Last week Shalom house invited the Circle of Hope Network to the movies with them. My cell decided to go too (especially because Dave and Nathan are a part of our cell). They wanted to see Oblivion because apparently it was all about drones—and you know Shalom House is interested in drones.
The producer/writer/director of the film, Joseph Kosinski, has tried to distance the film from any negative press, by saying that this is just a science fiction film and not an anti-drone commentary. Making a point is not good business. Kosinski says that it is just a coincidence that drones are receiving a lot of press around the same time as his movies release:
“It is interesting how sometimes the news seems to somehow parallel the entertainment business. All this stuff in the paper about drones recently is interesting. I remember seeing a depiction of a drone in The Empire Strikes Back as a kid and it was the most terrifying thing, this notion of a machine with no soul battling on the surface. That was kind of the inspiration for the fleet of drones in this movie. Both movies have explored the idea of our relationship with technology, how it can be good, but also how it can be not so good. It’s just something we need to be wary of. Technology can do amazing things for us. It’s something we need to keep an eye on as Jack learns in the movie.”
But we aren’t keeping an eye on it, Joe! And your movie is! I wish he wouldn’t belittle the power his movie could have. Drones are portrayed as indiscriminate, vicious killing machines in Oblivion. That is a good thing in my opinion. Drone technology is not exclusively used for murder in our reality but all the good technology seems to be getting coopted for murder. Those “predator” drones that are blowing up Afghanistan are certainly designed to kill—and cheaply, and without risk.
Risk is at the heart of the point that Kosinski does want to make in Oblivion. Tom Cruise is forced to take a risk that will almost certainly end in his death. The refrain that leads up to this momentous decision is a quote from a 19th century English poem:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?
Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote these words for the mouth of Horatius a hero of Ancient Rome who defended a bridge against the oncoming Etruscan horde. He knows he is going to die, that is a matter of course for all humanity, but he wants to die well, to preserve that which was handed down to him by his ancestors and to honor his sense of what is holy.
For Tom Cruise, of course, the fate of the entire human race falls upon his shoulders—“ashes of his fathers”—check. The god of Oblivion is also not surprising—it is love. The memory of love that transcends what is expected enlivens Tom Cruise’s character’s heart and helps him to escape the mold in which he has been made, literally. Other symbolism, especially in the final scenes, drive the connection between Tom Cruise and the Savior all the way home, but this post already has too many spoilers.
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – John 15:13. Sounds close, right? Horatius stands in the way of fearful odds for the sake of his people, those whom he loves. Tom Cruise chooses to make a glorious sacrifice in order to save the one he loves and the rest of the human race with her. But Jesus lays down his life in a different way. His sacrifice in and of itself is completely unsuccessful. If we look at the “scientifically” observable facts, Jesus is a failed revolutionary when he dies on the cross. His followers are just as much at the mercy of the powers that killed their leader. Many of them, in fact, die at the hands of the same power. And yet Jesus laid down his life for us.
There’s more than meets the eye. Jesus’ success is in a cosmic shift in what success means. He changed the whole universe by going a way that stretched beyond death. He died and God raised him from the dead. He risked it all and lost it all and then something new happened. His strategy seemingly failed but then the way of the world was proved failing by the new thing that God did.
Drones are attractive to US military and many US citizens because they take “our boys” out of harm’s way. They help us figure out how to continue to “save the world” and not die. That is the message of Oblivion. You can save the world and not die (yes, even Tom Cruise gets resurrected in a way). The Christian who believes that God’s power is made perfect in weakness recognizes that saving the world is not our job. It requires a lot of faith to lay down the sword/gun/drone—faith that our government doesn’t have, but that we as Christians ought to speak out from.
In the same interview I quoted above, Joseph Kosinski says:
“I love movies that ask big questions but don’t necessarily answer everything. I like people walking out thinking about something. I wanted this to be a movie that people would talk about and debate and argue over and discuss and think about a couple days later. Hopefully, great science fiction films help you think about issues that relate to yourself, whether it’s: What’s my purpose? Why am I here? What is it that makes me who I am? Those are the kind of questions my favorite science fiction films ask. Hopefully, it’s a movie that people walk away with talking about after.”
We’re talking about it. Let’s make sure our president, senators and representatives hear about it from us. Drones are more expedient killing machines that grieve the heart of Jesus. Tell the world, “not in our name.”