Imitation Of Life – Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion

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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say. Adopting this philosophical approach one might be forced to declare Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion to be the most flattering film of 2013…

That isn’t to say that Kosinski’s approach is an unsuccessful one. There is much to like about the film. A Tom Cruise vehicle in the purest sense, Oblivion sees a lonesome Cruise wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape as Jack Harper, a drone repairman whose purpose in life it is to maintain the Earth’s last line of defence, as the government of the world mine the planet’s remaining resources to send to one of the moons of Saturn, mankind’s new home.

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One’s enjoyment of Oblivion may be dependent upon one’s capacity for the star of the film. There’s nary a shot in which Tom Cruise doesn’t appear, while certain elements of plot revealed in the film’s final act may actually read as a neat commentary on the ubiquity of this kind of film star (an endangered species if ever there was one). While not quite as successful at subverting the Cruise persona as Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds was, in which the movie star was repositioned as the ultimate privileged everyman, Oblivion does force the viewer to ponder notions of celebrity, ego and personality in a manner that is increasingly rare in Hollywood.

With such a blatant star vehicle as the Last Man On Earth model there are a number of casualties. While the film naturally falters closely between sincere project and ego massage, it’s a number of problematic female roles that prove to be the greatest cause for concern. Both female performers, Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko, find themselves relegated to little more than prop-mode, their characters serving as static and worrisome plot-points, which is an occurrence made all the more troubling when one considers just how strong the two actors are. The derivative nature of much mainstream science fiction is something often commented upon, but Oblivion touches so many bases that one can’t help but actually question whether it was actually Kosinski’s intention to reference every key science-fiction film of the last 50 years, such is it that at times it feels like the only logical answer as to why familiarity reigns so brightly. An article twice as long as this one could be written ticking off all of the works to which Oblivion owes some debt of gratitude, with even the films more high-brow reference points in some way connected to another property (see. A Tale Of Two Cities, novel which serves as a notable discussion point in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, or the use of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, which features in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey).

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The presence of Christina’s World also serves to remind us that the perceived Malick-ification of the humble blockbuster continues apace , with Oblivion following in the footsteps of last year’s big meta-sci-fi-er, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (the Wyeth painting was one of the foremost influences on Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven). Both films linger on their created universes, and feature a fantastic sense of world-building. Both films might also be accused of veering towards the ponderous too, to those for whom plot is a preference over atmosphere. But alas it is precisely the opposite, and the introduction of plot at around the 45 minute mark that serves to derail the project greatly, with the awe-inspiring vision of a world with a half-broken moon and an Apple-esque used future making for an otherwise satisfying aesthetic experience. 
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