Review by Nathan Sala of ClearLens
Were it not for the recurring dreams that place him on a crowded city street opposite a beautiful and oddly familiar woman, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) would be nothing more than an unassuming drone repair technician. We are told (via Jack’s rather unnecessary narration) that aliens named Scavengers came to Earth to conquer and plunder natural resources. After the “Scavs” destroyed the moon, they invaded Earth which forced humans to react with nuclear strikes. The movie begins fifty years later with the planet largely contaminated and totally abandoned — save for pockets of Scavs looking to disrupt Jack’s work. “We won the war but lost the planet,” he relays in a somber tone.
Jack is accompanied by Vika (Andrea Riseborough) whose role as communications officer is to monitor Jack’s progress in hostile territory as well as relay information back to the Tet, a temporary space station acting as mission control. Jack and Vika’s particular assignment as drone support and protectors of the hydra rigs, which convert sea water into renewable fuel, is two weeks away from completion; upon which they will rejoin the rest of humanity on Titan.
Predictably (especially if anyone has seen the trailer) things are not what they appear to be. Vika possesses an understated duplicity and wants nothing to do with her home planet, the Scavs seem less hostile than previously believed, and Jack’s dream woman appears in the flesh claiming to be someone from his past. Even though the plot twists are certainly not reinventing the wheel, there was a couple of surprises and still much to enjoy.
Oblivion draws from the intriguing elements of earlier science fiction forebears such as Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, and The Omega Man, while still managing to create a unique style and overall look that is very Joseph Kosinski-esque. Kosinski directed the visually stunning Tron: Legacy in 2010 and returns with another visual feast for sci-fi fans. The cool tones reflected in everything from the Sky Tower set design to Jack and Vika’s outfits to even the Bubbleship parked on the landing pad reflect an unemotional, often clinical theme; especially when juxtaposed against the warmer, often darker, colors of the wasted Earth. Great detail was put into the technology in the film; which looked amazing! The Sky Tower, computers, drones, motorcycle, and Bubbleship seemed like they came straight out of the mind of Steve Jobs. Even the wonderful score by M83 served the epic cinematography well. In other words, this movie was very pleasing to watch.
I would recommend it to those willing to overlook some very familiar plot elements in order to get at a genuinely entertaining story and several great action sequences. Beyond the entertainment value of Oblivion, there is much that can be useful when analyzing the film from a theological standpoint. From here on out, I will be discussing specifics about the plot. So, for those who have not yet seen the film and do not wish to discover any spoilers, stop reading now.
I have a theory. Since Paul noted that knowledge of God is evident in all mankind (Romans 1:19), Hollywood has and will continue to inadvertently include elements in their movies that acknowledge what Christians already know about reality. And I intend to show several areas in the movie Oblivion that reflect this notion.
As I mentioned earlier, nothing is as it seems for Jack and Vika. The Tet, which was supposed to be a mission control center monitoring their work, is actually an alien spaceship that has tricked them into thinking that they are doing the work of humanity. In reality, they are helping the aliens by repairing drones programmed to kill Scavs — which are actually human resistance fighters. The aliens have posed as a source of comfort and help to Jack and Vika taking on the persona of a kindly, southern woman named Sally (Melissa Leo). But the aliens have constructed a lie about who they are reminiscent of Satan, who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Also of note is the Tet itself where the aliens monitor and control everything from their perch in the sky. Paul said that those called out of the world by Christ used to walk “according to the prince of the power of the air… the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4). What Kosinski has essentially done with Oblivion is represent the situation endemic to those in the world who do not have the truth but believe the lies perpetrated by the devil. He just does it with a cool science fiction movie.
Once Jack begins to realize that what he knew to be true about reality is false, he returns to the Sky Tower to save Vika in a crucial scene that accurately depicts the oftentimes typical interchange between an evangelizing Christian and an unbeliever.
Jack: “Vika, please. We have to go now.”
Vika: “I’m not going anywhere with you, Jack.”
Jack: “There’s a place I know. We’ll be safe.”
Vika: “I’m going to Titan.”
Jack: “There is no Titan. They lied to us.”
Vika (crying): “Just stay away from me!”
Jack: “Vika, please, there are things… Things you need to know.”
Vika (yelling): “I don’t want to know!”
That last statement is very telling as it sums up Vika’s attitude every time Jack wants to discuss their mission or their home planet. More than that, it brilliantly represents the unfortunate desire by many non-believers to keep rejecting God and believing the lies – there is no hell, all that exists is the material universe, there is no truth, there was no resurrection, etc. – in the face of excellent, theistic counterarguments. Once Jack becomes aware, his overwhelming desire to convince Vika of the truth is reflective of a couple of important biblical principles. Jesus said that the truth will make us free from the father of lies (John 8:32; 44) and asked the Lord to sanctify His people in the truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is our desire as believers to know the truth (Psalm 25:5; 43:3; 86:11) and to share it with others (Zechariah 8:16; Ephesians 4:25) including the gospel message (Matthew 28:19). And when Jack finally discovers the truth, he follows the biblical principle of sharing it with Vika in order to liberate her from the chains of the alien lie. But she refuses to listen and her desire to suppress the truth gets her killed. Paul said that, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
I’d also like to make a quick observation: a tell-tale clue that something is awry lies in the structure of the Sky Tower. Notice that it rests on what appears to be a rather flimsy beam. Jesus told His followers, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock… [and anyone] who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:24-26). In other words, adhering to the truth of Scripture is like living in a house with a strong foundation. But Jack and Vika are living in a house with a weak foundation. Their house, and overall idea of reality, is built on lies and cannot stand the test of truth. It’s only a matter of time before everything comes crashing down.
This ultimately leads to the title of the film: “Oblivion.” Clearly it has a double meaning in that on the one hand, oblivion refers to the condition of the planet in which humanity has supposedly left it but, on the other, it refers to Jack and Vika’s mental condition of unawareness to the truth of reality. As Christians we are taught to be good thinkers (Matthew 10:16; Romans 12:2) and to “not sleep as others do, but [to be] alert and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). I don’t think it a coincidence that Jack begins the film by waking up from a dream. And because he is awake, his world will never be the same.
Big thanks to Nate for this review! If you’re interested in Christian apologetics (and who isn’t!) be sure to give him a visit over at ClearLens.org