Oblivion is a secret masterpiece
I can’t help but think that Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is secretly a sci-fi film masterpiece. I don’t like being too superfluous but it has single-handedly made me think, question, re-think and imagine ideas and themes in the past hour MORE than Iron Man 3 did in the past week. And I LOVE Iron Man 3.
Many reviews about Oblivion noted it gets by from combing, meshing and melting ideas, themes and visuals from the generations of Sci-Fi films that have gone before. And I definitely agree, in part. I don’t think this film simply “gets by”. I think that the sci-fi tropes, technology and themes that audiences are familiar with form the surface layer of what this film tries to achieve.
Where this film made me think was trying to identify its central purpose or question. What was making me think? Was it Jack Harper and the mysteries of the war with the Scav’s? Was it trying to find out what his fractured memories were really about?
Again more layers. I think the central tenet comes in the question that Jack himself answers in the final narration – “who am I?” As the real mystery is revealed in the opening of the final act, where Jack and Julia accidentally crash land in the radiation zone, the reality of identity is fully portrayed.
It is possibly a very clichéd concept. I think the success of this movie for me personally was that this question wasn’t very obvious. As the history of the war and Jack’s job repairing drones fades into the background, layers landing on the floor, our central conflict comes from Jack realising who he is, and what he would do to protect this and the ones he loves.
I love the sparse world that Kosinski creates, and his aesthetic design choices truly suit the final reveal of the alien lifeform and world that the film is set in. It’s minimalist, bare and bleak. A further reminder of the world after the war, and perhaps representative of who Jack is as we begin the film; a blank slate seeking its true purpose.
Jack’s response to Morgan Freeman’s interrogation when asked why he risked his life for Julia of “anybody would” is a hidden revelation. At the time it seemed fine, a typical response for a caring human to make. In his position I would hope to do the same. As we consider the revelation of Julia and Jake’s past relationship it’s easy to think that the memories he had were the real reason he stood in the droid’s path. However, this again would be too simple. He was convicted to protect ALL of the life pods that were devastatingly destroyed and only because of his drastic actions did he save one (the one).
No, Jack was more than the alien had planned him to be. He really was Jack Harper. Even though the memories fought to break through his spirit of character was even more powerful. He never stopped caring for Vic and even after her semi-betrayal atop Tower 49 he asked her one more time (this time at Tower 52) to join him on the surface of Earth. He wanted to give her a chance but she was so part of Tet’s program that she could only deny him.
I’ve tried to dance around some of the mysteries and reveals here while still giving my reasons for enjoying it. Finally, Kosinski really gets the senses of the audience. He feasts/starves our eyes in varying measures and does the same for our ears. The melodies and rhythms played off my earbuds and through my chest and I couldn’t help but place some thoughts back to Daft Punk’s sterling soundtrack to Kosinski’s previous sci-fi Tron: Legacy.
If you haven’t seen Oblivion and enjoy sci-fi, you should definitely give it a go. And perhaps if you have seen the film then I’m glad to have shared the experience with you, no matter what we each thought of it.
That’s what makes us who we are.