Reel Reviews | Oblivion

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On the latest episode of Reel Shorts, guest critic, Cynthia Fuchs of PopMatters reviews the futuristic sci-fi thriller, Oblivion.

You Can’t Blame Yourself

“I know I’m dreaming, but it feels like more than that, it feels like a memory. How can that be?” Thank you, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). With this and about several more minutes of somber exposition, he lays out his place in Oblivion. Each day, he says, he makes his way from his shiny apartment on stilts to Earth’s surface where he works as a drone repairman. It’s 2077 and the drones patrol the planet—or at least his little desert corner of it—in search of scavs, creatures who started a war that is now over—but it destroyed the world.

Jack believes he cannot have a memory because he knows his memories have been “wiped”, for his own protection, apparently. And so he says he’s dreaming, even while you know he’ll discover otherwise. And in the meantime, he immerses himself in his current routine, part perilous, part tedious, and all preposterous. He goes forth to find and fix drones, then comes home to converse and sleep with his dispatcher-handler-partner Vicka (Andrea Riseborough).

Here the film makes clear enough its lack of imagination, as it sets Vicka against the woman who appears in Jack’s dreams that might be memories. Where Vicka is at once icy and too perfect, preparing little rectangles of crustless toast for his breakfast each morning, welcoming him home in the evening with amatory smiles and dresses that slip off in an instant, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) is all warm wonderfulness. The dreams posit a gauzy-nostalgic, black-and-white and awfully generic past, wherein the couple meets at the Empire State Building and shares significant gazes.

Jack’s increasing curiosity about his visions is countered, of course, by Vicka’s insistence on keeping to their schedule. This she receives from by a death-starry vessel in the sky called Tet (this may or may not allude to the beginning of the end for the American war in Vietnam). Vicka does her best to keep him on mission each moment, following her own instructions each moment from Tet, with which he communicates by way of a scratchy, regularly irregular video image named Sally (Melissa Leo).

Vicka maintains faith in Tet, believing that, as she’s been told, she and Jack are only a few days away from the end of their successful mission, and they will be rewarded by being sent to join other surviving humans on Titan (a moon in Saturn’s orbit, and a plot point borrowing from science fictions including The Twilight Zone, Blade Runner, and Moon). But Jack has reason to distrust Tet, first as he’s bothered by his dreams that might be memories and second as he does indeed go out each day and deal with Tet’s mistakes that might be deceptions.

You can see how Jack may thrill to being Tom Cruise each day—piloting his awesome ship, shooting his awesome weapons, performing his awesome stunts—he also confronts directly the dangers posed by the drones, which regularly mistake him for a scav, targeting him by way of POV screens marked “Terminate” and colored red. Though Jack typically calls off these attacks, identifying himself by yelling his name and number, such screen views make visible the risk to scavs, who appear at first as scary others, shadows rushing across the screen or bipeds lurking in caves, wearing ooky black helmets and decorative feathers that seem inspired by the stylings of the Lord Humungous. That neither the drones nor the scavs are quite what they seem is predictable, but it still takes Jack most of the film’s running time to sort it out.

To read the rest of her review, click here!