Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13)

edge_of_tomorrow_ver4_xlg

“I always say, ‘If I could start my marriage over, I would do this or that differently.’ But I’m flattering myself. My marriage starts over every day, and there are things I don’t do differently. Everything starts over every day.” I said something to this effect at confession several months ago. I often feel as though a sin is truly behind me only after I’ve put a night’s sleep between that sin and myself. Be careful not to be too evil in the morning, because if you are, it will ride you all day. I find it nearly impossible to get over any wickedness the day I do it, but I find it profoundly easy to forget about the evil I did yesterday.

All of which might point towards a dull conscience, although I think it speaks more to the mystery of the day itself.

The day is the first measurement of time given in Scripture. God does not work in seconds or hours or weeks or years, but days. The day is even prior to the “sacred times” (Gen 3:14) which are governed by the spheres and stars. The last measurement of time is also the day. Christ describes the judgment of man occurring on “that Day.” The day is that time frame in which the Lord gives us all we need. He does not give us bread every second or every hour, but every day, and we ask for this food in a daily prayer of His composing. While there are significant Scriptural time frames other than the day (forty days, say, or a thousand years), the day is the most common way of measuring time in Holy Writ. Christ is dead for three days, not forty hours. Christ and Moses and Elijah fast for forty days, not six weeks. Christ is circumcised on the eighth day.

Why the preeminence of the day? From the morning prayers: “Arising from sleep I thank thee, O holy Trinity, because of the abundance of thy goodness and long-suffering thou wast not wroth with me, slothful and sinful as I am; neither hast thou destroyed me in my transgressions: but in thy compassion raised me up, as I lay in despair; that at dawn I might sing the glories of thy Majesty.” The rising in the morning is an image of the resurrection, just as sleep is an image of death, and death an image of sleep. In the New Testament, “death” is spoken of in the abstract, but the death of individual persons is usually described as “rest” and “falling asleep”. The day is an image of life, and night, an image of the afterlife. What is not included in these two expanses? With God, a day is a millennium and a millennium a day, which is to say the day is a kingly reign, a never ending and perfect reign. There is a First Day and a Last Day, just as there is a First Man and a Last Man.  It seems tempting to say that everything that has happened or will happen is happening on a single day.

Just ask Tom Cruise. He’ll tell you.

On paper, Edge of Tomorrow is little more than Groundhog Day meets The Matrix, although the film was also released on D Day and is set (and reset) during a massive military air and sea assault on French beaches, so maybe it’s a bit Saving Private Ryan, too.

At the beginning of the film, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is nothing more than some hotshot jackass who recruits for the United Defense Forces, a NATO/Army Reserve conglomerate whose greatest achievement is its endless budget, which it blows on a losing war against alien invaders. For no apparent reason, a blustery red-faced general named Brigham (Brendan Gleeson on cruise control) drafts Cage to fight on the front lines of a dangerous beach assault. Having no battlefield experience, Cage panics, tries to pull officer’s privilege, then threatens to blackmail the general, but the general makes good on his name and essentially says, “Brig him.”

Neither the preview nor the poster prepare the viewer for Cruise as a coward. The exposition of the film passes a bit like the first several chapters of The Red Badge of Courage, wherein young Henry frets himself into a dither, scared spitless he’s going to die in combat. Up until the moment Cruise is airdropped out of a helicopter into the war, he is trying to talk his way out. I found it exhilarating to see a reluctant warrior, terrified he was going to die; most action movies offer unkillable heroes who seem aware they are unkillable, or else tertiary characters whose fear is for comic effect. Straight forward fear is foreign to the big screen. Cruise is ageless and pretty, though, so it’s easy to imagine Cage living a charmed life. When Cage tries to use his mock celebrity status to escape combat, he really seems a lot like a gutless action movie star trying to buy his way out of the draft, which is to say Cage and Cruise seem quite a bit alike as the narrative settles into itself.

Moments into the beach assault, the novice Cage kills a mythical creature and its blood mingles with his, paradoxically killing him and bringing him back to life at the same time. This slaughter launches the trick which drives the story—a strange marriage between Cage’s life and the day on which he died. He wakes from his death in the morning, hours earlier; a tightly drawn first act concludes with the enumeration of the new rules from Rita (Emily Blunt), who previously enjoyed the deathless magic shooting through Cage’s life. Cage can relive the day of the beach assault over and over again, provided he dies before the end of the day. If he fails to die during that particular 24 hour period, the day progresses. A willingness to die opens up immortality, and yet stating it so dramatically suggests the film is far more intellectual than it feels scene by scene. Both the audience and Cage hear the same lines of dialog over and over again; at times, Cage monkeys with people, knowing what they’re going to say before they say it, and at other times he surrenders to the banality of it all.

What emerges from a rather contrived plot is a thing of theological beauty. If Cage is willing to die every day, he can endlessly improve himself. As he relives the same day, Cage perfects himself, properly anticipating zigs and zags on the beach, living a bit longer each time until he has moved miles inland, found a house, repaired a helicopter and become a student of each one of the cast of characters who happen to populate his life on the day in question. Death hurts Cage every time, though he braves it over and over again. While the beach assault is obviously thrilling at first, Cage experiences it hundreds of times and it becomes rote, boring, the kind of puzzle you keep tinkering with though you don’t believe you can solve it. His first interests are nothing more interesting than a standard Homeric kleos, perhaps in keeping with his cowardice early in the story, but Cage seasons himself to the day. By the third act, he’s world weary, cynical, the willing Sisyphus who could get the rock to crest the hill whenever he wanted to, but holds out for perfect form.

Like most superhero films, Cage is bound to lose his power in the clutch. When Cage accidentally runs through his day deathlessly (telegraphed from the beginning, though you’ll forget all about it), he seems suddenly vulnerable in a way no Batman, Superman or Spiderman film of recent years has managed. The film begins and ends with a mortal Cage, but by the end, he’s too tired to mind. He’s spent, exhausted. He sinks into an abyss, but wakes in the heavens.

There might have been a time back in the 40s and 50s when science fiction was vaguely scientific or speculative, though films like Gattaca now seem like echoes across the Star Wars/Star Trek chasm of fantasy which opened wide in the 70s and 80s. Anymore, science fiction has become a vehicle for big-time sensuality (Transformers) or a convenient place to dish on metaphysics (The Matrix). Edge of Tomorrow walks the line, though. It’s neither completely coherent nor overly self-confident. Director Doug Liman had a fine career developing fifteen years ago after two critical darlings (Swingers and Go) and two unusual action flicks backed by A-listers (Mr. And Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity). Liman chose crisp, snappy scripts and his best characters channeled that wit with a kind of wink which suggested they knew they were being watched. When the credits rolled, you practically expected to be invited to the wrap party.

After a decade wallowing in young Hollywood schlock, Liman has finally been given a plot trick that can sustain some rough housing. Whereas Jumper felt like a toy that was so slick no one wanted to touch it, Liman has fun with the Edge gimmick until it has broken into fifty pieces. In the process you get to see a $175 million budget get blown up, although, perhaps like last year’s excellent Looper, Edge is made of some hefty philosophical bricks, whether it was intended to be that way or no. There’s nothing scientific about it, but neither is it cramming allusions to Joseph Campbell down your throat.

Yesterday, I visited a house I last lived in when I was twelve. I had not seen it in twenty years and it was a little vertigo inducing. I am still unpacking boxes in a house I have just rented. I’ve been thinking of Cage’s perpetual day and his will to live perfectly. I’ve been thinking about starting over.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books, collects records and jogs to work. He and his wife have two children, both of whom have seven names. He tweets at @joshgibbs and blogs for the CiRCE Institute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *