Oblivion: Maybe the Only Movie Madder At Women Than Tom Cruise Is

The Previews: I am fed up with futuristic postapocalyptic worlds where men get to do cool things like get juiced up to break into Elyria and race cars and crash cars and women get….rescued, mostly? In fights with other women? Dance in the background? I’m just tired of bodies like mine being used to sell everything from Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s latest cinematic effort to fragrance mists from Bath and Body Works. Is this Oblivion/Tom Cruise’s fault? No. But I will point out that men get to be the action stars because men are the box office draws…which they become because they are action stars. Which allows them to draw more box office and make more action movies. I would just like it if a universe could be full of fully dressed astronaut ladies who put their hair up into a ponytail when it’s hot just this one time because it is the FUTURE and can we at least IMAGINE a future where ladies get to do the cool stuff? 

Then the movie actually starts. The premise, depending on which preview cut you saw, is EITHER that Tom Cruise is The Last Mechanic Left On Post-Apocalyptic Earth and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough aka Emily Blunt with any sort of distinctive personality removed) is his shift supervisor OR that Morgan Freeman is Morpheus leading an underground rebellion of Tuskan Raiders against some alien overlords and their clean-up crew.

Like….imagine a live-action Wall-E where Eve is still an angry-faced droid and Wall-E is Tom Cruise. It’s basically that. Plus Failsafe, Planet of the Apes, The Truman Show, Swiss Family Robinson, The Little Mermaid (Tom Cruise does everything but sing “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat!” to his collection of aviators and vinyl albums during an interlude as Tom Cruise, Plaid Shirted Baseball Capped Man of the People), The Matrix, Mad Max, Alien, Dune, The Manchurian Candidate, The NeverEnding Story, An Affair to Remember, Castaway, Moonraker, E.T., Independence Day, The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones, Portal, Portal 2, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, and of course, Star Wars and 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Also, everything is the chariot race scene from Ben Hur. Everything.

Anything that isn’t the chariot race scene from Ben Hur is the Death-Star-Destroying-Canyon-Flying scene from Star Wars.

All you know for sure is that there was an alien invasion and nukes were launched, and now The Little Mechanic That Could and his supervisor are servicing drones… (stolen directly without passing go I mean really now:

….that patrol what remains of Earth to protect the salt-water-sucking generators that fuel the Tet, which is a big triangle-shaped vagina, space station that waits to carry our mechanic/supervisor team to Triton, the moon where all the rest of the humans allegedly are.

I’m going to go ahead and spoil the whole thing so if you’d like to see it and enjoy the twist feel free to scroll on by. But it’s not much of a twist. It would only be like… Act 2 for M. Night Shyamalan. It would be the first 2 minutes of The Twilight Zone.

So, Tom Cruise, though he’s a drone fixing master, feels nostalgic for the America (read: New York City) of the past, which he only remembers in hazy dream snippets. He’s sleeping with Victoria, because what else are you going to do, and entertains her during his maintenance missions (directed by Sally, up on the metal space vagina ship Tet, via Skype and touch screens) with Generic Reminiscences about Football and Hail Mary Passes and is interested in books he finds. He brings her some little flowers growing in a can (Imma let you finish but Wall-E brought the best plant EVER) but Victoria tosses the possibly radioactive spore specimens out of the treehouse house on a pole. This is how you know they are not Really In Love — she is obviously a terrible person who wants to rejoin the human race and he is obviously a noble planet warrior who wants to die alone in the radioactive rubble of Generic 2017 Champion Stadium. Let’s all be sure and tune in because it sounds like it’s going to be a hell of a generic game.

Plus his hazy dream memories involve a woman smiling shyly at him on top of the Empire State Building, which in one of his missions he discovers buried up to its antennae (oh, did I forget to mention, the aliens blew up our moon so Earth self-destructed amid earthquakes and tsunamis before nuking itself to death? That’s why they’re contained in giant “Radiation Zone” bubbles. FYI. Tom Cruise tells us this handy bit of exposition in the opening, and then repeats it for the benefit of the sole survivor of a craft-crash WHO JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE WOMAN FROM HIS DREAM. I know!). Victoria is not pleased to see this Julia person (Olga Kurylenko, who apparently remembers nothing of her NASA flight officer training), but pretends she doesn’t know anything about her.

Tom Cruise takes Julia on a magic carpet ride in his phallus no seriously it has testicles whirlygig autogyro and they get kidnapped by the Fremen the Scavs who it turns out are not alien raiding parties (THEN EXPLAIN THE TUSKAN RAIDER MASKS, SCAVS!!) but humans, led by Morgan Freeman, who want to show Tom Cruise the light. I.e. that each radiation zone contains a Tom Cruise and Victoria Clone Team, servicing drones and boning eachother in pools like it ain’t no thang. DUN DUN DUN DUN. PS Morgan Freeman is the only black person and almost all the Scavs are dudes, obv, except for the one or two women necessary for baby-birthing.

Morgan Freeman wants Tom Cruise to reprogram a droid with fuel cells they’ve been collecting for years so that it will return to the Great Vagina Tet Space Station and blow it up from the inside. But oh noooes, Victoria sent more drones after Tom Cruise and Julia, who it turns out is his wife from whoever he was before he was mind-erased or cloned or whatever. She was in orbit for 60 years so she still looks great, don’t worry.

And the drones blow everything up because the resistance fighters, even though they made machine guns out of old drones that wheel around exactly like the Millenium Falcon’s turret, can’t seem to figure out which part of the drones’ armor is the weak spot (Hint: IT IS THE ENTIRE EXPOSED BACK REGION which we know because sometimes Tom Cruise can bring a droid down with just a handgun while other times it takes normal mortals like eleventeen machine guns).

Exasperated sigh.

So it turns out that no, the humans did not win the war with the Vagina Space Station. They lost. There is no Triton colony and soylent green is made from Cruise Clones, presumably.

<Aside >: Who built the Tet space vagina? Is it the alien life form itself, or a robot built by other alien life forms? Why would aliens OR robots build drones that need to be serviced by human hands? Why wouldn’t there be an assembly line? Why wouldn’t they service themselves or be solar powered or come with an internal crazy straw to suck up their own salt water? < / Aside>

Tom Cruise is super in love with his past-life-wife and she appears unconcerned that he is a clone of her husband and not the actual guy, even when confronted with two of him (Tom Cruises 49 and 52) fighting eachother. Of course she was probably distracted by the sucking stomach wound that nearly kills her (though not before Cruise49 carries her out of the sun, fly-drives to TomCruise52′s house, kisses Victoria52, then steals their med kit and drives his autogyro back to whereverthehell. Sometimes the movie seems confined to the island of Manhattan, other times it takes between 2 minutes and the better part of a day to get all the way to Buffalo and back. Details!), until Cruise49 heals her with a space glue gun.

<Aside: >

  • Here are some things men are allowed to do in this movie: Fly cool machines, fire cool guns, wear jump suits, fix things, heal people, make plans, have hobbies, wear capes (dammit, Morgan Freeman), boss people around, shove their way to the front of crowds, Be A Savior, be curious, rescue people, chew gum, go rogue, make decisions, shower.
  • Here are some things women are allowed to do in this movie: Shower, get naked in a pool, stare limpidly, stare panickedly, recite Tom Cruise’s earlier monologues back to him, “wait here”, get shot, squeal, wear sweaters, wear no underwear, get shot, get healed, be unconscious, have their consent to be touched overridden, sleep with Tom Cruise (the least believable thing in the movie), smile, mope, sit with hands clasped reverently, serve as navigator, demand things, get jealous, take creepy pictures, touch Tom Cruise’s face, smile knowingly, “Dream of us.” Die conveniently and kill by accident. Get hella lied to.  The Evil Woman is punished by dying and the Virtuous Woman is punished by getting pregnant the ONE TIME she gets laid in 60 years and then has to birth a baby in total isolation in Tom Cruise’s Wonder Cave. So.

The ONE cool thing women are allowed to do that is usually reserved for men is the equivalent of being preserved in carbonite. Which, you know. Is not actually that cool because they are literally a woman in a refrigerator that motivates the hero.

</Aside >

So, with their drone-refurbishment plan shot to heck, Tom Cruise realizes he needs to hand-deliver the nuke to Sally, and Julia insists she will go with him. Sure enough Sally detects Tom Cruise’s ship and the extra life lying in stasis in the backseat and lets him in, alerting us to the fact that Alien Space Robot Hal Sally can detect lying but not irony.

Tuns out, Alien Space Robot Sally (and all the doors to get to her) are GIANT VAGINA SYMBOLISM. Tom Cruise lied to Julia, and instead of bringing her to space, schlepped her back to his Earth Souvenir Cabin. He brought Morgan Freeman (who seemed pretty close to dead when he was shot up during the drone attack about forty-five minutes ago but has hung in there) up to the incubator set from The Matrix with him, so together they can say “Fuck you, Sally”* and nuke the giant vagina, leaving all the clones on Earth to do the best they can at repopulating with the Fremen while avoiding incest (which is extra tricky because ALL THE TOM CRUISES ARE IN LOVE WITH JULIA).

*I am not paraphrasing. The climactic moment of the film actually consists of Tom Cruise unpacking a human-sized suitcase carrying Morgan Freeman and telling off a giant black triangle with a big red eye in it. And then we fast forward with TomCruise52′s voiceover as he and the Fremen Oregon-Trail-it to Julia’s lakeside cabin.

Look on the bright side – at least we know how Tom Cruise makes so many movies. There are at least 52 of him. Sally help us all.

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16 Responses to Oblivion: Maybe the Only Movie Madder At Women Than Tom Cruise Is

  1. mkpheartsnyc says:

    Previous string of inane and irritating comments by an uninformed bystander have been deleted because my god was I bored

  2. chrispyt says:

    Jodie Foster got to be a sci-fi hero(ine) in ‘Contact’.

  3. J says:

    thanks–enjoyed this recap! cruise = wall-e was on my mind while watching the movie, but you called it on the little mermaid comparison. also had the feeling there was too much tom cruise in this movie before 52 showed up.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      I think we can all be grateful we didn’t have to meet the other 50+ Cruises. I assume they battled each other to the death later because they ALL vaguely remembered that woman.

  4. Pingback: Hostility and the Feminist Critic | MKP and NYC, Inwood Edition

  5. Hunter Allen says:

    Months late, but I liked this. I was pretty sure someone had used the term “space vagina” to refer to the Tet. Agree with everything you said–there’s a lot of weird sexual imagery and inexcusably weak female participation in the movie–but I feel like there’s one thing that you’re missing. I was writing my own review for Oblivion, but I’ll just quote the specific bit here to explain why I think the conclusion is off:

    “[T]he true villain of the movie—in fact just an avatar of the robotic Tet—is also personified as a woman, and its goal is to ensure the effectiveness of Jack and Vica’s team. When that team ceases to be effective, she’s eager to replace Vica with a new female companion more to Jack’s liking—Julia—and presumably systemwide, across the dozens if not hundreds of two-human technician teams that maintain the Tet’s resource extraction operation. This detail is why I disagree with the arguments that Oblivion has any sort of sexual politics as opposed to just a bit of thoughtlessness with its women, along with some suggestive, probably accidental imagery: the putative representation of female authority is building its own women to be subservient to a man? If there is a sex thing here, you’ve got to grapple with that twisted metaphor of a mother-daughter dynamic—personally I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean anything, but reasonable minds can differ.”

    P.S. Contact is indeed the raddest thing just about ever. Shamefully under-appreciated.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I see what you mean about the twisted mother-daughter dynamic — vilification of maternal figures in scifi and fairy tales could be its own review. Or graduate seminar. I just wish, if they were going to go that route, they gave us a robot alien thing as cool as HAL or at least as clever as one of the cleverer Bond villains :)

  6. Charles Shumway says:

    Didn’t the FEMALE TET at the end say I am god or your god or something like that? Then of course right after saying that everything blew up in her face.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Hey, life’s not easy for a strange machine thing of unknown provenance to reconcile itself with having a bizarre and total authority over more meat based beings. Apparently.

  7. Edward says:

    Way late with this comment but I just saw the movie for the first time and loved your recap. I’m not sure if the sexual imagery was intentional but puts a surreal spin on the movie once it’s pointed out.

    Most of all, this was the first time I’d seen a move that passed the Bechdel Test and simultaneously disempowered its female characters. They have absolutely no agency outside of Jack. I think that the writer/director meant Victoria as a sort of temptress, luring Jack into an easy but inauthentic existence. If that’s what he was going for, their enclosed penthouse above the clouds serves as a nice metaphor for the temptation. It’s clean and comfortable but completely removed from the Earth. Oblivion wouldn’t be the first film to use women this way. Take a look at Annette Bening in American Beauty and Rachael McAdams in Midnight in Paris to see successful representations of this trope. Even if we can’t sympathize with such characters, the audience should at least be able to understand them, which is the problem with Victoria. We don’t understand what her motivation is. Annette Bening wants to be successful and Rachael McAdams wants a comfortable life – ordinary desires that don’t have to be explained. Victoria’s motivation, on the other hand, is confused. She wants to complete the mission so she can go to Titan and rejoin humanity. Understandable until you realize that since her memory has been erased she has no emotional connection to humanity other than Jack. Most of us would look forward to rejoining our family, friends, and other loved ones, but she doesn’t have any of that. For her, Titan and humanity are abstractions. The only person she loves is Jack and she’s already comfortably living with him and gives no indication that she wants to do anything more than to continue to live comfortably with him. It’s implied that he’s not really in love with her and that she’s trying to strengthen their bond by covering for him, protecting him, and sleeping with him. This is also fine as far as it goes, an understandably human desire, until she spurns his kindness by dumping his one present to her: the flower. She values her theoretical life on Titan more than him, but still wishes he was in love with her while rejecting his advances by quoting regulations but she then breaks regulations by lying to Sally in order to protect Jack. None of it makes any sense! On top of that she does nothing but hang around the house all day looking beautiful while Jack goes out and fixes stuff. Sure, she relays messages between Jack and Sally but, seriously, what is her importance to the mission? In terms of the film’s setting she’s an unnecessary middle-man and in terms of the film’s story she’s a prop, a personification of the shallow life that Jack rejects.

    I’ll say this for her though, she fares better than Julia. As confusing as Victoria’s personality is, at least she has one. Julia is a true prop, representing the authentic life that Jack needs to accept in order to be spiritually and emotionally fulfilled (or whatever – the writer/director really fails to communicate what Jack is gaining by rejecting Victoria in favor of Julia). Julia does three things in the entire film. She convinces Jack to retrieve the flight recorder, she saves Jack from the drone that tries to kill him in Tower 49, and she seduces Jack after he saves her from the drones. What makes this all the more irritating is that she has, or should have, the most interesting perspective on the film’s action. Consider the story from her perspective. She goes off into space to investigate some alien ship with her husband. The next thing she knows, she wakes up back on Earth. The planet has been totally destroyed. The alien ship is orbiting the Earth stealing its resources and not only does her husband and crew mate not recognize her, they’ve become lovers! Only she realizes they’re not really her husband and crew mate but copies. Imagine her bewilderment at finding out all of this. Does she tell Jack or Victoria what’s going on? Does she try and search for other human survivors? Does she try and sabotage the mission from the inside? No, she sits back and let’s Jack do pretty much everything. Where’s her agency? Where’s her emotion? How does she feel about any of this? We never find out because the writer/director never tells us. We never get a glimpse of her inner life, even though it’s potentially a lot more interesting than anyone else’s. I suspect that this is because the filmmaker wanted to surprise his audience and making Julia too talkative would give away the plot too soon. It’s a pity he didn’t decide to follow her story instead of Jack’s. The plot wouldn’t have many surprises but it would have a lot more suspense. Julia would have to discover a way of defeating Tet whilst being unsure of whether the Jack and Victoria clones were trustworthy.

    This is the filmmaker’s real limitation, I think. Based on this movie, he’s not sexist, just too locked into his own perspective. He doesn’t seem to be able to imagine this story and characters from anything other than a male perspective. If he had he might have realized that there were more interesting ways to tell his story and more interesting characters to center it on.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting so thoughtfully – sorry for the delay in approving this!

      I think you’re right – I probably wouldn’t have noticed the silliness and sexism if the movie hadn’t been so tedious to begin with.

      Oh who am I kidding I never miss an opportunity to point out weird genital imagery. It’s a gift and a curse.

  8. Shrklsrsly says:

    This was awesome, thanks!

  9. Pingback: Because women are interchangeable to Tom Cruise | This flooded sky

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