It’s difficult to review a movie like Oblivion. The film is such a wide-ranging pastiche of existing science-fiction movies that you spend most of your time thinking not about what’s actually in the film, nor about what any of it might “mean”, but of all the other movies that this movie reminds you of.
So, here are the movies that came to my mind during or immediately after my first viewing of Oblivion. Maybe, if I see the film a second time, I will find all the inter-textual references less distracting and will be able to focus on the movie for its own sake. Oh, and be warned: there are lots and lots of spoilers below.
Seriously. I’m going to talk about everything. So don’t say I didn’t warn you!
First, if you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the movie has elements of WALL-E, inasmuch as it involves a guy who does clean-up of some sort on an abandoned Earth, until one day a woman falls from the sky. (The black-and-white robot designs are very reminiscent of that film, too.)
In the opening minutes of the film, I found myself thinking of two other films, too — both of which, interestingly, were directed by Paul Verhoeven:
Total Recall: because the main character is living with a woman and sleeping with her and going about his daily routine, yet he has dreams (memories?) of another woman, and he yearns for something a little different in life — as opposed to his partner, who wants him to stick to the routine and be content with it (and along the way, she uses the allure of sex to keep him content with the routine). (One thing I like about Oblivion, though, is that the woman in this case — Victoria, played with interesting subtlety by British actress Andrea Riseborough — is not in on the conspiracy, but clearly loves the Tom Cruise character for her own reasons, and is committed to the routine for her own reasons.)
RoboCop: because the drones repaired by our protagonist have a tendency to whip out their giant guns whenever they scan his face to make sure that he’s okay. I kept waiting for one of them to malfunction in an ED-209 kind of way (“You have fifteen seconds to comply!”). But also: later on, the protagonist tells one of his female companions something like, “I’m not that guy, but I can remember certain things,” which to me had echoes of RoboCop telling Officer Lewis, “I can’t feel him, but I remember him”.
Then, in a more explicitly spoiler-ish vein, there are other films that might have occurred to you if you’ve seen the trailers, but it turns out Oblivion has more in common with those films than the trailers let on:
The Matrix: a group of suspicious-looking characters captures the protagonist, and the black, sunglasses-wearing leader of this group tells the protagonist that it’s time to learn “the truth”. But also: the vast array of cloning tanks, and the fact that the nemesis is an artificial entity intent on consuming our energy.
Tron Legacy: the production design is very reminiscent of director Joseph Kosinski’s last film, of course, and so is the music — parts of which I love, though at times, it seems more like sonic wallpaper and less like something that comments on the action. But also: our protagonists have had their memories erased so that they, the protagonists, can be used against their own people, and the movie climaxes with the death of a “creator” in a suicide attack (though it was the creator who committed the “suicide” in Tron Legacy, and it is the creation who does so here).
And then there are the films that I can’t even mention — not even their titles — without getting into spoiler territory. But since you’ve read this far:
Moon: for obvious reasons, if you’ve seen the film.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: because that film, too, climaxed with a reunited couple — one of them authentic, the other a simulacrum — opting to save the Earth by merging with a mechanical alien threat. Except that where the merger in ST:TMP is creative, or even procreative, the merger in Oblivion takes the form of a destructive explosion. (Admittedly, Oblivion throws one other last-minute wrinkle into the merger which makes this an even more inexact parallel, but hey.)
Star Trek: Nemesis: because that film, too, featured a character who committed suicide in the heart of an alien ship to save the Earth, and then concluded by suggesting that the character might live on in a clone of sorts who may or may not have his memories. (By the way, if the Tom Cruises we see here are numbered 49 and 52, shouldn’t there be lots of other Tom Cruises out there, too? And what about poor Victoria 52, who is presumably still alive but has since been abandoned by Tom Cruise 52? And come to think of it, what will happen to all those other Victorias and Tom Cruises when they witness the destruction of the alien ship in the sky, which they had been trained to think of as their link to other humans?)
Planet of the Apes: because of the so-called “radiation zone”, and because of the spacecraft with the suspended-animation chambers. (The glimpses we get of post-apocalyptic New York in Oblivion are also reminiscent of that film, though of course they also call to mind lots of other disaster and post-apocalyptic movies, such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Day after Tomorrow, etc., etc.)
And just to make things even crazier, this is the third film with Olga Kurylenko that I have seen in the past week. And like To the Wonder, it features her as a woman married to a guy who has something going on with another woman. And like Seven Psychopaths, it shows her getting shot in the stomach — and in that film, she was shot by Sam Rockwell, who starred in Moon!
It’s all connected, I tell you. All connected.