Oblivion (d. Joseph Kosinski USA 2013)

Oblivion (d. Joseph Kosinski USA 2013)

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews.


For Joseph Kosinski, Oblivion is his second feature following Tron: Legacy (d. Kosinski USA 2010) and is based upon his graphic novel of the same name. Subsequently, this could easily be regarded as a personal project for Joseph Kosinski. The film proclaims itself to be a science fiction film. Interestingly, it’s engagement with the genre recalls some debate as to the definition of science fiction. If we were to take the following definition:

We talk a lot about science fiction as extrapolation, but in fact most science fiction does not extrapolate seriously. Instead it takes a willful, often whimsical, leap into a world spun out of the fantasy of the author….

In fact, one good working definition of science fiction may be the literature which, growing with science and technology, evaluates it and relates it meaningfully to the rest of human existence.1

We could infer, that some may stress the use of science in a science fiction film. The idea being that the events, to avoid delving into fantasy, have a scientific explanation offered by the film. Whether this definition works or not could be debated. However, with Oblivion it was interesting to note that a lot of its content exists without much of an explanation. We are thrown into a world where such machines and ‘creatures’ exist. I would not argue, however, that this should affect the reaction to the film. It is merely an afterthought on the genre as a whole and is a reflection upon the films themes. Be it science fiction or fantasy, one further thing can be inferred: this film relies heavily on its visuals. Following from Tron: Legacy, this is a CGI heavy film. This means that not a lot is said in other ways, but much like paintings carry significant meanings to us, perhaps the film should be treated as such.

With these expectations in mind, I would like to comment on the way in which the film offers many intertextual references. Oblivion includes nods to science fiction films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (d. Stanley Kubrick USA/UK 1968) The Matrix (d. Wachowski Brothers USA/Australia 1999), Independence Day (d. Roland Emmerich USA 1996), Alien (d. Ridley Scott USA 1979), La Jetée (d. Chris Marker France 1962)Star Wars (d. George Lucas USA 1977), Demolition Man (d. Marco Brambilla USA 1993) and Starship Troopers (d. Paul Verhoeven USA 1997) amongst others. But I felt that the most significant similarities were to films like Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (d. Hironobu Sakaguchi, Moto Sakakibara Japan/USA 2001), Final Fantasy: Advent Children (d. Tetsuya Nomura Japan 2005) and the book Nineteen Eighty-four (A. George Orwell UK 1949). This film appears as a homage to so many science fiction films through its visuals, its concepts and characters. But the similarities to films like Final Fantasy: Spirits Within make the film interesting to consider as a fantasy. This makes the film quite interesting in terms of genre classification.

I would like to comment on the films narrative similarities to Final Fantasy: Spirits Within and Nineteen Eighty-four. The film offers a character who encounters the last remnants of nature in a world otherwise destroyed by technology. Interestingly this creates a binary opposition early on in the film. The two characters that we are introduced to, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) associate themselves with the past and the future respectively. Whilst Jack Harper feels connected to the earth and the old way of life that’s just about struggling to live in this new world, Victoria Olsen is excited to leave it all behind for the technology of the future. This is a theme that the film considers and actually leads to a conclusion, with the ending of the film. A similarity to Nineteen Eighty-four, Oblivion asks us to see the new world as a dystopia as the characters are monitored and restricted in their actions. They are answerable to a screen through most of the film. Similar to Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four, Jack Harper dreams of a paradise away from his work, and like Winston Smith also escapes to a place that cannot be monitored. It is interesting, that we are asked to consider the restrictions and effects of technology, and Oblivion asks us to think whether the old or new is more desirable. However, these comments are nothing new as marked by the films numerous homages.

The performances of the central characters are somewhat robotic at times, particularly within Victoria Olsen and Julia Rusakova(Olga Kurylenko). However, this may well be intentional as the film asks that we question the motives of these characters. Suspicion and suspense is built by these performances that suggest something may well be below the surface. In this way the performances compliment the characters as narrative devices, but do not allow the characters to be completely developed. In many ways Victoria Olsen in the beginning of the film is depicted as a visual – to go with the visuals of the technology throughout the film. She is shown silhouetted and scantily clad through most of the beginning sequences. Despite a decent performance by Tom Cruise, we see too much of him throughout the film. The effect this has is the underdevelopment of supporting characters. Morgan Freeman as Malcolm Beech similarly makes a comparatively small appearance – but despite recent opinion does not explain the narrative. Morgan Freeman’s performance in the film, despite of his lack of screen-time, gains spectator sympathies.

Oblivion makes for a very enjoyable watch, but drags out towards the end. The film offers some stunning CGI visuals that compliment the narrative and add to the world as we are meant to see it. Also, despite the numerous homages, Oblivion remains exciting for most of the film’s length. Performances may not be as striking as the visuals, but from a science fiction film, it may not be the highest priority for the film’s audience. Oblivion also offers an interesting study of the science fiction genre and as mentioned above offers a blurred line between genres. With Oblivion, it is useful to think about what constitutes as science fiction. The themes that the film tackles are effective despite the fact that they’re not new at all. As a science fiction film, it may not be, but it still functions well as a visually interesting and exciting film.

1Franklin, H. Bruce in Wilson, Mark. ‘Definitions of Science Fiction’ on scifi.about.com, at http://scifi.about.com/od/scififantasy101/a/SCIFI_defs_2.htm Web. (Accessed 12.04.2013)


Further Reading

Oblivion on Rottentomatoes.com

Oblivion Site

Joseph Kosinski

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise Interview

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.