Oblivion is the kind of science fiction movie that plays with a lot of other movies’ toys and forgets to clean them up afterward. Then we all step on a HAL 9000 doll in the middle of the night when we’re going for that last piece of fried chicken in the fridge, and the bruise reminds us to yell rhetorically at the Tom Cruise-starring movie the next morning. How many times have we told it to pick up its things?
The movie’s created some mixed responses, but it’s also left behind some huge questions. Plot holes, really, if we’re being honest. It’s messy for how hard it tries to be smart. Some of those questions are inconsequential, some slightly annoying and some vital to what could have been sci-fi success. On their own, they could have amounted to nitpicks, but the sheer number of them (and the severity of a few) made for a truly confused experience.
Spoilers for Oblivion abound so beware, but if you’ve already seen or just plain don’t care, let’s dive in to the bizarre question marks looming high in the sky over Joseph Kosinski‘s latest film.
1. Why Was Beech Always Wearing Sunglasses?
This one’s just a mild annoyance, but Morgan Freeman spends the entire time wearing dark sunglasses literally in places where the sun doesn’t shine. They live underground, but he’s rocking BluBlockers. It’s not a mystery though. The answer: because it looks cool.
It has no real explanation within the story itself, but Oblivion‘s mantra is that it’s better to look good than to make sense, and this one is a very minor quibble that’s common for big action movies. Unfortunately, this will be the answer for some of the other questions as well.
2. How Did the Scavs Know About the Sleeping Pod and How to Bring It To Earth?
The first major plot development comes when Jack Harper #49 has to investigate a signal beacon that’s coming from the edge of the radiation zone. On top of the Empire State Building ruins, he gets some flashback jitters, finds the source and disables it, but it’s too late. It’s already done its work bringing Olga Kurylenko‘s character Julia and her crew back down to Earth.
Later on, the Scavs give a short group history that involves a military background and the wartime survival of staying near Chicago (because it’s unaffected by earthquakes and massive tidal change…), but nothing in it explains how their group could have intimate, classified knowledge of the NASA mission, how the breakaway module worked, or what sequence of code could bring it back.
So how did they know the sleeping pod was out there in space still? How did they know the brief Morse Code combination to draw it back down to earth? And is that how sleeping pod recall would really work? You send a few bleeps into outer space for ten minutes, and a sleeping pod falls down?
But let’s do the script’s work for it and assume for a second that there was a NASA employee or someone with knowledge of the spacecraft’s workings who survived alongside the group that would become the Scavs. Let’s assume that they knew somehow how to do all this because one of their own was in Houston when the Tet first arrived and made their way up to safe ol’ Chicago.
Why did they wait 60 years to do it?
3. Why Would the Aliens Need to Clone Jack and Victoria in the First Place?
“Who are we kidding? You’re going to divorce me when I turn 33 anyway.”
As we learn from the NASA mission recorder, Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are sucked up into the alien Tet and cloned. But why? Imagine for a moment that you’re an incredibly powerful, very successful alien force that plans on destroying the planet in front of you. You’ve perfected the art of doing it after pillaging several other planets, but now a tiny little shuttle is headed your way with weird fleshy pink things inside. Your instinct is to halt your own well-oiled plan in order to make more of them?
The aliens went through a lot of work and presumably a lot of whatever currency aliens use in order to make a ton of copies of Jack and Victoria, and it achieved…exactly nothing.
No one is fooled by the clones (except the clones themselves), and all they do is maintain the alien tech that’s draining the world of its last resources. They couldn’t get other alien machine grunts to do that? And if not, how did they take care of their own society before they got sweet worker bee clones? They had to have some kind of maintenance bots, right?
Granted, cloning Jack and Victoria once and sending them back to earth as spies/saboteurs makes a lot of sense (even if two people couldn’t really do that much damage), but why clone hundreds of them? Why keep up the charade of the “memory erase” and the “completion of the mission” followed by the “return to Saturn’s moon to live peacefully with all other humans”? They created a bunch of meat piles just so they could lie to them about their identity? And get them to do menial labor? Is this the alien’s version of The Game?
And where did they get all the cloning tech in the first place? They meet their first two human beings ever and know right then how to manipulate our DNA?
But, okay, assuming that they had some sort of hidden alien reason for building a lot of oblivious handymen, and that they somehow knew how to do it because they’re simply really advanced, it still leaves the bigger question:
4. If 49 is a Clone, Why Does He Have Jack Harper’s Memories?
Seriously, that’s not how clones work. It’s just not. He looks like him, has shared DNA, but boiling a new Tom Cruise will not give that freshly cooked human his DNA-donor’s memories. Same hair color? Sure. Experience of how he romantically proposed to his wife on top of a tall building? No way.
So maybe they stored Jack’s memory information in order to make sure he could, you know, speak English and walk around without falling over. In that case, they initially either give him limited information or they give him his full memory only to wipe it later. If it’s the former (and they had the power to selectively upload memories), why would they upload memories of his wife at all? Just give him speech and movement and repair skills and be done with it. If it’s the latter, that’s moronic. Still, they were smart to choose Cruise because Jim Carrey didn’t take to having his memory wiped well at all.
None of it makes sense. They’re growing all these clones so they can trick them (and only them) into thinking they’re helping the humans, and somehow accidentally (or intentionally?) giving some of them dangerous old memories from the guy they cloned.
Why not just send more drones down when others get shot down? Why not send robots to repair the drones? Why build crazy sky houses with swimming pools and concoct elaborate lies in order to fool the thing you just made? Better yet, why not just tell the new clones that they’re your children — or that you’re God — teach them whatever values you want them to know and then send them down to Earth to complete that mission?