Finding humanity in the oblivion

Oblivion Tom Cruise

Cruise’s character is a drone repair tech who reflects on what it means to be human in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Oblivion

The latest Hollywood sci-fi film, Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, has just arrived on dvd. While I had a passing interest to see it in the theatre, it was on my watch list because…well…it is science fiction. Strangely enough, I am also a fan of Tom Cruise.  I recently watched him in Jack Reacher, and it delivered a solid experience even though it teetered on the edge of the soul-sucking abyss a few times.  Oblivion was one step better, and while it did not garner top-notch film reviews, the story asks questions about what it means to be human. Hence, this review on The Humanist Lens.

Cruise, Oblivion review

The clone Jack repairs drones for the alien machine in Oblivion

A quick run through the plot has Cruise’s character, Jack, working on drone repair in the post-apocalyptic American East Coast (of course, the setting is here because the audience will subconsciously expect to see a broken statue of liberty at some point…which we do).  His only companion is the beautiful Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who runs missions from their homebase while Jack goes out into the field.  The back story, told via voice-over–which would probably make Bob Mackee irate–is that humans have fought a war with aliens and won, but lost the Earth and are evacuating to Titan, a moon of Saturn. Jack and Victoria are a team tasked to repair robotic drones that protect large machines “evacuating” water from Earth for the supposed human colony on Titan. Their work is done under the watchful eye of Sally, who we only see on the monitor.

From the beginning of the story, something is not right with Jack.  He is having recurring dreams about being on the Empire State building with a girl, but has no idea who she is or how he could have been there since the war ended 60 years ago (and he is clearly not older than 60). Yet it sparks something in him to ask the question, “Who Am I?” He has a bobblehead on his dash named Bob.  He cares for a little plant in an old tin can.  He has built a rugged home in the mountains filled with old earth memorabilia. He is clearly searching for meaning in his life beyond his mission as a mechanic. By asking this question of who he is, Jack is a person searching for his humanity.  He has been thinking about this for awhile, and as he collects items from the ruins of human civilization, he finds books. It was a book that ignited his humanity.

This next part spoils the plot, so if you have not seen the movie and care to, pause, watch, then come back.  Jack has been taught that the enemy, the Scavs, were aliens who destroyed Earth’s moon and tried to obliterate he population. However, after he is captured by them, he is shown the truth. These “aliens,” led by Beech (Morgan Freeman) are humans who are still fighting the enemy but the enemy is one alien life force who has cloned the original Jack and Victoria and is using them to repair these alien drones seeking to destroy the remnants of humanity. Beech and his commander Sykes (played by , aka Ser Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Why do I always get excited when I see someone from Game of Thrones in something else? Obsession perhaps?) lead an underground (literally) resistance and the last hope for humanity (well, America anyway. Who knows if other groups in other parts of the world continue to fight the drones).

Beech confronts Jack with the big question about who he is, and it is in their exchange where we find a hint of how important the study of the Humanities is for our well-being. Beech tells Jack that he is one of thousands of clones used to fight humanity, and it was this army of lifeless, soulless Jacks that mechanistically went about eliminating humans and repairing machines so the alien force could pillage Earth’s resources and move on. Yet there was a moment when Beech knew Jack was the key to their victory.  This was when he saw Jack pick up a book. As this clone automaton opened the cover and began to read, a transformation occurred. Jack’s humanity worked its way back into his body.

There is a force at work in education in North America that wants the Humanities reduced to second class subjects while Math and Science take the fore.  It’s “real knowledge” they say and “useful” later in life. At The Humanist Lens, our response would be a resounding ‘no!’ to this, and an invitation to consider the importance of the Humanities in not only education but in the life-long quest for self-knowledge. Read more about this in our series of a Human Centred Education.

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