Monday, September 21, 2015

Into Oblivion

Last Friday, I did something I have not done in a long time: sit back, relax, and watch a movie I’ve never seen with my husband.  Usually, by the time evening rolls around, the kiddos are sleeping, and I’ve finished my evening job as professional domestic engineer (i.e. mommy, laundry maid, kitchen maid, house cleaner, chef), my eyes can do anything but stay open. 

I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself to stay awake, but I agreed, anyway, and found myself pulled right into Oblivion, a visually stunning and engrossing film that had potential, but was ultimately lacking.  After it was over, I found myself confused, not by the storyline, but by my feelings.  The film was good in a lot of respects, so why didn’t I fully enjoy it?  After taking the time to think about it over the weekend, I think I know why. 

For the sake of space, I won’t go into too much detail on the plot, but rather the elements I enjoyed and the ones that I feel detracted me from loving the film.  First of all, the imagery is lovely, glorious, refreshing. The home that Jack Harper inhabits with his co-worker/lover, Vika, is a sleek, minimalist house in the sky, covered in windows, and every time they step outside, they are greeted with the exuberant, high-up winds known on top of the world.  Jack also keeps a cabin on the surface as well.  It is so deep within the mountains it is almost built into them, amid lush greenery and overlooking a vast, reflective lake.  He keeps mementos of Earth there—books, records, a clock, sunglasses.  It’s captivating and inviting—almost anyone would want to live there. 

Then there’s the cinematography.  One example is when Jack is on the vast rugged landscape of a desert, watching the landing of a ship and coming face to face with its passenger.  The camera slowly and carefully swings around Jack to reveal that he is looking directly at a clone of himself.  This reveal, and the way the director handles it . . . well, it’s nicely done.     

And finally, there are the small moments between characters a couple of times.  From across a dark table, Jack tells Vika of so-called aliens who very nearly captured him that day.  She has little reaction except to study him as he tells her the story, but makes clear her love for him when she says, in a low voice, “Well, they can’t have you.”  They seem to have a lovely relationship.  The way they look at one another, the way he gently brings her a flower he found on Earth—I believed their relationship.    

Okay, so what kept me from loving the film? I pondered that over the weekend, wondered why I felt just slightly annoyed and let down.  A few elements come to mind.   

The first is that we are given the character of Jack Harper, played by Tom Cruise.  He is still a great actor, but whenever I watch one of his films lately, I always see the person rather than the character—the person he has been over the last ten years, the extremely passionate Scientologist who repeatedly jumped on the couch over his love for Katie Holmes, who got into an argument with Matt Lauer on live television over anti-depressants.  This is probably more my problem than the film’s, but, there it is. 

The second is the introduction of a second female character in the film.  Jack is constantly flashing in his mind to an unknown, unnamed woman.  It’s the same couple of memories over and over until they become almost annoying.  When a ship crash lands on Earth, Jack goes to investigate and low and behold, she is there, in stasis.  He, of course, takes the woman back to his and Vika’s home.  She helps him realize she is his wife.  This awareness brings very real tears to Vika’s eyes, and causes her to go willingly to her death.  What’s more, Jack finds out he is not who he thinks he is at all.  One might think that this is all a lot for Jack to handle.  He has spent a great deal of time with Vika, taken her as his lover, worked with her.  Wouldn’t he be more than a little heartbroken?  But talking to this mystery woman a while longer and spending a night having sex with her seems to cure him of all negative feelings.    

I am just not sure I bought the relationship between Jack and this new woman (Julia).  I suppose if we’d been given more memories between her and Jack—gentle, loving ones—then that would have made her presence more welcome.  As it was, she seemed more of an intrusion in Jack and Vika’s lives.  She spends a lot of time scowling at Vika and strangely laughs when Vika takes Jack’s hand at one point.  Furthermore, when she is brought out of stasis, she obviously recognizes Jack because she says his name but does nothing more—no act of affection, nothing to let viewers know what a large part she played in his life.  I suppose the fact that Vika is a victim just like Jack is, makes me sympathize with her as well.  Like Jack, she is not who she thinks she is, but she loves him, so much that she is willing to die when his feelings almost instantaneously change for her.  This whole idea of a mystery woman visiting the mind of a man who isn’t who he thinks he is was done in Total Recall, but was done better, I think, probably because the “new” woman versus the “mystery” one was more villainous.  But that notwithstanding, I think the idea that Oblivion presents here is a good one, just wasn’t executed well.  If this mystery woman is the one Jack is meant to be with, have viewers want him to be with her. 

Lastly, the film is filled with other great actors such as Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, but they are underdeveloped and under-used, thus their talent seems to largely go to waste.  Each of them gets only a few scenes and are effective enough in their acting and delivery to make me want to see more of both, and their lives.  I wanted to know them but by the end, just felt that I didn’t.  

With all of that said, I do know that films have a limited amount of story-telling space, and the director, Joseph Kosinski, does just fine with the time he is given (the film did stay with me, after all), but I think most of his strength lies in cinematography and imagery rather than story and character development. 

No comments :

Post a Comment