Thursday, April 18, 2013
I wish I could tell you all about “Oblivion.” Actually, I’m dying to. But I can’t.
This new science fiction film starring Tom Cruise, directed by Joseph Kosinski and based on the unpublished graphic novel he co-created, is a slippery chimera of a movie. It misdirects and deludes us, making the audience think it’s about one thing when really it’s heading another way.
Much like “The Matrix,” it starts out as a seemingly straightforward sci-fi adventure and gradually deepens into something much more substantial. I will tell you that “Oblivion” is probably the most compelling film of its genre I’ve seen since “The Matrix.”
Revealing anything more than a smidgen of its nature would ruin the experience for you. Of course, being tight-lipped also makes it hard to write an effective review that gives enough of a taste to decide if you want to see it.
Cruise plays Jack Harper, an everyday man with an extraordinary job. He is a tech who services the drones that protect the Earth from alien attackers … or, at least, what’s left of it. The war, which came in 2017, split the moon asunder and ravaged the face of the planet. Mankind responded with its final option.
“We did what we had to. We used the nukes,” Jack intones. “We won the war, but lost the planet.”
Sixty years on, Jack and his partner, Vicca (Andrea Riseborough), are the only humans left on Earth. The rest have decamped to a moon of Saturn, leaving only the huge factories converting the oceans into the energy they’ll need to survive.
Jack and Vicca get their orders from Sally (Melissa Leo), commander of the space station orbiting above. Their own memories were willingly wiped to protect the mission, which after five years is coming to a close. Once they wrap things up, they’ll get transported to their new home.
The alien scavengers, or “scavs,” have other ideas. Enough still remain to cause trouble, damaging the drones that guard the energy stations. Every day, Jack sets out from their base in the clouds to repair the drones, while Vicca is the communications officer who keeps him in touch with the eye in the sky.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that things aren’t quite … right. Vicca and Jack are a team, a couple both in duty and in bed. We sense their sexual relationship is part of a plan designed to keep things stable and satisfied. That doesn’t stop Jack from having odd dreams about a stranger (Olga Kurylenko) in which they meet at the Empire State Building.
But that couldn’t be, since that was before the war – or even before Jack was born.
Sally is chipper but steely, insisting things be done just so. Vicca is with the program, but Jack has begun to have stray thoughts. Part of him thinks Earth is worth saving and shouldn’t be abandoned. He’s also piqued by what he finds on the blasted surface of the planet -- books and random junk that hold more meaning for him than they should.
Kosinski and his co-screenwriters, Michael Arndt and Karl Gajdusek, keep their storytelling cards very close to the vest, never revealing more than they should or a moment sooner than absolutely necessary.
For instance, it seems that part of Vicca’s job is exerting a certain level of control over Jack. He is allowed a measure of wandering and wondering, but when it begins to impede the mission, she uses her seductive powers to quiet his troubled mind. “Are you still an effective team?” Sally asks Vicca daily, and she’ll do anything to keep it so.
I noticed that Vicca’s eyes seem to be permanently dilated, which gives disquieting the suggestion of human-like doppelganger figures we’ve encountered in other movies, like Ash in “Alien.”
“Oblivion” doesn’t reinvent the science fiction wheel, freely borrowing themes and story elements we’ve seen elsewhere. But it synthesizes them in a wholly imaginative way that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging. This one falls into “don’t miss” territory.