the first thing Jack says, something like "Five years since mandatory memory wipe". That’s odd. They never give us a reason for the procedure. I wonder what it could be?

The other point jolly Jack makes is that in two weeks he and Victoria are juuuuuust about done sucking up the Earth’s resources and transporting them to some floating satellite type structure they call the Tet, which I guessing is short for tetrahedron rather than celebrating the Vietnamese new year.

Look, I don’t know what they’re doing, I just know they’re doing it. Jack goes out and repairs drones, Vicky coordinates the repairs and oversees his actions from the safety of an incredibly high tower in the sky.

They are, as you would imagine the last two people on Earth would be, incredibly bored with each other. It’s not that they would cheat given the chance, but when you’re the last two people on Earth, how much of a charge is there in fucking each other? You might think they could at least fantasise about having sex with someone else, but the memory wipe’s put paid to that.

The poor darlings. A dull sex life is the last of their worries, though, because there are still doings transpiring on Earth, and Jack keeps having these memories of a Russian girl (Olga Kurylenko) who he may have only seen in one of the recent Bond films. What could this memory mean, of meeting her at the Empire State Building, a place long destroyed, long before he could have been there?

And who keeps following Jack, keeping track of him, watching him in the shower, going through his stuff, admiring him from afar, sending him creepy texts?

Yes, there are obviously mysteries here, and it would be monstrous of me to spoil them for any potential reader/viewer. Though there are action sequences here, this should definitely not by mistaken for a full on action sci-fi flick. It is certainly what I would call a hard sci-fi film, because the premise and the plot are pretty convoluted, though it’s nowhere near that complicated (since anyone that’s watched science fiction movies over the last twenty years will be completely unsurprised by any of the reveals, and will probably feel deflated by the end at how generically it resolves.) But it’s not straight forward. They (pointlessly, in my opinion) trusted that the audience would be able to follow what’s going on, without degenerating into reams of exposition. It’s just that the explanation isn’t all that satisfying.

I couldn’t say we come to care about the Jack character, because, honestly, it’s Tom Cruise. Who cares about any character Tom Cruise plays any more in any movie with any theme or premise. We accept begrudgingly that he is in the flicks he makes, and we hope his presence won’t be too distracting. He is in almost every single scene, so it would be impossible to ignore him, however the movie is impressive enough in its scope to allow us some room to breath.

I’m surprising myself by saying this, but I did not hate this flick. I enjoyed plenty of it. I don’t think it raised any philosophical questions, or concepts of identity, or anything that even vaguely made me think any deep thoughts. It’s a competent sci-fi flick without being a particularly great one. I think most of the ‘pleasure’ of watching it, if such a word can be used appropriately, is that much of the time we are seeing a world without us. I think that’s actually a pseudo-documentary show on one of the cable channels, maybe National Geographic or whichever one doesn’t show endless Nazi docos or Real Housewives – cooking porn reality programming. The World Without Us, I think it’s called. Humanity’s end never looked so beautiful, so depressing. It reminds you that a time will come even if the makers of these post-apocalyptic flicks don’t get their wish where there won’t be a thing to show that any of us were here, one day hopefully far far far into the future.

And maybe that’s a good thing. If the flick has a theme, it’s that we are our memories, and that humanity’s capacity for survival is stronger than its seeming capacity to destroy. Or maybe I’m reading more into it that was required. I admit that there may have been parts of the flick that I didn’t understand, but it didn’t seem like it mattered that much, in the end (like the stuff about the beacons), because in the end, Tom Cruise is the hero, and of course he’s going to do the heroic thing, and possibly swear while doing it.

Take that, Xenu, I’m sure he wished he was saying, take that you nasty world gobbling bastard.

And everyone else, or at least whoever is left, will get to go along their merry way

So, in summation, looks pretty, doesn’t mean that much, get the whole family to watch long after the end of the world.

6 times one Tom Cruise is barely enough to fill out the contours and textures of one film out of 10

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“Are you an effective team?” – yes, we’re an effective team, stop asking every few seconds - Oblivion

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