In studying worldviews, it’s helpful to break down thoughts into a series of key questions: “What’s the nature of truth and how can we know it?” “Who is God?” “What’s the nature of mankind?” and so forth.
The answers to those questions fundamentally shape a person’s beliefs in other broad categories as well, including politics, economics, ethics and more.
Science fiction films, like this weekend’s Tom Cruise movie, “Oblivion,” will often dabble heavily in the fundamentals of worldview, pondering the “big” questions by playing with gods, aliens and men.
“Oblivion” is no exception, delving heavily into the “nature of mankind” question, toying with what makes us human, if we have a soul and how we are created.
But science fiction, like modern art, doesn’t necessarily answer the questions … rather leaves the audience to ponder what the point of the exercise was. Sometimes “the point” is simply to ask.
My wife and I debated “Oblivion” after seeing it together: Does it have a humanistic slant, suggesting humanity is self-contained and needs no god for definition, or is it rather the opposite, suggesting the imprint of God is indeed what makes us human? I’m not sure I have it figure out yet.
As a film, “Oblivion” was just a bit of a disappointment. Not that it wasn’t visually interesting or entertaining, just that the story had some major obstacles to overcome, and I’m not sure it succeeded.
For example, the story dictates the protagonists’ memories have been wiped clean, making it impossible to create a back story for the main characters, which in turn made it difficult to truly care about them. They seem plastic and empty, and that’s hard to endure in a film.
Furthermore, the film’s main antagonist doesn’t really reveal its colors until the movie’s final act, as part of a surprise twist … and no action or science fiction film can really push the excitement level without a compelling bad guy.
So “Oblivion” is probably best saved for a rental or for sci-fi buffs who are willing to temper their expectations.
But what about these big worldview questions?
I can’t dive too deep without “spoiling” some of the film’s twists, but I will comment on one line representative of the movie’s message, left deliberately veiled, so as not to spoil anything.
“If we have souls,” Tom Cruise’s character says, “they are made of the love we share, undimmed by time, unbound by death.”
That sure sounds pretty, and it jives with the narrative of the film – but is it really true?
Biblically, if we have souls, they are as the breath of God (Genesis 2:7), an eternal life sustained by His love, not ours. Yet it is true that these souls are eternal – “undimmed by time, unbound by death.”
The line is but one example of the film’s attempts to discuss “deep” issues, but discussing them without anchoring or answering to the truths of God, causing the ship to drift unpiloted through worldview seas.
Yet in the end, the philosophical messages of the “Oblivion” make up only a small part of its sum, leaving most of the movie to a reasonably entertaining, if not nearly engaging enough, science fiction experience.
- “Oblivion” contains roughly 20 profanities and obscenities.
- The film contains some sexuality and nudity, including some kissing, some leg, some implied sex and one scene where a woman strips naked, seen fully from the rear, before diving into a pool and then engaging her lover intimately, though no actual sex is depicted. In a few other scenes, the same characters are seen in the shower together shirtless, though the woman’s arms block full nudity.
- The movie contains science-fiction gun violence, and extended scene of hand-to-hand combat and an extended sequence where machines attack, blasting humans into flying chunks of debris.
- The film has a few, distinctly religious themes, including the line mentioned about souls, a thought-provoking line about a creator as god and the repeated lines of Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “Lays of Ancient Rome,” especially the stanza, “And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods.”