by Gabrielle Marceau
It seems lately that every film protagonist remembers in Instagram filters. This isn’t exactly new, flashbacks in film are almost inevitably coated in thick style; aggressive vignettes, deep saturation, dripping sepia or pseudo diegetic strings. But currently, this practice (turning images taken now, into images that look like they were taken at a different time, but immediately recognisable as such) become common, accessible to most people’s immediate memories, from most peoples hands.
Oblivion uses this technique liberally, and its difficult to not succumb to the usual derision over the top instagram filters inspires. But the sentiment is interesting.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) misses the earth, his secret pastime is stroking old books and baseballs and looking longingly at the remnants of the Empire State Building. There he gets his unsolicited flashbacks. They are in a grainy sepia; an absurd anachronism considering the timeline of the film. He sees the New York City sky line, a pretty dark haired woman (Julia), an engagement ring. We all know what this means. Is Jack really remembering his own life, or just some combo of An Affair to Remember and reruns of Gossip Girl?
Maybe Jack is so attached to the earth not because of what he remembers but because of how beautiful the memory is, truly more beautiful than the thing.
The premise of Oblivion is that an alien race has attacked the earth and although the humans won, the battle rendered the earth inhabitable, forcing everyone to relocate to the Tet, a satellite that supposedly houses the rest of humanity.
Jack Reacher and his team-mate/ girlfriend, Victoria, have to remain on earth to oversee a battalion of super cute drones that protect the Tet’s pumps which are draining the oceans for energy.
It is too bad that the alien race destroyed or contaminated most of the natural world, but they had to. I mean really, who wants to live in a world where people still propose to each other at the top of Empire State building. At least Prometheus had the courage to kill all romance forever.
Nevermind, I will never get tired of the Inception horn, and I think it’s way better suited to Oblivion’s drone ballet than Gordon-Levitt’s hallway tapdance. These adorable drones are pretty trigger happy. Jack avoids bloody death by identifying himself to the drone as Jack Tech 49, the same number on his shirt.
I’m into things that emptily suggest grandeur because I have already read the greek myths, and I can probably fill in the blanks myself.
For real though, can we put to bed the style over substance argument? If Jack and Vica’s see through sky pool is not the perfect metaphor for the ecstasy of post-industrial design than I am burning my film degree.
Jack sneaks off to a little cabin he built from a bunch of junk, this is his Eden. He puts a plaid shirt and a ball cap over his silver space suit and lies on the dirt to nap. Ahhhhhh, he thinks, this is my true self. Just me and my dirty old garbage and scratchy records next to some mountains.
I, for one, am excited for a future where Apple designs my house, my dress, my headset, my girlfriend… and how is Jack’s Bruce Springsteen cosplay by the lake any less of a falsehood than his pristine sky life? (Also does this guy just passionately love all sports? Like, pick one piece of athletic Americana to be nostalgic about, ok?)
This film totally flew under the radar, like Morgan Freeman in his Comme des Garcons Scav suit. Maybe it’s because it’s too good?
The second best thing about this movie is Victoria, Jack’s right hand lady clone (spoiler?). She’s a sexy neat freak, who pulls out innumerable stops to seduce Jack into submission.
Tom Cruise’s stupid clone face kept me thinking about Tom Cruise’s stupid deformed face in another modern classic. When Cruise says no to Penelope Cruz and throws himself off a skyscraper in Vanilla Sky he is choosing an imperfect real world over a perfect fantasy. Why? A sense that we will always instinctively know what is authentic, what is home.
He’s a competent actor, especially here where his dialogue is extremely minimal. He runs really fast, and I liked watching him fight himself (spoiler?).
Jack realizes that the humans did not win the battle and the mysterious TET is actually the alien spaceship sucking up the earth’s resources (and using a series of Jack and Victoria clones to do so). He isn’t exactly shocked, he knew there was something off from the start. I mean, how could humanity want to leave all those dusty old books and pathetic little flowers for a super sweet space station.
Once Jack has destroyed the TET and stopped the bleeding of the earth, he returns to find Julia at his lame cabin. Her face breaks into a watery smile once she sees him bursting through the bush (maybe the most masculine thing to do ever) with his rag tag gang of humans.
The film’s final grace note, The number on Jack’s shirt is not 49 but 52.
Julia’s sort of Descartian thesis form earlier in the film (You are your memories) sums it up. The difference between Fauxlivia and Olivia, both genetically identical, are the things they’ve experienced, which become the things they cherish or revile. That’s why 52 suffices, why 78, 03 or 17 suffices. There is no soul, just memories in a shell.
The dream of starting fresh, of being the original person just seems boring, especially if your Eve has four emotion settings (two of which are variants on fear). Are you really telling me Victoria is the clone and Julia the legit, warm blooded human!
But this I guess this is why I am not Tom Cruise and why I really, really like my iPhone. At the end of the day I’d rather give in to designer tech than live in the past.