Tag Archives: post-apocalypse

Movie Review: Oblivion

Didn’t Tom Cruise just make a movie called Jack Reacher? It came out a few months ago, right? I mean, this doesn’t have anything to do with Oblivion, not really, except that Tom Cruise’s character’s name here is Jack Harper, which is almost comically similar. In his old age, is Tom Cruise suffering from a classic case of Tony Danza Syndrome, having trouble embodying characters with different names?


Whatever. It’s the future. The moon is partially blown up. There’s a big giant triangle in the sky. Jack Harper tells us that the aliens came, that we won, but the planet got destroyed in the process. So everybody moved to one of Saturn’s moons. Harper is part of a two-person operation, the only ones left behind, the cleanup crew.

I hesitate to say too much more about the plot, because it’s actually a pretty cool story, one that almost necessitates the viewer not knowing anything about it beforehand. If I had to describe it like something else, I’d say it’s about one cup Vanilla Sky, sifted with several heaping teaspoons of The Matrix, with a pinch of Star Wars fight scenes mixed in. After all of these dry ingredients are blended thoroughly, the whole mass is then combined with fifty percent … well, I’m not going to tell you which movie, because again, that would reveal way, way too much. But once you see what they’re doing in Oblivion, it’s obvious. (If you want to be spoiled, just read the New York Times review.) In fact, if Oblivion weren’t actually a decent film, I’d kind of want to call it a rip-off, not entirely, but yeah, fifty percent.

But Oblivion is a pretty good film, which kind of took me by surprise. I guess it’s Tom Cruise’s fault really. The man isn’t even a man anymore, he’s something post-human. He doesn’t age, he’s done like a million huge blockbusters, and he’s sitting in the cockpit of Scientology Inc. When I see Tom Cruise in a movie, I don’t see Jack Harper, or whatever role he’s trying to play, I just see Tom Cruise, jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, scolding Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants.

And so before the plot really gets going, before we start to figure out exactly what’s going on, Oblivion doesn’t feel like a real movie at all. You know when you’re watching a TV show, and the characters are watching some over the top sci-fi movie on their TV? That’s what this feels like. It feels like you’re watching Ted, but instead of just showing five seconds or so of that Flash Gordon movie, you wind up having to watch the entire thing.

But, and again, I felt the same way watching Vanilla Sky, once you get past Tom Cruise, once you start to look at what’s going on, why the characters are doing what they’re doing, why Jack Harper wears an old Yankees cap every time he descends to the planet, why Morgan Freeman gets prime billing even though his Morpheus-lite character only plays a somewhat minor role, what you’re left with is a nice little film.

It’s everything that I love about sci-fi as a genre. You’re treated to visions of how tomorrow may or may not look. You’re presented with themes and concepts that at once incorporate while at the same time transcend the futuristic technology that paints the backdrop of the story. You’re constantly questioning everything, motives, relationships, the very essence of reality.

Which isn’t to say it’s a perfect movie. There’s a fair share of cheesy one-liners. Like a lot of non-franchised sci-fi, the costumes and settings have a hard time trying not to evoke Star Wars and Star Trek, and as a result, sometimes the future winds up looking a little too boring, a whole quart of plain nonfat yogurt, and not even the trendy Greek kind, just regular Dannon.

My advice: don’t read anything about the movie, you know, aside from this review which, if you’ve made it to this last paragraph, you’ve already read all of it. But that’s fine, because I didn’t tell you to abstain from reviews until right now. Self-serving? A little, yeah. But seriously, just go watch the movie. Don’t question anything until the end. It’s actually kind of cool.

What would I do if society collapsed?

I’ve somehow managed to carve out an existence for myself. I’m alive. I’m living in a major American city. I have cash in my pocket. That’s fine. Everything’s fine. Two years ago I was waiting tables at a restaurant. One day I got bored and walked into another restaurant and now I’m waiting tables over there. Terrific. I’m in pretty good shape. I try to eat right, you know, in between binging at McDonald’s or White Castle. I run a lot. Fantastic.

But what if society were to collapse tomorrow? Let’s say zombie apocalypse. Or let’s not, because that’s kind of overdone. But imagine the same post-zombie apocalypse, just minus the zombies. Imagine no cities, no big populations of people, no societal rules, no infrastructure, no Internet. Just roving bands of human beings scavenging from site to site, occasionally coming upon another group of human beings, struggling for scarce resources, fighting for power.

All I want to do right now is to have as much of a life of leisure as possible. What would my role be in this new world? I think about this because if you look back at history, compared to the majority of homo sapiens that have walked this surface of this planet, I’m living a life of incredible luxury. Not only that, but I’m not really doing anything for it. I was born into this reality of highways and refined petroleum and microprocessors. My government sent people to the moon like twenty years before I was even born.

Here I am traipsing around, serving hamburgers to businessmen for lunch, riding my bicycle home and writing a bunch of nonsense on the Internet. If I’m hungry I go into my fridge. If I’m too lazy to put something together, I can walk down the block and buy a hot meal from like eighty-five different restaurants. If I’m even lazier I can call up any one of those eighty-five restaurants and pay somebody there to get on his bicycle and ride that food over to my place.

Boom. Nuclear war. Giant asteroid. Some sort of weird global pandemic that kills everybody shorter than six foot three. All of the sudden I’m back to my roots, back to my caveman roots. I’ll only be able to stand around in the burnt out shell of my apartment, mourning my losses, sifting through endless piles of rubble for so long before I start to get hungry. And then I’ll get really hungry. And I’ll walk through the streets and maybe I’ll run into some other people. And we’re all really hungry. And thirsty. And where do I go to the bathroom? And what do I use to clean myself off? And now I’d like to brush my teeth.

I’m not trying to make any point, except to remind myself that this humdrum life I’m living is a very pampered one. Three hundred years ago I might have been … what? What would I have been? At twenty-eight years old, I’d probably have grandkids by now. Would we all be toiling away in the fields? Constantly preparing for drought, for famine, any way to stave off the all but inevitable hunger?

Or would I even be alive? When I was a kid I had strep throat like three times. I had the chicken pox. Pink eye. In the eighth grade I had meningitis. Jesus. What about my cavities? Maybe I wouldn’t be alive. Maybe I’m not cut out for real nature, like raw pre-industrial society pre-Purell nature.

Whenever I start thinking about this, I always wind up going back even further, way back. There was definitely a time before human beings. Now there are human beings. What was the first generation of humans like? How far removed were they from the rest of the animal kingdom? What must it have been like to live as a human, as a group of human, before speech, before language was invented, before anybody had the chance to sit around and think about what’s right and what’s wrong.

No, nobody had time for reflection, because all anybody was thinking about was food, about not being hungry, about satisfying primitive needs. Was there any pleasure at all in life? What gets me crazy is that our ancestors actually had to live through that. That those experiences are all part of us, somewhere, deep down. And that if catastrophe were to strike, were somehow to erase everything that we’ve built up since then, we’d be back to some sort of a square one, a shared experience revolving around a base means of trying to stay alive.

And then I snap out of my daydream and I’m sitting here at this computer, frustrated because I can’t think of anything to write about, can’t get comfortable because the heat is too strong because it’s too cold outside. And I’m too full because I ate too big of a lunch.