For Need of a Full Metal Goddess: a review of EDGE OF TOMORROW

I saw EDGE OF TOMORROW and am not shy to say that I loved it. Tom Cruise delivers a surprisingly moving performance as a top brass ad exec type who is happy to be the face of the United States military but so terrified to actually participate within its endeavors that he would rather be stripped of rank, respect, and dignity before the very troops he used to represent rather than face combat. There is a poignant, totally brief moment in the film–one of many–where Cage makes yet another pointless attempt at escape from duty, right before boarding the carrier that will lead him to his first death: he tries to waddle out of group formation in a mechanized suit so unfamiliar to him he doesn’t even know how to turn the safety off his weapon, let alone make a mad dash away from hundreds of capable military personnel. All his fellow soldier/babysitter need do is casually reach out and clasp him by the shoulder to put him back in his place in a communal march towards slaughter.

And that is the emotional genius of the film, for me, as well as its basic concept. What more unthinkable fate for a man who is too comfortable sending hundreds soldiers to their death and too full of fear to face his own, but for him to die violently in combat–not once, but literally hundreds of times? Therein lies another kind of horrible but hilarious social truth in the marketing of this movie; I think the fact that it was Tom Cruise getting unceremoniously smushed, crushed, and torn apart a dozen times within as many minutes made the sequences–terrifyingly–more funny than depressing. The theater I was in cracked the hell up, every time. Those moments were made to be comedic no matter what–the director’s touch in this film is so much fucking more nuanced than I could have hoped for, walking into a action movie about aliens and people blowing up over and over–but I can’t help wondering if they would have been as darkly comedic if the actor had been someone that the general public still took seriously as a person.

I have been going through a life adjustment, the main result of which has been being consumed with Grade-A fear almost all the time, so I understand that this probably helped make the film mean a lot to me. Watching Cage be afraid of being mercy killed by Rita, and babbling desperately in an effort to delay her bullet, even when he knows his death is inevitable and has experienced it dozens of times already, is one of the best things this film has to offer.

The other best thing is without a doubt Emily Blunt as Rita Vritasky. Holy shit. Full Metal Goddess. I wish there were more to say about her; I want a prequel movie that is actually about her experience. (One of the technical results of Bill Cage’s death being the only one that really matters in the movie is that the only emotional and psychological story that gets told deeply is his. Also: it’s fucked up that Cage’s death is the only one that matters in the movie, but maybe that’s the deeper, more difficult point of watching a movie about endless war.) There’s this one shot of her coming up out of a yoga pose in the middle of a training room full of spinning metal claws of death, where she looks like she’s both diving into, surfacing from, and totally owning the world–I was, how to say, not mad that it got replayed over and over. This film might be Bill Cage’s story, but if the film is a story about bravery, it cannot be so without Rita’s presence, who is the exact opposite kind of soldier from her accidental comrade. It boils down to a moment when she says, simply but with steel: “I volunteered.”  In the context of military structure, the antithesis of volunteering is desertion, and the juxtaposition of those two military concepts tell a story of what bravery is and is not. Somehow, through the partnership of unflinching volunteer and flinchy deserting commanding officer, we get a story about bravery in dozens of different permutations, and–most important–the suggestion that 99% of the time, no amount of bravery or obedience or sacrifice is enough to secure a happy ending.

Egh. Despite myself, sometimes it seems like I’m always saying “I loved this story because it sends a message that violence and oppression are almost impossible to combat on the basis of individual effort!” I feel like that come out, comes off, all wrong, somehow. I don’t know how to behave in a way that shows how much hope and faith in humanity I derive from such stories and voicings as opposed to judgment or condemnation. The fact that such narratives are crafted at all is, to me, cause for optimism, in a possibly twisted way.

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