Oblivion (2013)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -3; L -5; S/N -2. Running time: 2 hours 6 min.

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27.14

Although this sci-fi thriller takes place 60 years in the future when most of earth’s inhabitants have fled to one of Saturn’s moons after a nuclear war devastated the planet, the film reveals no trace of religious faith or the church (true of the majority of sci-fi stories), so during the course of this film Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) finds inspiration for courage in a poem other than the Psalms. Part of a two-person team to repair drones and guard the sky scraper-high machines sucking up water from the ocean for transport to humanity’s new home, Jack, during one of his repair and reconnaissance trips, finds in the ruins of the New York City Library a bound copy of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome in which the Roman soldier Horatius, defending a bridge against an overwhelming force, says,

Then out spake brave Horatius,
the Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.

Jack is teamed with Vika (Andrea Riseborough), an efficient techie watching over Jack as he ventures forth on various missions. They are alone on the devastated planet except for a number of scavengers who lurk deep in the shadows of caves and ruined buildings. Both he and Vika are looking forward to their leaving in two weeks. Well, not entirely for Jack. He has been having strange visions of a woman in a New York City crowd, and also atop the old Empire State Building, looking out over the city with her. Jack also still has feelings for earth itself. The pair are monitored daily by their distant handler, the Southern accented Sally (Melissa Leo), who signs off by asking are they a happy team.

Then comes a series of events by which Jack discovers that what he has been told about the past is not true. And Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the woman in his visions, shows up when he investigates a spaceship that has crashed, scattering some capsules in which during extra long voyages crew members “sleep.” Heavily armed drones also show up and shoot at the capsules, killing all the crew but the one which Jack protects with his own body. It contains Olga—and does she have something to tell him when she is awakened!

The story, with some similarities to WALL-E and Total Recall, is at times confusing, decreasing in quality during the last part when action overshadows ideas. Visually it is a gorgeous film, thanks to production designer Darren Gilford and cinemaphotograher Claudio Miranda, using Sony F65 digital camera (he was the Oscar-winning camerman on Life of P). I am no fan of star Tom Cruise, but he does a credible job as a man summoning up his courage to join with the scavengers to right old wrongs. I do wish that Morgan Freeman was given a little more than 15 minutes or so screen time—and could someone work on the soundtrack to lower the bombastic musical score of the French band M83? It was so loud at times that it distracted from the scenes: apparently the sound director never heard of subtlty or restraint. Although a mixed bag of a film, there is plenty to enjoy and discuss in this dystopian fim.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How would you describe the relationship of Jack and Vika? How are they temperamentally different? What does Jack’s remembrance of the details of the last Super Bowl game reveal about him?

2. How is the story similar to Total recall and WALL-E? Mention is made of his memory being “wiped.” How are our memories vital to our identity? For example, in a corporate sense, how is memory important to the Christian faith?

3. From your experience in reading science fiction (if any), how do the authors usually under rate the resiliency of faith and the church and synagogue (and today we should also say the mosque and temple)?

4. What do you think of the way that Macaulay’s poem is integrated into the story? How has poetry often been the source of inspiration for our achieving great things? For another example of this see the film about Nelson Mandela and his love of the poem “Invictus,” seen in the film of that name.