The moral of The Edge of Tomorrow’s story could be reduced to the old maxim, “If ever you don’t succeed, try, try again.” For a good cause, this is certainly worthwhile wisdom. But when confronted with a thoughtless or destructive pattern, this advice can reflect madness or a drive for death. In the case of Tom Cruise’s latest action flick, one worries that all of us should emphatically not “try, try again” but give up on its narrative
The film starts off with a devastating invasion of extra-terrestrial, root-like beings called “Mimics” intent on wiping out humanity. This rather unimaginative scenario unfolds without context: we’re never told where they come from, why they want to kill us, or what justifies us to wipe them out. We simply see the carnage of their assault and are meant to feel some visceral loyalty to the world’s survival and their immediate annihilation.
Next, we meet Officer Cage (Cruise), a charming American military man, who is really a failed marketer. Cage has been sent to London to weave together a propagandistic story of human triumph for the world’s consumption in the face of apparent doom. The problem is that the head of “The United Defense Force” wants Cage to go to the front to “report” on the battle, but Cage is a coward. When Cage unsuccessfully tries to escape this order, he gets arrested and shipped out the next day as a soldier.
To make a long, repetitious story short, the cowardly Cage is flung into combat and gets killed by the enemy. But before Cage dies, he is covered in the blood of an “Alpha” Mimic, which mysteriously transfers to him the Mimic’s power of controlling time. Each time Cage dies, the day begins again right where it started.
Thus, each day becomes a video game-like trial round in which Cage tries to get a centimeter further in killing the Mimics and their central brainpower called “Omega.” Slowly but surely, Cage becomes a virtually unstoppable Mimic-killer and makes it closer to Omega with each of his “lives.”
Again, we don’t know anything about Cage or his female accomplice. We don’t know why he’s so dead-set (literally) on saving himself and the world. But again and again, we hear the words of Cage’s commander: “There’s hope for you in the form of glorious combat… Battle is the great redeemer.” This myth of redemptive violence, combined with some sentimental Hollywood romance, seems to amount to the only reason for living in the world of Tomorrow.
Even if Tomorrow was meant as some kind of allegory encouraging each generation to fight its demons and not give up when victory seems hopeless, Tomorrow’s allegory is unimaginative and destructiv
For starters, its depiction of “evil” – extra-terrestrial killer roots – is cartoonishly more impersonal and simplistic than anything in our world or in our selves (e.g., greed, pride, lust for power) and thus functions as a meaningless scapegoat. Likewise, Tomorrow’s prescribed response to this evil – technology, intelligence, and the sheer will to kill – ironically mimics the very patterns of “governance” and violence that are making life in our societies and world so impoverished and precarious today. When confronted with “the enemy,” there is nothing for the humans to think about, nothing to wrestle with, and nothing to question. The only thing to do is to eliminate.
One wonders whether storylines like The Edge of Tomorrow reflect anything but our escapism from the complexity of our own evil and our violent drive for self-preservation at all costs – even if we don’t know who we are, where we came from, or why our lives are worth saving to begin with.