Tuesday, 10 June 2014

”EDGE OF TOMORROW” AND THE ETERNAL RETURN


"My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness before the necessary—but to love it." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
One cannot be faulted for suspecting that Hollywood has of late been exhausted of its creativity when it comes to science fiction films. We have been subjected to an endless stream of remakes and reboots, with little in the way of compelling or original stories. It is perhaps for this reason that Hollywood has turned to Japan to bring us the science fiction film Edge of Tomorrow (based on the light novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka).

The events of the story are triggered when an asteroid carrying a vicious, hostile alien species called Mimics crashes in Germany. The invasive aliens quickly spread across the rest of Western Europe and stand to invade Britain and ultimately the rest of the planet. The remaining nations of the world form a military alliance and seek to keep the Mimics contained in Europe.

It is here that we are introduced to the film’s protagonist, Major William Cage (played by the perpetually youthful Tom Cruise), a petty and cowardly military propagandist. He has been called to London and informed that he will be embedded with an army unit that was to participate in a coming counter-attack in France. Cage makes the effort to weasel out of his assignment, going as far as to trying to blackmail his commanding officer to get reassigned away from the front, but he is outwitted, arrested, demoted, and still sent to the front.

Cage is ill-suited for any sort of combat role when zero hour arrives and he is dropped on a French beach (a scene seemingly intended to invoke the image of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II). But it is here that his journey begins. In the course of his hapless crawling around the battlefield, where the human army is being slaughtered, he manages to slay one of the aliens and is covered in its blood. Cage dies during his battle with the alien, but awakens to find himself back on the military base on the prior day. At first he is confused about what is happening to him, but after several deaths and returns he comes to realize he is trapped in a time loop (think Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day). Every time he dies the loop is reset.


Cage, with the helped and instruction of Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt) who had previously a similar entrapment in a time loop, seeks to use the time loop to achieve mastery in combat and to find the Mimic “Omega” (the aliens’ central brain, the Mimics act as a hive consciousness, similar to the Borg in Star Trek).

Nietzschean themes abound in this film, though I suspect this is unintentional on the part of the filmmakers. For Nietzsche history is not linear, as it is viewed by Christians, Hegelians, and Marxists, but cyclical. He preached Eternal Recurrence, the eternal return (or repetition as Kierkegaard would call it). That which has already happened will happen again and again. The problem for Nietzsche is how one faces eternal recurrence, with dread and despair, or with a heroic amor fati.

William Cage is the man who faces the cycle of Eternal Recurrence and must choose to embrace, and indeed overcome it, or wallow in despair. Suffice to say Cage embraces his fate, though in the film this seems to come too easily to him. A man once so eager to flee from direct combat all too suddenly affirms his amor fati, without much in the way of existential conflict. He becomes an Übermensch (the overman), but with little in the way of self-overcoming.

But become an Übermensch he does. He shuns and ignores the establishment military authorities; he has transcended their petty, debilitating rules and regulations, and has become law unto himself. After embracing his fate Cage is able to harness his own will power (and that of a few like minded allies) to face the alien enemy on his own terms.

 Despite its flaws and sometimes tiresome redundancies, Edge of Tomorrow is a good film in a sea of mediocrity. Its themes of amor fati, the achievement of self-actualization through combat, and standing resolute against the enemies of one’s people are healthy ones, though often scorned in our age of comfort and consumerism.

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