Actual oblivion might be preferable to watching the movie called Oblivion (2013). At the same time, the word, which is a state of being unaware of what is happening, is a fitting title. It is one of those films with a big reveal at the end that you can kind of guess while watching it only to be disappointed. Like the main characters, you are unconscious of what is really going on until they finally clue you in and then you think, wait, I spent two hours on this nonsense? It is like, “ah. Ah. AH. AH! Oh. . . .” And then, hopefully, you move on with your life.
In one of the tried and true traditions of science fiction, in Oblivion the Earth of 2077 has been nearly utterly destroyed. You are told this through a narration by Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). Interspersed with an explanation of how this came to pass, involving an alien invasion known as Scavengers (or Scavs, for short) and a whole lot of nuclear weaponry, we see shots of Jack before the war. He sees a woman named Julia Rusakova Harper (Olga Kurylenko), though these visions of her are in dreams and he cannot identify her. Instead, the woman he wakes up next to is Victoria “Vika” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough). Together, they form an “effective team” tasked by the remaining humans to help maintain the drones. These deadly flying machines patrol the decimated planet, which is also having problems with water because the moon was destroyed, making sure the Scavs do not disrupt their clean up efforts. The hope is that they can repopulate the planet from their new home on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Monitoring their work from a space station in orbit is Sally (Melissa Leo), who helps direct Tech 49, Jack’s work designation. Unlike Vika, Jack is a little more apt to go off protocol, part of which is motivated by his dreams. As such, he has a secret getaway outside of their usual patrol areas about which he has not told Vika. There, he keeps mementos of Earth’s past, and other things that seem to have a connection to the woman of his dreams. What disrupts the routine is the sudden crashing of a portion of a vessel known as the Odyssey. Against orders, Jack flies to the crash site and finds human survivors in hibernation pods. Next, a drone gets to the scene and begins destroying the pods. There is one, though, that Jack is keen to save because, to his surprise, it contains Julia. Once he manages to dispatch the drone, he takes her back to the glass house in the sky (really great architectural decision) and he and Vika nurse Julia back to health. Jack and Vika are weirded out by Julia’s arrival as there is something familiar about her, and in turn they have to fill her in on recent human events. The following morning, Jack takes Julia back to the site of the Odyssey wreckage. While sifting through the parts, and obtaining the Odyssey’s flight recorder, they are captured by Scavs. Inside the Scav base, they discover that this purported enemy are not extraterrestrials, but rather the remnants of the human population. They are led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), a former soldier who wants Jack to reprogram a captured drone to fly into the space station above with a large nuclear explosive to destroy it. To Malcolm, this is the only way to save humanity. As Jack is not quite believing, Malcolm tells Jack to go into the restricted zone. I am not sure if this actually happens, but what Jack does find, while standing atop the remnants of the Empire State Building, is that Julia is his wife. The dream he has been having is a memory of their life together. Vika finds them together when she sends a ship to get them. In her anger over what she perceives as betrayal, she tells Sally that she and Jack are no longer an “effective team.” This backfires on her when the drone sent there kill Jack and Julia turns on her, but Jack and Julia escape. The result of their high-speed dog fight with other drones is that they end up getting shot down. Shortly thereafter, Jack witnesses another version of himself, Tech-52, come to repair one of the drones he had damaged. There is a scuffle, Julia is accidentally shot, Tech-52 is overpowered, and Jack takes his counterpart’s ship and brings Julia to his hideout. Believing he still has a duty to humanity, the next day they return to Malcolm ready to carry out his plan. Before they can launch their pirated vehicle, they are attacked by other drones and their hopes are dashed. Still, the bomb is intact and Jack volunteers to fly it himself to the space station. For some reason, this needs two people, and Julia decides that she is the one. On the way into the space station, Jack plays the flight recorder from the Odyssey, which reveals the rest of the story. Back in 2017, Jack, Julia, and Vika had been a part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mission sent to investigate a giant alien vessel that they now take to be the space station. When something, somehow goes wrong, Jack made the decision to jettison the sleep chamber where Julia and the rest of the crew were hibernating, while he and Julia flew the rest of their vessel into the unknown. From there, they had been cloned, had their memories repeatedly erased, and made to help these visitors from another world harvest the Earth’s resources. Well, Jack and Malcolm pulled the old switcheroo on those alien flatfoots, with Malcolm appearing with Jack instead of Julia. Malcolm just wanted to be along to see the look of surprise on “Sally’s” “face” when they detonated the bomb, even if there is no face. We then see Julia wake up at Jack’s cabin in the woods. Three years later, and somehow having reproduced asexually, she and her daughter welcome the survivors to her home, along with a spare Jack, Tech-52.
You have to get to the end of Oblivion (which, out of context, is kind of a deep statement), in order to understand the film. This is not my favorite form of storytelling. At the same time, I am not sure why it took so long for the sleeping quarters of the Odyssey to make it back to Earth, or how it went undetected by the aliens. Between that and Malcolm somehow having a post-apocalyptic cigar, there is not much that makes sense in the film. There is one, and only one statement, however, that interested my Catholic sensibilities. Towards the end, in an out-of-place moment of waxing philosophical, Jack starts talking about souls and how they are made of love. Bravo for saying something sensible, I suppose. Jack is pondering this in the wake of discovering he is a clone. If we believe in such things (which I hope you do), we are told that our souls are unique to us, just as much as the whole of our being. God made each of us different, which I know is slipping into the realm of cliché. Nevertheless, this is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church is against cloning, because it complicates God’s plan. It is a little more nuanced. Catholics are at the forefront of wanting to ban human replication, but, in the event that a fully functioning copy is made, would posit that it, too, has a soul. It is truly complicated, which is why the task of creation should be left up to God. Yet, life is life, and it should be protected. That is in keeping with the film, even if it comes in a nearly incomprehensible package.
You can find less frustrating movies than Oblivion. I also get the impression that those making it wanted it to be rated “R.” I am not sure how they settled for “PG-13,” but it does mean that at least there is nothing dramatically objectionable about it. It is just boring.